Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Dungeons and Dragons and Narrative Gaming

The last few weeks have seen a spike in Twitter threads dealing with narrative or “story based” gaming. In some ways this isn’t really a surprise, with the preponderance of newer games that focus on narrative at the table.

For purposes of discussion, let’s define “narrative” or “story” gaming as gaming where the needs of the “narrative” or the “story” are put above the other aspects of the game. So in a story game it is often possible for the GM or the players to change a result or waive a rule in order to serve the story better. 

So, for example, a player might spend “story points” to change a dice roll, or a game that has variable results from a dice roll (e.g. strong success, barely successful, mild failure, catastrophic failure) might allow the player to shift the result up or down, e.g. from a catastrophic failure to a mild failure. Another game might allow a player to activate an ability or obtain an important item if it fits into their backstory or goals. 

Indeed, story based games often prioritize in-depth background creation and use that background to determine how the game unfolds, so the DM might place encounters or NPCs that connect to a character’s backgrounds, and allow that background to influence the unfolding of the session. 

This leaves us with a few important aspects of story gaming:

1. The game is oriented towards ensuring that the needs of the story are paramount.
2. In most cases this is achieved by some sort of consensus process that involves everyone at the table, story tools are active, not passive.

Dungeons and Dragons, for the most part, is not characterized as a “story game”, primarily as it lacks tools for players to actively manipulate the game in the name of the narrative. Dungeons and Dragons is viewed as a crunchy, rules based game, a “hack and slash” game, a “beer and pretzels” game, one where the focus isn’t on individual characters and keeping them around to maintain the narrative, but instead on playing out the scenarios and letting the, “dice fall where they may.'' 

In short, Dungeons and Dragons is not a “story game” as it’s primary focus is enacting the mechanics, not telling a story. Yes, you can “tell a story” about your Dungeons and Dragons game, but this is an after the fact sort of thing, it isn’t the focus of the game.

Story-Focused Gaming, Active and Passive Mechanics
I think the first source of the tension between Dungeons and Dragons and more “story focused” games is precisely this contrast, the idea that Dungeons and Dragons isn’t a story focused game as it lacks the ability for the players to actively manipulate the outcomes in service of the story.

I want to dispel this idea. Dungeons and Dragons is a story game, as a matter of fact all RPG’s are story games, however the way they go about using narrative varies. You can usefully think of this along a spectrum, from consensus games where everyone has a say in shaping the outcome in an active way to “serve the narrative” to “the DM is final arbiter” games where narrative tools are often passive, not active.

There are no ‘take backs’ in Dungeons and Dragons as it is written, if you take enough damage you die. Yes, you can seek out a spell to bring back your character, but that takes actions in game, in-game resources, etc. You don’t just get to say, “My character comes back to life!”, or roll a miss and declare “My character actually hit”.

However, Dungeons and Dragons has ample passive narrative tools, a passive narrative or story tool is one that functions to mimic narrative structures without direct action on the part of the player. So rather than the player saying, “I don’t want my PC to die here, I’ll change this result by spending my story points”, the player has a baked in safety valve in the mechanics of the game. Dungeons and Dragons also has some active story tools, though fewer in number. I’ll discuss both.

There are a number of different passive narrative tools in Dungeons and Dragons:

1. Saving Throws - Gygax states plainly that a PC should always have a chance, even a remote one, of surviving a deadly attack. A PC chained to a rock then breathed upon by a dragon should still have a chance to survive. Many spells in Dungeons and Dragons have an option for a saving throw, in many cases this saving throw negates the spell effects entirely, much like an active narrative tool could change the deadly result of a spell. Dungeons and Dragons also includes “save for half” mechanics, where you can get more granular results than “full damage/no damage”. 

2. Hit Points - Hit points in Dungeons and Dragons are NOT strictly physical, they are physical + luck + agility + favor of the gods. Hit points are quite literally “story points”, passive narrative tools that give your PC a better chance at survival. So rather than actively changing a result, your PC has a buffer against early death. In game what this means is that higher level characters can survive things that would quickly and easily slay a lower level PC. This is meant to emulate the ability of important characters to survive the challenging events in a story. 

