Finally, Santa Vaca

So, I did a hack. Begin the jokes now. “A hack did a hack.” There, I beat you to it.

When I say, “I did a hack,” I mean I did a hack of the world’s most famous RPG. This has been years in the making. I had the…wait. Stop. Let’s start over.

Just below, you can read the introduction to Santa Vaca: A Hack of the World’s Most Famous Roleplaying Game. I’ll be releasing the “DIY” version as a PDF next week. The introduction goes through some of the why’s and wherefore’s of how this whole project came to be and gives you an idea of what this monster looks like.

And when I say “DIY,” I mean Do It Yourself. I wrote the thing, I laid it out, I edited it, I got art for it, the whole kit and kaboodle. Once you read the intro, you’ll understand why.

Santa Vaca will be on sale via my website and Drivethrurpg next week.

 

 

Sacred cows make the best steaks.

— The Tao of Zen Nihilism

 

This all started as a dare. A dare I made to myself. Actually, it started a lot earlier than that, so let’s jump all the way to the beginning, back to 1999 when the folks at Wizards of the Coast gave permission for other game designers to play with their toys. I’m talking, of course, about the d20 SRD, or “Standard Reference Document.”

Now, most folks see that and say to themselves, “Hey, I could make a few new feats!” or “Hey, I could make a new prestige class!” or “Hey, I’ve got a few spells I could throw in there.”

I don’t see it that way at all. I see it as an invitation to come in and mess things up. You want me to play with your toys? Fine.

I’ll take the heads off all your dolls and put tinker toys in their place.

I’ll switch the voice boxes on your G.I. Joes and Barbies.

I’ll take your Legos and some superglue and make laser sights and other accessories for your super powered squirt guns.

If you tell me I can do whatever I want with your toys, when you get them back, you won’t recognize them.

Like I said, most people see an OGL as permission to write adventures and add on more features. I see it in a completely different light. I see it as permission to really screw things up.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? That’s the whole point. Experiment. Don’t just think outside the box; throw the damn thing out the window.

* * *

The idea for this book first came to me in the place where all good ideas happen. I’m talking about the shower.

For some reason or another, I was thinking, “Could I change the core resolution system of D&D without changing the character sheet?”

(Don’t ask me why I was thinking this. I honestly could not give you an answer.)

The more I thought about it, the more I realized, “Yes. Yes, I think I can.”

I jumped out of the shower, sat in front of my computer and recorded my thoughts. When I was done, I posted them on my Youtube channel. You can even watch my wet hair slowly dry as the video progresses.

It was a challenge that caught my imagination and wouldn’t let go. Held on with the grip of a maniac crocodile. Then, I started wondering, “What else could I change without changing the character sheet?”

Could I change alignment? “Yeah, I could.”

Could I change the magic system? “Yeah, I could.”

Could I change… dare I think it?… combat?

After a short while, I said, “Yeah. I could.”

Not make them “better.” No, no, no. Change them to something else. Make them say something I wanted to say.

How much could I change without changing the character sheet?

That was the question I first asked. And from that, I got this book.

* * *

I feel it’s necessary to say this again: I’m not “fixing” anything. Nor do I think my ideas make D&D a “better” game. But, as a game designer, I often putz around with game systems after I get done reading them. I fool around with them more when I’m in the middle of running them. I even think about ways to change them when I’m not running them.

These are ideas I’ve had while reading, writing for and playing D&D. If you ever played in one of my games, these are the house rules I’d make.

They change the game in fundamental ways. You cannot play the game the same way if you implement even one of these changes. The whole game transforms. Takes on a different feel. It means something different.

Also, each of the ideas in this book are modular. That is, you can take one of them and leave the rest. You could use all of them if you like. (You’d be playing a very different game, but maybe that’s the point.)

* * *

So, I wrote all this stuff down. Then, I forgot about it. This thing called 7th Sea showed up and smacked me in the face and stole all my attention, saying I wasn’t getting it back until I was done. So, I forgot. Until recently.

