Friday, April 28, 2023

Post 4 (of 4) Let's Read: Knave 2e Kickstarter Preview

 This has been a long and tiring week (I just finished grading exams and papers) but I'll leave you for now with just a few more thoughts about the Knave 2e Kickstarter preview document. I don't have too much more to say, so I'll list some bullets with brief thoughts and then point you to a source for even more information if you're still keen on all this. 

+ TRAVELING and WEATHER - the travel rules rely on what is essentially an Overloaded Encounter Die. That's a popular and good system. I like the way information and secrecy are handled -- in general. However, I think that mixing 6-mile hexes with 4-hour watches, and allowing a party to "search" a hex in a single watch, is wildly unrealistic. This is a common issue in similar games. What I might prefer is to say that for every 4-hour watch spent searching inside a 6-mile hex, the GM reveals ONE area of interest within the hex - rather than all of them. 

The weather system looks fun and will add plentiful texture to overland travels. The level of mechanical heft given to different kinds of inclement weather is a bit uneven, but some good ol' "rulings not rules" should work here. 

+ ENCOUNTERS - there is a really fun d100 chart here with activities the monsters are engaged in when the party meets them. This is kind of like a universal d100 version of the similar charts that the d4 Caltrops blog has been making thematically tuned for different encounter types. This is nice to have handy. 


I'm sorry I haven't got much brain-goo left for in-depth comments beyond that, folks - at least for now! 

Thanks for checking out my impressions of Ben's new Knave 2e. As I go, let me signal that "Professor Dungeon Master" on YouTube has got a Knave 2e preview video of his own - but he got access to a much more complete preview document! If you check out his video, you can already see a number of additional sections of the rulebook that I didn't comment on in this little series.

Thanks for reading, and happy gaming. Have a great weekend, folks...

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Let's Read: Knave 2e Kickstarter Preview (Post #3: Inventory, Wounds, Advancement, Rolling Checks)

 Ok, let's keep going with this Let's Read for the new Kickstarter Preview of Knave's forthcoming 2nd edition. There are several subtle but consequential changes to the core Knave 'engine' to note here. 


These two are in the same category now, by design. We'll see why shortly. 

I've noticed that the "new Knave" contains some small but helpful quality-of-life/"user interface" improvements. These are just little tweaks to the way some rules are worded that should only save you half a second of time, but will save that half-second over and over again. We hit one immediately in the inventory section. Whereas 1e says PCs have inventory slots equal to their "Constitution Defense" (which = 10 + CON modifier), 2e just says "PCs have 10 + CON item slots" - Boom. Done. You may skip the half-second to try to remember what the Defense means. 

In other ways, more than the phrasing has changed. I am pedantically glad to see that 1e's "100 coins fill an inventory slot" policy has now made way to "500 coins fill a slot." I believe I've ranted about this issue before, probably on Reddit somewhere. For one thing, OSR modules end up throwing a LOAD of coins at parties, so a more liberal allowance for hauling off treasure is just helpful. Secondly, in many historical periods, the more common precious-metal coins were so small that treating 100 of them as an inventory slot just seems ridiculous (if I remember correctly, I think I ran games for a while where 1,000 coins would fill an inventory slot. Most late Roman/early medieval western coins are lightweight, yo!). So. Dr. Nerdbrain is happy about this tiny change. 

DAMAGE - here comes a really interesting change from 1e to 2e. In Knave 1e, you fall unconscious at 0 hp and then die at -1 hp. In 2e, characters will be sticking around longer, but players will have to make more interesting and meaningful choices to deal with harm. 2e now says that once damage drops your hp to 0, each additional point of damage beyond 0 instead "fills an item slot with an appropriate wound (stabbed, frozen, burned, etc.) from the highest slot to the lowest. Items in a wounded slot must be dropped, or the PC will be immobilized." PCs die not at -1 hp, now, but once their inventory slots have ALL been filled up with Wounds. Because monsters don't track initiative, they just die at 0 hp the good ol' fashioned way. The rules also allow for "Direct Damage" - which bypasses HP and just adds Wound tags directly. As the rules note, a GM might apply Direct Damage in cases like a bad fall, a sneak attack, etc. (Direct Damage can target monsters, too, but the Direct Damage deals 3x the usual HP damage instead of inventory slot effects). Oh, and PCs can recover all their hp whenever they get a solid, single night's rest; you also heal 1 Wound if your good night's rest was in a Safe Haven (like back in town). 

