Has D&D Gone Full Circle?

Dungeons and Dragons has gone full circle. It began as an offshoot of a wargame that became a roleplaying game and, ever since 3E, it is pretty much a miniature wargame again, which has infected the way the game has been designed (especially 4E). During the 3E days, an actual miniature wargame was produced by WOTC that was minimally different from 3E D&D! To put it mildly, I am not sure that this is a good thing*.

A recent gaming session brought this to the forefront. I have been running a heavily-modified version of “The Sinister Stone of Sakkara” for my 5E group. After introducing them to some tough enemies that were not complete pushovers, they decided to talk. I introduced the concept of factions in the dungeon that they could ally with, assist, betray, etc and IT BLEW THEIR MINDS. One of my players actually thought I was some sort of GM-ing genius. I’m not. But fake it ’til you make it!

By and large, I have been disappointed by most 3E and later published modules, because they are little more than what Bruce Lynch calls “tactics porn”. There is a time and place for combat heavy roleplaying scenarios (like the game I am working on), but I am not sure that publishing multiple editions of the game with these “tactics porn” modules is good for fantasy roleplaying as a whole.

Now, you may be asking why I am making a big deal about published modules. After all, nothing is stopping you from converting a classic module into 4E and playing 4E as an OSR game. Heck, that is what I am trying (with limited success) to do with 5E. The reason I make a big deal about published modules is because that is what many people think of as “pure” D&D or “official” D&D. If you are going to publish a module / adventure, it should represent the product well. Looking a lot of 3E and later modules, they are simply D&D flavored versions of the those old chess problems in the newspaper where you have to get to checkmate in 6 moves or less. How can your 4 3rd level characters defeat X number of enemy Y in environment Z?

There are several factors at work here that I will briefly go over. None of these are necessarily bad in and of themselves, but they have combined in a way that is simply disgusting, much like the “Bachelor Chow” I used to eat before I got married. Rice, chicken, cheddar cheese, and barbeque sauce are all great flavors. Just not together.

1) Distrust of the GM. Later editions take a lot of power away from GMs by creating explicit rules for strange situations that do not come up often. A good GM should be able to create a fair-ish ruling that will be applied consistently-ish. I suspect that during the early days of the game, upset players would send in angry letters to TSR complaining about bad GMs contributed to these changes, as well the rise of tournament play. With tournament play, the need for “official” rulings would then become new “official” rules.

2) Published settings. Published settings have to remain static** (except between editions). Because they make world building much easier for GMs, they are popular. However, no adventure can be truly weird or earth-shaking. The status quo must be maintained. The best a hero can hope for in the Forgotten Realms is that the status quo returns. Say what you will about an adventure like “Death Frost Doom”, but at least there are serious consequences for the game world based on what happens in the adventure. Extreme consequences (perhaps too extreme). You know what’s safe? “Tactics porn” encounters to stop bad dude X from doing thing Y that if stopped in time, will have no lasting consequences in the game world.

3) “Magical Engineers”. There are people who will nit-pick and explore every potential effect in a magical world. Therefore, I think module designers were forced to explain every last weird effect by the rules of the game. Nothing can just be anymore. It must be fall perfectly into the rules of the game world / our world. That sense of wonder is gone from players. They cannot simply allow something weird to simply exist. The reason for this is…

4) A lack of the FANTASTIC. Nothing is special anymore. Blame it on CGI, the public schools, the closing of the Western mind, the general state of modern sci-fi and fantasy literature, etc, but for whatever reason we simply refuse to be awed. I am not sure how to fix this other than changing media consumption habits. If you need suggestions, let me know.

* I am not saying that fantasy wargames are bad, just that they aren’t D&D. If you invite me over to play chess and when I arrive, start dealing me UNO cards, I am going to say something!