See, I’ve been fascinated by the OSR (old school revival). Something pinged in my heart and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I was enthralled. And it wasn’t until very recently I understood what it was.

These little black and white books with black and white art and very little layout and they were only a few pages and they…

…holy @#$!, these were the games I was doing back in 1999. When the original OGL popped up. They were full on DIY punk rock. The stuff I loved when I was in high school. The attitude, I mean, not the games. The “@#$! you, I’ll make the game I want!” attitude. I finally figured it out.

And when I finally got it, I got to it. And now, you’re holding it.

No fancy layout. No fancy art. Not even any fancy editing. Just the game the way I’d play it. But with some of my own rules. Not the game rules. I mean, game design rules. Anyway…here they are.

Rule #1: Keep the Cows

If I’m gonna do this, I have to keep the “sacred cows” of D&D. I have to keep the stuff that’s remained through all the editions, the stuff that’s appeared on every edition character sheet. In other words, I have to keep:

  • The Six Abilities (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, etc.)
  • Alignment
  • Armor Class
  • Character Level
  • Experience Points
  • Hit Points
  • Spell Levels

Rule #2: Slaughter the Cows

However, I do not need to keep the mechanics. I can change the mechanics to anything I want. But I have to keep the nomenclature.

Rule #3: Separate the Cows

I have to make each system independent of itself. In other words, if you want to take my idea for hit points and put it in your game, and just the idea for hit points, my mechanic has to work.

Rule #4: Ergodic Cows

Back in the day, when I first bumped into roleplaying games, they could be defined as ergodic literature. That is, text requiring non trivial effort to traverse. In other words, you had to figure things out on your own. The author didn’t give you everything you needed. And sometimes, it seemed the author was intent on making things difficult.

I’ve done that here. There are references to rules that don’t exist. Sometimes I use two different terms to refer to the same rule. I’ve even taken the effort to leave out an entire page. But if the point of all this is to make this feel like “the early days of roleplaying games,” I felt those steps were necessary to make the game feel authentic.

And you know, when my friends and I discovered that the rules we bought weren’t exactly “complete” (there are no healing rules in 1st Edition Call of Cthulhu, for example), we were forced to make things up. And that lead me to game design. So, maybe you’ll follow the same path. You can thank me later.

 

* * *

 

It’s an experiment. I don’t imagine it will change the game industry or anything dramatic like that. I got inspired, I did a thing, and it’s done. And now, I want other people to have it. Play with it. Mess around with it. You know, like we used to do. At least, like used to do.

So, enjoy it. And let me know if you use any of it for your home game. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Take care,

 

John

Unreview: Adjustment Day

Normally, my rules for an unreview include an attempt to use E-Prime. In other words, I try my best to avoid using any iteration of the verb “to be.” Let me start this unreview by breaking that rule.

This shit is mean. I mean bleak. I mean if the Red Wedding got you to throw a book across the room, this one is gonna make you head out to the garage for the gas can and start a bonfire. I mean this shit makes Fight Club look like Club Med. In an interview, Chuck said, “My parents are dead. I can write what I want.”

That’s your warning. Your last warning.

When I started reading Adjustment Day, I felt like I was reading Fight Club, Part 3. That’s how I felt at the start. That feeling didn’t last long. I quickly grew to understand this was something different. Something meaner. Palahniuk has always been a satirist, but not all satire has to be mean. This shit is mean.

It’s mean to the identity politics of the Left. It’s mean to the separatist movements of the Right. Like the “protagonists” in the book, this book has a List. And you’re probably on it. I’m on it.

Talking heads who are too busy making millions commenting on the system rather than trying to fix it. They’re on the List.

Politicians who are too busy making millions abusing the system’s loopholes rather than trying to fix them. They’re on the List.

Conservative pundits who scream about globalists, Jews, and Libtards being responsible for all their problems. They’re on the List.

