Category: Dungeons and Dragons

Hello Old Friend!

Back in the 90s, during my AD&D 2nd edition days, my default campaign setting wasn’t Greyhawk but a cobbled together mish-mash of Tolkien, George RR Martin, and H.P. Lovecraft called Gaile.

Gaile’s western continent, Avandunil, served as home for my campaign but, once 3rd edition D&D rolled around, I decided to mix things up (and cut back on the blatant theft of place-names and campaign details from its sources) by changing the focus from Avandunil to eastern Gaile or Estegalle.

Since I’ve revamped my AD&D 3rd Edition rules and cleaned them up, I figured that I should dust off the old campaign setting, warts and all… and so I have.  Like Avandunil before it, Estegalle borrows a lot from Martin, Lovecraft, and Tolkien but also draws from varied real-world cultures; making it feel quite a bit like the Known World campaign setting for Basic D&D.

My slightly updated campaign notes for Estegalle are located at:



Coin Sizes in D&D

I saw this post by a poster named 77IM on ENWorld and thought I’d repost it here because it’s the kind of thing I like to consider in my games:

Do you wonder what size coins are? I sure do! Keeps me up at night.

So let’s math this out a bit.

50 coins weigh 1 lb. so that means 1 coin is 0.32 oz., or 9 g if we are being metric, which we are, because that is how Wikipedia lists coin weights. So, looking to see if any US coins weigh 9 g, it looks like the closest is the dollar coin, at 8.1 g.

The dollar coin is comprised primarily of copper, so BAM, that’s about how big a copper coin is. Actually it will be slightly bigger, about 12% bigger by volume, which is pretty negligible. For those of you unfamiliar with the dollar coin, it is is about an inch across (26.5 mm) and 2 mm thick, so it’s not that much bigger than a quarter.

Now let’s look up metal density. Copper is about 9 g/cm^3, and silver is 10.5 g/cm^3, so pretty close. This means a silver coin is slightly smaller than a copper coin. Since the copper coin is slightly bigger than the dollar coin, this means that the silver coin will be about the size of a dollar coin, or maybe a bit smaller. I’m to lazy to bust out pi*r^2 and figure out exact sizes for these coins so I’m satisfied saying “both silver and copper coins are about the size of a US dollar coin.”

Also, this assumes the metal is pure, and it’s usually not. Silver usually has some copper in it, and copper coins (in the US) often have substantial nickel in them, and once you start putting zinc in there things lighten up considerably. So all these sizes are going to be approximate anyway.

Looking at the density of gold (19.3) and platinum (21.5) it looks like they are pretty similar and both nearly double the density of copper and silver! Well that’s handy. It means that gold and platinum coins should be half the volume of the copper/silver coins.

Since most US coins are copper, a gold or platinum coin of the same dimensions would weigh twice as much. So to get the dimensions of a 9 g coin (50 coins weigh 1 lb. in D&D), we need to find a 4.5 g coin. Crawling around Wikipedia, it looks like the closest is the familar US nickel coin, at 5 g. That’s actually OK, because our D&D fantasy coins are probably not pure gold or platinum, which means they will be less dense and therefore slightly larger than a pure coin.

So there you have it:
A copper or silver piece is about the size of a US dollar coin (or a UK 20p piece).
A gold or platinum piece is about the size of a US nickel (or a UK 10p piece).

I’d add that electrum pieces would roughly be the size of a US quarter.


Fleshing Out Language Proficiencies in 5th Edition D&D

I recently wrote up my houserules for giving the Medicine skill a little more depth and utility.  When push came to shove, I scaled back some of the “crunchy” benefits I had incorporated because the changes didn’t feel right to me in light of 5th edition’s streamlined rules.   At the same time I wanted to stress the use of Medicine in diagnosing and treating long-term illnesses and poisoned creatures without adding unneeded complexity.

With that in mind I got thinking about ways to expand upon the uses of other skills and proficiencies in 5th edition.  Today’s proficiency:


According to the Player’s Handbook, your character can speak, read, and write certain languages “by virtue of their race”.  In addition characters may gain languages from their class choice (i.e. bards know additional languages, druids speak Druidic, and rogues speak Thieves’ Cant) and/or from class archetypes (knowledge domain clerics are learned and, as such, gain additional languages).  Finally, both backgrounds and some feats grant added languages.

