Showing My Cards

Just a friendly game of cards, right?

My latest supplement on the DM’s Guild, The Hand You’re Dealt, provides instructions on how to generate a character’s ability scores by way of a quick solitaire card game. I hope it helps you create memorable characters, and that you find the method fun in itself!

I think the mathematics that drove some of my decisions are pretty interesting, but in an ancillary sort of way. So rather than stuff it in the product, I’m including it here for anyone interested enough to take a gander.

I spilled enough pixels in the PDF about what makes playing cards an interesting alternative to dice, and how this method will produce an ability score curve with unique contours. But I wanted to ensure that this method would produce characters that could fit in with those made via more traditional means.

“4d6 drop the lowest” is probably the most common method, so let’s start there. AnyDice analyzed the probabilities pretty thoroughly and found that, on average, that method produces the following spread: 16, 14, 13, 12, 10, 9. This gives us a good idea of the minimum and maximum scores a player might expect, but we already know we’re going to blow the bloody doors off both of those numbers.

More useful to us is the knowledge that this average spreads 74 points over six abilities. That’ll provide a better metric to compare our cards against. We should also account for the fact that our method allows the player to allocate points in such a way that they can result in extremely high and extremely low scores, more frequently than if left to chance. 

I actually prefer to roll 3d6 if I’m using dice to roll ability scores. A similar analysis of that approach shows that we’re likely to wind up with a collection of scores like this: 14, 12, 11, 10, 9, 7. This pool is a little shallower, giving the player 63 points.

Looking at diceless methods, the Standard Array comes in just a whit behind 4d6: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8, totaling 72 points. Precisely 64 different ability score spreads are possible using Point Buy; because high scores cost more than lower ones, they can give the player anywhere from 69 to 75 points, averaging 72.32, with no scores below 8. (Yawn!)

Both examples in The Hand You’re Dealt come in pretty low compared to those metrics. Round 1 totals 68 points, and Round 2 gives only a paltry 58 points! However, I think those points are distributed in a way that can result in an entirely playable character. I also would like to err on the side of providing slightly fewer points than average, because by allowing the player some amount of choice in the outcome, they’re more likely to achieve at least one outstanding score.

Now seems as good a time as any to talk about the range of scores that are possible with this method. If the unluckiest newbie dealt themselves the worst possible cards, it would result in a pool of 50 points; conversely, the most fortunate would have 94 points to play with. (!!!)

But those are both cosmically unlikely circumstances. (If someone wants to run those numbers, I’ll update this post.) Technically, rolling 3d6, you could end up with a range of 18 – 108 stat points, but that’s probably even more unlikely. Once again, we should focus on the most likely scenarios.

The example plays presented in the supplement are real hands that I dealt myself, selected for their demonstration of certain features of play. But they’re also uncommonly low-scoring, compared to the average.

I wrote a quick and (very) dirty PHP script that could simulate and keep track of ten thousand deals, in order to provide some reliable averages. Here’s how that went.

Originally, I was only going to include two Sevens in the deck, so the possible scores would hew closer to what dice could actually provide. That generated scores lower than I would have liked, though, producing a mean pool of 67.43 points. Including the full set of Sevens in the deck increased the average pool of points to 70.77. That’s straight between the goalposts provided by 3d6 and 4d6-drop-the-lowest, and it’s also in line with the Standard Array and Point Buy methods.

We could actually get even closer to the 72.32 mean pool offered by Point Buy’s 64 different possibilities by including two Eights in the deck. That would bring the mean score up to 73.8565, practically in lock-step with those other methods. But there are other factors to consider. First of all, when using the deck with four Sevens, 14.15% out of my 10,000 deals resulted in at least one bust. Including two Eights cranks that up to 37.56% of deals. Since busts are (almost) entirely up to dumb luck rather than any kind of skill, having more than a third of rounds result in a bust seems a little high to me.