3. Levels - The “zero to hero” progression of Dungeons and Dragons is a perfect example of a passive story mechanic. To reflect the nature of heroes in literature, a Dungeons and Dragons character starts weak and becomes more powerful over time. This is a story tool as it mimics the nature of heroes in stories, they often start off a nobody but over time become more powerful and more important. Levelling “serves the narrative” in that it influences outcomes to make the game more like it’s narrative sources, as increasing in level leads to more powerful opponents and greater power and ability on the part of players. The fact that HP and saves improve with levelling underscores this point, levelling is clearly meant to emulate the progression of the hero in fantasy literature. 

4. The “Mook Rule”, 0-Level NPCs, Morale and Encounter Reactions - In order to emulate the ability of the hero to easily overcome minor threats, Dungeons and Dragons has the “mook rule” for fighters, where they get one attack per experience level against 0-Level monsters (e.g. kobolds, goblins and non-levelled soldiers, mercenaries, etc, etc.) Also, the default for the majority of NPCs in the game world is that they are 0-level, 1-6 HP and easily dispatched by even a low level fighter. So rather than the player saying, “My fighter is a hero, he shouldn’t have this much trouble fighting a kobold, I’m spending a story point to increase my number of attacks this round”, the fighter gets multiple attacks to reflect their prowess. 

Morale and encounter reaction rules are similar, rather than the player having to say, “I’m using my story points to intimidate those orcs as they should be terrified of my character” there are passive tools in the game to reflect the narrative tendency of foes to flee a superior opponent. Encounter reaction rules with charisma modifiers emulate the tendency for a smooth talking protagonist to be able to influence others. 

There are also a number of active narrative tools in Dungeons and Dragons:

1. “The Rule of Cool” and “Rulings over Rules” - One of the core aspects of “Old school” or OSR play is the idea of the rule of cool, or “rulings over rules”, if the PC suggests doing something “cool” then the DM can overrule the rules to make it happen, or create a new rule to allow it to be tried. EVERY table I have ever played at has invoked this rule at some point, and what is this other than a “narrative tool” to allow the players to do something that exceeds the rules but would make for a better story? This is an active story tool as it takes precedence over the written rules and involves active choices on the part of the players and DM.

2. In-Play Adjustments: Peruse Twitter and gaming forums and you will see endless threads talking about how the DM can mess with the rules in-game in order to avoid undesirable results. The examples are numerous: DM’s listening to players ideas about what is happening and changing the course of events to match those ideas, DM’s adjusting the number of monsters, monster HP or abilities on the fly to make the encounter “more interesting” or “more challenging”, adjustments with clear narrative implications.

“Fudging” dice is another example of this, and when you slog through the almost endless threads on this one thing becomes clear, pretty much everyone thinks fudging a lot is bad, but fudging occasionally isn’t a bad idea, as the game is complex and sometimes it kills the fun to follow the rules exactly 

3. Hand-Waving: There are a lot of rules in Dungeons and Dragons, and many of them are “hand-waved” in order to make the game flow more smoothly or to make it more enjoyable. At its root this is a narrative process, for example: many groups don’t bother with tracking ammunition or spell components as they find this too tedious, which is really another way of saying it “doesn’t serve the narrative”, e.g. Conan stories don’t go into great detail about Conan managing his supply of arrows. That’s not an exciting story to tell, so why have it in your Dungeons and Dragons game?

4. Role-Play: this may seem obvious, but Dungeons and Dragons gives players extreme latitude with respect to directing their characters, alignment is tolerant of a wide range of behavior, class restrictions are as well. Freedom of role-play is an active narrative tool, it allows a player to direct the actions of their character in any way they want to serve what they believe to be the story they want to tell about them, the role they are playing, even if it isn’t the best course of action according to the rules. The fact that a rules based concept like alignment can change in game based on the character’s actions, directed by the players, suggests that role-play is an active story tool in the game. If the rules dominated the story then your alignment would determine your actions, instead, Dungeons and Dragons explicitly states that a character’s actions are determined by the player, and if they don’t match the character’s alignment then the alignment will change. 

The active tools for narrative control of the game are mostly in the hands of the DM in Dungeons and Dragons, not the players, but that doesn’t change the fact they are there and they are active. Also, many of these tools involve some sort of consensus. So for example, the “rule of cool” is often invoked by a player who feels their idea is “cool” and worth bending the rules for, and in most cases everyone has to agree to it for the exception to be made. At my table, a player can say, “I should be able to do X, rule of cool!” and we put it to a table vote to see if an exception is made. 