Liberals who weaponize identity politics to make sure they can point blame in all directions. They’re on the List.

Separatists in Texas, Alaska, California and The South who holler about bringing about the next Civil War. They’re on the List.

We’re all on the List. Including me. Including you. Really angry men with guns are tired of our shit.

And Adjustment Day is coming.

 

I read through the book, laughing all the way. When I laughed, Jessica looked at me curiously. I told her what I was laughing about and she did not laugh. She winced.

I’m laughing because I’m wincing.

This is Swift’s A Modest Proposal on Percocet. And unlike science fiction, this shit ain’t about what could be, it’s telling things the way they are.

People don’t care who the leader is so long as there’s a leader. That may as well be a quote from the book—and I mean the book inside the book, the book called Adjustment Day that’s being passed around by really angry men with guns. And two years ago, I would have scoffed at that thought. Not here. Not in America.

Yeah. I was wrong. I was wrong about a lot of things. Like saying “Adjustment Day is coming.”

Nah. It’s already here.

 

A Justification for a Lightsaber

(This essay is SPOILER FREE. So, continue reading.)

I’m finally doing it. I’m getting a lightsaber.

I was nine years old when I saw Star Wars—not Episode IV, but goddamn Star Wars—for the first time. Of course, I saw it a few more times that year. I raked leaves and cut grass to buy a ticket. I sat in the dark theater spellbound to the screen. I memorized every word, every visual. I bought the novel and read it and read it and read it until it fell apart. That year, at Halloween, I had a homemade Luke Skywalker costume, complete with lightsaber I made out of a toilet paper roll and some bits of other stuff I found around the house. I bought A Splinter in the Mind’s Eye and read that over and over and over again until it fell apart.

I was twelve when The Empire Strikes Back broke my heart. I fell in love with Yoda. And in just a few short seconds, he convinced me that I could be a Jedi. I didn’t go around trying to lift things with my will alone, but I believed in the philosophy of it. “Luminous beings are we!” I believed that. And my skeptical mind still does in a metaphorical way. I adopted the ideals of the Jedi—as unbending and unforgiving as they are—and I think it helped me become the writer I am today…for better or worse.

 

The whole idea of Jedi consumed me for a year or more. I began studying Eastern philosophies that inspired it, discovered Buddhism and it’s militant cousin Zen, and read Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces and watched him talk about all this with Bill Moyers. I learned the simple lesson of finding what I wanted to do in my life—tell stories—and found a way to make it support me. I learned to fight my own doubts and the voices telling me it couldn’t be done. And all because of that little talk Yoda gives. Those brief seconds.

But in all that time, I never owned a lightsaber. Just that little piece of cardboard I made when I was nine. That was it. To me, a true Jedi made their own lightsaber and those skills were far outside my own abilities. If I wasn’t going to make my own, I wouldn’t have one. That was the rule. And you don’t break the rules.

Fast forward to last weekend and me sitting in another darkened theater watching The Last Jedi. A film I found to be deeply flawed, and yet, incredibly beautiful. (If you want to know the flaws, there’s a lot, but that isn’t what this is about.) The very first thing Luke does in the movie made me stand up and shout. No kidding. I can’t explain why because this is spoiler free, but suffice to say, I suddenly knew that I could own a lightsaber I didn’t make.

I may not make it, but I can make it mine.

But in order to do that, I had to justify it. I had to give it a story. And it couldn’t be as mundane as “I went online and used my Xmas money and…” No. It had to be a story. And the only way to do that was to make the character who owned it. My character. And if I’m going to make the character, I might as well make the costume, and if I’m going to make the costume, I’d better damn well have a lightsaber.

Yeah, I’m that much of a geek.

And so, I started thinking about a character. When in continuity the character takes place, his history, his…

…hey. Why does my character have to be male?