** One example of a published setting that does this right is the setting in ACKS. A dying empire that can be carved into a one hundred new, smaller political units run by players. The players can make actual map-altering changes in the world. Also, because there are no published novels and a minimal amount of character information for the setting, you don’t have to worry about THAT PLAYER telling you that King Bob VII is actually 56 years old, not a child king being manipulated by the Grand Vizier per the official Published Setting novel by Hack McHackerson.

Not Enough Hours In The Day…

After listening to the latest JimFear138 podcast with Daddy Warpig, I want to sit down and write some awesome, pulpy sci-fi/fantasy. But I have to finish my RPG…work…catch up on my reading*…making an occasional rambling blog post, so you know I am still here…and take care of my other real-life responsibilities.


How do you find time for everything? I am still trying to figure it out. The key so far has been discipline. Whenever possible, I am trying to be more disciplined with my time. For example, trying to make better use of my breaks/lunch at work. I could just browse Twitter aimlessly or I could scribble down some ideas / read a chapter or short story. Which one is more productive?

My goal is to have a feature-complete version of the RPG done by the end of April. Then, I will work on proper formatting**, so it looks good on the page. Wish me luck!


** Formatting is half the battle!

The Pulp Revolution & Superversive SF

After reading the below posts by JimFear138 and Anthony M., I have decided to weigh on this controversy? Dust up?

Let’s Talk “Hard SF”: http://jimfear138.blogspot.com/2017/03/lets-talk-hard-sf.html

No Genre Purity Tests! at Superversive SF: http://superversivesf.com/2017/03/20/no-genre-purity-tests/

Clearing Up Some Confusion: https://jimfear138.blogspot.com/2017/03/clearing-up-some-confusion.html

Full disclosure: while neither group would probably claim me and I think both groups are doing great work, I am closer to the Pulp Revolution in taste.

I want to pick up the battle metaphor that JimFear138 mentions in his blog post “Clearing Up Some Confusion”. The most important thing that the Pulp Revolution & the Superversive SF folks can do is to remember that they have the same enemy. Also…








Now, sometimes during battle, perhaps an ally tosses a grenade a little bit too close to you, but you would not immediately turn on them, would you? Maybe question them, maybe say “Hey! Watch it!”, but you would not declare them your nemesis and open fire on them. I am not necessarily saying that is happening here, but I want to prevent it. I see the potential seeds of that bitter fruit being sown between these two communities.

I am simply asking each group to have some kindness and grace with each other. Can both sides simply decide to take what the other says in the best possible light and assume the best in each other?


After some incredible feedback, both here and on Google Plus, SPACE DEMONS…IN SPACE is expanding in ways I did not originally foresee. The next iteration of the rules are being worked on right now (well not right now because I am typing this post) and will be released at some point in the future.

Here are my top priorities for this next version:

1) Setting Details. On Google Plus, +Sky Hernstorm (go and read “Thune’s Vision” if you haven’t yet!) gave me some really good ideas that expand the game universe.
2) Re-working the Ex-Cultist class into a less magical class. See below.
3) Re-skinning the Combat Medic better. It is heavily based on the cleric, but I want to make the Medical Experiments more…”scientific-y sounding”.
4) A better title.
5) Fixing some issues with the ammunition system. As part of my KISS* design philosophy, I want to rework the ammunition system so it is always 1 ammo per shot, except when dual-wielding.
6) Add a Chainsaw???
7) Adding traps / secrets / powerups

@Oghma_EM on Twitter / Gab, the person who runs Searching for Dragons has given me some fantastic ideas about re-working the Ex-Cultist.

Below, is an attempt to remake the Ex-Cultist into something less magical:

Sometimes when a person goes through a Thorvald Gate, they come back a little…different. In most cases, the person does not even know that they have changed. It starts innocently enough, with weird little occurrences such as household objects randomly moving when you are not looking, but over time, the person becomes a threat to those around them. When a fire can spontaneously break out or a heavy object fly across a room, the person becomes a danger. The government tries to find these troubled people and train them. They are taken to secret government camps for months and they come back as trained Dark Matter Wielders.