Hand waving various rules mechanics is also generally a collaborative thing, and it can certainly be initiated by a player, e.g. a player mentions that tracking spell components is tedious, and the group collectively decides to stop tracking them.

Narrative Gaming and Dungeons and Dragons

The point of the above argument has been to reframe the understanding of Dungeons and Dragons so it is regarded as a “story game”, by changing the understanding of what constitutes a story-game. Dungeons and Dragons has few active story tools for players, but it has ample passive story tools, and a small handful of active story tools that are usually shared by the DM and players.

Why does this matter?

Primarily as there has been a false dichotomy foisted on the gaming community with respect to Dungeons and Dragons, namely that for a game to be a “story game” it needs active story tools in the hands of the players, rather than passive story tools and active story tools in the hands of the group. 

As a result, camps are being formed and reinforced, differences are being exaggerated, and animosities are being created over nothing. Artificial distinctions like these tend to create division and resentment, and lead people to assume things about others, e.g. “story gamers are crybabies that just want everything without consequences”, or “beer and pretzel’s gamers just want to kill stuff.”

The pervasiveness of these assumptions is wild. For example, it has been noted many times that a lot of Dungeons and Dragons happens “outside the rules”, e.g. role playing in Dungeons and Dragons has very few rules, but many groups report spending more than half their table time role playing. Nonetheless Dungeons and Dragons players will be derided as “murder hobos” with no interest in anything but “killing monsters and taking their stuff”. On the other hand, story gamers will be accused of not caring about the rules and engaging in “dinner theatre gaming”.

In actuality, everyone is playing games with a focus on story/narrative, the difference is the degree and the execution.

Advantages of the Dungeons and Dragons Approach
There has been much written about the advantages of the active story tools used in many modern games, but much less about the passive story tools that define Dungeons and Dragons. I think this is largely as the passive story tools are hidden to most people, so their advantages are missed.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that active story tools are bad, or shouldn’t be used, I’m suggesting that passive story tools have unacknowledged advantages. I’ll discuss a few of those advantages.

One of the most rewarding aspects of role playing is the ability to immerse yourself in your character and in the gaming environment. When the game is working well, you forget about the outside world for a time, and while at the table you become your character in a way. Active story tools remove you from that process and break immersion so you can adjust the result of a game mechanic in some way. Passive tools do not do this, instead they bake the story tool into the game mechanics so it becomes invisible. The most obvious proof of this is that most people don’t even think of HP as story tools, even though they are all aware that HP are not entirely physical.

Oddly enough active story tools are not the only way to give players agency. If a PC survives an attack or encounter because they spend “story points” to alter results that can give them a sense of agency in the game. However, surviving the encounter because of the choices you make is also empowering. Because players don’t see HP and levels as story tools they take them to be aspects of their character, so when they survive the encounter it's because of their actions and choices, not because they got to change a dice roll. This creates a sense of agency.

The sense of achievement associated with RPGs is palpable. Surviving and thriving in a dangerous environment is rewarding, facing the threat of death creates excitement and visceral reactions on the part of players. This is one of the side effects of role-playing, immersion in the character that leads to similar responses on the part of the player when their character has particular experiences. It is also sometimes called “bleed”.

For better or for worse, the ability of a game to put up barriers and experiences that *cannot* be overruled adds to the gaming experience. It is one thing to beat the dragon when you can reverse results or appeal to the DM to change things. It is quite another when you don’t do either of these things, but instead the results are a consequence of your actions and choices only. Passive story tools create the illusion that the consequences are solely the result of your choices. Of course this isn’t strictly true, but for the purposes of enjoying the game it certainly applies. 

One of the biggest complaints about gaming is time, e.g. such and such a mechanic or rule slows down the game too much. Passive narrative tools do not require players to make choices, they are baked into the game instead. This saves time at the table, as players don’t have to actively choose to alter a result to “serve the narrative”, it happens automatically. Over time this saving accumulates and becomes significant.


I’m not against games with active story tools, nor am I against the use of active story tools in Dungeons and Dragons. I have some concerns about “double dipping”, e.g. if you use leveling and HP AND you add active story tools to your game you have to be cognizant of the fact you are putting a lot of control over the narrative into the hands of the group. That isn’t in and of itself a problem, but it is worth noting.

