On the Dead

Why do the dead walk the earth in Perdition?

Surely the devils tell you that your soul is theirs. You have seen them deal in soulstuff. Yet you have seen the dead walk and know their words for a stretching of the truth.

What happens once you die? 

The truth is, no one knows.

Yes, there are the trolls. The Empyreal grants arcanists knowledge. Devils walk among us using the residue of the living as power. We command great sorcery. Yet this still remains hidden from us.

Let us begin with our knowledge.


Ancient books tell us a story before the Devils came and blotted out all the stars from the sky. Magic was easier. Mages mastered dozens of different types of spells and magic, drawing their energy from something they called the 'inner planes'. Whatever sources of great power existed—there are cut off from us now. Legends tell of walking among gods and traversing the multiverse. Those doors are closed to us now. All attempts at such magic fail. Animation of the dead was once performed by utilizing the flow from the radiant to the necrotic, as energy flows along a wire. Those ways are now lost.

All students of the arcane are familiar with the Hexad. These are the realms from which we bind living spells. Amecetere the vortex, Metallion the lattice, Cruori of blood and growth, Mintis of thought and mindfire, Skadus of darkness and suffering, and Specere of reflection and reversal. Our theorists believe that these are fundamental and base energies present in the universe. Commanding these fickle and virulent powers is far more difficult then the ease with which the ancients mastered magic.

Trolls are said to have returned from the dead, hence their solid eyes, ashen skin, and dark hair. Rarely do they speak to outsiders, preferring their craft be practiced in secrecy, deep in their halls. Few trolls ever wish to speak of their experiences, though those that do tell us of a lost and shifting maze, and the screams and agony of the dead. They claim that they escaped this dark realm into their bodies. Perhaps this is so.

Their description leads one to theorize perhaps their souls were trapped in some labyrinth on Skadus. Few have ever seen the Skadus, and none has seen a labyrinth. Those that have experienced the Skadus speak of a tempest whipped darkness, surrounded by fugue and shadow, minds lashed with despair, and time and distance floating erratically with only the most tenuous connection to our physical realm. Indeed practitioners of Skadus magic can confirm its malign influence upon the living.

What we are told

The devils say, when we die our souls are sent to the river Lethe, where they are cleansed. They say that great power comes from those who serve the devils; promises abound to mortal servants that they will be powerful masters if they serve loyally. Yet this is likely not the case. There are no records of any living being being 'raised up' by their infernal masters. This hope of future wealth turns the world into a mess of temporarily inconvenienced arch-devil nobles. No man becomes a devil that remembers he was a man. We have seen the soul stuff they trade in, and are told it is the remains of our mortal life. Yet I have held it, and it was as spider web wisps and feathers in my hand. It did contain great power, but it was nothing more than an empty shell. What of the soul?

Those who have been to other hells or have heard dark whispers say that it indeed is what remains of the soul. They say infinite realms are devoted to extracting such power by torturing neigh uncountable souls in a task of unfathomable enormity. It seems too extreme to be true, but watch our masters long enough and you will know how they value life. There is truth to this. 

But all souls? Hardly. Why would the trolls lie? What of the living dead? What of our ability to even raise the dead-how could such a soul reach a person if it were no longer the person? Perhaps it is a simulacra. There is no way to know.

What the Dead Know

So we return again to speak of the dead. They clearly exist, even though the devils say they should not. How is this possible?

The most common type of undead is a phantom soldier. You will often see regiments of the dead seeking work or employ in the army of some powerful human or devil. These skeletal creatures are animate and can speak as well as follow orders. But they maintain only the most base impression of their former selves. Their function as a unit installs some mystical tether that leads them to pantomime their former task. There is no intelligence, soul, or spirit contained within. Examination of such in the Empyreal shows only the influence of Metallion, making it nothing more than a clockwork.

The second most common type are the dead raised by the influence of powerful Devil lords such as Dauthaz or other demons or devils. These too have no natural intelligence. A cursory examination upon the empyreal will show that these bodies are nothing more than corrupted puppets manipulated at a distance by the fiend lord, though the machinations of her servants.

Thirdly, there are the dread lords, death lords, liches, vampires, wraiths, and various other "intelligent" dead. Some of these members are even rumored to reside among our order. These creatures all have special circumstances around their creation, and the commonality among them all is that their souls remain tethered to their body, even though the body no longer lives. Often there are quite arduous tasks that must be accomplished to maintain this tether; Vampires for example must consume Cruori energy by most commonly drinking the blood of the living.

Then, there are rituals that raise the dead. The dead returned are, in this case, nothing more than skeletal goblins. They are animated with evil energies and intend malice to all, including their masters. The ritual simply formalizes the procedure in which inanimate matter becomes animate due to acts of wickedness. This is significantly less useful than fire, being that fire can be controlled and does not seek murder its summoner as a matter of its innate nature.

Those who are raised often remember very little. Darkness, confusion, pain, light, and perhaps waking up once the spell is cast.