I will have to see this in play, but on first glance I really dig this new approach! 

Presumably, the inspiration here is from Into the Odd/Electric Bastionland, which makes damage past 0 hp apply directly to character Stats. ItO tends to produce a play arc with characters getting in scrapes that they can bounce back from quickly - but as they start to take more serious damage, it snowballs, so that characters get a little more desperate as each session progresses. Even so, however, ItO PCs can still do their normal damage and can still fight if they need to risk it, even when wounded. 

I think the new Knave damage rules allow for something very similar, albeit fine-tuned more towards the 'OSR resource management game' and less toward 'desperate survival horror now.' Knave really puts ability score modifiers front and center - you depend on them as your bonuses to every kind of check - so damaging ability scores (as ItO does) would nerf knaves too quickly. By adopting a similar dynamic to ItO, but relocating the damage on the inventory table, these rules should allow characters to stay fit and able to keep fighting if they really need to - but they'll get less and less able to perform with the peak gear they like using the most. Characters will ablate gradually in their ability to toss off that extra spell, wear that heavy armor (oooh! it presses on the wound...take it off!). 

I'm looking forward to trying the new version of these rules. 


By default, 1e used accomplishment-/milestone-based advancment. 2e defaults to gp-for-xp (you gain experience by returning treasure from dungeons to settlements). Notably, the xp costs for advancement have changed - for the better. 1e granted a new level every time any PC gained 1000 xp. This can lead to a problem in campaign play - since the cost to advance is flat, if a PC dies and is replaced by a starting character during a campaign, the new character will never, ever catch up to the rest of the party. In 2e - as in B/X and most OG old school campaign systems - there is now a progressive/graduated scale of xp needed to advance to each level. There's one scale for all characters, who will need (e.g.) 2000 xp to reach level 2, but a fresh 8,000 to move from level 4 up to 5. 


These were 'Saving Throws' but have been renamed. By my read, the rules haven't really changed, but we do get one of those little quality-of-life improvements I mentioned. In 1e, you generate a target number for a saving throw, and then the player has to roll ABOVE the target number. Target numbers (or Defenses) were 10 plus an opponent's relevant modifier, or 15 for default situations. Now, in 2e, the rules haven't changed but they are presented in a way that looks different - and simpler. Instead of adding 10 to a modifer and then rolling over the result, you now add 11 - and roll EQUAL TO OR ABOVE the target number. The math hasn't changed, but the new rules save you that constant half-second (this happened sooooo often when I ran a Knave campaign) of saying, "ok, you need a 15. No, wait, I mean you need to roll over a 15, so I guess you really need a 16." By moving up the baseline from 10 to 11, that's done away with. Nice. 

Advantage and Disadvantage is a thing, but instead of rolling more dice, you add +5 or -5 for each relevant Adv/Disadv (which of course means that pairs of contrary factors cancel each other out). 

This page closes with a few "how to handle ____" paragraphs that offer simple and helpful advice. The game clarifies that a Lore check should never, ever be necessary; PCs should know lots and have ready access to common information - or they should have to dig around in the setting to find someone/thing with the knowledge they need. A similar philosophy, it seems, will inform the game's approach to searching in dungeons, though I don't think we have those rules yet in this preview. 

Still more to come. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Let's Read Knave 2e Kickstarter Preview - Post #2: new features in 2e, Stats, Character Generation

 Ok, let's dive into this "Let's Read" for Knave 2e's Kickstarter Preview document! See my wordy series intro here, and the actual preview document here or here


This page lists some of the things to be added in the full - over 90-pages long - 2e document (the preview document only shows 17 of those pages). Described:

+ "75+ random tables (d100) for generating any feature of a fantasy world, including NPCs, regions, dungeons, monsters, spells, cities, and items." Knave's author, Ben Milton, earlier wrote Maze Rats - a 2d6-based game, not as short as Knave, and not as OSR-compatible as Knave - but distinguished by the many useful random tables crammed into its short space. It sounds like Knave 2e is taking the random-table-heavy approach of Maze Rats, super-sizing it, and then cramming that into the much more OSR-compatible chassis of Knave. That's a very cool thing. We'll need to wait to see just how useful the various tables are, but the few that are included in this Preview will allow some comment on their apparent utility. 