Now never seen without their distinctive armor, even around family and friends, the Dark Matter Wielders have full control over their strange powers. However, they are changed men and women. Their attitude is much more grim than before, but they will refuse to say precisely why. A Dark Matter Wielder never speaks about the training or the long absences when a government agent comes to collect them for a mission. The armor never comes off, so no one is ever completely sure if their loved one is still in there, or if anyone is actually in there. (The truth of the matter is up to the GM)


Prime Attribute: Intelligence, 13+ (+5% experience bonus)
Hit Dice: 1d4
Armor Permitted: Only the special armor they wear. It covers the whole body and has the same stats as a Light Vest: -2 [+2] AC
Weapons Permitted: Only the Pistol, Shotgun, Sawed-Off Shotgun, Grenades, and Laser Rifle.


Dark Matter Points per Day: A Dark Matter Wielder’s ability to manifest powers is limited by the dark matter points he or she has available. His or her base daily allotment of Dark Matter Points is given on the table below:

A Dark Matter Wielder begins play knowing three Dark Matter Wielder powers of your choice. Each time he or she achieves a new level, he or she unlocks the knowledge of new powers. Choose the powers known from the Dark Matter Wielder power list (basically a re-skinned Ex-Cultist spell list).

The number of times a Dark Matter Wielder can manifest powers in a day is limited only by his daily Dark Matter Points. For example, a 9th-level Dark Matter Wielder (with a total of 72 Dark Matter Points) could manifest a power costing 1 Dark Matter Points seventy-two times in one day, a power costing 9 Dark Matter Points eight times in one day, or any other combination of powers that does not exceed 72 Dark Matter Points in total.

A Dark Matter Wielder simply knows his powers; they are ingrained in his or her mind. He or she does not need to prepare them (in the way that Combat Medics prepare their Medical Experiments), though he or she must get a good night’s sleep each day to regain all his or her spent Dark Matter Points.

Maximum Power Level Known: A Dark Matter Wielder begins play with the ability to learn 1st-level powers. As he or she attains higher levels, a Dark Matter Wielder may gain the ability to master more complex powers—for example, a 3rd-level Dark Matter Wielder can learn powers of 2nd level or lower, a 5th-level Dark Matter Wielder can learn powers of 3rd level or lower, and so on.

Each level of power costs a certain number of points.

1st: 1
2nd: 3
3rd: 5
4th: 7
5th: 9

What do you think? Is this a step in the right direction?

* Keep It Simple Silly

That One Game

It seems like everyone has “that one game” that they absolutely love. The one that they desperately want to pull out and play, even if they play other games. The one they will endlessly bring up, even if not appropriate for the conversation. For instance, I think Car Wars is “that one game” for Jeffro.

Everyone except me.

I do not know if “that one game” has incredible mechanics that are well-polished and balanced or a particularly great experience that an individual player had at the table or if the game truly invoked the setting implied in the rule book. In any case, I do not have “that one game”. There are games I enjoy, but not “that one game”.

I have “that one novel” (The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton)
I have “that one movie” (UHF)
I have “that one book of the Bible” (Ecclesiastes)

Maybe I’ll find it one day, maybe I won’t. With some luck, I may even create it.

Rough Draft of My OSR-ish Game is Complete!

I have finally completed a rough draft of my DOOM-inspired OSR-ish game, tentatively titled “SPACE DEMONS…IN SPACE”. When I say rough, I mean using-60-grit-sandpaper-as-toilet-paper rough.

If you are interested, please give it a look. Everything in this is up for adjusting. Heck, even the name is not final. If you want playtest credit or something, please let me know how you would like to be credited / what name or moniker to use.*

I can be contacted in the comments section of this blog or on Twitter at @NotJohnDaker, on Gab as @NotJohnDaker, or +The Mixed GM on Google Plus.

In the final version, I will try to find some images that I can legally use, so there will be some art (I have a budget of $0.00 for this).

Space Demons In Space v 0.5

* I do not have a final date set when this will be complete. No promises that it will be soon.