It it possible to bind actual souls to corpses? Some necromancers claim to have such power, though I have never seen it. Perhaps you will ask a necromancer yourself; a task not recommended. 

The truth remains unknown to all of us. Theories abound. A leading theory is that the souls traverse a labyrinth somewhere on Skadus, hunted by reapers who send the souls to the appropriate place. Indeed, those knowledgeable in arcana can in fact see the marks on our souls from such higher beings. Perhaps we wander in this realm until found. 

We will all know the answer to the journey in due time.
Muthram Rask, Arch-Magus
Transcript of lecture to The Exalted Servants

Hack & Slash 

On Ego and Competition and my Mother's Seashell

I hate losing.

There's something called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and it's how dumb people live with themselves. In short, how people assess themselves at tasks is influenced by their skill or lack thereof. Oh, and the ego hits hard. People, nearly all people, rate themselves as above average. If you want some fun examples, feel free to skip ahead to the bottom of the article.

Competition doesn't have any time for that.

There are literally millions of Hearthstone players who tell themselves that they could hit legend if only they had the time. There are dropouts all over the country who know they could have gotten their bachelor's degree if only they wanted to. Millions toil in bronze of League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients assured that they would be diamond/platinum if only the rest of their teammates weren't bringing them down.

That's one defense. Another is to attack the institution. That game is broken! Degrees don't matter! Intelligence Quotient tests only test one kind of intelligence. I'm ranked so low because of match making ranking hell!

I'm not saying that's not true. It likely is. (Except for match making ranking hell–that's a complete myth). My question for those people, why not accomplish the goal anyway?

The Rise!

My last legend climb in Hearthstone I had a 58% win rate. From rank 5 to legend, my win rate was 67%. Does that mean I'm a fantastic Hearthstone player? No. I had a pretty compelling win streak from rank 3 to rank 1. The best players in the world have win rates approaching 65% in a season. When I'm playing competitively, my average is around 55% which is good. Does this mean I think I'm a good Hearthstone player? Not really. I make mistakes nearly every turn I play. I play too fast. And honestly, at the end of any given season, there are between 500,000 to 1,000,000 people who end up ranked higher than me.

Let's think about what that legend climb means concretely for a second. Each game takes about 10 minutes to play. With a 55% win rate, It takes around 225 games to reach rank 5 (due to win streaks) and about 225 games to reach legend from rank 5. What that means is that you're going to have to lose over 100 games after you reach rank 5 with a good win rate.

Narcissists can't take it. People who have fragile esteem can't take it. Who's got time for 20 hours of losing?

People who want to achieve.

The Success!

This is true for all difficult things. Getting a bachelor's degree (which only took me six years) wasn't about learning. Nobody learned me anything. I spent a lot of time learning on my own initiative, but frequently that had little to do with class work. Now this is only my personal experience, I attended college from 95-97 and from 99-02. Perhaps things are different in university today. But mostly success in college was making a good impression, learning how to network and present yourself, and jumping through bullshit hoops.

I know that most of my audience is successful–offhand most readers I can call to mind are professionals with many accolades, doctors, intelligent, and artsy folk. I'm writing this blog post because I believe it's people like that, like me, that are most at risk for these psychological traps. After all, we are likely accurate about our intelligence, aren't we accurate about the rest of stuff besides?

Well, no.

I don't really believe anything. Even that isn't true. The idea of "belief" is to think a thing without proof. I strive to be a fair witness in the Heinlein sense of the word, skeptical of nearly everything. But still, I fail at this constantly.

The crucible of competitive play forces you to confront this. There's no team member to blame. There's nothing but your skill and the opponent. Diving in even after your 100th loss during the season is what puts my statements above to the test. Every time I experience these thoughts that conflict with reality, they drive powerful emotional states. It pits me against the cognitive distortions in a way that allows my ego no reprieve. And in the end, I come out better. Not because I'm superior, but because even though I'm in the upper echelon of a thing, I just get to realize how flawed my thinking really is.

This applies for everything in life. I can speak confidently on a few things. Dungeons & Dragons. Writing. Game Design and Theory. Because they are my areas of focus and specialty. Even within those areas I strive to understand my flaws. In my interactions with others online, I often discover that they speak just as confidently about areas that are not their specialty. I do not think that is to their advantage.

The struggle for clarity is real. It's not something that can be achieved and checked off. It's a constant process of reevaluation and growth. And it's hard and painful to break down the false physical constructs of your mind.

But what am I talking about, you already know all this already, right?

The Salt!

Aside from the above, every month there are other things about my climb that are worth noting. Most interactions I have from rank 5 to legend are quite pleasant. However, down in the gutter ranks, between rank 12 and 6, you find a lot of people who are not well.

Blizzard and Team 5 have a horrible, horrible, system for communicating with your peers. One of the things I like about Hearthstone is that you can't chat with your opponent. However, that's no excuse for not being able to deal appropriately with situations. Not infrequently during my climb, I'll receive friend requests. Most of these are players impressed with play or seeking to become better or looking for friends on their climb up. Sometimes though. . . Sometimes you regret the fact that you can't contact someone to perform a safety check. Well, see for yourself below.


