Designing from Flavour to Mechanics [3.X Monk Project]

Posted in Dungeons and Dragons, game design, ogl, rpg by Jerall on 28 May 2009

This post continues my exploration of the monk class of Dungeons and Dragons 3.X. You can view the previous entries here:

  • Design Goals
  • Part 1 (Level 1)
  • Part 2 (Expanded Design Goals)
  • This post, first published: 28 May 2009; last edit: 08 June 2009 – latest updates in red.

Flavour First; Mechanics Later

I’ve received a little bit of positive feedback regarding this project, especially on combat stances and qi surges. However, trying to design mechanically sound stances and surges has proven to be difficult. Therefore, I’ve decided to tackle things differently. I am going to start with the flavour (you know, the role playing bit of the game) and work backwards from there to the mechanics.

For this project, I’ll be using the Chinese zodiac as the theme behind 12 different schools of martial arts (one school for each of the animals). Each school’s fighting style will be based on the connotations (probably incorporating both Occidental and Oriental viewpoints) surrounding each animal. The list is currently incomplete, but I shall be making repeated edits to this post (being sure to alert interested readers either via comments on this post or through other posts)

TC has also suggested that this monk revision not be restricted solely to what I write. Consider customizing the schools and stances to suit your own campaign world. Perhaps your styles are based on the teachings of your world’s  many deities, other fantasy creatures , dragon colours, as examples.

First, though, let’s get just a bit of the mechanics out of the way. The following table lists, by class level, the number of stances a monk knows and the number of stances she may have active simultaneously. A monk knows all qi surges, but each surge has certain prerequisites that need to be met before it can be used (previously, qi surges were tied directly to specific stances).

Level Known Active
1 2 1
2 3 2
3 3 2
4 3 2
5 4 2
6 4 2
7 4 2
8 5 3
9 5 3
10 5 3
11 6 3
12 6 3
13 6 3
14 7 4
15 7 4
16 7 4
17 8 4
18 8 4
19 8 4
20 8 5

Schools and Stances

EDIT (08 June 2009): I’ve added favoured skills to each of the classes, as suggested by TC. Bonuses/uses of favoured skills still to be determined.

Rat: According to legend, the Rat, being a small and weak creature, had to rely on his intellect, quick wit and cunning to overcome the many obstacles he faced. Monks that follow this school strive to emulate this quality and are often recognized as either wise diplomats and negotiators or cunning and crafty conmen. Favoured Skill: Bluff.

Stance of Cunning: The monk may add her Wisdom modifier to her Bluff, Diplomacy and Sense Motive checks as an Insight bonus (Effectively, she adds double her Wisdom modifier to Sense Motive checks).

Design note: I don’t see the stance of Cunning as a physical stance, but rather a state of mind, wherein the monk allows herself to better perceive (and thus manipulate) the thoughts and intent of others.

Ox: Work in Progress

Tiger: Work in Progress

Rabbit: Monks that follow this school are typically viewed as soft-spoken, friendly and amiable. They are generally cautious combatants.

Stance of Caerbannog: Attacks with your chosen weapons all deal slashing damage in addition to their normal damage types. Any chosen weapon you wield is considered to have the vorpal property.

Dragon: Work in Progress

Snake: Monks that follow the school of the snake move with  a sensual grace, making no unnecessary movements, preserving their energy, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Favoured Skill: Hide.

Stance of the Python: The monk may add her Wisdom modifier to any damage dealt through a successful grapple check.

Stance of the Viper: The monk may add her Wisdom modifier as an insight bonus to her Hide and Move Silently skill checks. She also adds her Wisdom modifier as an insight bonus to her initiative checks.

Horse: Work in Progress

Ram: Work in Progress

Monkey: Monks that follow the school of the monkey, quickly learn that mental strength and agility are as (if not more) important as physical strength and agility. Monks of this school tend to be quick thinkers and innovative combatants. Favoured Skill: Tumble.

Design note: I envision the melee monkey monk as a combatant that specialises in enfuriating other melee opponents, restricting their ability to strike back. I can’t decide if this should be portrayed mechanically as one stance that adds a bonus to disarm checks, or a stance that adds a bonus to grapple checks, or a stance that adds a bonus to both disarm and grapple checks. I’m favouring the third option.