But what does knowing a language mean beyond understanding its spoken and written words?  Here are some insights from the Player’s Handbook:

  • Draconic is thought to be one of the oldest languages and is often used in the study of magic.
  • Elven literature is rich and varied, and their songs and poems are famous among other races. Many bards learn their language so they can add Elvish ballads to their repertoires.
  • Humans typically learn the languages of other peoples they deal with, including obscure dialects. They are fond of sprinkling their speech with words borrowed from other tongues: Orc curses, Elvish musical expressions, Dwarvish military phrases, and so on.
  • The Gnomish language, which uses the Dwarvish script, is renowned for its technical treatises and its catalogs of knowledge about the natural world.

As such, it’s pretty clear that knowing languages should impart a character with insights into that race’s cultural and social mores, history, idioms (phrases that have both a literal and figurative meaning), works of literature and music, and generally provide give an inkling of that race’s outlook on life.  Speaking elven, for example, should allow that speaker to know a bit of their history, to be familiar with passages from elven works of literature, to be able to know some elven poems and songs, and better understand the elven people.

Also, HOW the character came to know the language should be factored into the equation.  Did a character who speaks Elven live among the elves for years, did an elven friend or paramour teach them, was it learned in a college of magic or bardic college, or did the character pore over tomes in order to teach themselves the tongue?

When considering Intelligence-based skills, I try to consider which languages could relate to them.  For example, I try to remember which characters speak Elven and Draconic (and, sometimes, other languages… such as Gnomish) when magical texts are found because those texts will often be written, at least in part, in those tongues.  When that’s the case, the character will gain advantage on their Arcana roll.   At the same, I would grant disadvantage on a History check when the check involves a race whose language a character isn’t fluent in.

Use of Charisma-based skills would also benefit.  For example, a character who speaks Orc would know when to use Intimidation and when to use Persuasion (or Deception) when parlaying with a band of orcs.  Likewise, a character who speaks Dwarven very possibly had extensive dealing with the dwarves (who don’t just teach their language to anyone), and would know how best to address a dwarven lord or haggle with a merchant.  Not speaking a race’s language could grant disadvantage when dealing with members of that race… depending on the circumstances.  While Common would allow for communication between a human and dwarf, things would go more smoothly if the human spoke dwarven (which would impart some degree of dwarven etiquette).

Tinkering with RPG Systems

I’ve been playing RPGs for the past 34 years or so and, in that time have played a ton of different games.  At the same time, I’ve only really ever played games that have lasted for more than 6 months at a stretch, in a handful of systems: D&D (every edition that’s been out since 1981, except for 4th edition), Deadlands, DC Heroes, Star Wars (the d6 version), and Pendragon… which is pitiful considering how long I’ve been playing!

Of those games, I’ve only run D&D (in all of its incarnations) and Pendragon with any regularity.  As an inveterate rules tinkerer I couldn’t resist messing with those systems, in an attempt to mold them to my needs and preferences, with mixed results:

  1. AD&D 2nd edition, for example, saw me adding both Perception and Endurance as derived statistics, as well as my adding Wound States and a few character classes:  The Scout, The Hedge Wizard, and The Adept (something of a cross between a monk and a psionicist).  The Skills and Powers book helped me develop needed classes and, overall, I felt that my additions improved the game without making it needlessly complicated.  Then again, the plethora of subsystems for skills, ability checks, listening checks, and class abilities meant that any new rules were being tacked onto an already complex game.  With the release of 3rd edition and its unified resolution system I ditch the cobbled together mess that was AD&D in a heartbeat.
  2. D&D 3.X saw me adding campaign specific prestige classes but leaving the solid core of the game alone.  Once 3.5 hit was released, I ignored its terrible weapon-size rules and continued to use 3.0’s cover and concealment rules.  Nothing too drastic.  In fact, my alterations of 3.X were pretty tame.  Eventually 3.X became a chore to play and prohibitively complex to DM, especially once player characters advanced beyond 7th level.
  3. Castles & Crusades, a retroclone that stripped down 3.X, added some new elements, and borrowed its some flavor from AD&D, allowed for a faster-paced and more flexible D&D-variant.  As soon as I tried the system I realized that I vastly preferred it to the ponderous rules of 3.X.  At the same time, the tinkerer in me felt that the game lacked many options (spells, class abilities, and a simple skill resolution system) that would allow it to easily be used with classic TSR adventures and campaign settings.  So began a 6 year overhaul project that resulted in my creation of AD&D3 Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide.  By the time I was started working on a Monstrous Manual, D&D Next playtests had begun and I realized that WotC was working on a game that would meet my gaming needs.  As such, I shelved the project (UPDATE:  I’ve since updated and completed the AD&D3 rules, including the Monstrous Manual).
  4. D&D 5th edition, so far, has inspired me to work on Greyhawk and update my homebrew campaign world to 5th edition.  Eventually I’d love to work on adding backgrounds, class archetypes, and clerical domains to the game.  For now, I’ve been content to add some houserules, like a spell-less ranger and the half-ogre as an added player race.  I’ll soon be adding more houserules to this blog, including slightly tweaked rules for lighting conditions, an alternate system for tracking wound levels, and new feats.
  5. Finally there’s Pendragon.  Of all of the RPGs that I messed with, I think I’ve had the least luck with Pendragon.  For those who haven’t played it, Pendragon is the RPG of Arthurian Britain.  In it you play British knights fighting against the tide of Saxon, Pictish, and Irish invaders that threaten to wash over the island as its various petty kings fight for supremacy.  Because all players are playing knights, the focus of the game becomes “what kind of knight are you.”  To drive that point home, Pendragon has an inspired system for personality traits and passions that allows them to guide or, sometimes, dictate player’s actions.  Another strength of the game is its focus on legacy-building.  Pendragon is lethal and it is inevitable that player knights will die in combat or due to the ravages of old age (yes, there is a system for dealing with yearly stat loss after you reach age 35).  As such, it is imperative that your character works towards the goal of marrying and begetting an heir (and a male heir at that).  My issues with the game have, largely, arisen out of players learning how to “game the system” and exploit it at the expense of telling a great story.  Certain skills, for example, clearly trump other skills (even though I tried to incorporate all skills into the game), as did certain cultural groups (you don’t EVER want to be a Pict because you are severely gimped at during character creation).  Also, the system’s use of reflexive modifiers (a mounted knight gains a +5 bonus vs a footsoldier who, in turn, would receive a-5 penalty) makes for easily unbalanced combats.  Admittedly, this has a lot to do with my GMing BUT I honestly think that the game needs to be dragged out of the 1980s.  As such, I’ll be posting some ideas on this blog over the coming months.   I hope to get some feedback on these ideas… even if it’s fans crying “heresy!”.

AD&D 3rd Edition

On the advice of my fellow geek, Steve, I’ve decided to start up my blog once more… and use it to discuss the design and development of my pet project:

AD&D 3rd Edition Player’s Handbook
AD&D 3rd Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide
AD&D 3rd Edition Monstrous Manual

For those unfamiliar with my labor of love, here’s a quick explanation. AD&D 3 is my attempt to mesh the best elements of AD&D, Castles & Crusades and 5th edition D&D into a cohesive, relatively rules-lite package.

Within the pages of AD&D 3rd Edition you’ll find the 7 player character races (humans, dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-elves, halflings and half-orcs) common to AD&D, Castles & Crusades and D&D 3.X, as well as 11 character classes taken from AD&D and Castles & Crusades. The 4 core classes are the cleric, fighter, magic-user and thief. The cleric has 2 subclasses; the bard and the druid. Fighters have 3 subclasses; the barbarian, paladin, and ranger (I eliminated the cavalier due to its overlap with the fighter class). The magic-user has no subclasses, but I’ve included rules for specialist wizards such as illusionists and evokers.  The assassin is a subclass of thief. Monks serve as an optional, 5th, core class.

Mechanically AD&D3 is a d20 lite game, drawing its inspiration from the SRD, 5th edition, and Troll Lord Games’ excellent Castles & Crusades.

I’ll use this blog as a design journal; where I’ll go into further detail about AD&D3… describing my design choices and the reasoning behind those choices, providing rule updates as I tweak the rule pdfs, and wondering aloud as to what rules I’ll muck with next.