Ah, yes. My mother's seashell. Or possibly the most serious insult someone from South America can muster. Who can tell?

It's interactions like this that are so worrisome. This person needs a safety check. Not only can I not report him in any way to the parent company, blizzard has no method of reporting these interactions, but this person seriously needs someone to make sure he isn't going to hurt himself.

I mean, this is what I'm talking about. What mental state must someone be into say something like "hope your wife or girlfriend gets raped and murdered while you watch." Or "I'll murder your entire family given the opportunity." It can't be a good one.

Phoenix#12647 get help. Please.

Hack & Slash 

On the Mountain Coast

After 5 minutes of googling, I've decided I'm the only person in the whole world making art like this!

It's a six mile hex. You put it down in front of your players either by buying a print or using the digital image while gaming online. They then explore the hex, with their characters, as if they were exploring a Richard Scary book!

Make wilderness travel great again!

There's a lot going on. An ancient statue is toppled in front of an abandoned temple. Forests climb mountain peaks. A mysterious stairway descends into a ravine. A mystical pool lies undisturbed in the mountains.

One of my friends who also reads the blog mentioned she didn't know I had a Patreon. It's what all the cool kids are doing now. I've had mine for a long time though. Every little bit helps. I even send out print stuff of what I do at certain subscriber levels.

The above file is .100 dpi, but all patrons have access to the .300 dpi version. It's also available for order as a print for use at the table! I'll continue writing four long form posts a month, but will post one of these landscapes monthly in addition to that. If there's enough support, I'll be able to post more than one a month.

Hang a few adventure sites together and you've got weeks of play.

Hack & Slash 

On Reader Mail: Set Design and Phandelver

Nadav writes in and asks:

I've read your set design series of posts and am currently reading the D&D 5e Starter Set's Lost Mine of Phandalin. The book is filled with boxed text and I want to rekey it, but I've run into 2 connected issues: 1) boxed text as exposition (as opposed to describing a room) and 2) how to handle it as a set design dialogue (questions on bold nodes lead down arrows).

Ah, the starter set! What a good introduction to Dungeons and Dragons. It is, however, filled with an abundance of boxed text. Boxed text is an introductory tool for new Dungeon Masters, so this is no surprise.

During my conversation with Nadav, he also mentioned monster statistic blocks. This was fortunate because it triggered an insight about something that in hindsight is blindingly obvious.

Monster statistic blocks are designed to streamline play. Anyone who's played some iteration of the 3.x version of Dungeons & Dragons knows that you can use the statistic block to avoid referencing books and focus representing the monster in combat versus the players. Combat is one of those pillars of play that keep coming up in discussions about 5e.

Well, that's what set design is. It's a statistic block for the exploration pillar of play. Like statistic blocks for monsters, it allows you to make eye contact with your players–to engage your players–during the exploration part of gameplay. It's all about flow.

Here's a contrast between the two styles:

-The Dungeon Master opens the book and reads the passage. He's looking at the book. The players are trying to focus on what he's saying. The players then ask questions. The Dungeon master then must reference blocks of text to find the answers to the questions. 
 -The Dungeon Master looks at the rooms keywords, then looks up at the players and describes the room in his own words and fashion. When the players investigate, the Dungeon Master then scans the form for keywords (instead of a block of text) to discover what the players find.

Now, of course with liberal use of a hi-lighter and preparation, the first method can go smoothly. But much like a monster block allows you to handle a combat encounter without as much preparation, set design exploration blocks allow you to handle the exploration pillar without much preparation. It's more useful to the Dungeon Master at the table, whereas blocks of text are more useful for preparation and giving the Dungeon Master ideas (Though excessive, non-gameable, non-useful text is a perennial problem for gaming products).

Nadav continues:

For [boxed text as exposition], I've got the following written out for the very first boxed text in the book, and would like your opinion and critique on it:​

Do we need set design for exposition? Put another way, is there any advantage to having exposition be formatted in a different way?

It depends. You should know your exposition. You shouldn't need to reference anything to explain to the players what is happening, what the setup is, what the world is like.

Module play can often be uncreative and require 'touching up'. Attempting to do so extemporaneously means that we are relying on our own moment to moment creativity and without limits or random inputs, this frequently becomes repetitive. Surely we've all noticed repeated themes and ideas in our own play.

There is a more effective way to present exposition for use during play and I often go through such a process when re-keying a module. However, it's less focused on the traditional format of "Set Design"; the Dungeon Master is less likely to need to reference the exposition in response to player query.

As an aside: Deciding you're going to play a module, and using no more than two paragraphs of exposition to describe the hook  is one of the few occurrences that I personally think are ok for reading boxed text. 

It's important to note that this exposition usually is followed immediately by player (inter)action. Module exposition usually sets up a scene. As a counterpart to monster statistic blocks for combat and set design for exploration, this is effectively a discussion on how to handle a statistic block for interaction and role play.

