Monday 2 April 2012

A Better System-Neutral

Frank Mentzer & co. at Eldritch Ent have been drawing some flak for the "system-neutral" descriptions in their products. Apparently, to avoid being beholden to the Open Game License, they have decided to express key stats in terms of percentages so a 6 HD monster has 30% "Power" and so on.

Ever wonder why Esperanto never caught on? No matter how illogical its grammar or spelling, a universal language will only work if there are already lots of people who speak it. Now, a plurality and maybe even a strict majority of roleplayers run some kind of D&D. From that, conversion to a system without levels, armor class and hit points is going to be laborious and inexact anyway. So if you want to be free of the OGL, why not just go with D&D standard and make up your own names for the usual stats? As Flavor Flav would say, y'all can't copyright a number ...

Power: 2
(is there really a reason to list hit points in an adventure? Most times I just roll them up in the dicebox with my bucketload of d8's)
Defense: 4 (add to 11/subtract from 10 for AC; you can even break this down into physical, active and magical defense)
Attack: 3/3/6 (die maximums will do, you can figure out whether it's 2d6 or d12)
Speed: 3 (x30' for D&D movement)
SA: Paralyzation (give duration in minutes, maybe just let the DM work out the save or use synonyms for Fort/Ref/Will)
SD: undead blar blar

My previous thoughts on old school statblocks.


  1. Yep, and I drew some of Frank's flak for doing so.

    Still, I dropped my cash down and I'm reviewing Lich Dungeon. We will see how it goes.

    I'm more perturbed that some of the newly obscured stats didn't match OSR / Original Source material for the same named creature.

  2. I'm a big fan of one or two line stat "blocks."

    Something like:

    Thing: AC as plate, HD 2, Mv as unencumbered man, Atk bite 1d6, Morale 10

    I'm pretty sure all those words and concepts have now been heavily used by non-D&D games and so should be fair game, even without using the OGL (though I am not a lawyer).

    LotFP releases come closest to this ideal for me. Anything much more than that (other than description) is just wasting space. Obviously, some creatures might need a few spell listings or whatever, but that's still just a line or two more unless you are talking about something really really special.

  3. This is interesting to think about. I agree with Brendan and think the LotFP reference is great. Much of the D&D language is not system specific (e.g., long sword, chainmail armor, normal human speed, etc).

  4. I love the Judges Guild Universal Format...

  5. Look how Gygax bombed out with Lejendary Adventure, the terminology was bamboozling, but at least it was its own game. If you want to produce supplements for D&D and its clones you're going to need to speak the same language, or close enough to it for people to understand. Otherwise it's just too many hoops to jump through for utility.

  6. This is similar to how I handle conversions to/from Weird West...

  7. I'm actually waiting with baited breath for a good explanation of why the OGL was not good enough. It seem to work for so many people, and Frank have hinted that they thought long and hard about it.

  8. Yes, me too. Anyone know why they eschewed OGL? (I know Tenkar speculated about being "burned".)

  9. Clark used to run Necromancer Games. The change from 3x OGL to 4e GSL was one he was not wiling to make. I think Clark felt betrayed by WotC, as he was a big proponent of 4e until details of the GSL were releaed.

    Necromancer Games closed up shop shortly thereafter.

    It could be that they are concerned about tying themselves to any sort of game license.

    But - Frank has been posting that there is talks of rereleasing the products licensed under S&W, LL, OSRIC and the like, which will by their very nature tie them to the OGL

  10. in AFG I do stat block like this:
    Maneater, lvl1 human (shield)
    Ogmir, lvl7 Giant Badass humanoid (medium)
    Mindkiller Scarab, lvl2 Flying Psychic (terror) Bug

  11. I wasn't aware you couldn't use Hit Dice without invoking the OGL. It looks like they're skipping Hit Points as well. Are HD really specific enough that to use them without the OGL would be grounds for infringement?

    1. Hit points have been used forever by video games without the OGL, but hit dice I'm not sure about. It seems like a rather general concept, but a few quick web searches are not coming up with non-D&D examples for me. One could easily replace the concept with "level" and have the same basic game mechanic though.

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