Well, I’d have to wear a mask or shave my whiskers. The mask…yeah, I could do that. But I also don’t have the figure for it. Although, I could probably fake that. But I’d want to take the helmet off at some point, and that would ruin the effect. Eh. Male for now. Maybe I’ll change my mind later.

My character’s name is Jzora Vhe (pronounced juh-zoar-ah vay) and he was one of those red clad fellas who guarded the Emperor. He was a Jedi who fell to the Dark Side, but never became a Sith. He earned that position by hunting down Jedi after the  Fall of the Republic, using his knowledge of their ways against them. And when another Jedi was captured and brought before the Emperor, he was the one who did the executions.

Until they brought in a Jedi Knight by the name of Aleno Sovan. Aleno and Jzora were secret lovers before the Fall of the Republic. Aleno ended the relationship and Jzora’s loneliness was the crack the Dark Side needed to get to his heart. When he saw Alenah kneeling before the Emperor, his heart almost broke again. Palpatine ordered, “Executioner! I have another Jedi for you to dispatch!”

Jzora stepped forward, trying to keep his hands from shaking. But then, Aleno looked up and saw him through his mask. Said his name.

“The Force has brought me here,” Aleno said, looking up at him. “So I can ask your forgiveness before I die.”

And Jzora’s hands faltered. The Emperor sensed the weakness in his Executioner, and commanded the other Red Guardians to act. The two lovers fought and tried to escape, but Aleno was mortally wounded, dying in Jzora’s arms. Jzora did escape, and since then, has hunted down the Sith and the Emperor’s slaves.

He is not a Jedi Knight. Not anymore. He was never a Sith. And while the Dark Side always calls to him, he uses its power to weaken the Emperor. He met Leiah once. He tried to join the Rebellion. She refused him, the darkness in his heart was too strong to trust.

So now, he operates outside the Rebellion and outside the Empire. And he will get revenge on the Emperor for his true love’s death.

 

That’s my character. Possibly redeemable, not entirely a Sith nor a Jedi. I’d use the “Fallen Jedi” template in the old d6 Star Wars RPG if I was making a character sheet for him.

And this, my friends, is his lightsaber…

 

It’s the “Crimson Scorpion” from Ultrasabers. You can find it by clicking that link. I plan on making some modifications to it. Making it mine. I want to add leather straps to the grip, switch out what they call the “pommel” (that piece on the end) and add a lock of hair to the end as well.

As for other changes, we’ll see. But for right now, those are the changes I’m making.

I bought a lightsaber. And I’m going to make it mine by giving it a story. And in order to do that, I have to make a character and a costume.

I’m such a geek.

Supposed Former 7th Sea Junkie

Way back in 1998 (geez, I’m old), Alanis Morissette released her follow up to Jagged Little Pill, an album that sold over 16 million copies (thus going platinum 16 times). JLP was a phenomenon, breaking records every which way. Of course, her follow up, had the impossible task of meeting the same expectations.

Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie sold 2.2 million copies worldwide on its first week of release, but was considered “a disappointment” by the record companies. The woman went double platinum in seven days and the record company was unimpressed. For her third album, they spent less money on marketing, less money on production, less money on everything because the record only sold 2.2 million copies in seven days.

I bring up this story because I was recently at a convention where someone asked me if I was disappointed in our most recent Kickstarter, 7th Sea: Khitai. I laughed and told the Alanis story. Then, I said I wasn’t disappointed because my next most successful Kickstarter raised around $40,000 (Wicked Fantasy). We beat that in the first couple of hours.

I also pointed out that we were currently one of the top five most backed RPG Kickstarter of 2017. And we aren’t even finished yet.

People asked me if I felt Khitai was a failure. I pointed at the goal and the fact we’ve raised over $100,000 more than we asked for. “Yeah,” I said sarcastically. “Total failure.”

7th Sea: Second Edition was an anomaly. We all knew that going in to Khitai. We had no idea how much Khitai would raise. Just getting to do the core book would be awesome, and everything else after that would be a bonus.