Let's look at the block of text from the module:
"In the city of Neverwinter, a dwarf named Gundren Rockseeker asked you to bring a wagonload of provisions to the rough-and-tumble settlement of Phandalin, a couple of days' travel southeast of the city. Gundren was clearly excited and more then a little secretive about his reasons for the trip, saying only that he and his brothers had found "something big," and that he'd pay you ten gold pieces each for escorting his supplies safely to Barthen's Provisions, a trading post in Phandalin. He then set out ahead of you on h rose, along with a warrior escort named Sildar Hallwinter, claiming he needed to arrive early to "take care of business."
You've spent the last few days following the High Road south from Neverwinter, and you've just recently veered east along the Triboar Trail. You've encountered no trouble so far, but this territory can be dangerous. Bandits and outlaws have been known to lurk along the trail. "

Here's Nadav's example, using set design.

Neverwinter |   Pub spring evening, rowdy
                         Gundren Rockseeker excited, secretive, friendly
                                   → Job haul provisions, immediate
                                               → Brothers his two brothers, Tharden and Nundro
                                               → “something big” won’t tell
                                               → 10gp a day persuade +20gp
                                               → Leaving early on horseback
                                                           → Sildar Hallwinter warrior escort
                                                           → “take care of business” won’t expand
                         Travel uneventful
                                      Few Days on High Road south from Neverwinter
                                      Half day on Triboar Trail eastward from High Road, relatively dangerous, bandits and outlaws

It's clear from how Nadav keyed the above that the intent is for it to be an interaction. There's information about a persuasion roll, more information given about his brothers, and the scene is set in a pub.

However, this is a conversation, not a room. There's no physicality to it, no physical action for the players to take, just interaction with a non-player character. Laying out all seven items is the upper limit of what you'll be able to keep straight in an interaction. What we'd like to do is provide more interesting detail and reduce the overhead from the Dungeon Master.

For my own game I simply read the somewhat concise boxed text (as noted in the aside) and then moved towards the first encounter. Nadav clearly intends for the first scene to be set in Neverwinter. This is great, because at the time the starter set takes place, Neverwinter is a real shitshow. Lots of things going on in Neverwinter are tangentially connected to the Lost Mine of Phandelver. The downside is, of course, that the players may want to follow up on some of the excitement in Neverwinter instead of chasing ten gold and a crazy dwarf.

Here's how I'd go about setting this scene:
First, I go ahead and google "Neverwinter Inns" to discover the actual name of an inn in Neverwinter. Several options are available, the Driftwood Tavern seems useful for our purpose. Reading the wiki and checking out the 4th edition Neverwinter Campaign setting give me even more information to set the scene.

In laying out the following, I keep in mind if I'm going to need to reference the information after it's shared.

Madam Roscene
You arrive at the Driftwood Tavern in the city of Neverwinter to meet Gundren Rockseeker, a dwarf who says he has a job for you.
Dusky colored lights Stained glass hangs from above, lit by hundreds of candles
Bric-a-brac, curios, and relics Statue from fountain in corner, planter boxes with flowers line the walls
Fine Tables Made from ornate doors
Female Innkeeper older, serious-looking woman
Three Rough Looking Men irregular clothing, various weapons Mintarn Mercenaries

Madame Roscene (Serious/Reticent)
Mintarn Mercenaries (Rowdy/Invasive)
Gundren Rockseeker (Excited/Secretive/Friendly)
· Offers job of hauling provisions south to Barthen's Provisions in Phandalin.
      10gp/day each→Persuade DC 15 to raise it to 30gp/day      What: General provisions needed for "something big" me and my brothers found      Where: South along the Highroad for 50 miles, then east on the Triboar Trail for about 18 miles, till you can see the western edge of the Sword Mountains to the south.       When: Immediately.→He's heading out now with Sildar Hallwinter on horseback, pick up the supplies and follow as soon as you are ready.      Why: I've got to take care of things before the supplies arrive. 

The modifiers are for the reaction check depending on how the party approaches the NPC. Friendly approaches first, then being obsequious, then hostile.

There's a lot not noted above, because I already know the female innkeeper is Madame Roscene. If you're writing for an audience besides yourself, you should have a general idea of the flow of the scene without player interaction. You have to give enough to the Dungeon Master to explain the motivations of the characters and grant an idea of how the scene proceeds. The best way to do that is with a short paragraph.

"Madame Roscene wants the Mintarn Mercenaries to leave. The Mercenaries are off duty, but stay alert for any possible seditious activity on behalf of Lord Neverember. Gundren will arrive at an opportune moment."
The above isn't perfect. I'm still refining and testing the best ways of presenting depth of non-player characters. But as for providing a shorthand for what you need for the character interaction/roleplay part, the above creates a dynamic scene where the DM can respond to the ebb and flow of play directly without a pre-planned outcome, versus reading two introductory expository paragraphs. I'd consider thinking about other questions the players might ask, as well as providing other hooks and rumors from Madame or the Mintarn Mercenaries. 

