Design Call: Character Races

In my original posts for this blog, I said that I didn’t want to create HD&D in isolation. If the process just consists of me putting ideas up on the blog for everyone else to tear apart then we’re never going to finish this game. The time has come for me to pass the mantle of creation onto others.

I now make an appeal for volunteers to tackle the remaining HD&D character races: the genasi, genbassi (mongrelfolk), gnome, half-elf, half-orc and halfling. Obviously, there are plenty of other PC races out there to consider, but the above are the core. We’ll add others at a later date.

In a previous post, I have already provided HD&D rules for the dragonborn, dwarf, elf, human and tiefling. Those races are also open to this design call. If you think you can make a better job, or you have ideas for additional feats, talents or abilities then please do so.


The poll on racial modifier to ability scores is still ongoing, and far from decided. For the purposes of creating these races we’ll keep to my original thoughts: races confer prescribed bonuses to ability scores. We may change that later, but let’s stick with that for the time being.

Therefore each and every race gets the following:

  • +2 to two prescribed ability scores
  • +2 to two prescribed skills
  • +1 to one prescribed defence
  • Two racial traits
  • A selection of racial talents, and racial feats

Refer to my post on traits, feats and talents for guidance on what makes a trait, what makes a feat and what makes a talent. You can give a race more than one trait, but each race will choose two traits from the list of those available at first level. It’s probably best to stick to two unless you haev a very good reason.

Races can be split into ‘sub-cultures’ if necessary. See my post on the Elf for such an example. This gives you greater freedom to create different archetypes for certain races. Of the six new races in this design call, I think the halfling is the one most likely to require this treatment.

Be as imaginative and evocative as you can with the feats and talents. There are a lot of sources to draw upon (and I’ve listed a few below) but sometimes original ideas might be best. Use prerequisites and level requirements sparingly, but make sure that powerful feats and talents have them.

As a general rule, the talent should be a unique ability and there should be feats available to improve upon it. Use the HD&D races that have already been posted as examples. Darkness Diabolique is a tiefling’s racial talent. The feats Algid Darkness and Ravenous Darkness improve upon it. That is the model you should be aiming for. Ideally every talent should have a handful of feats that can be taken to make it better. However, it may not always be appropriate. Talents improve in one of three ways:

  • They just get better as the character levels. A dragonborn’s breath weapon does more damage as the dragonborn gains levels.
  • They require the application of feats – like the aforementioned Darkness Diabolique power.
  • Sometimes the improvement is so powerful or fundamental that a second talent is required. To draw examples from the character classes the ability to cast magic and the ability to attack more than once per round are dependent upon taking a chain of talents.

Or sometimes, it might be a combination of the three. The dragonborn’s breath does do more damage as the character gains levels, but it can also be augmented by a series of feats.

Use your judgment. Just do what feels right, and afterward we can all participate in ripping it apart. It will be nice to be on the other side for a change.

The Races

Below are the six races with my initial thoughts on what to do with them, as well as a list of sources that might be helpful for inspiration. Don’t feel as though you have to have access to these sources in order to take the race on. Sometimes too much information can bog you down. And, of course, the 4e PHB2 hasn’t been published yet, so you can’t use that.


In second edition, genasi were half elemental beings. Fire genasi were half-human and half-fire elemental, water genasi were half-human and half-water elemental. Fourth changed that completely. Now the the genasi are a distinct race who can take on different elemental traits depending on circumstances.

My Take on Genasi: Use the 4e rules as a base. This race has ten racial traits (based on the characteristics from the 4e Forgotten Realms player’s guide), two on each element. Some genasi – by way of talents and traits – can swap between elements, swapping racial traits during play. The most acomplished can manifest different elements at the same time. Incorporate many of the abilities of genasi-specific paragon paths into the racial talents.

Sources: Planescape Planewalker’s Handbook (2nd), Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (3rd), Forgotten Realms Monster Compendium (3rd), Forgotten Realms Player’s Guide (4th), Ecology of the Genasi (D&DI).


The mongrelfolk of Iourn. They are a pidgin race made up of the traits and powers and their numerous forebears. They can look like anything from malformed human to a thundercat. Many have animalistic traits.

My Take on Genbassi: Allow them to adopt any two racial traits from any race. This makes them very versatile. They could even take a “multiclass” feat to gain access to the racial talents of other races, however that sort of thing shouldn’t be given away for free. They should have racial talents of their own.

Sources: Book of Humanoids (2nd), Monstrous Manual (2nd), Fiend Folio (3rd)


Gnomes are always awkward. They need an identity that is less than “smaller dwarf”. However, they fill a number of roles in the game. Gnomes can tricksters, scientists, tinkers and gem-smiths. On Iourn you have the Sylvan gnomes of Stonebark, the gem-mining and ship-obsessed gnomes of the Five Colour Kingdom and the mysterious high-tech gnomes of Walhoon.

My Take on Gnomes: Like elves, I think that gnomes deserve their own sub-races. Something along the lines of the forest gnomes, rock gnomes and tinkers (although Walhoonians are not the idiots of the Dragonlance setting). Dont forget the Walhoonians are dinosaur wranglers, so anything presented on the Eberron halfling may also be suitable for them. Equally, a look at the gnomish gods might also be useful.

Sources: Player’s Handbook (2nd), Monster Mythology (2nd), Demihuman Deities (2nd), Complete Book of Gnomes and Halflings (2nd), Player’s Handbook (3rd). Races of Stone (3rd), Player’s Handbook 2 (4th).


On Iourn half-elves are not necessarily the product of a union between an elf and a human. Half-elves can be born to fully human parents, revealing the presence of an elf somewhere in the family tree.

My Take on Half-Elves: Half-elves can acquire any racial traits invented for humans or elves. They can take a ‘multiclass’ feat to allow them to select racial talents from either Elf or Human. They should also have racial talents of their own.

Sources: Player’s Handbook (2nd), Complete Book of Elves (2nd), Player’s Handbook (3rd), Races of Destiny (3rd), Races of the Wild (3rd), Player’s Handbook (4th).


Half-orcs are usually born in violence. They mix the best (or perhaps the worse traits of human and orc). They are very common in lands where orcs are also common – such as Kerikal.