Still, I don’t see any reason why Dungeons and Dragons couldn’t incorporate more active narrative tools into its regular operating procedure. 

However, it’s time to drop this idea that somehow Dungeons and Dragons is not a game with narrative tools, that it isn’t designed with story in mind, or that it is somehow impossible to allow for narrative concerns to influence the rules in Dungeons and Dragons. Dungeons and Dragons is up to its hips in narrative tools, but many of them are baked in or a matter of group consensus rather than being available as active tools for the individual player to use. 

RPG’s vary in the degree and kind of narrative tools, not in their presence or importance to the game. Once we all realize this, it will become easier to discuss the real issues at hand, e.g. how game play impacts player agency, how does authority work in the game, how can we structure play to be inclusive, fun and fair, etc, etc.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Combat House Rules - Black Pearl Campaign
I was asked to detail my combat house rules, I do so here, enjoy! Initiative

Combat rounds are 1 minute long, divided into 10 six second segments. Initiative is deterministic, your initiative score is the segment when your action culminates. So lower initiative scores are better.

Initiative is randomized, e.g. a dice roll gives you your base score, then modifiers are added or subtracted. The base formula is as follows:

Initiative Score = d6 + [Casting Time] + [Weapon Speed] – [Magical Weapon “+”] – [Reaction Attack Adjustment] 

For spells and magic items: casting time
For weapons: weapon speed and magical weapon “+”
For any attack: Reaction Attacking Adjustment (dexterity based)

I use a modified RAA system, Dexterity RAA as follows:
3: -3
4-5: -2
6-8: -1
9-12: 0
13-14: 0
15-16: 1
17: 2
18: 3

I also use customized weapon speeds for weapons, basically half the speeds listed in the 1e PHB for each weapon, rounded up.

All players have character sheets that record their weapon speeds and casting times, if they have a RAA modifier they can either apply it ahead of time to the weapon speeds so they can just roll and add the number, or they can roll, deduct the RAA modifier then add the weapon speed or casting time. The only caveat is that you can’t have a lower initiative score than a 1, no matter what your modifiers.

Because it’s deterministic it eliminates almost all of the disputes about sequencing, as it has a small number of simple and baked in modifiers it is fast, as it is individual it keeps combat interesting, and as it’s d6 based the random factor isn’t too large, but it’s large enough to keep it variable.

Hit Points

All damage to PCs is described. PC’s divide their HP into quarters. For the first quarter damage taken (from 100% to 75%) nothing touches the PC (all luck, favor of the gods, etc.), from three quarters to one half damage is small nicks and cuts, from one half to one quarter, serious gashes and blunt force damage, from one quarter to zero permanent damage such as broken bones that carry “to hit” penalties, below 0 HP severed limbs, etc.

So all PCs and NPC/Monsters get a small buffer against touch attacks for the first ¼ of their HP, e.g. a fighter with 8 HP who takes 1 hp damage from a wight has burned up a HP but has not been touched by the wight, the attack has to do at least 3hp damage to an 8 hp fighter to touch them.

I track player HP when monsters attack them (easy to do, I roll the damage after all) and tell them what the attack did. When I describe them as taking a hit that leads to a nick or cut they know they have been “blooded” and dropped below ¾ hp, but not below ½, as the damage description would be more serious.

When they are hit and below ¼ HP they have to roll a saving throw versus paralyzation or take a lingering damage effect (see below). When they are hit and go below 0 HP they have to save against death magic or take a more serious lingering damage effect. 

Targeted Hit System
100%-75% of HP – No contact
75%-50% of HP – Minor contact (cuts, bruises)
50%-25% of HP – Serious contact (deep cuts, crushing bruises)
25%-0% of HP – Critical contact (save versus paralysis or effect)
0-[-10] HP – Lethal Contact (save versus death magic or effect)

Location of Hit Rules

All hits are given a location by rolling two d20 to hit, one dice (the solid) determines the hit, the other (the crystal) the location.