Thanks for the question Nadav.

Hack & Slash 

On Hearthstone

Legend Rank, before I hit the dumpster
So, you may or may not be aware that I'm an occasional hearthstone player.

Hearthstone is a microcosm of the strangeness of the modern world writ large. Not just the game, but the entirety of the culture that has sprung up around the game.

In my personal opinion, it is a far superior game to Magic: the Gathering. I'm sure that there are magic players out there ready to disagree with me. Some may even have valid points outside of attempting to eliminate their cognitive dissonance over their sunk cost into Magic, but I'm not interested in hearing their arguments. I'm not going to walk into their house and knock the magic cards out of their hands.

But there are so many design choices that Hearthstone does so right. This is, for a large part, why there is such overwhelming negativity and anger from the player base of the game.

Hearthstone Game Design Choices

Unlike Magic, every single turn you acquire another mana crystal, instead of being dependent on drawing lands from your deck. The result of this steady increase is a high degree of consistency. There is no mana screw. The balance between lands and cards in magic is a strong factor in the consistency of a magic deck, but because lands are dependent on draw, it is not possible to eliminate (completely) the issues with consistency. Of course in professional decks this is rarely a problem, due to the decks being well designed, but consistent mana growth completely eliminates the problem for casual players.

The Magic Client
Another fundamental difference is that the attacker chooses targets. This is a huge change that impacts the entire sequence of play. Anyone who has used both the Hearthstone client and the Magic client, can tell you one is (reasonably) elegantly designed, and the other is a hot steaming box of shit.  If you're not familiar with Magic, each "turn" consists of various phases. For instance, your draw phase in magic includes three steps; untap all your
Hearthstone Client
cards, pay any upkeep costs, then draw. During each of those individual phases, play cannot continue until the current player gives the opponent a chance to do something.

So yes, technically you have to stop the game three times to give your opponent a chance to take an action during the draw phase of a turn. Now in reality it rarely works out that way. In the client you can set triggers to stop your opponents play during their turn when you'd like the option to act.

Because the attacker chooses targets instead of the defender choosing who to block, it streamlines the entire game process. You don't have to wait for your opponent to make choices during your turn. You are encouraged to control the board, be aggressive, and spend your turn playing the game.

A sure sign of someone who has little insight into game design, would be the people popping up, pointing out that all these changes that streamline the play of the game would make it too "simple". The same fallacy is at work when you realize how much smaller each Hearthstone set is, then a comparable Magic set. Having more options does not make something better. They are games about different things: whereas Magic is about using the cards to directly combat your opponent by trying to alter how the game functions to reach what the win condition of each player is, Hearthstone is about reading your opponents hand and plays to play in such a way that maximizes your chances to win, much like poker. Bluffing, baiting, and going all in based on your read and statistical percentages is what makes Hearthstone so fascinating to watch at high level play.

It's important to note that this success of design is mirrored in the popularity of each game. A generous estimate of the number of magic players worldwide is somewhere around 20 million, compared to 50 million active players in hearthstone as of April last year. What's more, is that it's not possible at all for anyone to make a living as amagic player, yet the majority of professional hearthstone players can and do make a living at it, in a plethora of ways.

These choices, in addition to 30 card decks, make Hearthstone a very, very consistent game. In order to offset this consistency, the cards themselves do things. In fact, it was this (forgive the term) magic that first brought me into hearthstone. There are cards that hand out a special set of dream cards, cards that randomize all targets, cards that replace your hero, spectacular cards that do what no real card game can. This is what keeps games from getting stale, the random effects of the cards themselves. And it's these odds and percentages of random effects that must be weighed to reach the highest echelon of play.

The Salt

But, you know, that's just not enough for some people. As someone who's played since beta, there has never been a period where people went "Hey, this game is pretty good."

Let me tell you, the game is and always has been pretty good.

Currently the complaint is about the "Pirate Package", a selection of 3 cards the provide a powerful opening hand. Before that it was about lack of communication from Team 5. Over Christmas. Before that it was salt about Yogg, a card that cast a random spell at a random target for each spell you had cast during the game and how he was too random and too powerful. Before that it was secret paladin and their 'unbeatable' curve of Secretkeeper, Minibot, Muster for Battle, Shredder, Belcher/Loatheb, MC, Boom, into Tieron, (Link Cards) before that Patron Warrior a deck that had a sub-50% win rate on ladder for all but the highest tier player, all the way back to complaints about miracle rogue.

Since, forever–really, since release, any decent player could take a tier 1 or 2 deck to legend. A good player could take any tier deck to legend. Even in the most dismal period for Priest, when it was the absolute worst class, Zetalot, a pro-player who only plays priest, could take it to legend.

But that's the thing about card games, you always have a chance to win.

Now, there are legitimate complains about Hearthstone. It is one of blizzards most popular and profitable titles. Although Blizzard doesn't release specifics, In August of 2015 the estimated revenue is around 20 million dollars a month, several hundred thousand dollars a day. Considering the active userbase has grown since then, it's hard to imagine that the profit has somehow dropped.