Now we know. It’s going to happen. We’ve already promised two 200 full color hardback books as supplements and we’re probably going to hit another one soon. So, no. I’m not disappointed. I’m not even surprised. I’m happy we’ll be bringing Khitai to 7th Sea fans and people who are new to the game. The writing team and I are excited and can’t wait to show you what we’ve been working on.

And if I have to settle for Top 5 Best RPG Kickstarter of 2017…well, damn. I guess I’ll have to settle for that.

DragonCon Part 2: Antitheism and Forbeck’s Law

Let’s start with the latter, shall we?

Matt Forbeck writes a lot of words. Tons of them. I used to hang out with him a lot at conventions, although we don’t get the chance to do that anymore. One time, I was sitting in a seminar with seven people on the panel. Seven!

Meanwhile, out in the audience, we counted only three.

That’s pretty typical for a gaming panel. I mean, if you get more than a dozen, you’re cooking with gas.

Looking at the audience, Matt says, “Time to move the panel to the bar!” Which is exactly what Forbeck’s Law is.

“Whenever the panelists outnumber the audience,
the panel moves to the bar.”

I’ve spread Matt’s rule as far as I can—even though I don’t usually drink anything stronger than Classic Coke—because the panel suddenly becomes much more intimate. Also, as Matt informed me, the audience tends to buy the panelists drinks.

This year, attending DragonCon, I noticed something odd. I never needed to invoke Matt’s Law. In fact, the panels were crammed with people. Loaded with them. Enthusiastic, full of questions. They just kept showing up. I’d only seen this in Poland—another story for another time—but never in the United States.

(Granted, I don’t do panels at GenCon, which is probably the exception to the rule. But only probably.)

I sat on six panels at DragonCon and all of them were a blast. One or two, however, suffered from the “too many cooks” problem. When you have six people sitting at the table and only an hour to talk, nobody gets to say anything meaningful.

(I’m pretty sure there’s no Law for that. Hm…)

But most of the panels only had one or two people—maybe three—and we all got to “get our stuff in” as professional wrestlers like to say.

One of the high points of the convention for me was a surprise meeting with an old friend of mine: Robert Boney. I met Robert when I moved to Georgia and we played a lot of RPGs together. He showed up with a beard and offspring who were polite and beautiful. Robert knew me when I was just 16 and still figuring out who I was. Modern psychology was just figuring out teen depression and didn’t quite know how to deal with it. Hell, I didn’t know how to deal with it. Despite my curious—and probably infuriating—problems, he remained my friend. And more than thirty years later, sought me out at DragonCon to say hello. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all we got to say. I hugged him as hard as I could and promised to keep in touch better.

Robert Boney and Friend

 

And so, “Hi Robert!”

At that same seminar, a fellow asked me a GM question.

Bonus for you, Faithful Reader! I don’t know if this is actually the case, but I learned this from Robin Laws, so I’m calling this “Robin’s First Rule of Game Seminars.”

 

All Game Seminars Eventually Turn into GM Advice Seminars

 

There’s probably a proper name for it, and I’m sure either Robin or Ken Hite will correct me within 24 hours of this posting.

Anyway, a GM question. He told me the story of a player who liked to cause trouble in a particular way: pissing off another player’s deity. Whenever the cleric’s deity shows up or they encounter a temple or a shrine, the trouble player—let’s call him “Bob”—does whatever he can to piss the deity off.

“So, he’s an antitheist,” I said.

The GM looked at me quizzically.

“He thinks gods are a bad thing for humanity.”

The GM nodded. “Yeah, I guess so.”

I said, “Okay. First thing you do. Take the player aside and find out if this is intentional. Does he really want his character to do this and is he okay with in-game consequences for his actions. If he says ‘Yes,’ then, move on to Step 2.”

“What if he doesn’t say yes?” the GM asked me.