My Take on Half-Orcs: As with half-elves. They should folow the same rules and principles. Of course, this might necessitate coming up with rules for the Orc race as a player character.

Sources: Book of Humanoids (2nd), Monster Mythology (2nd), Player’s Handbook (3rd), Races of Destiny (3rd), Player’s Handbook 2 (4th).


As with gnomes, hobbits are many different things to different people. Second, third and fourth edition presented completely different versions of the halflings and the hobbits. Darksun introduced halfling Lifeshapers. On Iourn, the halflings of the Wold in Norandor are traditional Tolkien-esque hobbits. However, those around the world are very different.

My Take on Hobbits: Sub-races are essential for this race. There are otherwise too much variety. There should be a race to repesent the sedate hobbits of Norandor, the savage halflings of the Cradlelands, the gypsy-like boating halflings of 4th edition and so on.

Sources: Player’s Handbook (2nd), Complete Books of Gnomes and Halflings (2nd), Darksun Campaign Setting (2nd), Demihuman Deities(2nd). Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs (2nd), Player’s Handbook (3rd), Races of the Wild (3rd), Player’s Handbook (4th), Advanced Player’s Guide from Expeditious Retreat Press (4th).


I hope that all the races will find a home with someone who is willing to take them on. If not, it falls back to me which only succeeds in slowing things down. Please don’t bite off more than you can chew, but any help is welcome so please be my guest. Even a little help is still help, and the task before us is still vast. The deadline for this design call is:

31 March 2009

So that gives you more than five weeks to get cracking on it. Obviously, the world doesn’t end if you don’t make the deadline, but I think it helps to focus the mind.

Any takers?


HD&D: Knowledge and Magic Skills

Hi all. In the second of our three posts on the HD&D skills system, we’re going to turn out attention to Knowledge skills, as well as the skills that spellcasters use to weave their magic. Unlike the previous post, I’ll examine how each individual skill works in full.

Skills for Magic

HD&D will follow the same line as fourth edition. Spellcasters do not have to roll a dice to cast a spell. If the spell is only affecting the caster, or a willing target or an inanimate object then no roll is required. A roll is only required if you are targeting the spell on an unwilling opponent or, to put it another way: if a fighter in the same situation would have to roll to hit with his sword, then the wizard would have to roll to hit with his spell.

The attack roll for a spell in fourth edition defaulted to the designated ability score modifier + half the character’s level. That’s not good enough for HD&D, and so the act of attacking with a spell has become part of the skills system. Spellcasting is just a skill like Weapon Group (Axes). You put your ranks in it, add your ability score and any other modifiers, and then roll the dice.

The key skill for spellcasting is Spellcraft. I was originally going to call this skill “Arcana”, but Spellcraft seems more appropriate. However, this will mean that Spellcraft means something different in HD&D than in did in Third Edition. I’ve tried to steer clear of this. For example feats are still called feats because calling them something else would be confusing – not because “feats” is necessarily the most appropriate term.

In addition to Spellcraft, all spellcasters will need to have Arcana which helps them to identify and interpret magical effects. You will notice that Arcana is playing the role that “Spellcraft” did in Third Edition. Again, is this confusing? All spellcasters will probably want to max out their ranks in Arcana and Spellcraft. Finally, each spellcasting tradition is tied to a particular Knowledge skill.

For example, clerics will need Arcana, Spellcraft and Knowledge (Religion) in order to cast spells. Spellcasting uses a mechanic that I will return to frequently in the HD&D system. Clerical (divine) spellcasting is performed by making an Spellcraft check, using the number of ranks you have in Spellcraft or the number of ranks in have in Knowledge (Religion), whichever is less.

Let’s take a look at the descriptions for the skills:

Arcana (Int) [Trained Only]

Description: Where Spellcraft  is your raw ability to control the weave, Arcana is your understanding of it. You use Arcana to identify spells and magical effects; to decipher written spells such as a scroll or spellbook; and (importantly) to learn new spells.

Identify a spell: If you see a spell being cast you can attempt to work out what it is by making an Arcana check against DC 15 + 2/spell level (e.g. DC 33 for a 9th level spell). Doing so does not count as an action. If you do see the spell cast, but the spell affects you (whether successfully or not) you can also make a roll to try and indentify the spell. However, add +5 to the DC in this case.

Detect Magic Auras: When using the detect magic spell, you use the Arcana skill to interpret the spell’s findings.

Decipher Written Spell: You can use Spellcraft to decipher written magical writings such as spells or another wizard’s spellbook. You must make a check for each spell, and the DC is 15 + 2/spell level. Once you have made the check once, you need never make the check again for that particular magical writing. If you fail, then you can try again after taking an extended rest.

Identify materials worked or shaped by Magic: You can tell the difference between a Wall of Stone and a stone wall. If something has been created by magic a successful check at DC 20 + 2/spell level will tell you.

Identify magic item: Arcana is used process of identifying magic items, however it cannot be used to do so in isolation. Normally a specific spell such as identify would need to be cast as well.

Learn a new spell: Most spellcasters know a set number of spells at level one, and then gain an automatic understanding of one new spell per level. If they want to learn any spells outside that, then they must learn the spell. The spell might be bought, found or gifted by another spellcaster (such an another priest in the same church). However, the mechanic is always the same.

You must succeed in a Spellcraft check of DC 15 + 2/Spell level. If you are working from a written source (e.g. you are a wizard) then this check represents your attempt to decipher the spell. If you are taught a new spell through an oral tradition (e.g. you are a druid) then the check represents your ability to absorb what you are being taught.

You spend one day learning the spell. If the spellcaster is a wizard, then this probably involves shutting himself in a room surrounded by dusty tomes. If the spellcaster is a druid then it probably involves sitting in the rain while contemplating the world around him. At the end of the day you make the check as indicated above. If you succeed then you have learned the spell. If you fail the check then you have not learned the spell. You can try again after an extended rest.

As a note, I am planning to do away with the read magic spell in HD&D, so there will be no shortcut for a wizard trying to decipher esoteric writings.