Team 5, the Blizzard team behind hearthstone was originally only 15 people, and now, even with the gigantic userbase and profits, still only hovers around 70 members. I seriously doubt each member of the team takes home 3.8 million dollars yearly, making hearthstone an extremely profitable venture for Blizzard. Team 5 is very slow and hesitant to communicate with their userbase, which is understandable, considering the levels of salt encountered online. But this doesn't change the fact that very basic issues persist in the client. It took years to just add an additional 9 slots for decks, some cards and card text continues to be wildly inconsistent, and known bugs sometimes go years without being addressed.


The problem with the salt is many-fold. The first is that hearthstone is a competitive environment. Lots of other competitive games receive balance patches, so player expectation is that Hearthstone should also. But hearthstone isn't like that. You can't raise someone's damage or fire rate by 4%. Hearthstone is an extremely chunky game. When you increase or decrease the value on a card by simply one, it creates a massive shift in the entire meta-game. There are cards that are underpowered at 4 mana, that would be overpowered at 3. What's more, is that the meta shifts approximately every 90-120 days or so, and really, that's often not even enough time to discover all the hidden peaks and valleys of power within a set. And data is something team 5 does have, as they've mentioned offhand in their somewhat rare communications.

The second is that, if you're reading this, Hearthstone is free to play and has a very generous system for players. I generally get between 6-10 packs a week for free, just from quests, tavern brawls, and winning games. A dedicated player could accumulate 12 packs or more with time, and that's not even considering the possibility of entering their arena draft mode; at 7 wins, you've effectively made your gold spent to enter the arena back. This is, in large part, why hearthstone is such a popular game.

Finally, it's that, at it's core, hearthstone is a really, really, good game. David Sirlin in his masterpiece Playing to Win talks about games that are flat (where there is one best strategy) and games that have depth, where no matter your level at the game, you can improve your play and become a better player. Hearthstone is that. And people can see that. So when you do encounter a flaw or problem or bug, the game is already so good, can you imagine how much better it will be when that problem is fixed?

I think it needs time. Things move faster now then they did in the past- at the two year mark for magic the gathering, (back in 1996) it wasn't nearly as popular or organized. All the problems, they aren't unknown. Yes, the client will improve. Yes, tournament features will be added. Yes, the game will get better. It speaks well of Team 5 that they think very hard before making any changes, and, well, keeping the golden goose alive for their masters.

If you're interested, and you play, give me a shout and we'll trade battletags.

On Ship Design

So my players want to build a ship. That flies. Cool.

This is the system I use when players want to create a vehicle of some type. This works for land, sea, and air vehicles with a little bit of common sense.

There are a lot of iterations of this type of construction system online.  I feel that most of them are lacking because they are overly fetishistic about ship minutia. This however, answers all the questions the players will have during play, while the other systems. . . don't. (How much, how long, etc.)

It should be fairly straightforward. It cannot be used in a vacuum, but requires some discussion between players and the Dungeon Master

What is a Ton?

Traditionally in Dungeons & Dragons, when you come across the word Ton, it refers to 100 cubic yards of volume. This is a space approximately the size of your living room—That is, 100 cubes with 1 yard per side, not a single cube 100 yards on each side. For shorthand, you can assume a ship can carry half its tonnage as cargo


The first step in designing a vehicle is to determine the frame. This is a combination of size (measured in abstract tons) and materials. The dimensions may take any reasonable shape and form. An engineer is required to build per 20 tons of the vehicle. The base construction time is 1 day per ton. Examples follow:

Ship Type Tonnage Dimensions
Fleet Flagship 100 70' Cube (343,000 cubic feet)
Large Warship 80 60' Cube (216,000 cubic feet)
Large Cargo Ship 60 55' Cube (166,375 cubic feet)
Medium Warship 50 50' Cube (125,000 cubic feet)
Medium Cargo Ship 40 45' Cube (91,125 cubic feet)
Small Warship 30 40' Cube (64,000 cubic feet)
Privateer/Trader 20 35' Cube (42,875 cubic feet)
Fighter 10 30' Cube (27,000 cubic feet)
Shuttle/Bus 5 25' Cube (15,625 cubic feet)
Carriage/Chariot 3 20' Cube (8,000 cubic feet)
Wagon 1 15' Cube (3,375 cubic feet)


It costs 300 gold pieces in man hours and labor per ton to build the vehicle. In addition to this cost, there is the cost of the raw material required to build the ship. Materials are straightforward, with their hardness reducing any damage. You can find hardness values in any srd. The Armor Rating provides the base AC of the ship.

Material Cost Per Ton Hull Point Modifier Armor Rating
Thin Wood 75 gp .5 +2
Thick Wood 500 gp 1 +3
Metal* 3,000 gp 2 +6
Stone** 2,000 gp 1.5 +5
Ceramic 6,000 gp 1 +4
Bone 250 gp .5 +1
Other Consult your Dungeon master ? ?
* Iron and Steel; special and precious metals will vary by type.
** Obviously not suitable for sea vehicles.

