Sunday, April 1, 2012

What the Hell is a Non-System Specific System? (re: Eldritch Ent.)

By now you've probably heard that Frank Mentzer, Tim Kask, James Ward and Christopher Clark have started a new publishing company named Eldritch Ent.  Or maybe not.  Their products just hit RPGNow on March 29, so this may still be news to you.

So far their products claim to be non-system specific.  Since it was mentioned in a comment on G+ that the non-system specific stat blocks didn't match up to anything, let alone convert to anything, I decided to download some of the previews to see what was being talked about.  I was left scratching my head.

How can a product be non-system specific when it includes stats to a system that don't match up to any system (or at least none that I know of, and I know of a lot ;) ?  Is it a mash up of lots of systems?  Made up on the fly?

I mean, if you are going to be non-system specific, don't include stats.  Let the GM look up "wyvern" or "goblin" in his game of choice and run from there.   Yes, it really can be that simple (but then your page count would shrink.  Actually, most adventures use a variation of the single line / two line default summary, but Eldritch Ent. opts for full stat blocks for creatures that are already in every OSR game.  It really is beginning to look like a page count fluffier)

Here's a sample from Lich Dungeon:

Undead: Wraiths
Power: 33%
Defense: 50%
Health: 51-60 each
Move: 9, flying 25
Init: 0
Damage: Touch 1d6 + 
life drain
Special: Spawn creation, unnatural aura; 
powerless in sunlight
Demeanor: Evasive (do not engage)
Appearance: Shapeless ghostly forms 6-7’ 
tall flying quickly across the night sky...

What we can work out from the above, if we were using this as a reference in the OSR game of our choice?

Move and flying speed looks to work fine,

Health would convert to HP, but then we have a problem.  In S&W, wraiths have 4HD, for an average HP of 18 and a max of 32.  These uber-wraiths have 51-60 HP.  Nearly 3 times the average in S&W.  Ouch.

Power - I don't see if it converts to HD, to-hit or whatnot.  Probably has something to do with HD

Defense -  Obviously converts to AC in some manner.  No Idea what that manner is.  Or maybe it doesn't convert.

Init -  Some creatures have a number greater that Zero here.  Converts to nothing in the OSR that I know of.

Damage - matches S&W perfectly.  

Special - doesn't match up with the description in S&W at all.

Demeanor - seems to be encounter specific and is a nice touch

Appearance - effective way to describe to the party.

Oh, and (7) seems to be the number appearing in the encounter.

Now, I am not a world famous game designer, let alone one of four such world famous game designers, but why would you invent a system to stat out your encounters that doesn't come remotely close to matching up with the OGL / OSR / D&D setup?

Okay, maybe you don't want to use the OGL for some reason.  Too restrictive or something.  Maybe you don't want to link yourself too closely to a system that may have done you wrong in the end (Clark, I'm talking about you here).

If you wanted to do generic adventures than leave the stats out of it!  It really is that simple.  I don't like the idea that I need some unknown rosetta stone to covert your stuff to something I can use in my game.

"Just ignore the stat blocks if they don't apply to you" will be the argument I am sure.  Guess what?  Since  they are useless to 100% of your consumers, you should have left them out in the first place.

And yes, looking at it on this page, it is a page filler or page count fluffer.  What would be a line, maybe 2,  is 14 here - 11 if you remove the page breaks.  Damn shame.


  1. Not sure what Power refers to but Defense could relate range of whatever defense system your game uses.

    In the case of D&D this would be +10 to -10, this Wraiths with a Defense of 50% would be AC 0?

    How does that match up against S&W?

  2. Actually, I guess Power could refer to attack bonus?

    I'm a little rusty on Thac0 but it goes from 20 to 0? so 33% would be a Thac0 of 13 or 14?


  3. but health is nearly 3 times the average wraith health in S&W.

    i shouldn't have to convert when we have the OGL. either use the OGL or leave out the stats entirely. That is what the Toys For the Sandbox series does, and it works fine.

