ART LYON: design, editing, writing, illustration, digital coloring, and other arcane secrets.

Posts tagged ‘game design’


RPG Blog Carnival, March 2017:




This month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme is “Things in the Dark”. Much like MoebiusAdventures, the host of this month’s theme, I’m going to focus my post on a creature – actually, a race* of creatures.

This was really my first thought as I read the theme description for this month’s Carnival, because I’ve been working on a race of literally dark beings for a Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition game I’m currently running. So, I’d like to thank MoebiusAdventure for showing that was an acceptable approach; otherwise, I might have thought it was too far afield.

So, ever since the I first saw the entry for “Shade” in TSR’s Monster Manual II for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons edition waaaaaay back in 1983, I’ve been kind of fascinated with them, and really it was this image that captured my young imagination:


SpooOOOooky, huh?

Basically, by the book, Shades are a not-quite-a-race of beings that other races can be transformed into under the right – or wrong, depending on how you look at it – circumstances. But for me, my first impression from that image was of Shades as a race unto themselves, with a powerful connection to some primordial essence of darkness or shadow. Young me thought that was pretty cool.

So, yeah – that stuck in my head…for about 30 years!

I started actually developed my version of them for a 13th Age game I ran a few years ago. Races are really easy to write up in 13th Age, so I was able to create a basic representation of my idea. In the fantasy cosmology of that homebrew setting, they were one of the very first races, one that existed even before light illuminated the world.

But for the game I am currently running we’re using the Celtic mythos and cosmology as a basis for the setting, and so I fit the origin of the Shade into that. In a common Celtic creation myth the mother and father of the gods, Danu and Donn, are formed out of a cosmic chaos, love each other, and become inseparable. They have children who eventually become some of the bigger names of Celtic mythology – but these children cannot truly grow without first escaping the womb-like embrace of their parents. They do so by running Donn through with a sword and sundering him into bits that form the Earth.

In that womb-like darkness I saw a perfect place for the origin of the Shade. In this version, there was disagreement among these First Children about how to break out or whether to do it at all, at the risk of killing one of their parents. Among the dissenters was Scaedh (skage). Scaedh saw value in the dark, and sought to further explore its reaches untainted by the light of what would come should one or both of their parents be destroyed. In the end, Donn was slain and the world was made. Scaedh fled to the darkest reaches of this new world, high and low, and from Scaedh sprang a race of shadow-people.

Culled from various versions of the Shades for various editions of D&D, here’s my write-up as it stands now, for the purposes of our current game. There are a lot of darkness-related abilities I could give them, but I’m trying to strike a balance of benefits and restrictions that matches the overall power-level of the core races in the D&D 5E Players Handbook. This is my first try at this, so it could easily have many issues. I haven’t introduced Shades as a racial option for characters yet, and since I’m basing a lot of the setting on choices the players make I don’t have any solid ideas regarding Shade culture and history.



Shades are descended from Scaedh, one of the First Children – the original offspring of Donn and Danu.  Scaedh preferred the original darkness of the inseparable Donn and Danu to the harsh light of the world that was made when Scaedh’s siblings slew Donn to gain their freedom from that dark womb-like existence.

Shades are human in size and shape, but their skin and features are all a barely-reflective black. Even the clothing they wear and items they carry take on a similar shadowy appearance. The longer an item has been in close contact with a Shade’s body, the longer it will take to regain its normal appearance when removed from their presence.

A Shade’s body is made partly from the essence of shadow and darkness. They weigh less than what a normal creature their size might weigh and produce less body heat. They require little food or drink, and in fact have little sense of taste or smell with which to enjoy such things.

Shade Names

Shades use names common to wherever they are living at the time. They also have a Shade name which is a treasured and closely-guarded secret. Shade outcasts are formally stripped of their Shade name and all Shades are thenceforth forbidden to use it in any way.
Female Shade Names often end with -el, -em, -en, -eth, and -ith,: Gilel, Kivem, Velen, Seseth, Nilith.
Male Shade Names tend to end in -ef, -ek, -en, -eng, -ev, and -ik: Vekef, Velek, Ekden, Geneng, Grenev, Villik.

Shade Traits

Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2, and your Wisdom score increases by 1.
Age. Shades mature very slowly compared to humans, reaching maturity by 100 years of age, and can live as long as 1000 years or more.
Alignment. Although leaning toward chaotic alignments, Shades find distinctions between good and evil and law and chaos rather small-minded.
Size. Shades are generally between 5′ 6” and 6′ 1 “. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 35 feet, 45 feet when in shadows or darkness.
Shadowsight. You can see normally in dim light and even total darkness, both magical and non-magical.
Light Aversion: You have disadvantage on any Concentration checks when you are in brightly-lit environments. You are not able to cast spells with the ‘fire’ or ‘light’ descriptors.
Darkling Form. You have resistance to poison and cold, but vulnerability to radiant damage. You only need  4 hours of sleep per day, but you cannot regain hit dice or hit points in brightly-lit environments.
Shadow Step. When you are in shadow or darkness, as a bonus action you can teleport up to 60 feet to an unoccupied space that you can see that is also in shadow or darkness. You then have advantage on the first melee attack you make that turn.
Whispers in the Dark. As an action when in shadow or darkness, you can whisper a message to a single creature within 120 feet who is also in shadow or darkness. The target hears the message and can reply in a whisper, that only you can hear. The whisper can pass through solid objects if you are familiar with the target and know it is beyond the object(s). This ability is subject to magical silence spells and their effects.
The Stuff of Shadows. You have advantage in stealth checks made to hide in shadows.
Proficiencies: Arcana, Intimidate, Stealth
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Shadic, Common, Undercommon, and Primordial.
Shades are classified as the humanoid creature type.