Calculate Variables

That's it, your vehicle is done. You have time, cost, and final size for your vehicle. Now you just need to calculate your maneuverability class, hull points, and various other factors.

Once you have these factors calculated, you can apply modifications below that will adjust these factors. Once that is completed, you can assign internal space of your vehicle using the module section.

Base Time: 1 day per ton
Base Cost: (300 gp in labor + Material cost) x Tonnage
Hull Points: Hull Point Modifier x Tonnage
Crew: 1 per 10 tons
Maneuverability Class:
Size Class
1-9 Tons A
10-19 Tons B
20-40 Tons C
41-60 Tons D
61-100 Tons E
101+ F


If you'd like to make specific changes, then select any of the following options. These will affect the base time, cost, and other already calculated factors as listed after the modification.

Armored Hull
Cost: By Material per Ton
Space: 10% of tonnage value
This provides armored plating covering the exterior of the ship. This makes it more difficult to do damage to the hull by increasing the armor class. You can plate a ship with any material superior in protection to the hull material. (e.g. you can armor a hull of thick wood with metal, but not thin wood.) This modification can be repeated multiple times.
MaterialCost Per TonAC Bonus
Thin Wood5 gp+1
Thick Wood50 gp+2
Metal300 gp+5
Stone200 gp+4
Ceramic600 gp+3

Frame Modification
This allows you to modify the frame of the ship to alter its maneuverability and hull points. Space modifies the available tonnage for cargo and modules.

Frame ModificationCostSpaceHull Point ModifierManeuverability Modifier
Extra Heavy+20%-20%x2-2
Super Heavy+40%-40%x4-3

Rigging Modification
Any vehicle, land, sea, or air is going to have some sort of steering mechanism. This is referred to as rigging. It's assumed any vehicle comes with standard rigging. Modifying the rigging can change both the maneuverability and the cost.
Minimal Rigging reduces the cost by 25% per ton, the crew requirements by 50% and penalizes the Maneuverability by 1.
Topped Out rigging increases the cost by 5%, the crew requirements by 25%, and increases the Maneuverability by 1.
The ship has a ram attached. The ship must have the heavy frame modification to mount a ram. This modification takes 5% of the hull space. Rams cost 100 gp per ton of the ship. Note that a variety of ram types exist, all with different effects (blunt, grappling, piercing, etc.)


These are the internal modules of the ship. Any unused space is considered cargo space. The module sizes include support structures for the module (hallways, structural supports, etc.) so tend to be slightly smaller in size then the tonnage required.

Crew Quarters.25 tons per man100 gp per man
Cramped Crew Quarters.15 tons per man75 gp per man
Bunk Only.05 tons per 2 men25 gp per man
Room.75 tons125 gp
Spacious Room1 ton150 gp
Larder*1 ton100 gp per ton
Cargo1 ton-
Hall (mess/recreation).5 tons per 2 men150 gp per ton
Docking Bay, Internal, Specific CraftVessel tonnage + 10%50 gp per ton
Docking Bay, Internal, GeneralSpecial**100 gp per ton
External Passenger Dock1 ton200 gp
External Cargo Dock2+ ton200 gp per ton
Weapons***As WeaponAs Weapon
Turret1 ton500 gp per class of the weapon****
XXX1 tonXXX gp
XXX1 tonXXX gp

*A fully stocked larder will feed 10 men for a month per ton. Poor rations cost 30 gp a month per ton, Common rations cost 100 gp a month per ton, Good rations cost 150 gp a month per ton.
** The tonnage of craft you wish to be able to dock, +30%. If you wish to have space for any 10 ton vehicle to dock, you must allocate 13 tons of space
*** Weapons, of course, depend on your campaign. Anything from catapults to greek fire throwers to submachine guns to lasers is possible.
**** Light weapon turrets cost 500 gp. Heavy weapon turrets cost 1,500, etc.

Note: The above system is just the most basic options available. It is Dungeons and Dragons after all, making your ship out of crystal and having cascading fire cloaks on the outside of the hull just requires some DM adjudication.

Hack & Slash 

On the Old Gods (Part I)

The old gods of Perdition were casual and indolent. Their world was peaceful and rich. Countries spread wide, they ruled over a creative people of peace. The only conflict came from leisurely discussions over resplendent feasts before the evenings entertainment.

The world fell quickly. The gods starved of worshipers, vanished. Yet traces remain. If you find the shattered vestige of one of the old gods, they can be called upon as any great being, though their power is just a shadow of what it once was. One may undertake the illegal task of reigniting their worship, and perhaps bring a sliver of light back into the world.

Bonds and Gods

So bonds are convenient ways to track moral, loyalty, and devotion between players and groups. It's very simple. You keep a list of your bonds. When you meet someone you add them to the list. Bonds run from 2 (Stranger) to 12 (Lifemate). At the end of each encounter or session with the bond, you roll 2d6. If it's higher the bond increases by 1.

