Sunday, May 17, 2015

Disinterred Eldricity: Modern Games in the Birthright Setting

Disclaimer: This, and subsequent articles regarding Birthright and other referenced intellectual properties, are made in the spirit of open creativity. No profit is intended to be derived from these fan works, and any artwork or copyrighted terminologies are the property of their respective owners, to be removed at their request if necessary.

(I don't believe this is strictly necessary, but I figure it's nice to put in print so people can't point and laugh at me later. You know, more than usual.)

Credit Where Credit is Due

So not an hour after I put up my previous entry, my fellow tabletop enthusiast/former colleague/alcoholic beverage provider/good friend, Harbinger of Doom, linked me a previous work done to forward-convert Birthright into 5th Edition (note: PDF link). I like a lot of what was done here, and though it's not all quite in the direction I would have taken, there's good ground work made in this document and major kudos for its creation. I'll take care not to retread any of the same territory, or if I do take inspiration, I'll credit accordingly.

There's a lot of missing systems that weren't forward converted (understandably; moving Regency Points, domain management, and all that stuff into 5th edition is quite a mammoth undertaking and oh god why did I agree to do this), and we've had much more stuff come out since then as official sources to use for the purposes of conversion. I feel like those are important aspects to update now that we have a full set of sourcebooks and more insight into the design process that the brains behind 5th Edition use to make ancillary systems.

The Bridge Between Homage and Refinement

Old Birthright has a lot of game design methods that would be considered, well, unfair to the modern tabletop gamer. There are a great many subtle (and not so subtle) aspects that create a deep divide between blooded scions and just plain folks, which isn't all bad. After all, scions are rulers by divine right, and it makes sense that they can have something of an edge on normal people.

We will have problems as it pertains to certain class and race restrictions that may feel overly restrictive to the otherwise wide-open playing field of the last few editions of D&D. The magician/wizard divide alone may seem unfair; the blooded scion feat becomes an outright tax if you want to cast all spells available, though I quite like what the above linked conversion suggests so as to not make magicians just plain awful, as well as making sorcerers unbound to the blooded restriction. But we'll get into that in due time, once I've had more time to think about how I would do it.


I'll probably have lots of these, pointing out places I ran into design quandaries or want to provide alternate options, especially in places I reference my use of the Honor attribute. These might be rambling or indecisive-sounding, and that's fully intended; I invite comments, suggestions, and (respectful) dispute of my work where applicable.


There's quite a bit to go through, but the general methodology I'll be using is one of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and if it's broke, rebuild it". That is to say, the races need little in the way of refinement, but I think the domain actions and bloodline powers are going to need wholesale overhaul to be more balanced, less irksome to resolve, and provide better and more compelling choices for players.

As an example, you have scions that can take the Bloodmark power, which improves reaction rolls from NPCs on a sliding scale wholly at the whim of the Dungeon Master. Does this remotely compare to, say, the raw mechanical benefit of another minor power, Heightened Ability? Not especially. This is a prime candidate for being rolled into another power (maybe even the same one) and reflavored appropriately.

Of course, some are less awful to rebalance, and are direct imports into the updated rules (Protection from Evil is pretty straightforward, ne?). Many can survive the culling, but will likely need to be spread out over level bands like Dragonmark powers are set up in the Unearthed Arcana for Eberron. I won't claim AD&D was particularly balanced, and there's very little fun in being the 1d4 HP wizard with no spells while the blooded scion fighter got lucky and rolled Divine Wrath.

So What Do You Mean, "Modern"?

Excellent question, other-me! I feel like I probably shouldn't have chosen the word "modern", but I'm sticking to my guns. By "modern" I really mean, "with rules that don't inhibit or put extra onus on an exhausted Dungeon Master to ensure everyone has a fun and balanced play experience". No one likes to be one of the players who sit there while one party member gets the spotlight, and that's exactly what will happen if one player is a regent while the others are not.

Yes, there are different campaign types recommended to help alleviate the issue, but I feel like there's room for growth. And if trial and error proves otherwise? I refer to the above rule of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". No shame in me poking at things to look for holes and finding none, right?

I got lots of work to do. I'll try not to let the imminent release of The Witcher: Wild Hunt distract me too much, but no promises.

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