Wizards do not need to transcribe a spell into their own spellbook to learn it. They can happily carry stolen or purchased spellbooks and use them instead. Once a wizard has deciphered a written spell once, he never has to do so again. If the wizard chooses to transcribe a spell into his spell book then he must have special magical inks. The process takes one day (in addition to the day spent learning the spell). The spell takes up one page per level and costs 100gp (in inks) per page.

Spellcraft (Int, Wis or Cha) [Trained Only]

Description: Spellcraft is, quite simply, the ability to cast magic. It is the skill you use to focus the weave and create magical effects. Without Spellcraft spellcasting is impossible. All spell-casters must have ranks in this skill, and would be advised to max out those ranks.

There are various different forms and traditions of magic. The Spellcraft skill is used by all characters of all classes and is the raw ability to capture and cast magic. The traditions themselves are represented by a related knowledge skill:

Draconic (for wizards and sorcerers), Fey (for sonorists and bards), Aberrant (for warlocks), Religion (for clerics and paladins) and Nature (for druids and rangers).

In order to cast magic you must meet three criteria. Firstly, you must have the appropriate spellcasting talent. Secondly you must have ranks in Spellcraft. Thirdly you must have ranks in the related knowledge skill. For example, wizards must have ranks in the Spellcraft skill and the Knowledge (Draconic) skill.

When you make a Spellcraft check to cast a spell, you use your  ranks in Spellcraft or your ranks in the related knowledge skill, whichever is less.

Casting Spells: There are expanded rules for spellcasting beyond the remit of a skill description. The finished HD&D rules will refer players to the appropriate reference for magic and the spell lists.  However, it is ture that most spells require an Spellcraft vs. Defence roll to affect a target. The DC of the test is therefore the enemy’s Reflex, Fortitude or Will defence.

Retry: Most spells need time to recharge after they are cast, so if you miss you may not be able to try again. At least, not right away.

Special: The ability score modifier than applies to Spellcraft varies depending on your magical tradition. For example: wizards and swordmages use Intelligence, clerics and druids use Wisdom, warlocks and bards use Charisma. The description of each spellcasting class will indicate which ability score modifier to use.

Why not more magic skills?

During the campaign of ’99 I used a system of own invention that wasn’t entirely dissimilar to HD&D. Under NURPS spellcasting was broken down into eight very familiar skills: Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy and Transmutation. In light of how may weapon skills there are compared to the magic skills, why don’t we go down this road?

This might seem like a good idea, but I don’t think that it is. Dividing spellcasting into eight skills only makes sense for wizards. It’s meaningless for clerics or druids. What do we do for them? Do clerics have a skill for each of their spheres? Do druids have skills based on effect? Suddenly we have far too many skills.

The important thing for Iourn is that the magical traditionals are properly differentiated. This is why I’ve decided to go for two skills for spellcasting (all spellcasting) and then introduce the need to tie that spellcasting to an appropriate knowledge skill. A multiclass wizard/cleric would then need both Knowledge (Draconic) and Knowledge (Religion) but would work off the same Spellcraft and Arcana checks.

If you think this makes spellcasters too powerful in relation to martial classes you may have a point. If you think that it’s enough of a problem that we should address it, then I seriously believe that we should look at empowering martial characters (by reducing the size of the weapon skill list) rather than expanding the skills that spellcasters need to do fulfill their role.

Knowledge Skills

Right, so that is the game’s two magic-related skills. However, it is how they interact with the Knowledge skills that  allows spells to be cast. Of course, the knowledge skills do far more than permit spell casting. Let’s start with a general look at Knowledge, and then I’ll spend more time on the twelve named Knowledge skills in the game.

Like Craft, Perform and Profession, Knowledge encompasses a number of unrelated skills. Knowledge represents a study of some body of lore, possibly an academic or even scientific discipline.

Twelve areas of Knowledge are highlighted as being particularly relevent to characters, but players are welcome to choose any knowledge they desire. Characters delving into bizarre or esoteric areas of study are choosing to invest resources into skills that may not come up all that often. It is the GM’s responsibility to make sure such an investment is not wasted.  The twelve ‘core’ knowledge skills are as follows: Aberrant, Ancients, Architecture & Engineering, Draconic, Elemental, Fey, Geography, History, Nobility, Religion and Undead.

Knowledge Checks: Making a knowledge check to recall information does not require an action; you either know the information or you don’t. When you make a Knowledge check to recall a piece of information then refer to the following table:

Level of Knowledge










Master Sage


Highly Esoteric


Lost to History


Previously unknown


To put this in context, knowledge of the Hobbyist level (DC 15) should be a moderate skill check for a first level character. DC 20 is a moderate check for a 10th level character, DC 25 is a moderate check for a 20th level character, DC 30 is a moderate check for a 25th level character. A 30th level character who had maxed out his ranks in knowledge, started with an Intelligence of 18, increased his intelligence at every opporunity and took the Skill Focus feat would still have to roll 16 on 1d20 in order to reach DC 45.

This is quite deliberate. There are areas of knowledge that are so obscure that a PC simply cannnot rattle off a string of facts on the roll of dice. Of course, a knowledge check of any DC can be circumvented by research into dusty tomes, or speaking to the insanely knowledgeable. Quests for such knowledge are often at the heart of an adventure. As an aside, this helps to answer Daniel’s observation that tying (e.g.) Knowledge Draconic to spellcasting wasn’t consistant for Iourn. After all, the PCs have met various wizards and they were not all experts on dragons. However, the sort of level of draconic knowledge that certain characters have gained (the Maw of Io, the Temples of Concordance) range from Highly Esoteric to Previously Unknown. All gained through first hand experience, of course. Even high level wizards wouldn’t know such things, and wouldn’t need to know them to be decent spellcasters.


You can opt to specialise in an extremely narrow area of knowledge at the expense of your wider understanding. First select a Knowledge and then narrow your focus. You receive a bonus on Knowledge check in your narrow field of expertise, and an equal penalty on all other checks with the Knowledge skill. The GM sets the penalty, in increments of 5. For example:

Knowledge (Ancients) gives you a broad understanding of demons, devils, angels and the like. If you were to specialise in Demons then the GM would give you +5 on checks related to demons, and -5 on all other checks. If you specialised in a particular breed of demon (e.g. balors) then the GM could give you a +10 on checks regarding balors, and a -10 on all other checks with this knowedge skill (including checks regarding other demons). If you devoted your life to the study of one particular balor, then you would get a +15 bonus for checks related to that individual, and a -15 penalty to all other checks.