Each bond level with retainers affects morale. It's a clear objective way to handle player relationships and romance. The really cool thing about bonds is it can divorce worship in a god (and the requisite abilities granted by said god) from character class and level! It's a way of having clerics without having a cleric class.

Several examples of devil patrons (gods) are illustrated by Russ Nicholson in Perdition, and you can look at a beta version of one of them here on my blog.

Today we are going to look at a bond with one of the old gods. Once Perdition was conquered, all access with the higher planes was cut off, as the land became an extension of the hells where devils could travel freely. Thus the only 'good' gods are the old gods, who are weak and stripped of all their power.

Patron Bonds with Old Gods

Devils and other sources of local power siphon away your prestige as your bond with them increases in power. As they grant you more power, your success becomes more attributable to them, granting them an increase in the prestige they take.

The old gods are very weak, and unlike normal patrons siphon 10% * your bond level in prestige. Since there are 12 bond levels, how could you ever earn any prestige at all once your bond got high enough?

Worshipers can be used to feed your patron prestige. For every steel piece that your worshipers generate, it can be used in place of a point of prestige that a patron might siphon. This is true for all patrons, though worship of old gods or demons of any sort is highly illegal, and as your congregation grows, so does the risk.


Old God of Strength, Dreams, and the Hearth
His porcelain skin stretched taut over his muscular frame, Bodando envelops the spirit of community. In a world of entertainments, joys, and passions, he stood against them for something less ephemeral. The satisfaction of community and providing for your own through hard work. He sprang from the look a father gives his children and from the actions of a mother who provides. That satiation of men fed his milky dreaming form, where he stood as languid protector of the hearth and home.

Because he was a god of dreams, he speaks and interacts with his prophets through visions and phantasm only they can see. They interpret his moony will for the community, bringing pleasure and wisdom to their followers. The closeness of the community and home is his strength. He encourages priest to lay with family, mother with father, sister with brother, parent with child.

He appears as a recumbent young muscular man, hairless except for the golden locks and brows on his head. His skin is so white as to be only just agleam. He eschews clothing and exudes a splendid prismatic aura that flows around his form with his breath and thought. His very presence pacifies all living things.

Bodando's herald is a panoply of fleshy writhing forms, constantly moving and shifting in a crude pantomime of intercourse, a literal beast of backs. A torso will extrude, imprisoned in throes of ecstasy, mindlessly thrusting, yearning, reaching.

Wearing clothes inside your home
Sleeping less than twice a day
Eating until you feel full
Using indecent language
Eating creatures of the sea

Sleeping naked in a communal bed with those close to you (+1)
Performing daily calisthenics (+1)
Sleeping for more than 8 hours in a single stretch (+1)
Owning a home (+3)
Living in an owned home as a member of family (+2)
Having members of your family not sleep naked with you (-1)

Bond Levels
2 You gain a +1 on all tests of Physique. This applies to grapples and Physique tests, though not to rolls to hit or damage.
3 You gain access to dream visions. Once per day you can tune into the visions and auger what is to come. You will receive an image or feeling of the outcome of a course of action.
4 Your form becomes infused with languid vitality. Anyone who rests with you naked for a turn after a strenuous event (such as combat) recovers all their hit points and removes one point of stress.
5 Before resting for the night, you may ward an area against intrusion. You set a boundary up to 4" in diameter and decide what will trigger it. Anything that crosses the boundary triggers a mental alarm to all those protected within and two Dreamspites appear to protect the servant. The Dreamspites are not controlled by the servant, but are friendly with him.
6 You gain +2 to your Physique score; and your Physique bonus, regardless of your Physique score, increases by 1.
7 While you sleep at night, you may travel though the Empyreal as a dream. After an hour of rest,  you may leave your body. Your body lies defenseless and without a spirit. You must succeed at a Survival (Empyreal) roll to return to your body with a difficulty equal to the number of hours you have spent outside of it. If your body has been moved in the meantime, the difficulty of the roll is increased.
8 You gain the ability to cause women to ovulate, regardless of their cycle. This can help insure pregnancy.
9 You gain a +2 on all social actions involved or related to sexual seduction.
10 Your physical fitness becomes excellent. The first time each day you become Fatigued, you are immune. If for some reason you become Exhausted, you instead become Fatigued. Further exertion affects you as normal. You may also ignore the first point of stress you acquire during the day. You gain a permanent +1 bonus to your athletics skill.
11 Once a day, you can project an aura from you in an 8" radius. You can cause anyone who fails a mental struggle against you to be overcome with an emotion. Examples include: Tranquility, cease fighting; Courage, have your attack and damage rolls augmented; or Fear, gain the Panicked condition. Any emotion may be stimulated by working out the specifics with your Agonarch.
12 You become infused with renewed youth and vigor. As long as your bond remains at 12 with Bodando, any permanent penalties are eliminated, you are immune to poison and disease, you appear to be in your physical prime and you cease aging. You also become permanently aroused.

Hack & Slash 
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