That’s it! Like I said, this is my first try at this, so please comment below with any thoughts or suggestions.

*For those unfamiliar with the usage, the term “race” in fantasy roleplaying games is used to distinguish elves from humans, hobbits from dwarves, etc., rather than in the modern, very unscientific usage which seeks to distinguish one ancestry of homo sapiens from another.



An evolving review, deconstruction, and reconstruction of the game
Part 4


In my past 3 posts on the subject of Fantasy Flight GamesStar Wars: Edge of the Empire role-playing game, I discussed the rules’ unique and dynamic dice mechanic. I haven’t mentioned FFG’s other products in that line, Star Wars: Age of Rebellion and Star wars: Force and Destiny, or the Beginner Game boxed versions of each of those three titles because I have no experience with them. However, all their Star Wars rpg products use the same system, so my thoughts about EotE would apply to the entire line.

This post will focus on ways I would simplify the rules by focusing on the most compelling aspect of the game’s dice mechanic, regardless of whether one is using the game’s dice mechanic as-is or some alternative

As-is, the system uses three kinds of dice with positive results on them, and three kinds with negative results on them. The most commonly-rolled dice have the most common results on them (Success and Failure), the less-often rolled dice have a mix of those most-common and some less-common results (Advantage and Threat), and the rarest dice have more of the least common results (Triumph and Despair).

I think the three-tiered scale of outcome severity is a sweet-spot for a game trying to emulate the pulp drama sensibilities of the Star Wars movies and animated series.

My basic proposal is to use that scale for everything. I’ve discussed my frustrations with the system’s existing dice pool system, and how it seems like a barrier to new, casual, and less mechanically-minded players, but here I’m going to focus on this three-tiered idea.

As far as I can see, the possible results of an attack on a character in the Star Wars movies and tv series are as follows:

  1. Miss; no damage.
  2. Grazed; superficial damage; no real damage,  but a point has been made: things just got real!
  3. Stunned, dazed, or otherwise temporarily debilitated but still basically functional.
  4. Unconscious or otherwise taken out of action.
  5. Dead. Possibly cut in half.

Setting aside “miss” and “dead”, we have three common possible negative results.

Looking at SW:EOTE’s three tiers, though, there’s actually six possible outcomes (three pairs), so what if we add three possible positive outcomes of being attacked?

  1. Alerted: this offers the attacked character a free use of an appropriate skill to assess the situation.
  2. Some kind of advantage.
  3. Turning the tables.

I admit that those last two examples are pretty vague. I don’t know how exactly to implement that, and the system as-is already includes possible negative outcomes for the attacker other than just failure. I think what I’m imagining is a system where each roll represents an exchange of attacks and defenses, rather than each roll representing each attack or action. I think that’s pulpier and more Star Wars-y, but I’ll have to think on that some more.

Let’s look at ranged attacks. In something as pulpy as Star Wars, the range of a target is one of the following:

  1. Zero: punching, kicking, lifting people up off the floor by their throats.
  2. Nearby: hurling grappling hook swinglines, throwing someone a weapon.
  3. Shooting: blasters, bowcasters. (Hey, that could be a game: Blasters & Bowcasters!)
  4. Long-range shooting: specialized and/or large ranged weapons, like sniper rifles and mounted weapons.
  5. Out of range.

So, again, dropping “zero” and “out of range”, we have three levels.

You would need a separate scale for space ship combat, when it comes to range as well as damage.

Where I’d really like to infuse the system with this concept is to rate all weapons, armor, and equipment in either the number of extra dice that the item grants you, or in a number of one or more of the six possible dice results you would add to a roll involving that item. For instance, a blaster pistol might give you an extra one of the lowest level of positive dice,  a blaster rifle gives you an extra two of those, and a mounted blaster gives you those two as well but also a mid-level positive die. Or you could have a blaster give you one extra Success, a blaster rifle gives you two extra Successes, and a mounted blaster gives you two Successes and an Advantage. Again, I’m just spit-balling here.

Armor would be rated in the number of Successes it negates, or the number of negative dice it adds to the attacker’s roll.

By putting everything on the same scale and relating everything to those six possible outcomes, you eliminate the bigger numbers the system has for various damage thresholds and other stats for weapons, armor, and other equipment.

Come to think of it, let’s take a step back, actually, and look at the Characteristics that are one of the primary ways SW:EOTE characters are defined: Brawn, Agility, Intellect, Cunning, Willpower, and Presence. Conveniently, that’s six, but I’m tempted to cut it to three. You would lose some of the distinctions between characters, but it might be best to express that through SW:EOTE’s Skills and Talents anyway. So, for now I’ll go with Body, Mind, and Spirit.

To express further distinctions through Skills, I wouldn’t attach each Skill to a specific Characteristic the way the game does as is, but allow a system where a Skill can be connected to whatever Characteristic seems appropriate for the situation. So, for instance, you could connect a “Guns” skill to Body for shooting, but to Mind for attempts at repair or assessing the market value of a weapon.

That’s about all I have on that for now.

Next: probably my last post on SW:EotE for the time being. I’ll be discussing Obligation, Motivation, and designing games based on well-known, highly popular, mass media properties.

Tag Cloud

ceci says

did I just say that? (adventures in stream-of-consciousness writing)

Ellen Starr Lyon

commited to creating art while being a full-time working mom

%d bloggers like this: