Friday, October 04, 2013

OddD&D, part IV: What do I need?

Well, I've shortened the titles so I can have a reasonable amount of room for a subtitle.

For those just tuning in, I'm furloughing my normal DARK•HERITAGE setting discussion to talk about another notion I had.  The hook; the impetus, in fact, for this setting design is the question--what if you used all, totally official D&D rules (3.5, because I'm most familiar with them, plus you can get much of it online for free via the SRD) to create a game that lacked almost all of the D&Disms?

As a quick summary so far, what I've done first is decided that instead of magic, only psionics works in this setting for bringing out supernatural F/X.  As I said earlier, there's really no difference between magic and psionics other than that psionics uses a power point mechanic rather than a spell slot mechanic, and the the psionic powers (or psionic spells, if you will) tend to have a more "technical" sounding jargon associated with them--even when they directly duplicate the effects of more traditional D&D spells.  I've also messed with the race list; human and half-orc are the only ones that you'll recognize from the standard line-up.  In fact, I've quite focused on so-called "savage" humanoids--half-orcs, goblins, and hobgoblins all make the list, as do shifters, for instance.  Since I'm doing psionics, why not also have some psionic races, I thought, so kalashtar and elan are officially brought on board as well.

I've also decided that all of these races live in more or less cosmopolitan cities and towns that are, nevertheless, very politically fractured and balkanized.  To make things worse, they live on the fringes of society, high in the mountains and otherwise in inaccessible locations, connected only by extremely hazardous trails through "enemy territory"--since the majority of the land is dominated by dangerous swamp and forest/jungle that's inhabited by powerful lizardmen societies that use gnarly "extreme" dinosaurs as domesticated beasts of burden and stuff.

So, that's the premise.  Now you're up to speed.  I probably don't need to say this, since it's common to all of the games I would potentially run, but let me get it out of the way right now.  I strongly believe in the early 3e motto of "Tools, not rules."  In fact, I was a bit surprised that it needed to be said, since I've always run games that way.  That's definitely an old-school paradigm.  What does this mean to me?  It means that in spite of the fact that 3.5 is strongly perceived to be a fiddly, rulesy game that's stifling to run, I don't think so, because I don't worry too much about running it "properly."  If your character Jumps, for example, I'm not going to look up all the rules on jumping, I'll just give you a DC that I develop as an ad hoc ruling on the fly that seems reasonable given what you are planning on doing, and move on.  I still strongly believe in the precedence of rulings over rules, and I believe that the robust and consistent framework of d20 should be utilized to make rulings easier, not to proliferate the discussion of nit-picky rules discussions in the middle of a game.

I've got a few other minor houserules that related to me preferred playstyle rather than to the premise of the setting (level-based AC bonus progression, for instance, to make armor less essential) but they're neither here nor there in regards to this post, so I'll leave 'em be for now.

Rather, since I'm working up a new setting, basically, at least in outline, sketchy format, I thought I'd review the old Ray Winninger Dungeoncraft methodology and see if there's anything important I should be thinking of but which I am not (I've always been pretty impressed with the Winninger Dungeoncraft methodology.  Not everything Ray says is essential, but when it comes to D&D running specifically, it's a great place to start--you can later break or ignore any rules you need to, but only after you make sure you understand them and why you're doing so.)  One thing he says early, on the "Should I DM?" article (his first in the series, and usually one that I don't need to look at very closely since it's pretty basic stuff for someone who has already run a game before) is listing out exactly what material you need.  Given that I'm going for an unusual hook for this setting, one that utilizes some of the more "marginal" D&D elements and promotes them to replace more "traditional" D&D elements, this is actually a rather important question for me to answer.

The good news is that, for most of my elements listed so far for the setting, I'm good with just the SRD.  Presumably if you're actually playing D&D (3.5) you're not just using the SRD, however, you're using the actual books.  The PHB and the MM in particular.  Much of the material from the Expanded Psionics Handbook (EPH) is also in the SRD, and is pretty crucial to this particular setting.

Other than that, you can always use a few more monster entries, and I'm specifically referring to some that are located in the Monster Manual III;  some of the lizardmen variants, more dinosaurs, the shifter, etc.  I'm also specifically referring to some classes from Complete Psionic, so that becomes a core book for this particular setting.  I'd be happy to accept any classes that lack a spellcasting progression from any of the other Complete books (Complete Warrior and Complete Adventurer being the most likely to work here--as well as providing variants for spell-casting less rangers if desired.)  With this, I've got everything I need except the kalashtar, which--uniquely among all of the Eberron races--never got a monster manual style write-up anywhere.  *sigh*  I guess that means you also need access to either Eberron or Races of Eberron unless you simply ignore the kalashtar as an option. 

That's unfortunate, since it means you need a book for simply one race.  If you don't already have it, then you can reduce your investment to simply two or three books (Complete Psionic and Monster Manual III) plus the SRD.  If you don't want to use the SRD, you need three more: PHB, MM, and EPH.  That's not really so bad.  You can also use some others, but keep in mind that the ubiquity of magic in D&D means that a lot of stuff is off limits by virtue of the premise of this setting.

Also, D&D has a lot of monsters.  I don't need many of them, since the vs. lizardmen and dinosaurs is a prominent feature of the setting premise as well.  HOWEVER, to mix that up just a bit more, I'm going to say that yuan-ti and lizardmen vie for control of the land (still keeping with a strongly reptilian theme).  The lizardmen see the "mammal" races as little more than food; beneath the notice of their empires except as a nuisance and occasional opportunity.  The yuan-ti, on the other hand, see the mammals as potentially a useful pawn to be used in their wars with the lizardmen, and so they infiltrate and manipulate the various other races settlements from afar, leading to a more sinister and less overt type of conflict (which is always good in a D&D game that eschews both dungeons and dragons.)  In the waters and seas, Deep ones also rule, and they sometimes like to infiltrate coastal settlements (a la "The Shadow Over Innsmouth.")  Deep Ones are well represented in D&D by the kuo-toa from the first Monster Manual, but I also notice that they are considered product identity and therefore don't make the cut into the SRD!  You can substitute sahuagin mechanics for the same concept, I suppose, or use the MM anyway if you have it, or any other aquatic fish-people mechanics.  Just get rid of Blibdoolpoolp entirely (the worst name ever to come out of the original Gygaxian crowd, which was infamous for its really bad names already) and go with Dagon.

There are also old humanoid settlements that have been destroyed, and undead and demons haunt their remains.  It is rumored that in their own internecine conflicts (which, keep in mind, they can ill-afford) someone "went nuclear" and broke the barriers between worlds, bringing this to pass.  Keep in mind that in a setting without clerics and turn undead, undead are much more challenging (as they should be, in my opinion anyway) since they have to actually be fought the old-fashioned way.

As a quick aside, the entirety of the little Greenland sized mini-continent that will make up this setting doesn't have to be jungle and swamp.  Although its usually assumed that lizardmen are swamp and jungle dwellers, and are as much aquatic as they are terrestrial, this really makes them more "crocodilemen" than lizardmen.  Lizards live in all kinds of environments, and are, in fact, spectacularly well-suited to living in very dry conditions.  You ever been out in the desert?  If you see a vertebrate, it's more like to be a bird or lizard (both of which descend from sauropsid ancestors) than a mammal.  That said, there's very little in the lizardfolk entry in the SRD that really supports this aquatic business other than a hold breath special quality, so just ignore that assumption and feel free to have Triceratops-riding lizardmen out in dry grasslands in the center of the continent.

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