Hit Location * (d20) – [1/4HP-0HP – save vrs. paralysis]/[Below 0 HP–save vrs. death magic]
1–Right Foot - [broken/cut foot, ½ move]/[sever foot]
2–Left Foot - [broken/cut foot, ½ move]/[sever foot]
3-4–Right Leg - [broken/cut leg, move 3”]/[sever limb]
5-6–Left Leg - [broken/cut leg, move 3”] /[sever limb]
7–Right hand -[broken/cut hand, – 5 to hit]/[sever hand]
8–Left hand - [broken/cut hand, – 5 to hit]/[sever hand]
9- Right hand finger – [broken/cut finger, -3 to hit]/[sever finger]
10– Left hand finger – [broken/cut finger, -3 to hit]/[sever finger]
11 - Right arm - [broken/cut arm, – 3 to hit]/[sever limb]
12- –Left arm- [broken/cut arm, – 3 to hit]/[sever limb]
13-Chest -[broken/cut rib – 3 to strength] /[vital organ crushed/pierced - death]
14 - Upper back - [broken/cut rib – 3 to strength]/[vital organ crushed/pierced - death]
15 – Stomach – [internal damage/cut muscles – 5 to str]/[disembowelment - death 1-4 rounds]
16– Lower back - [broken bones/cut muscles – 5 to strength]/[permanent paralysis]
17–Neck - [1 hp/rd lost to bleeding]/ [broken neck/decapitation - death]
18–Face - [– 3 charisma,33% blind/33% mute/33% deaf]/[-5 to chr,50% blind/50% mute]
19-20–Head - [concussion (unconscious 1-8rds,-2 to hit/1 day)] /[coma 1-2 weeks]

*When reduced below ¼ HP by an attack the target must save versus paralysis, dexterity defensive adjustment applies, or suffer additional effect (d20). When reduced below 0 HP roll a save versus death magic (dexterity defensive adjustment does not apply, but hit point adjustment works as a bonus on the save), or suffer additional effect (d20). If a single hit takes a PC below -4 hp they are dead. PCs may go to -10 HP otherwise, once below 0 HP they lose an additional 1 HP per round if their wounds are not bound and the bleeding stopped.

Critical Hits and Misses
A natural 20 on a “to hit” roll indicates a “critical hit”, unless the victim can only be hit on a roll of 20 or more (in this case a second roll of a 3-6 with a d6 is required for a critical hit). When this occurs, roll a d12 to determine effects.

Critical Hits*:
1. Double base dice damage
2. Knock down (+2 to hit and lose one attack)
3. Knock back (opponent knocked out of melee range)
4. Blinding target (-4 to hit for 1 round)
5. Opponents weapon saves versus crushing blow or is destroyed
6. Opponent disarmed (weapon knocked out of melee range, 1 round to retrieve)
7. Attacker gets extra attack that round
8. Next attack from opponent is -2 to hit (off balance)
9. Opponent loses next attack
10. Opponent’s armor damaged (save versus crushing blow or be one AC worse)
11. Opponent stunned for 1 round (+2 to hit and no return attack)
12. Opponent immobilized for round (no movement)

* Note that the table needs to be interpreted, e.g. if the result is opponent disarmed and the opponent is a monster with natural attacks, the DM may reroll or deem that there is no critical effect, depending on what is preferred, just be consistent, e.g. if you prefer to have a non-intuitive result ignored it should be ignored for the PCs and the NPC/Monsters, if you prefer a reroll then you should always reroll for NPC/Monsters or PCs.

A natural 1 on a “to hit” roll is an automatic miss, or so-called “critical miss”. When this occurs, roll a d12 to determine effects. 

Critical Misses:**
1. Weapon is dropped
2. Weapon must roll save versus crushing blow or be destroyed
3. Opponent can redirect attack to anyone in the appropriate range
4. Weapon speed is doubled for the next attack
5. Next attack is at -2 to hit (off balance)
6. Attacker loses next round’s attack
7. Weapon is stuck in shield/wall/tree etc., BBLG to remove
8. Attacker immobilized for round, no movement
9. Attacker falls (+2 to hit and lose one attack)
10. Attacker collides with target and falls prone
11. Attacker’s next attack is randomized amongst all opponents in range
12. Attacker falls out of melee range

**Fighters get a save (versus paralysation) against all critical miss impacts

Weapon Versus Armor Class Modifiers
I have a custom set of WvrsAC modifiers for every weapon in my game, weapons get modifiers against no armor, leather armor or metal armor. Some are positive, some are penalties, all are small, but cumulatively with magical weapon “+’ and strength bonuses they can be important.