Rooster: Work in Progress

Dog: Work in Progress

Boar: Work in Progress

I am also considering adding the 5 elements as seperate schools:

Wood: Work in Progress

Fire: Work in Progress

Earth: Work in Progress

Metal: Work in Progress

Water: Work in Progress

And, of course, we can’t forget:

Cat: Work in Progress


Finger Pointing A Way to the Moon: Requires: 1 rank in Bluff; Active Stance of Cunning; Improved Feint. Cost: 1 Qi Surge. You may feint in combat as a swift action.

Serpent’s Fangs: Requires: Active Stance of the Viper; (Other Dexterity or Speed-based requirement still to be determined. Suggestions?). Cost: 1 Qi Surge. As a standard action, the monk may make two attacks, using her full base attack bonus, against any flat-footed opponent or any opponent that she flanks.

Design note: I’ve always really liked the concept of Flurry of Blows, but never the implementation of it. Hopefully, Serpent’s Fangs can provide a less clunky alternative. Right now, I don’t want to enforce a penalty to the attack roll, as unlike Flurry of Blows, a monk only has a limited number of Qi Surges per day.

More to follow.

- jatori

[3.5 Monk Project 2009] Levels 2 and 3

Posted in d20, game design, ogl, rpg by Jerall on 20 April 2009

This post forms part of my redesign of the 3.5 monk project. Previous entries on this topic can be found here and here.

Today, I shall  continue the discussion on level 2 and introduce my ideas for level 3. Hopefully, after some discussion, I can develop this into a playtest 3-level class. More on that as things develop.

Additions to level 2:

Combat Style:

Swift: This style focuses on speed and agility. A monk that follows this path is infuriatingly difficult to hit in combat. A swift monk’s attacks do less damage than those of other styles, but she is able to attack far more often and far more accurately.

Favoured Qi Flows: Qi Defense

Bonus Feat List: Agile, Combat Reflexes, Deflect Arrows, Dodge, Improved Initiative, Mobility, Run, Quick Draw, Spring Attack, Snatch Arrows, Stealthy, Weapon Finesse.

Balanced: A monk that follows the balanced style combines both offense and defense into a highly adaptive fighting style.

Favoured Qi Flows: ???

Bonus Feat List (A balanced style monk may use her wisdom score, instead of her intelligence score, as the prerequisite for any of the feat): Blind-Fight, Dodge, Combat Expertise , Improved Disarm, Improved Feint, Improved Disarm, Power Attack.

Level 3:

Unarmoured Speed Bonus (Ex): At level 3, a monk gets a +10ft (enhancement?) bonus to her speed.

Enhanced Qi Strike (Ex): As she gains experience, a monk learns to better control her body and qi in order to deliver powerful attacks. The type of attack depends on the monk’s combat style.

Strong: After a successful Qi Strike, a monk may make expend 1 qi point as a free action to either make a grapple or bull rush attempt against the same foe. The bull rush or grapple attempt is resolved as normal (incurring attacks of opportunity if applicable).

If you succeed with a grapple attempt, you deal extra damage equal to your wisdom modifier.

If you succeed with a bull rush attempt, you may push your opponent back an additional distance equal to your wisdom modifier, rounded up to the nearest multiple of 5 feet. When moving your opponent this extra distance, you do not have to travel with him.

Swift: After a successful Qi Strike, a monk may make expend 1 qi point as a free action to make another Qi Strike  against the same foe without having to deactive an additional Qi Flow. At level 3, you are limited to making only two Qi Strikes per round. At level x, you are limited to making only y Qi Strikes per round.

Balanced: After a successful Qi Strike, a monk may make expend 1 qi point as a free action to make either a disarm or trip attempt against the same foe. The disarm or trip attempt is resolved as normal (incurring attacks of opportunity if applicable).

You may add your wisdom modifier to your disarm attempt roll.

If your trip attempt is successful and you have the Improved Trip feat, you may add your wisdom modifier to the damage dealt to your follow up attack.

Other Notes:

After thinking about it, I think Stunning Fist is a rather silly feat. TC  made some comments about it in part 2, providing an alternative. I still need to consider this.