Additionally, certain scores will be more likely to appear than others, for the same reason that rolling 3d6 creates a nice bell curve — there are more ways to get a score of 11 than there are to get a score of 3 or 18. Our cards also make a bell curve. Here’s the distribution offered by the deck containing four Sevens and no Eights:

Players can reasonably expect to be working with 67 – 77 points to build their characters. That seems entirely reasonable to me, and I wouldn’t want to go much higher. Capping the deck at Sevens seems like the right choice. You may disagree, in which case I say include those Eights!

Including two more cards in either direction results in a pretty reliable three-point shift in the mean score. I originally included only two Sevens in the deck, but with an average of only 67.43 points per round, that was too low. Plus, fewer than 5% of rounds would see a bust with only two Sevens — that seemed too low. With four Eights, scores averaged 76.5 and 60% of rounds saw a bust; with two nines, average scores were 79.12 and a bust was practically guaranteed, showing up in 97.34% of all rounds played.

Being reasonably confident with that decision, I used that 28-card deck when testing my optional rules. And interestingly enough, while those optional rules increase the complexity for the player, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they didn’t mess up the averages too much.

For instance, when allowing three-of-a-kind to be dealt a fourth card, average points were essentially unaffected with a mean value of 70.94. Busts didn’t even increase by a full percentage point, even though, for simplicity’s sake, I was dealing a fourth card to *any* set of three, including three Sixes. (Three Sevens would already be counted as a bust and would be discarded before seeing a fourth card.) Additionally, 4.63% of all rounds saw a three-of-a-kind. I like those odds. That means if you have a group of five people generating characters at a session zero, maybe one of them will get a chance to deal a fourth card.

Finally, allowing for three Aces to bust also had little effect on the averages. Only around 1% of rounds saw that happen, and the average point total was essentially unchanged at 70.91.

I approximated the effect of adding two Jokers to the deck by instead adding two Fives and seeing how that changed the scores. In short, it didn’t noticeably move the needle in any direction. It’s not a perfect way to test it, but being a one-person operation with a limited and outdated knowledge of PHP, that was the best I could do.

I’m confident enough that this work holds up to scrutiny. I hope you agree, and either way, I’d love to hear what you think about this method of character creation.

The Hand You’re Dealt is available as a Pay-What-You-Want download on the DM’s Guild.


Premade Characters, Volume II: Angels & Demons

When I introduced my first collection of premade characters, the idea was that I could crank these out pretty quickly in the long pauses between bigger releases. So much for that! But finally, here’s the second installment.

In Volume II: Angels & Demons, you’ll meet tieflings and aasimar with strong ties to their home planes:

  • Hadriel, the scourge aasimar who channels his divine blood into works of magic. He has spent so long practicing pious devotion that he seems a little naive as he wanders the material plane.
  • Korban, the fallen aasimar who swore a sacred oath of vengeance. Wrongly accused of heretical acts, Korban has been cast out of the angelic society that was his birthright. Now, he vows to find those who betrayed him and put their hearts on a skewer.
  • Lilith of Brenton, who serves in the Blood War by Zariel’s command. With an iron
    will, she staves off the endless flood of demons pouring out of the Abyss.
  • Malachi, a valor bard with the voice of an angel. Literally. But when he stops singing, he’s likely to put his foot in his mouth.
  • Naberius, a feral fiend without a home who’s spent years scurrying among the stacks in the libraries of Dis. He’s studied religiously to learn how to wield the heat of the Inferno with one hand and the chill of Cocytus with the other.
  • Szarlatan, a trickster devil who compulsively solves mysteries when they’re not toying with the minds of others. Basically, they act like Sherlock Holmes in the daytime and Professor Moriarty at night.

These characters are available as a pay-what-you-want title on the DM’s Guild, and if you simply like the look of the character sheet, I’ve made that available for you, too.

I hope you’ll let me know if you enjoy using any of these characters in your game!

Fumbles & Crits: A Unique Approach to Hard Hits and Wild Misses

Yesterday I published Fumbles & Crits: A Unique Approach to Hard Hits and Wild Misses as a PWYW title on the DM’s Guild. It aims to add a rare bit of fun to combat while reflecting the skill and training of the martial classes.

As far as I know, this approach to 20s and 1s is unique. I certainly haven’t seen anything quite like it. I hope you enjoy, and let me know how it works for your group!