You could spend ranks in both the narrow version of a knowledge skill and the standard version. A character could have five ranks in Knowledge (Ancients) and five ranks in Knowledge (Demons). He would get the +5 bonus for narrow knowledge in the Demons skill, but wouldn’t take the penalty on other Ancients checks because he had paid for the skill separately.

Let’s look at all twelve knowledge skills is slightly more detail:

Monster Lore, Planar Lore and Survival

In addition to magic, a number of knowlege skills are used to gain knowledge about monsters and the planes. Knowledge (The Planes) from third edition has effectively been folded into these other knowledge skills as follows:

Abberant: Planar lore on the Far Realm; Monster Lore on creatures classified as aberrations (aboleth, mind flayers, beholders etc). Characters with Survival as a class skill use their ranks in Knowledge (Aberrant) or their ranks in Survival – whichever is less – to endure and survive in the Far Realm. Also the key knowledge for Pact Magic (warlocks).

Ancient: Planar lore on the “outer planes” of Aduro and Barathrum as well as the Astral Sea. Monster Lore on the Ancient races: demons, devils, angels, rakshasha, genie, rilmani, eladrin, guardinal and so forth. Characters with Survival as a class skill use their ranks in Knowledge (Ancient) or their ranks in Survival – whichever is less – to endure and survive in the outer planes. Knowledge (Ancient) is not connected to a spellcasting tradition.

Draconic: Planar lore on realms connected with dragons such as the Maw of Io, Mausoleum of Chronepsis and the Walk Between Worlds. Monster Lore on dragons and draconic races. Characters with Survival as a class skill use their ranks in Knowledge (Draconic) or their ranks in Survival – whichever is less – to endure and survive in the planes indicated above. The key knowledge for Arcane magic (wizards, sorcerers).

Elemental: Planar lore on the elemental planes/elemental chaos. Monster Lore on creatures that hail from those planes. Characters with Survival as a class skill use their ranks in Knowledge (Elemental) or their ranks in Survival – whichever is less – to endure and survive in the planes indicated above. Note that Knowledge (Elemental) is not linked to any spellcasting tradition – at least, not at the moment.

Fey: Planar lore on the Feywild and other seelie and unseelie realms (like the Greymere). Monster Lore on the fey and related creatures such as fomorians. Characters with Survival as a class skill use their ranks in Knowledge (Fey) or their ranks in Survival – whichever is less – to endure and survive in the Feywild. At the GM’s discretion Knowledge (Nature) may substitute in the more mundane parts of the realm. The key knowledge for sonorists (phonomancers, bards).

Nature: Planar lore on the world of Iourn (i.e. the natural world). Monster Lore on natural creatures that inhabit Iourn even if those creatures are fanatastic and would never been found on Earth – e.g. horses and bears, but also pegasus and owlbears. Characters with Survival as a class skill use their ranks in Knowledge (Nature) or their ranks in Survival – whichever is less – to endure and survive in the natural world. Nature is the key knowledge for primal casters (druids, rangers, healers).

Undead: Planar lore on the Shadowfell and the Land of the Dead. Monster lore on all manner of undead creatures as well as the deathless. Characters with Survival as a class skill use their ranks in Knowledge (Undead) or their ranks in Survival – whichever is less – to endure and survive in the Shadowfell. Knowledge (undead) is not connected to a spellcasting tradition.

Other Knowledge Skills

Architecture & Engineering: The ability to design, build and manage complex structures and pseudo scientific machines. Architecture and Engineering will get a make-over in HD&D making it more relevent, and aligning it to classes such as the Artificer as well as all those wonderful gnomes from Walhoon.

Geography: The ability to navigate from A to B with or without a map. Teh arrangment of countries, trade routes and general understanding of your physical place in the world. Geography also tells you about modern cultures, demographics and social issues – but not necessarily about a country’s history.

Geography comes “pre-specialised”. You must choose a geographical locale as the focus of your knowledge. This might be a very tight focus (e.g. Uris), or a very broad focus (Iourn). The DC of checks is based on breadth of the subject. Geography checks to find something in Uris will be easier if you have Knowledge (Geography of Uris) than Knowledge (Geography of Norandor). However, it would be much harder to find your way around Timberlake. Normally selecting a continent would be appropriate (e.g. Urova, Hadrada).

History: Knowledge of stuff that happened. Like geography, the skill comes “pre-specialised”. You must choose a particular region, continent or time period in which to specialise. Like Geography, checks in your area have an easier DC, but beware of making your study too broad.

Nobility: This skill gives you an understanding of heraldry so you can recognise various standards and banners. You can recognise nobles, and know how the hereditary system works. This is also the skill you would use if you wanted to know the local laws and other conventions of society. Nobility should be specialised in a particular country. You can still roll on this Knowledge for other coutnries but the DC would be higher.

Religion: You have a understanding of the theology and practices of a single religion or pantheon (such as the Moon Faiths). You can make a Religion check to discover information about other religions, but at a higher DC. Religion is also the key knowledge for Divine spellcasters (clerics, paladins).

Anything Else?

Any skill not covered by the skill list that is not obviously a craft (making something) or a profession (performing a service) is probably a Knowledge skill. There are, therefore, a near limitness number. However, the above twelve are the ones I intend to make firm use of in the game. Think carefully before taking Knowledge (Knitting Patterns).


One more skill to have a look at, that is vaguely connected to magic and to knowledge and that is Alchemy. In version 3.0 of the game, Alchemy was its own skill, and this will be revived in HD&D. Fourth edition handled alchemy very well in my opinion. Here are my thoughts on it:

Alchemists are the students of an ancient non-magical tradition. The most accomplished have mastered powerful archaic formulae; they create effects that most wizards would struggle to match.

Identification: You use this skill to identify poisons, chemicals or other strange agents and substances. If you have ranks in the Arcana skill, then you can also use Alchemy to identify magical potions, or other magical consumables.

Each attempt to identify a substance requires one hour and the use of the tools of your trade: beakers, burners, assorted chemicals and other laboratory implements. Although adventuring alchemists often carry such items with them, use of a large purpose-built laboratory is usually preferred.