- jatori

[3.5 Monk Project 2009] Level 2

Posted in d20, Dungeons and Dragons, game design, ogl, rpg by Jerall on 14 April 2009

I am once again attempting to redesign the Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 Monk class. This post continues the project. See here for the design goals.


Just to let you know, I shall be compiling everything I’ve written about the monk (and the various comments and inputs from others) into one central place. I shall let you know when that’s done. For now, though, let’s have a look at the class skill list and my ideas for level 2.

A monk gets [(6 + intelligence modifier) * 4] skill points at level 1. A monk gets 6 + intelligence modifier skill points at each additional level. The following skills count as class skills for the monk:

Balance, Climb, Craft, Escape Artist, Heal, Hide, Jump, Knowledge (Arcana, History and Religion), Listen, Move Silently, Perform, Profession, Sense Motive, Spot, Swim, Tumble and Use Rope.

In addition a monk may choose one of the following to add to her skill list: Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate.

Now for level 2:

Evasion (Ex)

At 2nd level or higher if a monk makes a successful Reflex saving throw against an attack that normally deals half damage on a successful save, she instead takes no damage. Evasion can be used only if a monk is wearing light armor or no armor. A helpless monk does not gain the benefit of evasion.

Combat Style (Ex)

At 2nd level a monk chooses to follow a particular approach to her martial arts training and development. Each style has a list of preferred Qi Flows. A monk may add +1 to her wisdom modifier when calculating the benefit gained from a favoured Qi Flow. A monk’s combat style also determines the list of feats from which she can choose bonus feats. A monk can choose from the following styles:

Strong: This style focuses on delivering individually powerful and damaging attacks.

Favoured Qi Flows: Qi Body; Qi Offense.

Bonus Feat List: Athletic, Cleave, Diehard, Endurance, Great Cleave, Improved Bull Rush, Improved Critical, Improved Grapple, Improved Overrun, Improved Sunder, Power Attack, Stunning Fist, Toughness, and Weapon Focus.

Swift: (still under development)

Balanced: (still under development)

Bonus Feat: At 2nd level, a monk gains a bonus feat from the list provided by her combat style. She still needs to meet all the prerequisites for the feat.


OK, this was missing from part one, but unless otherwise specified all class abilities are to be considered extraordinary.

I’m still unsure of how to incorporate Stunning Fist.


- jatori

Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.

Posted in deep & philosophical, Dungeons and Dragons, game design, rpg by Jerall on 13 April 2009

In fantasy literature, the hero’s sword often features prominently in the tale of the hero’s journey. Belgarion and the Sword of the Rivan King; Aragorn and Narsil (later reforged, of course); and Lion-O and the Sword Omens are all examples. However, within role playing games, the idea of the hero’s one sword doesn’t always translate well into the rules, especially when game balance, power levels, wealth per level tables and so forth are critical to the game’s rules system running smoothly. In these games (I’ll use Dungeons and Dragons as my primary example), characters often have to discard their older equipment (no matter the sentimental value) for better, sharper and more magical equipment. In doing so, magic items lose their quality of ‘specialness’, as the +1s are discarded as soon as the +2 comes along. This is a relatively old and well recognised problem, but discussion about it has recently popped up again.

One of the oldest fixes for this issue invloves the growth of the hero’s weapon alongside her own growth, or the ability of the hero to unlock more power from her weapon as she, herself, gains in power. I have often used this in my own games, with moderate levels of success. Today, however, I’d like to introduce two other ideas which may help put back the magic into magic weapons.

Idea 1: Change the world in which the heroes find themselves.

Make it easier for the hero to enhance or upgrade his own weapon. Over the years, WotC has releasesd several (prestige) class ideas that did just this. However, I would suggest that you wouldn’t need such classes if we made the ability to enhance your own equipment more easily acceptable to all classes. Perhaps in your game world, cultural restrictions (or enablers) may make owning and maintaining your one sword more attractive.

