Category Archives: dungeons and dragons

The Service Industry

Caveat: I’ve never been a big fan of “crafting” in MMOs and the like.  The idea of spending hours on a computer game collecting different artifacts to put together something for sale just doesn’t do it for me.  That’s why I have a job.  That’s why I have hobbies.  I don’t want to spend my leisure time “crafting” virtual products for sale.  If you are the kind of person who does, you will probably disagree with the assessment in this article.

Recently, over on Google+, I shared a few thoughts with Brian Fitzpatrick on a prospective Alchemist class for old-school D&D.  Now first, let me say that Brian is in good company.  I’m not sure how many versions of an Alchemist class have been developed for D&D, between retro-clones, heartbreakers, Dragon Magazine, Pathfinder, and unattributed home brews, but I’m sure its up there in the Top 10.  He’s not breaking new ground, but he’s not trying to get blood from a stone either.

Once upon a time, I loved the idea of NPC classes.  Because more is better, right?  In a class-based system, the only way to achieve these expressions of diversity is through new classes.  It’s not like a skill or advantage-based system where I can spend a few points and BOOM!  I’m an alchemist, bitches!

The trouble is, those sorts of classes don’t really work in an adventure/exploration heavy game like D&D.  A character class focused solely on a support role just isn’t going to be fun to play over the long haul by the majority of players.  Because they never really get a chance to step into the spotlight when it counts.    Sure, I’m sure there are a handful of games that sort of class will fit like a glove, but the traditional “let’s explore” D&D game, not so much.

Besides, the rules already provide guidelines for the creation of potions and alchemical devices by clerics, magic-users and elves (even the other character types too, if the GM is flexible and willing to be extrapolate a bit).  This makes perfect sense.  After all, if we look at the life and career of Isaac Newton, its reasonable that in a quasi-historical fantasy setting all of these skills would have gone together.  A “wizard” would of course be able to cook up alchemical concoctions.  That would be assumed in the background and training.  So you already have the framework for your adventuring alchemist.  You can make it as simple or robust as you need it to be.

So my response to Brian was, rather than a class, why not just come up with a more detailed alchemy service?  Because that’s what it really comes down to: service and cost.  The party hires an alchemist to keep them afloat in healing potions, greek fire, and (in the case of Brian’s class) keep their magic items charged.  That stuff really isn’t the bread and butter of adventuring PCs, so lets mitigate it to a support role.  Brian disagrees with me on the merits of the class.  Which is fine.  As I’ve said, he’s in good company and I’m hardly the final word in game design.  His argument is as follows:

…I think the party alchemist, especially in a longer campaign with more spellcasters, could be extremely useful. Perhaps not all the time, but more often than not… Here are a few possibilities.

  • Imagine having the ability for both a Cleric and an Alchemist to temporarily enchant or improve weapons for the battle at hand
  • Or recharging an expended magic item at a critical juncture
  • Or creating a scroll, potion or powder from an unused spell at the end of the day “just in case” the party needs it at a future time

If we make the alchemist at lower levels (1-5) more useful for those three tasks, as well as give them a few additional abilities or spells, I think that would be enough to make this a useful player class.

Sure.  Or you could simply tweak the magic item research and fabrication rules as they are and achieve almost the same effect without having to wedge a player into a largely supportive role.


  • Clerics and magic users can already temporarily enhance weapons for the battle at hand without the extra step of alchemy.
  • Recharging expended magic item sounds great, but removes the necessity of further exploration to replace expended resources.  Plus, most magic items replicate spell effects, allowing you to put your other limited resources elsewhere.
  • The rules already allow this to some degree.  Building a class around it is unnecessary.

And that’s really what’s at issue here.  Unless alchemy is going to be a big feature of your game (and it could be!), building a class doesn’t really add value to the game.  Instead, it provides a character that isn’t as capable as a magic-user or cleric that is focused on downtime activities and with more equipment and resource requirements.  See, a magic-user is just as capable whether or not he can find a steady supply of mandrake root to create this or that potion.  An alchemist would need to have that same, if not more, utility and versatility.

I’m not saying an adventuring alchemist isn’t a cool idea.  But I do think it needs to have a bigger niche than, “you want me to recharge that for ya?”