“Then find out why he’s doing it. But chances are, he’s doing it intentionally. And if that’s the case, here’s what you do.”

I told him, “Have the deity show up again. When Bob smacktalks the deity, have the god throw a thunderbolt or something. Doesn’t matter. Whatever you want. The thunderbolt bounces off Bob’s chest. It doesn’t affect him at all.”

The GM looked at me skeptically. “What do you mean?”

“I mean his antitheism protects him from divine magic,” I said.

The GM shook his head. “No. That will make him worse.

I smiled. “Yes, it will. He’ll jump up and down and shout and thumb his nose at the cleric’s deity and he’ll be a complete ass about it…until he needs a healing spell.”

That’s when the GM started to get it. He returned my smile and nodded. “Not just that god’s magic…”

I finished his thought, “… all divine magic. The healing spells, the protection spells, the buff spells.”

We said it together, “Everything.”

Then, I told him, “And the only way to get it back…is if he submits to the gods. If he humbles himself. If he becomes the penitent man.”

“Only the penitent man will pass,” he said, picking up on my cue.

I nodded. “That’s right. And until he does, no divine magic.

The GM shook my hand. “That’s awesome.”

“Another day’s work,” I said, smiling. He walked away and I spent the rest of the day wondering how that little trick was going to work.

Next Time!

Next episode of my DragonCon trilogy focuses on…well, you’ll just have to tune in to find out! See you then!

 

Heroic Stories in Khitai

7th Sea: Khitai – The Duel

Khitai presents opportunities for heroic stories very different than the ones we see in western culture. The typical western hero is a renegade, rebelling against the corrupt tyranny of society. In the west, we distrust authority, often casting such figures and structures as villains. Think of Darth Vader and the Emperor in Star Wars, the Alliance in Firefly, or even Principal Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. These people and entities exist as villains in the west because we, as a people, feel distrust of authority is virtuous. A citizen’s duty is to guard and monitor people and structures of authority.

However, the Eastern Hero we’ll find in Khitai has a different attitude toward those same people and structures. In Khitai, a Hero’s duty is to protect those people and structures. Think of the role of the yojimbo: a bodyguard who puts the life of his charge above his own. This is because Khitai views human institutions as representations of natural order. All the world has order: the turn of the seasons, the movement of stars, the cycle of life and death. Everything has an order, and that includes the lives and destinies of human beings. The purpose of authority is to maintain the health and welfare of its people. When all things are in balance, people and institutions work toward this goal, but when they are not in balance, people and institutions begin thinking about themselves above the welfare of others. This kind of selfish pride is often considered the worst kind of villainy in Khitai. A human who thinks she is above the natural order, thus throwing off the cosmic balance, bringing suffering and despair to others, just to nurture her own pride.

“Everything has an order, and that includes the lives and destinies of human beings.”

So, let’s return to Star Wars for a moment. For while it may appear to be the story of a Western Hero rebelling against authority, Luke Skywalker is actually an Eastern Hero trying to restore balance to a galaxy that has been thrown out of balance. The Empire could be using its power to bring peace and plenty to its people, but instead, serves the selfish needs of a very few. The Rebellion seeks a political solution to the problem, but Skywalker knows the solution is actually metaphysical. The soul of the galaxy is at stake, and the only way to save it is to redeem it. And that means redeeming the soul of his father, Anakin Skywalker: a hero who failed his own test, just as Luke is in real danger of failing his own. In the end, by casting down his weapon, Luke is willing to give his life to prove to his father that he does have light still in his soul. And his sacrifice—his unwillingness to fight the Emperor—Luke redeems his father, transforming him from Darth Vader to Anakin Skywalker again.