The DC of the check to identify a substance varies depending on the substance and is set by the GM. Most substances would require an Alchemy check at DC 15, but the difficulty may be much higher for extremely rare or obscure items. Refer to the DC for Knowledge skills in this regard.

Because you expend resources when you identify a substance, each attempt – whether it is successful or not – will cost you 1 gp in alchemical supplies.

Creation: Anyone with ranks in Alchemy can use the skill to identify substances as described above. However, if you want to create your own alchemical items, then you must also possess one or more of the Alchemist series of talents: Alchemist (Basic), Alchemist (Expert) or Alchemist (Master). These are available at levels 1, 11 and 21 respectively.

Actually, at the moment I don’t know whether we need three talents for this or just one. It really depends on how we choose to hand the magical item creation rules in HD&D. This is a topic for a later debate, and has little bearing on the skill itself.

Armed with ranks in this skill, and the Alchemist talent(s) you gain access to a number of alchemical formulae that enable you to create a large variety of non-magical supplies such as tanglefoot bags, sunrods, alchemical fire and alchemical silver.

Alchemical formula work in a manner similar to creating magical items, which is why we are using the Talents system. I’ll use Talents for magic items as well. The fourth edition rules present alchemical items in the same manner as magical rituals and I think that they work rather well.

Retry: If you fail in an attempt to identify a substance you may try again as long as you still have some of the substance left to test. A second attempt will cost another 1 gp in materials. When using an alchemical formulae no result is truly a failure, but the effectiveness of the finished article is diminished by a poor check result. If you wish a better result then you would have to conduct the ritual again, paying all the necessary costs at each stage.

Special: A fully stocked alchemical laboratory grants a +2 circumstances bonus to all Alchemy checks. Tinker Gnomes gain a +2 racial bonus to Alchemy. 


Right: that’s weapon skills, magic skills and knowledge skills covered. In the next post we’ll look at everything else.

Poll: Weapon Skills

There was a fair amount of discussion over the list of weapon skills that I proposed for HD&D. There were a number of different approaches highlighted, and these resulted in varying types of weapons clumped in broader or narrower groups.

In this post, I will announce a definitive list of weapon skills and then invite you to vote on whether we adopt it or not. The revised list includes many of your suggestions, but I am guided by the following philosophy:

The game must still feel like D&D. In earlier editions all fighters shared the same base attack bonus, but could then choose to specialise in specific weapons. I want to keep that. The weapon skill becomes the broad base that any character can spend skill points to achieve. Additional specialisation comes through feats and talents.

As an extension of the first point, I have decided against replacing weapon skills with fighting style skills. James made a proposal that the style of how the weapon was used in combat is the more relevent skill, not the weapon itself. For example, hammers, axes, picks, clubs and maces all use the same “smash-him-over-the-head” technique. There’s much to recommend this idea, but it would make us rethink our entire approach to the D&D combat system. It would also make the weapons skills very broad. In the end, I decided that I didn’t really want to do that.

I wanted to limit the number of weapon skills. Depsite the number of skills in HD&D, I didn’t want weapon skills to dominate. I wanted to keep the number of weapon skills down to about the number of knowledge skills (twelve). However, it became a apparent that this could not be the case. I have come to agree with Marc, that a larger (and therefore more narrowly focused) list to begin with will help focus specialisation. I now also think that the feat Weapon Specialisation could safely apply to all the weapons covered by a skill, and not just one weapon. There will still be feats and talents that improve upon your character’s skill in one type of weapon, however.

I want to protect the traditional weapon roles of the classes. Wizards have normally been able to use a staff. I don’t want to create weapon groups so broad that wizards also suddenly find themselves proficient with all polearms. The same goes for Picks and Hammers. Yes, they may seem the same but Picks are traditionally gnomish weapons and Hammers are dwarven. A little distinction (even artificial) helps to distinguish between the races. This is good in the context of a roleplaying game.

Thematically similar but mechanically dissimilar weapons cannot be grouped together into a single skill. It doesn’t work in the context of a learned skill set. So good bye to mariner weapons, druid weapons, monk weapons and mounted combat as skills. Characters who want weapons from those areas will have to choose the skills separately.

I don’t want characters to need two different skills to use the same weapon. What this basically means is that I’m ruling out Thrown Weapons as a skill. If you have the Hammer skill, then you can wield a warhammer in melee and hurl a throwing hammer with equal proficiency. A contentious decision perhaps, but one I think is for the best when it comes to creating thematic characters.

Seventhly (and finally!)
Once I realised that I would have to expand the weapon list beyond twelve, I became determined that some weapons would appear under more than one heading. A single weapon in multiple categories goes a little way to broaden choice for martial characters. At the moment, this applies mainly to polearms but as I look more deeply into the weapons available in the game I will expand this principle.

Weapon Skils

So without further ado, this is the full list of weapon skills in the HD&D. I have highlighted a few examples of the type of weapons included in each group, but this is not a definitive list.

Hand-axe, battleaxe, greataxe dwarven waraxe, halberd

Blades (Short)
Dagger, knife, dirk, punching dagger, claw bracer, panther claw, stump knife, dart

Blades (Light)
Short sword, cutlass, sabre, rapier

Blades (Heavy)
Longsword, bastard sword, greatsword, glaive

Longbow, shortbow, composite versions of each

Chains, spiked chains, nunchaku

Light and heavy crossbows, repeating crossbows, hand crossbows

Light flail, heavy flail, dire flail

Throwing hammer, warhammer, craghammer, maul

Heavy, light, jousting

Maces & Clubs
Club, light mace, heavy mace, greatclub, sap, warmace

Nets, bolas

Light pick, heavy pick

Glaive, guisarme, halberd, ranseur, pike, longspear

Shield (as a weapon)
Buckler, light shield, heavy shield, tower shield

Sling, catapult, staff-sling

Spear, halfspear, javelin, longspear

Quarterstaff, bo, shepherd’s crook

Punch, kick, headbutt, gauntlets

Whip, scourge, whip-dagger

Which gives us twenty weapon skills. Far more than I intended. If the current poll continues its established trend then we’ll be adding “Supernatural Attack” to that list for certain characters.