+ Dungeon-Crawling and wilderness procedures. The preview includes the Wilderness travel rules, which we can comment on below. 

+ Principles for GM and Players. Hopefully this will offer helpful articulation for newer groups, at least. This dovetails (for game-hackers, too!) with:

+ Designer's commentary explaining the rules. I enjoyed these in 1e. 

+ "Dozens of illustrations by legendary OSR artist Peter Mullen." I have to say, the art included so far in the preview document is really nice; evocative, fun, and resonant with OSR traditions. 

+ "Rules for constructing your own buildings, resolving mass battles, carousing, recruiting followers, gambling, training, and much more." None of that stuff is here in the preview document (at least in detail, yet), but this is getting interesting

Despite its simplicity, Knave offers certain advantages compared to many other OSR rulesets. On the one hand - let's be honest - Knave is a bit generic. Therein lies its utility; it is genuinely easy to run with almost any mainstream OSR product, like an old TSR module or a modern 3rd-party OSR adventure. On the other hand, Knave borrows from more modern game design, offering a unified core roll-high mechanic that scales well as PCs advance. This is much cleaner - in my opinion - than the mish-mash of rules you get in most of the genuine OSR 'retroclones.'  I can't remember where online I read the opinion that Old School Essentials offers "incredibly well-laid-out rules that are really unappealing." Without intending any disrespect to Necrotic Gnome's great achievement with OSE, I really have a hard time getting into the actual B/X rules framework!!! Knave feels much cleaner and simpler to run. 

But...there remains that generic feeling - even more generic than B/X (Knave, for example, is classless). I quite like having some decent classes (actually, the rather dull baseline classes in OSE - especially the Fighter - are part of my antipathy to it and other retroclones). By omitting classes, Knave offloads most of the construction of interesting characters into diegetic achievements during play: what gear do you carry? what magic spells did you learn out in the world? what crazy things happened to you after Level 1? what crap did you drink in the dungeon? what title did the Duke of Fourth Everskull grant you last week? 

The generic framework, by remaining highly compatible, also allows you to bolt on your own preferred retroclone or homebrew content. That's really good - class-free but not OSR-compatible is asking for trouble, but Knave allows as much tweaking as you'd like. Too much tweaking, however, and you might as well write your own retroclone heartbreaker. What did that solve?

That's where the many pages of new content coming in Knave 2e MIGHT prove really cool. Ben has described this content as 'modular.' It should all work with the game's core mechanic, but you can also sample to taste; don't like whatever his mass battle rules turn out to be? Then scrap 'em. 

When I was running a bunch of Knave for a campaign rather than just a one-shot, I did start tiring of constantly tweaking and fiddling with my preferred houserules. The way Ben has described what's coming in 2e makes me hope that we're looking at something like the "Advanced OSE" version of Knave - not in terms of classes, of course, but in terms of rules for a lot of other common D&D-ish situations. Having rules ready to hand for most of those things should make an already powerful simple toolkit - at least potentially - a really powerful alternative to some of the larger retroclones. 

That's my hope, at least. Of course, most of that content isn't visible yet, so we'll see. 

PAGE TWO-THREE/Ability Scores and Character Creation

Right off the start-line, there are a few interesting tweaks to the core rules since 1e. The game still has the famous 6 Stats but - as in 1e - each of them is still important, warding off 'dump stat' syndrome. Roll +Strength for melee attacks, for example, but +Wisdom for missile attacks (it's like Perception). Everything is useful for something; your highest scores, the rules note, can determine what kind of character you are (a slight nod to Class, here). 