In our example game world, it’s culturally unacceptable to use or trade in stolen (or looted) weaponry. It is instead passed on to the owner’s beneficiaries, or buried with her, if no beneficiary can be found. Paying somebody else to forge or maintain your weapon is considered poor taste and reserved for the socially detatched nobles. Instead, the recipes and rituals required to enhance the weapon are acquired through ancient, hidden-away scrolls or are unlocked once a hero gains wisdom through experience and is better able to understand the artform of maintaining and using her weapon.

Idea 2: It is not the sword; it is the swordsman.

Once, long ago, I remember reading (can’t remember the source though) that character X could treat any weapon he wields as a magical weapon with properties A, B and C. I believe the article was trying to place  a non-WotC-copyrighted heroic figure into the DnD ruleset. The author realised that for the character to still be effective in the DnD game, he needed to have kickass magical equipment. However, in the original works, the character got away with just using a barstool or some broken masonry. So, instead of relying on an external source of power, it all came from one internal source – the hero.

So, consider giving your player characters such abilities, especially for high fantasy, high action games. Perhaps you could balance it through cost of training or ritual, if you so desire. Tie some personal attachment to grandpa’s rusty old blade and you’re ready to play.

- jatori

jan ken pon

Posted in game design, rpg by Jerall on 8 April 2009

Some people enjoy working on potentially earth moving stuff in secret. I am not such a person. I tend to toss my ideas out into the open, testing their value based on the reactions of others, improving on them based on the suggestions of others, and, of course, determining what’s actually worth working on before spending too much time/effort on it*.

Alright, let’s get down to discussing today’s idea: Rock, Paper, Scissors (RPS the RPG).

The basic mechanic for action resolution involves players playing games of RPS against the GM (and each other, if appropriate). However, we do need to add a bit to the classic two player game to turn it into a viable RPG system. I should mention now that this is still a work in progress (in case you didn’t pick it up from the opening paragraph) and that it’s meant to be a beer-and-pretzels, rules light system (hopefully only 1 or 2 A4 pages of rules text).

Characters are defined by 3 attributes, namely rock (physical strength and prowess), paper (intelligence and mental agility) and scissors (manual dexterity and swiftness). For every encounter/scene/day/other definition of a time period, each character gets a number of throws for each of their attributes. For example, a character with R3, P2 and S2 can throw rock only 3 times in one encounter, paper and scissors twice each (actual maths and numbers still to be determined). There will, of course, be a refresh method, which also still needs to be determined.

In addition, I’m considering adding Fire and Water to the throw options. Only usable by PCs (and maybe very important NPCs), fire (only usable once per session/campaign/lifetime of a character automatically succeeds (unless thrown against another fire (a tie) or water (a loss)). Water can be used as often as you like, but loses against everything except fire.

Comments/suggestions? I did a quick search of the internet and I didn’t come across any RPGs that use RPS as the primary mechanic. I did ask around too, and though some people remember RPS being used for a RPG before, nobody could point me towards it.

- jatori

* There’s actually a tricky balance involved here: how much effort do you need to put in before revealing your idea, so that others have enough information to make a decision, before it becomes too much effort in the event that the idea isn’t worth pursuing?

Games and Learning

Posted in deep & philosophical, game design, rpg, video game by Jerall on 20 February 2009

Still focusing on (RP) gaming as a field of academic study, I stumbled across the following, which may be of interest to some:

Mission critical at Quest is a translation of the underlying form of games into a powerful pedagogical model for its 6-12th graders. Games work as rule-based learning systems, creating worlds in which players actively participate, use strategic thinking to make choices, solve complex problems, seek content knowledge, receive constant feedback, and consider the point of view of others. As is the case with many of the games played by young people today, Quest is designed to enable students to “take on” the identities and behaviors of explorers, mathematicians, historians, writers, and evolutionary biologists as they work through a dynamic, challenge-based curriculum with content-rich questing to learn at its core. It’s important to note that Quest is not a school whose curriculum is made up of the play of commercial videogames, but rather a school that uses the underlying design principles of games to create highly immersive, game-like learning experiences.

You can find out more about Quest to Learn here. And over here, you can read about one of my previous forays in using video gaming in teaching (though it was teaching 4e).