Vote Now

I’m not looking for feedback on the type of weapons contained within each group at the moment. That can come later. What I’m looking for is a decision on whether these twenty weapon groups are right for HD&D. A simple yes or no from the poll below.

If you vote no (or even if you vote yes) please leave you comments and tell me why. This isn’t necessarily the definitive list, but it’s time to put Weapon Skills to one side for the time being and move onto something else.

Poll: Supernatural Attacks

In D&D many monsters (and some player characters) have a host of weirdo abilities and powers that aren’t easily classified. I refer to supernatural abilities such as dragon’s breath weapon, a ghost’s frightening presence, a manticore’s tail spikes or a medusa’s petrifying gaze.

In HD&D all of these abilities are attacks. The monster has to roll to hit a character’s defence to see if their power is successful. The dragon has to make an attack roll with his breath weapon against the Reflex Defence of the PCs. But what does he roll?

In HD&D all the attack rolls are derived from the skills system. A swing of a sword comes off the Heavy Blades skill. A magic missile comes off the Arcana skill. But what do you roll to attack with a breath weapon? There are three schools of thought.

1) We have a skill for every supernatural ability. Dragons (and Dragonborn) have the “Breath Weapon” skill, Manticores have the “Shoot Tail Spikes” skill and on on.

2) We have one skill that encompasses all these abilities, called Supernatural Attack. If a creature happens to have more than one supernatural attack, then both come off the same skill.

3) We don’t have a skill at all. All attack rolls with supernatural abilities are based on half the monster (or PC’s) level plus the relevent ability score modifier.

Personally, I would plump for option three. This is by far the simplest option. I think that we should avoid adding extra specialised skills into the system if we can avoid it.

Take the dragonborn for example. We might give Breath Weapon (or Supernatural Attack) to him as a bonus class skill, but we’re not going to give him any bonus skill points. The dragonborn has already spent a Talent to get access to dragon breath in the first place, but that Talent is useless to him until he spends his skill points. We’re effectly asking the player to pay for his breath weapon twice. I don’t think that’s fair.

The counter argument is not withour merit. There is precedence within HD&D for characters having to spend skill points to make use of their talents. It’s how the spellcasting and the combat systems work. Why should supernatural abilities get a free ride? Why shouldn’t a dragonborn have to use his resources to become proficient in his breath weapon?

I’m opening this up to the masses. What does everyone think? Please vote in the poll below and don’t forget to add comments if you have any!

HD&D: Weapon Skills

Today we begin our look at the HD&D skills system. I’m going to present this over three posts. Today, it’s weapon skills – a definite area for contention given the comments that arose during the last time I mentioned this. Before we begin, let me remind you where things stand.

The HD&D Skills System

All characters have 16 class skills, chosen from a list of around 30 favoured skills. Anything that isn’t a class skills is a cross-class skill. Every level a character gets eight skill points. It costs one skill point to put a class skill up by one rank, and two skill points to put up a cross-class skill by one rank. The maximum ranks you can have in any skill is half your level rounded up (one rank at first level).

Skill checks are made by rolling 1d20 and adding the relevent ability score modifier, the number of ranks you have in a skill and any other relevent bonuses (such as from your race or your selection of feats). All these bonuses added together give you your “skill modifier”. The average skill modifier for a first level character, in a skill immediately relevent to his profession, is +5.

Weapon skills work the same way as every other skill (something of a departure for D&D). However, every weapon in the game cannot be a separate skill, so instead I opted to divide the number of weapon skills available into broad categories such as Heavy Blades, Axes or Polearms.

However, there are still about thirteen of these weapon skills. Many of you thought that this unfairly penalised a fighter compared to a wizard who only has to get three different skills to be able to cast magic successfully. There are a number of reasons why I did this:

  • In HD&D, the number of skills you get is dependent upon level and not on class. This is very important. If the number of skills varied from class to class then multiclassing could be used to cherry pick. If you wanted a lot of skills you’d make sure you took your first level in rogue and then multiclassed into fighter at level two. This happened all the time in third edition, and I want to get away from that.
  • Spellcasters tend to be cerebral characters. They know a lot of stuff. I would argue that Knowledge skills are just as much part and parcel of a wizard or a cleric, than the skills they use to cast magic. There are a lot of knowledge skills. Spellcasters have to have the skill points available to get a good selection of them. This is not as important for the fighter.
  • There aren’t actually that many other skills that are appropriate for fighters. Once you take away weapons, what’s left? Athletics, Swimming, Cimbing… there was a reason fighters got so few skill points in third edition. A lot of weapon skills help to pad out what would otherwise be a very limited skill selection for the fighter.

Now, you might thing that none of the above are very good reasons. Good! Tell me why you think that, and (even better) give me an alternative system. Remember, that the essence of HD&D is devolving things like skill points, hit points and the progression of powers and special abilities away from classes and making them dependent on your overall character level. The system can’t work if some classes get benefits outside the framework that has already been laid down.

So, with that in mind, I am going to use this post to decide the correct weapon groupings that can be turned into HD&D skills. Second, Third and Fourth editions have taken a stab at this, so we’re going to look at each one in turn and then try to come to a decision.

Second Edition: Skills and Powers

In 2nd edition all classes got a number of Weapon Proficiency slots, from which they could select their weapon skills. If characters tried to use a weapon they were not proficient in, then they took a penalty to hit. The penalty depended on your character class, with fighters taking a -2 penalty in weapons they were not proficient in.

The Player’s Option series of books (which Neil alluded to in his earlier comments on this blog) were the first to divide weapon proficiencies into weapon groups. They collected all weapons together into Tight Groups and Broad Groups.

Getting proficiency in a tight group of weapons (e.g. axes) cost 2 proficiency slots, but the character could use all the weapons in the tight group without penalty. Such characters were considered familiar with all the other weapons in the broad group (picks and hammers in the case of axes). Fighters only had a -1 penalty to hit with weapons they were familiar with.

Single-classed fighters (and only single-classed fighters) could spend 3 weapon proficiency slots and gain proficiency over all the weapons in a broad weapon group.

So, here is the complete list of the tight and broad weapon groups from Player’s Option: Skills and Powers. The broad groups are in bold, and the tight groups (where applicable) beneath in itallics.