  4. i was thinking that power would convert to THAC0 but it doesn't

    wraiths are 4DH with a THAC0 of 15 - 30% chance to hit, so close.

    but defense of 50% doesn't convert to an AC of 3

    lets look at Hippogriffs:

    Power 15% but it is 3+3 HD in S&W - that means it should attack as a 4HD creature, same as a Wraith

    Defense is 10%, but S&W AC is 5

    (Lich Dungeon has movement in %'s, but I'll assume that's a typo)

  5. It sucks they went this way with the stats but I'm still curious to see what the adventures themselves are like.

  6. I suspect that in this case 'non-system specific stat blocks' means stat blocks for a new game system that we haven't gotten around to writing yet.

    I'll be giving Eldritch Ent. products a pass, I think. Everything that James Ward has produced in the last couple of decades has stunk badly, and I'm not at all encouraged by their 'system-neutral' system. Nor their reference to 'old skool' (sic).

  7. Could power be like POW in RuneQuest?
    Alternatively, could 33% mean "as powerful as a creature 1/3 on the scale of all creatures' power"?

    Defence 50% -- again could that be like in RuneQuest? This would make much more sense: I expect wraiths to be much tougher to hit than hippogriffs.

    Health, er, this is a difficult one. 51-60 could be 51-60% of HP of the toughest creature.

    Init could be a bonus.

    Even though the supplement is labelled as being non-system specific, I suspect there will be at least a mini-engine in the book, or at least an explanation of defence, health, power, etc.

  8. First, thanks all for your input.


    A percentage divided by 5 gives you the equivalent on a 1d20 scale.

    Apply that to Power; 40% becomes 8 HD. (This and other details are explained in each product.)

    Chris (above) apparently intuited the use of Defense. Same method (Def/5 = d20 rating), but you have to either add or subract, depending on your game's defense system (going up or down). In 1e, Def 30% = 6 pips off 10 (unarmored) = AC4.

    We don't use OGL (yet) because we don't acknowledge that our original work is somehow partially owned by the lords & masters at WotC (which is what the OGL says). And we're not convinced that the OGL is irrevocable; time will tell.

    btw, I'm not surprised to be slammed by folks who don't bother to actually read the product (or the explanations of the stats); happens all the time in blogland. Speculate at will; others will find out the facts.

    Feel free to contact us directly with more questions (we're all easily findable).

    Frank Mentzer

  9. I'm glad you replied, Frank. The explanation of the stats apparently isn't in all of the previews; a post on the Eldritch site ("the way we're doing stats and a little about why") might clear things up for prospective customers. That sort of outreach/marketing will likely serve better than complaining about people jumping to conclusions.

  10. @ Frank Mentzer -

    Well, I looked at 2 product previews - yours and Forest of Deceit, as those were the 2 I was interested in most - neither had the required "rosetta stone" information.

    So, a power of 33% is - 6HD? 6HD+2? 7HD?

    Your Wraiths HP are greater than the HD conversion would indicate. 6D8+2 gives an absolute max of 50 HP, but the stated range is 51-60.

    So HD conversion is just used for THAC0, not the HP?

    As some one else mentioned, this is reminiscent of the Mayfair Games (or even Judges Guild) reworking the stats to be compatible without claiming compatibility.

    I can understand not trusting the OGL completely (especially from Clark's POV) , but going stat free would have prevented your readers from having to awkwardly convert each encounter to stats that do not match up with OSR resources (or OGL) in all cases.

    As the other Erik stated above, information relating to (and explaining the decisions behind) your releases could and should be on the Eldritch Ent. website, but they are not. There is little information of any sort there at the moment.

    It helps your customers to make informed decisions, as all we have at the moment are the 4 page previews at RPGNow.

    That being said, I'll drop down my 10 bucks and review Lich Dungeon. I might only be a blogger and it isn't my intention to slam your stuff (but I do not regret pointing out how awkward and space consuming your stat blocks are based upon the previews), so I will give an honest accounting of my opinion.

    As your strongest competition is your previous work, that's the bar I'll hold you up to.

  11. Here's a Statblock Helper for Lich Dungeon L1 (posted over at DragonsFoot):


    I'd put it on our site but that's awaiting a redo. We're writers, not web programmers.

  12. ::sigh:: Dragonsfoot crashed bigtime (SQL errors rampant).

    So I put the same thing on GoogleDocs (as I shoulda the first time):



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