- jatori

Character Respecification

Posted in deep & philosophical, game design, rpg by Jerall on 27 November 2008

I often start playing a RP game (either computer/video-based or pen(cil)/paper) expecting x,y and z from my character and the rest of the group, but often end up with a, b and c. For a number of different possible reasons, my current character may just not be as much fun to play as I thought it would be.  Or sometimes, I just like to get into the mechanics of the game and want to try different builds. In a CRPG, this often means that I restart the game, which for me, is not a problem for most of the time, because most Western CRPGs allow for multiple styles of play (evil/good; sneaky/direct etc.) and the only person put out by the restart is me. Several modern ones even allow you to respec your character during play.

Things are obviously different in a traditional pnp game. Not everybody likes it when the other members of the group chop and change their characters (note, I am not talking about rolling a new PC, because your GM is mean and killed off your previous character, again). I am quite tolerant of this type of character changing (as I also like to have the ability to change if things aren’t as fun for me or the group), but only up to a certain point – the point just before you decide that it’d be better to play a series of once-off games rather than trying to link one game across multiple sessions.

4th edition tries to get around this problem through ‘retraining’, which I don’t really like, because it involves a measure of unlearning or forgetting previous knowledge, without providing good enough reasons for this (like 3.5 XPH’s psychic reformation). Right now, I’m toying around with idea of rather allowing characters to pick multiples of x (example: feats) at level y, but only have one active at time, requiring  some sort of refocus, to swap between the options picked, much like a wizard can pick different spells for the day. Right now, I haven’t come up with something that seems that it would work well, without stepping on the wizard’s toes, and still allow for maximum mechanical flexibility and maximum character consistency.

How do you deal with this situation in your group?

Greatsword > Greataxe

Posted in Dungeons and Dragons, game design, rpg by Jerall on 4 October 2008

You can divide DnD players into two groups: those that prefer the greatsword and those that prefer the greataxe as their two-handed melee weapon of choice (glaive users are just silly). I prefer the reliability of the greatsword’s 2d6, rather than the high damage potential of the easily dismissed, disliked and depressing d12.

Today, however, I do not intend to start throwing bell curves around. Instead, I’d like to introduce a small project that I’d like to explore for the next little while: my own homebrewed RP system (groan). If Trash can do it, then why can’t I? I call the system: GREATSWORD.

Base Mechanic: Roll 2d6 for any action that may not automatically succeed/fail. Add applicable bonuses or subtract applicable penalties from the dice roll result. Your character succeeds at her chosen action on an end result of 8 or greater.

Maximum possible bonus to roll = +5

Maximum possible penalty = -8

To the best of my knowledge, I know of no other system that currently uses such a mechanic. If there is another, please inform me. Otherwise, as a mechanic currently divorced from any flavour and isolated from any other potential system mechanics, what do you think?

Homebrewing Descent Journeys in the Dark

Posted in board game, descent, game design by avianfoo on 5 September 2008

In honour of the homebrew carnival, here is a little homebrewing I have been doing for the board game Descent Journeys in the Dark.  (Review can be found here)

After playing Descent JitD a bit, I realised that all layouts layouts are fixed per quest.  This is not such a problem since each quest takes forever to finish and more can be downloaded from the website. Even with the campaign expansion (review pending) the dungeon layouts are still fixed.  So why not make a random dungeon generator for Descent?


Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Posted in game design, rpg, the theory of games by Jerall on 1 September 2008

Homebrewing – that’s this month’s RPG Blog Carnival topic. For me, there are two sides to homebrewing: the flavour side and the mechanical side. I have been making up games and creating house rules for existing games from about the time I realised that Lego was not meant for swallowing. My interest in making fantasy worlds and characters developed at about the same time, because, for some reason or the other, I needed a plausible reason for the brave Lego knights to attack the GI Joe stronghold to save my sister’s stolen Barbie dolls. The knights needed names, motivation and background stories to take on Cobra Command. So to did the GI villains and Barbie victims need similar attributes.

As of yet, I haven’t decided which aspect of homebrewing I’d like to write about to contribute to September’s Carnival. In the meantime, however, I’ll leave you with some handy homebrew links:

Dawn of Worlds: A group game used to develop fantasy worlds.

Dire Press: Lots of random generators to get the imagination engines turning.

Fantasy Name Generator: Elves always need apostrophes in their names. This generator knows how to use apostrophes.


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