Axes, Picks and Hammers


Clubs, Maces and Flails


Daggers and Knives


Spear-like polearms

Spears and Javelins

Middle Eastern
Fencing Weapons

Chain and Rope Weapons

Martial Art Weapons

Hand match weapons
Snaplocks and Flintlocks

It’s a bit off in places isn’t it? Why are spearlike polearms a different proficiency (in a different broad group no less!) to spears? In hind sight perhaps Skills and Powers was not as great as we remember it being. There’s some nice ideas in here, but the weapon groups were improved upon in the next edition.

Third edition: Unearthed Arcana

These optional rules from Unearthed Arcana replaced the standard weapon rules in my ongoing third edition campaigns. The full rules can be found online here. There were no tight or broad groups here, just weapon groups. This is the list:

  • Axes
  • Basic Weapons
  • Bows
  • Claw Weapons
  • Crossbows
  • Druid Weapons
  • Flails and Chains
  • Heavy Blades
  • Light Blades
  • Maces and Clubs
  • Monk Weapons
  • Pick and Hammers
  • Polearms
  • Slings and Thrown Weapons
  • Spears and Lances

In additional there were two groups for “exotic” weapons – the sort of weapons you had to spend feats on to master properly:

  • Exotic Weapons
  • Exotic Double-Weapons

The logic was that if you had the Exotic Weapons group, then you could use any exotic weapons in any other weapon group you knew, without penalty. It was a handy mechanic that stopped fighters having to spend all their feats on esoteric weapons just because they wanted to look cool.

What the third edition rules did was to give the option to specialise in a group of mechanically dissimilar weapons, that were thematically similar. A druid learning “Druid Weapons” became proficient in the club, dagger, dart, quarterstaff, scimitar, sickle, shortspear, sling and spear without having to learn the other groups separately.

Fourth Edition: Player’s Handbook 1

In fourth edition there are no rules for learning weapons in groups. The proficiencies you know are still a factor of your class (as it was in the core third edition rules). However, 4e still divides weapons into groups and lists those groups in PHB1. Here’s the fourth edition list:

  • Axe
  • Bow
  • Crossbow
  • Flail
  • Hammer
  • Heavy Blade
  • Light Blade
  • Mace
  • Pick
  • Polearm
  • Sling
  • Spear
  • Staff
  • Unarmed

 There are less weapons available in fourth edition than in the previous two edition (and no whips) so the 4e list probably isn’t complete. The 4e list would count thrown daggers under Light Blade (they would have been in the Slings and Thrown Weapons group in third edition).

Two Options for HD&D

My instinct is to use the fourth edition list of weapon groups and tweak it slightly with my experience from past editions. Given the fact we are openly converting these weapons in to skills, I don’t think there is room for skill groups like Druid Weapons, Monk Weapons or Basic Weapons.

So our first option is to create broad weapon skills based around a certain type of weapons. I think that the list should look something like this:

  • Axe
  • Bow
  • Crossbow
  • Flails and Chains (would include whips)
  • Hammers and Picks
  • Heavy Blade
  • Light Blade
  • Maces and Clubs (would include staffs)
  • Polearms and Lances
  • Sling
  • Spears
  • Unarmed

Which gives us a list of twelve weapon skills. “Unarmed” is a catch-all term for punching and kicking. Monks and other martial artists would use the Unarmed skill as their primary means of attack. I’m still looking for a more suitable skill to key off things like Dragon Breath. I don’t want to create a unique skill for that sort of thing because of its narrow focus.

Of course, I could argue that supernatural attacks such as dragonbreath weren’t skills at all and automatically gained a bonus to hit of half your character level rounded up. That’s an option, I suppose.

The second option is to make the combat skills relate to the nature of the attack rather than the weapon itself. In that case the weapon skills would look more like this:

  • Bows
  • Mêlée (Bludgeoning)
  • Mêlée (Chopping)
  • Mêlée (Piercing)
  • Mêlée (Slashing)
  • Projectiles (including crossbows)
  • Thrown

Which reduces the skill list down to seven. Mêlée (Bludgeoning) is then probably the monk’s skill of choice. This is my least favourite of the two options. The skills seem too broad. Using the logic above, the monk is equally as good with the warhammer as he is at kicking someone in the face. Unless we include an eighth skill for Unarmed combat, of course.

Strength or Dexterity?

This is an old chestnut, but one I think that we need to lay to rest at this juncture. Traditionally in D&D, Strength gave a bonus to hit and to damage with mêlée weapons; Dexterity gave a bonus to hit but not to damage with ranged weapons.

Fourth edition equalised this somewhat. If you use a ranged weapon in fourth edition you gain a bonus to hit and to damage equal to your dexterity modifier. This balances the game, but doesn’t make an ounce of sense.

In third edition, you could take the feat Weapon Finesse which let you use your dexterity instead of your strength in light mêlée weapons such as short swords, rapiers and daggers.

HD&D has an advantage over previous editions in as far as we don’t have to rely on the same ability score modifier for something as broad as “mêlée” or “ranged” weapons. I say what we divide the weapon skills up. Some use Strength, some use Dexterity. Assuming that we keep the twelve weapon skills listed above, this is how I would divide them:

Strength to hit, Strength for damage
Axe, Hammers & Picks, Heavy Blade, Maces & Clubs, Lances & Polearms, Spears

Dexterity to hit, Strength for damage
Bow, Flails and Chains, Light Blade, Sling

Dexterity to hit, no modifier to damage

The disadvantage of this (if you can call it a disadvantage) is that fighters might find themselves valuing dexterity more than they used to. This may lessen the number of uber-fighters with Strength 20 at 1st level.

The move benefits classes that rely on their dexterity anyway. Rogues would find themselves to be very good with daggers and rapiers without needing to spend a feat for the privilege. However, they would still need a high strength to get a damage bonus on these weapons. And the sort of weapons that use Dexterity as a modifier to hit, tend to be the ones that deal less damage anyway. Rogues would remain behind fighters in the damage stakes (unless they used Sneak Attack, of course).