First I check for surprise if it is possible given the circumstances, then we roll initiative.

Everyone gets out a d6, they roll, add their modifiers and report their number as I go around the table and ask each person to tell me (alternately I call out the initiative scores and those players with the score I called out tell me that is their score).

I record their player names on my initiative sheet, it has the round across the top and the segment down the side, I place the PC’s name in the box for their segment of that round, that is when their attack culminates, their spell casts, etc.

If their attack culminates in the same segment as someone else their attacks are simultaneous.

I then go down the sheet in order of increasing initiative score.

Monster CCB attacks all happen simultaneously in one segment, all natural attacks have a weapon speed of one. This makes monsters with multiple attacks very dangerous.

Multiple attacks by PCs (e.g. bowfire) happen on their initiative segment and at the end of the round, if they have three attacks per round on their initiative score then halfway to the end of the round and the end of the round, etc.

PC’s and monsters/NPCs are allowed to move up until the segment of their attack and after the segment of their attack until the end of the round, however, if by doing so they put themselves out of melee range their attack is wasted. E.g. if their attack lands on segment 4 and they move for three segments and are now out of melee range, their attack is wasted.

Attacks are executed in the order listed on the initiative sheet.

When the attack is made the player rolls two d20, a solid and a crystal (any easily differentiated pair will do), the solid is their “to hit” score, the crystal is their “location of hit” roll. If the first is sufficient, the second is consulted. The location of hit only matters for flavor purposes until the target is below ¼ of their HP total, as at that point a saving throw versus paralyzation is rolled and the possible lingering effects are tied to the location of hit.

If a 1 or 20 is rolled an additional d12 roll is made on the critical hit tables.

That’s it.

Example of Play

Rogahl the Red is a 4th level fighter, he has a +1 bastard sword (weapon speed 4, WvrsAC of -1 against metal armor, +2 against no armor), AC 5, MV: 9”  and 20 HP. He is up against Kleith Khavar, 5th level thief, 3rd level MU with a dagger (WS 1) and a crossbow (WS 4) as well as a RAA of 1, AC 7, MV: 12”  and 14 HP. He has Magic Missile (Casting time 1) and Levitate (CT 2) memorized.

Surprise is not indicated. They are 50’ apart.

The two roll initiative, Rogahl is attacking with his bastard sword, Kleith is firing off his crossbow at the approaching fighter. Roghal rolls a 4, +4 for his sword, -1 for the magical sword bonus, leaving him with a score of 7, Khavar rolls a 2, +4 for his crossbow, -1 for his RAA, giving him a 5.

Roghal moves at 9’ per segment, so it takes him six segments to reach Khavar, Khavar fires his crossbow on segment 5, so it goes off at short range for no to hit penalty. Khavar rolls two dice a solid with a 17 and a crystal with a 12. He rolls for 3 hp of damage, that takes Rogahl down to 17 HP, above the ¾ mark of 15, so the crossbow bolt doesn’t actually hit.

Since the idea is that the to hit roll was successful, but it doesn’t actually physically touch the opponent, I narrate that in the following way,

“The crossbow bolt hisses past your left arm, only a last minute twist of your body saves you from a hit”, the idea is to convey that it was barely a miss due to dodging, luck, etc. Until my players are used to how I describe this I might say, “that was a successful to hit roll, so it took HP, but it didn’t hit your body”.

On segment 7 Rogahl attacks, he gets a +2 to hit against Khavar as Khavar is in no armor, and he gets an additional +1 for strength and +1 for the magic bonus of the sword, so +4 to hit! He rolls a 1 on a d20, a critical miss so his crystal dice can be ignored. He then rolls a 7 for the critical, however fighters get a saving throw versus the effects of a critical. Roghal rolls a 3 and fails his save.

I would narrate this as follows:

“Roghal brings down his bastard sword in a mighty, two handed cleave, Khavar smoothly dodges to the side and the massive blade buries itself in the ground several inches.”

First round done.

Initiative is rolled.

Roghal has to spend his action freeing his blade, any simple action like this has an initiative modifier of 1, Khavar attacks with magic missile (CT 1). Roghal rolls a 4 + 1 = 5, Khavar rolls a 4+1 = 5, simultaneous initiative.