But I didn’t write this whole thing to shoot down Brian’s hopes and dreams.  No, see I want to redirect him a little.  Because what I DO NEED, as a DM AND as a player, is a reason to travel 300 miles over land and sea to seek out a MASTER alchemist as opposed to hiring that guy in the base town.  And I need a justification as to why that dude charges x10 as much for his services, other than that his calling card reads “Master Alchemist.”

If you look at B/X and AD&D, you’ll see roughly the same thing:

B/X D&D (Expert Rulebook)
Alchemist (1000 gp/month): If given the formula or a sample, an alchemist may make a potion at half the normal time and cost. They may also conduct research into different types of potions at twice the cost and time required for a magic-user.

AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide
Alchemist (300 gp/month):
This profession handles the compounding of magical substances, and the advantages of employing an alchemist are detailed under the section FABRICATION OF MAGIC ITEMS, Potions. Alchemists will only be found in cities unless you specifically locate one elsewhere. It will require an offer of 10 to 100 gold pieces bonus money, plus a well-stocked laboratory, plus the assurance of not less than a full year of employment, to attract one to service.

There really isn’t anything there that sets one apart from the other.  So there is just as much benefit to tracking down the famed Isaac Newton at University in England as dropping into Ted’s Apothecary and Lubricants for all of your alchemical needs.  What I’m proposing would serve the game well would be to grade hirelings by degrees of skill (I’d recommend three tiers to avoid getting too granular and keep the book keeping manageable), with different rates and some different capabilities attached.  Ted’s A & L might be a great place to go for low level potions.  But for the real heavy hitters (like recharging your wand of fireballs or a potion of super heroism), you have to seek out a Master.  And I think it would be worthwhile to do this across the board.  There should be a difference between hiring the Black Company and Wallace’s Band of Ne’er-do-Wells.  And there really is no guidance on how to do it right now.

I’m going to come back to this eventually on my own, but I suspect someone just as smart and twice as dedicated has already beaten me to the punch on this one.  And if not, someone needs to.  In the meantime, don’t give up hope on your Alchemist class, Brian.  I hear the one in the Arcanum is a fantastic starting point!



The Lure of Simplicity

In case anyone has been wondering where I’ve been the past two weeks, I’m still here.  I didn’t fall off the face of the Earth or climb into a devil-faced sphere of annihilation.  Far worse actually.  John Wick and Co. dropped a PDF preview of the new 7th Sea core book in the inboxes of over 11,000 people.  We immediately began combing through it looking for…anything and everything.  Together, we provided enough feedback that they delayed printing by a week so that we could provide even more feedback.  Now, the books are off to press, the proofs are being reviewed, and we are all waiting patiently for the final draft of the PDF to be released so we can go wild with it.

In the meantime, due to a night of unusual absentee-ism in my Witch Hunter game, I took them for a spin through the B/X D&D Dungeon I’ve been running for the kids in my library program.  And fun was had by all.  A surprising amount of it.  Which brings me to the topic at hand.

The intoxicating lure of simplicity.

For about the past decade, the two games I’ve run – almost exclusively – have been Savage Worlds and Witch Hunter.  Both are great games and a lot of fun.  But, as simple as their core mechanics are, both games have a lot of moving parts.  Between Talents and Edges, Stances and Maneuvers, Power Points and Strain, Hero Points and Bennies, there is a surprising amount to keep track of.  I’m not sure why, but when you compare it to the regimented ease of B/X D&D, both games feel clunky by comparison.

After the last game session in the teen program, where we managed to spend an hour drafting an adventure and only played an hour and a half of real action, things moved steadily and quickly.  Combat zipped along at an average of 2-3 rounds each.  Even with a large group of players (upwards of 12 on some nights), it never feels like it bogs down the way WH and SW can.

I feel like I’ve forgotten how liberating running a truly rules-lite game can be.  The last game I ran that felt this easy-breezy was SAGA (Dragonlance 5th Age).  A lot of this has to do with how the game works on the GM side, I believe.  It’s very regimented.  Party goes in a room with a trap?  Roll a couple of d6s and look for 1s or 2s.  Party encounters a monster?  Roll a pair of d6s to check for surprise.  Then 2 more for Reactions.  If things go poorly, 2 more for initiative and just start going around the table.