How you get your ability scores is now different. In 1e, you roll 3d6 for each ability score, and take the LOWEST rolled result as your ability score modifier. As 1e noted, this means most scores will have a +1 modifier; it is possible - though very unlikely - to luck out massively, and get a quite high starting modifier (in the Knave campaign that I ran, we had a character who did, in fact, start out with a very high combat modifier - Strength, IIRC - which always made the rest of the party jealous from the get-go). In 2e, however, the method has changed. A brand-new PC has 3 points - just 3! - to allocate to ability scores. There's a fun method presented for randomly allocating them, if you wish, but the game also blesses letting players assign the points as they wish. 

I really like this. It's point-buy, sure, but it's ONLY 3 POINTS! You're probably not going to spend too many hours agonizing over that allocation. This sweeps detailed 3.0+ min-maxing off the table, but still gives players agency to prioritize what they want to be good at. Feel like dumping all three points into melee-heavy Strength? No problem. You'll shine in a scrum, but not enough to break the game, and you'll feel the pinch everywhere else, but not so much that you should have stayed home from adventuring. 

New PCs also "roll or pick" two careers from a list of 100 (!) background occupations. The game will later make allowance for granting advantage on Checks due to a relevant career background, so these are more than window-dressing. They also grant some starting equipment (for example, career #91 is: "Spy - caltrops, poison, forged papers"). Each character then has access to a small list of universal starting equipment which is, essentially, adventuring gear plus armor and weapon of your choice - if you can carry it. Recall that in Knave, your Constitution modifies how much you can carry. As we'll see in due course, tracking inventory is still simple, but has become even more central to the core rules in Knave 2e. 

There is a note that "If the GM permits you to play a non-human character, they may grant you a special ability in place of one of your careers (e.g., Elves only have to sleep one watch per night)." Hmmm. That certainly makes sense. I can get behind the underlying assumption about human-only or human-centric settings. However, given the ubiquity of at least being able to play an elf, dwarf, or halfling/gnome in OSR circles, I'd appreciate seeing more explicit mechanical guidelines for the standard kinfolk types (no doubt someone will be along shortly to provide them once the game takes off). This is one area where a 'super-sized Knave" feels like, maybe, it should offer juuuuust that little bit more. 

Having said that, the game notes that a player stuck for character inspiration might want to consult the various NPC-building random tables. We can't see these yet, but if they are expanded versions of the stuff that we had in Maze Rats, they should be very useful. 

Let's Read: KNAVE 2nd edition Kickstarter Preview Document (Post #1)

    "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
    Are full of passionate intensity." 

So wrote Yeats, famously, in his "The Second Coming." Pardon my cheek in invoking such imagery as I turn your attention to ... the ever-expanding field of OSR(-adjacent) heartbreaker rulesets. Are we in an age of renaissance, with better and better options proliferating each season? Adding to an existing tradition of rules-multiplication, the WotC OGL fiasco has spawned a New Wave of creative projects. Time will tell which new rule-systems really shine (though I wish all the creators involved well!). But more does not innately mean better. Might Yeats' critique of human beings also apply to our rule-set creations? Do even the best lack conviction, and are the worst yet full of passionate (and niche) intensity? 

Well. Ahem. Not even a full glass of wine was needed for that intro, so I'm blaming this one on the season: I've been neck-deep in paper- and exam-grading. Caveat lector.

Further complicating the spread of rules on the market is the 2nd edition phenomenon. Yeats, of course, described this aspect of modern rules design, too: 

    "Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
    Is moving its slow thighs ...  

    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

In recent years, we've seen a number of systems that originally stood out for their brevity and elegant simplicity - games which then returned in a much-expanded format. Black Hack 1e was lean and mean. I'm sorry to say it, but I actually like 1e over the expanded BH2e. Over in PbtA-world, (or should that be PbtA World?) we have Freebooters on the Frontier, a very nice OSR-emulating Dungeon World-esque game. A Freebooters 2e is in the works - and has been for quite a while; I will admit that I lost interest in it after seeing just how much was being added to its bones. In each of these cases, I'm sorry to say, I felt that the proposed expansions weakened the strong appeal of the very product itself (Others may feel differently. YMMV. Past results do not guarantee future performance. Void where prohibited). 