Roghal rolls his BBLG and successfully yanks the sword from the dirt, when this happens Khavar’s magic missiles hit, for 8 damage. Roghal is now down to 9 hp, less than half, so the damage from the magic missile is significant, I would likely roll for location of hit in this case, say i rolled a 15, I would narrate it like this:

“You pull your sword from the ground with a massive heaving motion, but at the same time  two magic missiles from the thief smash into your stomach, you feel a shock through your whole body, then a burning sensation in your gut where the missiles hit. You can smell the smouldering flesh”

Because they did not have to roll a save versus paralyzation they know they are not below ¼, but because the damage is described as serious they know they are below half. 

Next round.

Roghal knows that Khavar means buisness, his sword freed he goes for a direct attack, Khavar attempts to stab the swordsman with his dagger as the fighter pulls back for the swing.

Roghal rolls a 3, -1 for the magical weapon plus, + 3 for the weapon speed, for a total of 5, Khavar rolls a 6+1 for the weapon speed, -1 for his RAA, a flat 6. Roghal rolls a 15 on his solid and a 20 on his clear dice. The 15 gets +4 to hit (magical weapon plus, strength and WvrsAC), so it is a hit, and the 20 gives a location of “head”. He rolls 5 points of damage +2 for his strength and +1 for his sword for a total of 8 hp of damage to Khavar, that leaves him with 6 hp, under half but above ¼, so it's a serious hit. 

Khavar stabs with his dagger, he gets a -2 to hit against metal armor, he rolls a 13, too low, so he misses.

“The big fighter’s sword bites into your head, spraying blood through the air and sending a wave of agony through you. In you pain you lash out with the dagger, but the ferocity of the attack doesn’t help, it misses by a wide margin”

Next round.

Khavar casts levitation on the fighter, Roghal swings his sword.

Khavar rolls a 3, +2 for the casting time, -1 for his RAA, for a total of 4. Roghal rolls a 1, +3 for his weapon speed, -1 for the magical weapon plus, for a total of 3. 

Roghal rolls a 15 to hit and a 12 for the location of hit (left arm), the 15 with modifiers is enough, so he rolls damage of 5 HP (his minimum in this case), which brings Khavar to 1 hp. As he is below ¼ but above 0 he rolls a saving throw versus paralyzation, in this case he fails.

“Roghal’s blade swings forward and bites into Khavar’s left arm, the sickening snap of his bone can be heard as the blade bites deeply, almost cutting it off.”

Khavar’s spell is disrupted as he took damage before it culminated, so that’s the round.

Khavar makes a last desperate lunge at the fighter with his dagger, fortunately he is right handed so he takes no penalty from the broken left arm. He rolls a 1 +1 for weapon speed, -1 for RAA, for a total of one. Roghal pulls back his blade for the killing blow, he rolls a 2 + 3 -1 = 4.

Khavar rolls a 20 to hit and an 18  for location of hit. He rolls a 1 for his critical hit. Thats 2x base dice damage. He rolls a 4 for damage, x 2 = 8hp of damage, leaving the fighter with 1HP. He has to roll a save versus paralyzation, which he fails, and the 18 for location of hit requires a % roll, which produces a 40%, I would narrate it like this:

Roghal rolls a 7 to hit, 11 with bonuses, but takes -4 due to the blindness, and misses. 

“Khavar’s dagger slashes your forehead, blood pours into your eyes, blinding you, you stab forward to catch the thief on your blade, but he is nowhere you can see through the red haze.”

Next round.

Roghal strikes out blindly with his sword, Khavar attempts to turn and flee. No need for initiative, Roghal gets a strike at a fleeing opponent at +4 to hit, giving him a +8, - 4 for blinding, so a flat +4, he rolls a 12, +4 for 16 is a hit, and a 16 for location. Damage is 7 hp, which takes Khavar below -4 in on hit, slaying him.

“Roghal stabs as Khavar turns to flee, his sword striking out wildly and connecting to the thief’s lower back, skewering him on the blade.”

Fight over.

The appeal of this system is that there are enough flourishes (critical results, saves once your HP are low enough) to make it interesting, and there is enough detail (location of hit) to allow for a visceral narration of the results. 

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