Han Solo, on the other hand, is the Western Hero. He’s a smuggler and a thief, dodging authority whenever he can. He doesn’t trust the Empire because it is authoritarian—as opposed to Luke who fights against it because it’s villainous. Han gets involved because he wants the money promised him, but he stays involved because of his friendship with Luke and because he’s fallen in love with Leia. And while those motivations are selfish, the outcome—the overthrow of the Empire—is still a just cause in his eyes. Solo is selfish, but he’s only selfish up to a point. He probably wouldn’t smuggle slaves, for example. He wouldn’t use his profession to protect the Empire or help it flourish. He’s still a hero, even if some of his motivations are less than heroic.

Han Solo represents the things we admire about the Western Hero.

In the end, Solo represents everything we admire about the Western Hero while Luke represents everything we admire about the Eastern Hero. Han values freedom. He’s highly independent and provincial and informal. Luke values virtue, and wants to save the galaxy from something he views as morally foul. Han wants to dismantle the Empire because he believes that freedom itself is a virtue. Luke wants to dismantle the empire because he believes it doesn’t serve its people in the appropriate way.

Granted, Luke’s journey begins as a revenge quest. The Empire killed his family—both his father and his aunt and uncle—but he eventually overcomes that hate and his own personal motivations. He realizes vengeance will not solve the problem. Solo, on the other hand, maintains his personal motivations and helps overcome the Empire because his personal motivations give him the strength and courage he needs to be a hero.

And so we have the Théan Hero empowered by freedom and the Eastern Hero empowered by balance. In the end, both Heroes want the same thing: peace and harmony for all. But they get there on two separate paths. This isn’t to say that they can’t sit together at the same gaming table and fight against villainy. Just as Luke and Han fight together, so can your Théah and Khitai Heroes fight together. But they get to bicker and argue all the way, just as Han and Luke do.

The friends who fight together, stay together.

7th Sea: Khitai is coming to Kickstarter October 3rd. To celebrate the first major expansion of 7th Sea’s world, we’re sharing stories and thoughts straight from the developers. We’ll be discussing people, places, magic, game systems, and what the designers themselves are most excited about! Stay tuned.

DragonCon Part 1: “Can’t I Have Just a Little Peril?”

The Distinguished Gentlman from Ultima, Lord British

This is the first part of a series of blog posts about DragonCon. Part 2 and 3 will be up soon!

I was at DragonCon this weekend and addition to staying up way too late and dancing way too much, I was also a panelist. The panels at DragonCon are different from the ones at gaming conventions because…well, people attend them. 

(For those of you who don’t know the Forbeck Rule—named for Matt Forbeck—”When the panelists outnumber the attendees, the panel moves to the bar.”)

The rooms were packed to capacity. Standing room only. In fact, on many occasions, there were people standing. I ran a 7th Sea panel that was full of fans eager to hear about the game. I was also on a “Making a Great Character” panel and a “How to Make a Game for Everyone” panel. (Short answer: Don’t.) I got to sit next to Lord British on that one, and let me tell you, the man is nothing short of the archetypal gentleman. I also got to hook up with the ever-brilliant Keith Baker (of Gloom, Eberron, and Phoenix: Dawn Command fame) and Clint Black (systems developer for Savage Worlds) and we all chatted about ways to make games more fun. There were a ton of D&D questions, and one suggestion I gave seemed to haunt me for the rest of the convention.

A GM started asking a question about the right way to handle hit points and before he could get to the end of his question, I stopped him. “Ditch hit points,” I told him. “They’re a redundant system. They do the same thing as armor class and saving throws. They all do the same thing. Instead, you should replace hit points with peril.”

I explained how this little system worked and the room seemed to light up. And for the rest of the convention, people asked me about it. “John,” they’d say, “I heard about this thing you use to replace hit points. Is it written down anywhere?”

“Nah,” I’d answer. “If you heard what it does, you know what it does.”

Well, after this blog entry, I can’t answer that question the same way. “Yes,” I’ll say. “It’s on my blog.”

The Always Wonderful Clint and Jodi Black

How It Works

PCs have peril instead of hit points. Just replace any hit points a character may have with peril. If your fighter has 34 hit points, she now has a peril threshold of 34. That means she can take 34 peril before hitting her threshold.