Exotic/Superior Weapons

All the editions of D&D that I own have made some attempt to single out particular weapons as being very difficult to learn. In second edition you had to spend two weapon proficiency slos to master the bastard sword. In third edition some weapons were Exotic and you had to take a feat in order to use that weapon as well as similar weapons. Fourth edition took exactly, the same tack – only it called such weapons Superior and not Exotic. So what are we going to do in HD&D?

Initially, I’m going to do nothing. All weapons will have base statistics and properties that make some weapons more useful than others in certain circumstances. When I finish the weapon tables and post them to the blog you will see what I mean. However, no weapon is going to be singled out for rough treatment. A character with the Heavy Blades skill can use it to wield with the bastard sword with the same proficiency as the long sword.

My plan is that weapons that were marked as Exotic or Superior in previous editions can perform better in the hands of those who know how to use them. What this means in practice is that there will be a feat available to improve upon the weapon, making it more dangerous in the hands of certain characters.

These feats will only be available to martial characters. Obviously, they’ll be available to the fighter; but if the weapon is in the particular idiom of the ranger (bow), paladin (lance) or rogue (sap) then I would widen the availability. These are the sort of advantages that will make the fighter more of a force to be reckoned with.

In Conclusion

My preferred system sets aside twelve different weapon skills (as listed above). Some have their attack rolls modified by the character’s Strength modifier and some by the character’s Dexterity modifier. However, damage is solely the province of strength – except on weapons like a crossbow where no such modifier applies.

Fighters and other martial characters can use their available Talents and Feats to augment their proficiency in a weapon. This augmentation may not take the form of an additional bonus to hit or damage, but may allow you to use the weapon in new and exciting ways.

Two feats demand a specific mention. Skill Focus adds +1 per five levels to your skill modifier. This applies to any skill, including weapon skills, and the feat is availanble to anyone.

Weapon Specialisation adds +1 per five levels to the damage of a specific type of weapon – not a weapon group. You could have Weapon Specialisation (longsword), not Weapon Specialisation (heavy blades).  Weapon Specialisation can only be taken by certain martial classes.

Which I think about sums it up. This is how I see weapon skills being handled in HD&D. The actual damage weapons do, and their properties is the subject of another post.

Poll: Saving Throws and Defences

This is a little addition to the rules I have been considering for a week or so. It isn’t particularly revolutionary, but you may think it to be unnecessary. I am in two minds. Part of me believes this would inject a certain amount of fun and tension into the game; part of me believes this is just unnecessary clutter on the character sheet. I’m in a quandary so you can help me decide.

I propose that HD&D can support both fourth edition style defences, and third edition style saving throws. Do you agree? The poll is at the bottom of this post. Before we get there, I’ll enter into a short explanation of what I’m talking about, and a justification as to why I think it’s a good idea.

The Background

Let’s start with an example. In third edition you might have had a +6 bonus to your Reflex saving throw. If a wizard lobbed a fireball at you, you made a Reflex saving throw to avoid the effect. In this case you’d roll 1d20+6 and look to beat the DC of the wizard’s spell.

Fourth edition completely turned that on its head. Instead of a Reflex saving throw of +6, you had a Reflex defence of 16. And instead of you rolling a saving throw, the wizard rolled to hit you. A wizard casting a fireball in fourth edition would make an attack roll against your Reflex defence, looking to roll a 16 or more.

My Preference

As previously stated, I prefer the fourth edition way of doing things. It really does speed up play. Player’s don’t have to work out what their saving throws are every time something nasty is thrown at them. I just have to make a roll against their Will, Reflex or Fortitude defence and tell them if they’ve been hit. Simpler, neater, quicker.

Nothing in this post changes my opinion that defences are superior to saving throws. If we’re only having one mechanic, then we’re having defences. I’m not entering into that discussion. And yet… I have a soft spot for saving throws. Letting a player roll a save puts the future of the character firmly in the player’s hands. It feels right.

There are times when rolling to hit a defence isn’t appropriate even in fourth edition. Players resist diseases by rolling an Endurance skill check. Logically, you would think that the disease would be rolling to hit their Fortitude Defence; but instead the designers created an entirely new skill for the purpose. Why? Because the character was fighting off the disease. They recognised that this was a roll the player should make, not the GM.

Active versus Passive

There is no Endurance skill in HD&D. It didn’t make sense to me. So when it comes to resisting disease or holding your breath, I would have no choice but to make an attack against your Fortitude defence. Which I think is a bit silly. When you add in all the other silliness – such as icy floors having to make attacks against your Reflex defence, and so on, it begins to sound like something I have to address.

4e introduced active and passive skills. You could roll on your Perception if you wanted to spend a standard action doing so, or you could rely on your passive perception, which was your Perception skill modifier +10 (instead of +1d20). This got me thinking. What is a Defence, if not a passive Saving Throw?

So here’s how it’s going to work: all confrontations have an attacker and a defender. By default, the attacker is considered to be “active” and makes a 1d20 roll; the defender will default to “passive” and rely on his static defence.

So generally in combat, it is the attacker that rolls the dice against the defender’s defence. This is exactly the same as fourth edition, and exactly the same as everything I have already written for HD&D. However, there are going to be times when it is the defender who is “active”, and the attacker that is “passive”.

If the attacker isn’t really a creature, then it’s usually going to be passive. So if the ‘attacker’ is a disease, or a slippery floor, or old age, or poison then it is the defender that rolls the dice. What does he roll? He rolls a saving throw.

I think this would work very well. It gives the GM more flexibility. Rather than having to secretly roll a die and then inform the player that something nasty has happened, he can get the player to roll. It just seems more meaningful that way.

Plus there are also times when both the attacker and defender could roll the dice. The attacker rolls to hit, but rather than a static DC, he is rolling to hit the difficulty set by the defender’s saving throw. Attack Roll and Saving Throw effectively become opposed rolls. Now, this wouldn’t happen very often as it slows the game down, but it occurred to me this could be an interesting way to handle the Total Defence action.

Third and fourth edition gave PCs the option to give up their standard action for the round in return for +4 to their Armour Class. What if instead of doing that, a PC could spend a standard action rolling a saving throw for his defence. We don’t call it Total Defence, we call it “Active Defence”. I think that has some potential.

The Poll

A longer preamble than normal. You have read the above, now cast your vote – and leave any comments below.