It’s quite nice to see that “More from this title’s contributor’s” ribbon completely full at the bottom, as well as to get another blue cover uploaded — AKA, a supplement intended for DMs.

Additionally, Magical Mishaps is my oldest and best performer of all these titles, and it’s very close to becoming a Copper Bestseller! If you enjoy that title, even a tiny contribution would be more valuable than you might think.


Premade Characters, Volume I: The Goon Squad

Now that I’ve finally finished work on my Alternate Character Sheet, I can finally start work on the originally intended product: Packs of pregenerated characters. These don’t take nearly as long for me to put together as a typical product, but they allow me to explore some of the less common race/class combinations in D&D. I think there’s value there for other people, too — obviously as characters they can pick up and play tonight, but also to serve as inspiration for their own characters.

Volume I: The Goon Squad focuses on characters that might feature more prominently as bad guys in your typical D&D game:

  • Bartleby Bruce, the bugbear brute. Bart doesn’t fight because he’s angry. In fact, he would prefer not to. Unfortunately, it’s just about the only thing he’s good at.
  • Demelza Bree-Yark, a goblin bard from the College of Swords. Some might say that Demelza has an “obsession” with sharp objects. She prefers to call it an “appreciation.” Regardless, she’s spent so many hours studying the blade that she almost never nicks herself anymore. Her enemies are rarely so lucky.
  • “Hundred Hands” Harlan Ward, the boxing orc. Harlan used to use his fists as a bounty hunter. Then he realized he didn’t care that much about the bounties, or the hunting. He just likes to use his fists.
  • High Justicar Brassus, the minotaur zealot. Brassus was the most brutal and heartless interrogator of the Great Inquisition. The only problem now is that no one can convince him the Inquisition ended over a decade ago.

Each of these is a character I would love to play, if I ever have the time. I’m particularly excited to include the Pugilist class by Sterling Vermin. It’s a fantastic execution of an unarmed fighter that’s nothing at all like the Monk.

The Goon Squad is available as a pay-what-you-want title on the DM’s Guild today. I hope this is received well, since I’d like to put out several of these packs in between bigger releases. I might even put out a product that’s not PWYW one of these days!

Alternate Character Sheet

My fourth product is now available on The DM’s Guild, an Alternate Character Sheet for Dungeons & Dragons players. It’s meant for people who would like to highlight their character art and background, easily calculate weight and measure encumbrance, or players who would simply like to see a visual change.

Ultimately I created this character sheet for myself. I plan on releasing packs of pregenerated characters in the future, and wanted a distinct style in which to present them. In making this character sheet, I thought, why not let everyone else use it, too?

This is my first time creating a form-fillable PDF, so please do let me know if it’s an utter disaster to use on your computer.

The Applesorcerer’s Alternate Character Sheet is available on The DM’s Guild as a pay-what-you-want title.

Ability Score Feats

I’ve released my third product for the DM’s Guild, Ability Score Feats. By focusing on a small number of options, I’ve aimed to create feats that are well balances while still opening up interesting new avenues of play.

I actually started work on these feats before I began my second release, Feats for Ravnicans. I scrutinized these a little more closely, too, so they shouldn’t require a second revision. However, I’d be very interested to hear how well they work — or don’t — around your table!

Magical Mishaps: 100 New Wild Magic Surges

I’m very pleased to announce the release of my debut title on the DM’s Guild, Magical Mishaps: 100 New Wild Magic Surges, available now as a pay-what-you-want PDF.

Everyone makes mistakes, and when you’re playing with the very fabric of the universe, sometimes those mistakes have surprising, harmful, or spectacular consequences.

Tired of rolling on the same-old table of 50 magical effects from the Player’s Handbook? This table provides 100 brand-new effects that can be used as sorcerers’ wild magic surges, hazardous effects of casting in an area that crackles with magical energy, or any similarly appropriate situation. Cheat sheets for relevant spell effects and monsters are also included.

I hope you find this document useful and fun! I’d really appreciate it if you left a rating and/or review at the DM’s Guild, or leave a comment here — especially if you have any stories about how these consequences played out in your own game!