Whenever a character would normally lose hit points, they gain peril. If your character gets hit for 8 hit points, instead of losing those 8 hit points, she gains 8 peril. 

Your character can also take peril for non-combat actions. If you’re trying to sneak around and you get seen by a guard, take 1d6 peril. (I just made that up. If the situation calls for something less drastic, use a d4. However, I seldom use more than a d8 for peril, unless under really dire circumstances.) 

As soon as your character hits her peril threshold, the DM announces some sort of perilous consequence for your character. For example, if your character is in a duel, you may lose a finger or an ear. Or, if you’re fighting on a rooftop, the villain may throw your character from the roof to the cold waters below.

In essence, peril is a way to get around the humdrum, boring death mechanics D&D (and other games) have. “My character died? Fine, the cleric will pay 5,000 gold and I’ll be back.” May as well do a console restart, my friend, because at that point, you’re playing a computer adventure game. 

It opens options for players and DMs for when your character hits zero. It isn’t just death, it’s sometimes something much, much worse.

Fighting a vampire and you hit your peril threshold? Guess what? You’re a vampire now.

Sneaking across the city and you hit your peril threshold? Now, you’re in jail.

Dueling a man with six fingers and you hit your peril threshold? Now, you’ve got two scars on your cheek and your father’s sword.

Once you hit your peril threshold, it resets to zero. Lucky you!

The Very Brilliant Keith Baker

But What about Healing?

I have to admit, I have an answer for this one, but Keith Baker’s was better. When he heard about peril and someone asked about healing, he brought this up. I think it’s brilliant and I’ll be stealing it (and putting Keith’s name in the thank you section) of my next game.

My answer goes something like this: healing is gone. It’s a narrative thing now. Can a cleric heal peril? No. But he can restore your confidence! A bard can do this, too. Restoring a character’s confidence is pretty much the same as healing, but once you’ve taken a wound such as a lost eye or limb, that’s it. That’s a permanent injury. And you can’t get rid of it. Just like Raistlin can’t get rid of his silver skin and bloody cough. Just like Elric can’t get rid of his albinism. Just like Jaime Lannister can’t regrow his hand. (Or Tyrion regrow his nose, if you’ve read the books.) 

Clerics (and bards) gan restore confidence. That’s it. And I usually only allow a d6. If you’re generous, anyone can restore confidence equal to their charisma bonus, but clerics and bards get to add a d6 to that. And only once per day. 

But Keith brought up a rather brilliant healing thing that I really liked. In a nutshell, he said his clerics can heal wounds, but they have to put the wounds somewhere. Good clerics take the wounds unto themselves or share them with the group. Evil clerics heal their own wounds and put them onto someone else.

I really liked that idea. So, I’m sharing it with you. 

Next?

We finished today talking about gods and next time, I’ll be talking about them again, but I’ll be putting on my Play Dirty hat. A young man asked me for some advice about a player of his and I improvised an answer. He liked it enough to take it back to his table. I’ll be sharing it with you the next time we meet.

And get a helmet. This one is rough.

Vote for 7th Sea at the ENnies

Summer is con season, but that also means it’s awards season. We got nominated for an Origins Award, won a Golden Geek, and now, it’s time for the ENnies.

Usually, I don’t get excited about awards, because I’ve won my share, but this year is a little different. People like Mike Curry, Rob Justice and Mark Richardson are up for the first time and it would be really cool to let them take the stage. That’s my plan, anyway.

So, yeah. I’d like to see the people who worked so hard to bring 7th Sea: Second Edition to life get some recognition for that. And you can help. Go to the ENnies website and vote. If you think we deserve an award, give us a thumbs up. That way, the folks who brought you 7th Sea 2e will get that recognition they deserve.

Thanks and see you at GenCon!

-John


For quick reference, here are the nomination categories. Thank you for your vote!

Click here to vote.