7th Sea promises to be equally as easy.  At its core, its a resource management game where the players much chose how they spend their resources to further the story.  But despite the simplicity of the core mechanic, the game offers a very robust menu of character options.  Players choose two backgrounds (each with a different means of gaining Hero Points, a secondary resource), two Arcana (more Hero Points), and up to five Advantages (ways to spend those Hero Points).  This makes for a lot of options on the player’s part, which eats up game time.  Meanwhile, with B/X D&D, when a player poses a task outside the parameters of their class, the GM has three simple ways to solve it: say “yes” or “no”, give them a Saving Throw (or maybe an Ability roll if you’re just not feeling the old school love), or roll a d6 and look for 1s or 2s.  You might be generous and apply their Ability bonus to the roll.  Taking some of that dice rolling out of the players hands seems to speed the game up – or perhaps it just makes the GM busier so it just feels that way.

All this has left me with the crazy desire to put together a B/X pastiche for handling swashbuckling adventure.  To take a retro-clone (probably Lamentations of the Flame Princess) and mix in aspects of 7th Sea (all three editions, including d20), Flashing Blades, Honor+Intrigue, and Witch Hunter for the perfect witches brew of rules-light swashbuckling, monster hunting, and exploration.  Which is hilarious, mostly because I have no time for such an endeavor.  But there is something very satisfying about the idea of a complete swashbuckling game in only 64 pages.

And yes, I am aware of Simon Washbourne’s Sabres and Witchery.  A good start, but only about 1/3 of the equation.

I’ll be posting my thoughts about the new edition of 7th Sea in short order now that I’ve had the time to review the full scope of the rules.  But for those of you who can’t wait, here is what some others have had to say on them:

Also, I already have a few tools ready to go up on the Downloads page when the final PDF drops.  Stay tuned.

Lastly, a word about the summer schedule.  I don’t know about you, but my summer schedule becomes a busy time.  The kids are out of school. The wife is out of school.  Honey-dos and playdates fly left and right.  Its bedlam.  So I expect to be a little bit slow in posting stuff until mid-August.  Until then, I’m shooting for one good post a week.  Let’s see if I can keep up that pace.

Forged in Magic

This one should be of interest to fans of Dungeons and Dragons.  Paradigm Concepts, the publishers behind Witchhunter: the Invisible World, are currently hosting a Kickstarter campaign for their first 5th edition DnD product: Forged in Magic, a collection of magic items for your campaign.


Forged in Magic: REFORGED adds over 400+ magic items to your 5E campaign – from magical weapons and armors, rings, and shields to mystical potions, magical staffs and a myriad of wondrous items. Forged in Magic: REFORGED doesn’t just provide a list of items and their properties, but many also have a backstory on its creation or history. While these stories are set in the Arcanis: World of Shattered Empires campaign setting, the rich detail can help you place these in any published setting or your own home made campaign.

For those of you who aren’t up on your history of the company, PCI cut its teeth on the Living Arcanis Living Campaign for DnD 3e, which premiered around the same time as WotC’s own Living Greyhawk campaign.  It built a dedicated (even fanatical) audience and produced scores of adventures for the living campaign and a professional product line before WotC’s meddling with the OGL caused them to jump ship and create their own game system, Arcanis: the World of Shattered Empires.  The writers pride themselves on developing an ongoing, mature, and deep world setting more in the vein of Legend of the Five Rings’ Rokugan than the Forgotten Realms.  I don’t have any personal experience with Arcanis — certain aspects of the game system suggest it isn’t quite the system for me — but from listening to interviews with Henry Lopez and his crew on the topic, I’m VERY tempted to pick this on up when the 5th edition DnD primer is released this year.  In the meantime, the previews of the magic items in Forged in Magic look pretty darn cool!  The book has already been available for their Arcanis game system for some time and has gotten very positive reviews.  I believe PCI intends to this to be a litmus test for interest in a 5th edition version of their Arcanis setting, and so far, judging from the pledges to the kickstarter, there is plenty of interest (at least for new magic items).

The Forged in Magic kickstarter has about a week left to go, so go check it out.  At $15 for the PDF, it’s practically a no-brainer.  And while you’re at it, check out this podcast interview with Henry Lopez and Pedro Barrenechea about all things Arcanis (and look for the link for a free PDF of the old 3e edition of Arcanis world book).