And then, along comes ... a much-expanded Knave, 2nd edition. 

! That's a nave, not Knave,_Nave,_Paris_20140515_1.jpg

For all the reasons stated and implied above, I was skeptical ... at first. Is beefing up something made explicitly as a light, flexible, cross-OSR-compatible template ruleset really a good idea? Or is it as silly and presumptious as starting a discussion of Knave with extended reference to Yeats' poetry? (Umm...). But the Kickstarter draws nigh, and author Ben Milton has offered a glimpse of the forthcoming K2e in a free, 17-page preview document on Having read over the content there, and after watching Ben's video about the upcoming release, I am ... feeling pleasantly optimistic!

In fact, what we can see so far suggests that the new edition might be very appealing. Ben is adding lots and lots and lots and lots of random-roll tables that look - so far - mostly genuinely useful for play. He's made some subtle changes to the lean rules engine of Knave 1e, too, and I (mostly) like what I can see so far of those changes.

Now, I ran Knave 1e for a while -- we used it through Black Wyrm of Brandonsford and about half of The Evils of Illmire, along with some one-shot action. So I've got some street cred with the original system. After looking over the 2e preview document today, I decided that I'd like to do a little "let's read" commenting on this early glimpse at the revised game. 

So I will. And rather than dawdling and poking at this forever, I'll plan to release this as a series of little mini-posts over the coming day or so, as time permits (and grading. O tempora!). And, in case it's not clear, this post's melodrama notwithstanding - I am excited to dig into Knave 2e. :-) 

Thursday, April 13, 2023

[No Spoilers] So I watched that new Dungeon World movie (ahem)

Nope, that blog title isn't a typo. ;-) 

I got to go see Dungeons & Dragons: Honor among Thieves in the local movie house today. One of my kids had been sick for a while recently, which delayed our viewing until now. It was lots of fun, and we all liked it. If you enjoy the Guardians of the Galaxy films, you'll like Honor among Thieves; if you don't, you won't (but if you don't like the Guardians movies...what the hey!?!?). 

At this point there are already loads of posts, videos, reviews, etc., all clamoring to offer their two cents on the film. I thought I'd mainly point out one reflection. As others have noted over the past few weeks, the movie does a good job evoking that feeling of a bunch of goofy player-characters who keep bumbling their way forward, not always un-heroically, pulling off wild shenanigans and rolling with the punches and the plans that don't work. All good. However, despite the general community consensus that the film captures the D&D experience, while watching and enjoying the movie, I kept thinking: this doesn't feel like D&D to me. 

It feels like Dungeon World! 

The movie's fight and action scenes are big, flashy, exciting, and often staged in interesting, interactive, and dynamic environments (duh, it's a movie). It's that cinematic dynamism that caught my eye. Something about seeing explicitly D&D characters having such fluid and dynamic encounters on screen really clashed with, say, the recent PF2e hyper-tactical battles I've been running this year. :-) [Yeah, sure, PF2e ain't D&D, but bear with me here]. The old take-turns-rolling-your-d20-and-missing-each-other fests ... certainly have their moments of tension and drama, but the overall pace and flow isn't what I'd routinely call dynamic or cinematic -- certainly not in comparison with times I've run PbtA combat. 

Of course, a big part of the reason I've been running Pathfinder this year is because I wanted more granular and tactical combat as a change from PbtA stuff. So the grass is always greener, etc. But today's viewing did make me think again about PbtA combat; running that has its own problems, but it's certainly produced the most dynamic fights I've ever GM'd. 

Anyway. I think the new movie should be very successful as PR outreach for WotC to new players, and it's a very fun movie for old players too. But I found it ironic, as someone familiar with a fair number of different games and playstyles, that when 'they finally made a GOOD D&D movie' - the game it made me itch to play wasn't, in fact, D&D. 


Saturday, April 1, 2023

Imperial Fist

 Fear not - I haven't decided to convert this to an art blog or anything - but I am mid-storm of trying out a repeating series of similar drawings to try to develop my drawing skills (hey, at least it's still gaming stuff). I am a little painfully aware of some issues with this one, but I also think I'm making progress as I work on these.