The Alexandrian

Legends & Labyrinths will be using the Sidebar Reference System originally developed for Dream Machine Production’s line of Rule Supplements. Using this format, rules are presented exactly when and where you need them.

For example, consider the description of the entangle spell from the advanced version of the 3rd Edition rules:

Grasses, weeds, bushes, and even trees wrap, twist, and entwine about creatures in the area or those that enter the area, holding them fast and causing them to become entangled. The creature can break free and move half its normal speed by using a full-round action to make a DC 20 Strength check or a DC 20 Escape Artist check. A creature that succeeds on a Reflex save is not entangled but can still move at only half speed through the area. Each round on your turn, the plants once again attempt to entangle all creatures that have avoided or escaped entanglement.

There is key information missing from this spell description which will leave players flipping through their rulebooks: What are the effects of being “entangled”? How do you make a Strength check or an Escape Artist check? One could add this information to the description, of course:

Grasses, weeds, bushes, and even trees wrap, twist, and entwine about creatures in the area or those that enter the area, holding them fast and causing them to become entangled (they move at half speed, cannot run or charge, suffer a -2 penalty on attack rolls, a -4 penalty on Dexterity checks, and casting a spell requires a Concentration check). The creature can break free and move half its normal speed by using a full-round action to make a Strength check (1d20 + Strength modifier vs. DC 20) or an Escape Artist check (1d20 + Escape Artist modifer vs. DC 20). A creature that succeeds on a Reflex save is not entangled but can still move at only half speed through the area. Each round on your turn, the plants once again attempt to entangle all creatures that have avoided or escaped entanglement.

But this only makes the spell description even more difficult to parse and adjudicate.

Using the SRS system, on the other hand, we can simplify the presentation of this spell so that it looks something like this:

Grasses, weeds, bushes, and even trees wrap, twist, and entwine about creatures in the area or those that enter the area. The area is treated as difficult terrain and creatures that fail their Reflex saves are stuck and entangled. A creature can break free by making a Strength check (DC 20) or Escape Artist check (DC 20) as a full action. Each round on your turn, the plants once again attempt to entangle all creatures that have avoided or escaped entanglement.

In the sidebar, the red-highlighted keywords are given references like this:

difficult terrain, page 52: Movement through difficult terrain is made at half speed.

stuck, page 58: Cannot move away from the object or location.

entangled, page 56: Move at half speed, cannot run or charge, -2 on attacks, -4 to Dex, casting spells requires Concentration check (DC 15 + spell’s level).

Strength check, page 65: 1d20 + Strength modifier vs. DC

Escape Artist check, page 43: 1d20 + Escape Artist modifier vs. DC

The SRS puts all the information you need right at you fingertips. And, if you need more details, it gives you a page reference so that you can quickly find the full citation. Some of this information you may already be familiar with as a player, but it’s great for beginning players. (And I can’t be the only guy who, even after years of playing a game, will still need to double-check a reference.)

But the SRS also makes the text itself easier to parse. Partly because it removes all extraneous detail to the sidebar, but also because the references almost unintentionally provide a mechanism for quick comprehension. Look at the words highlighted in the entangle spell again: Difficult terrain. Stuck and entangled. Strength check or Escape Artist check. That tells you 90% of what you need to know about the spell at first glance, right?

More than that, the SRS both rewards system mastery and simulates system mastery.

For one who has mastered the system, for example, the term “difficult terrain” is a very quick, clear, and compact way of saying “characters can only move at half speed through the area”. Because the SRS  lets us just put the keyword in the text (with the full reference pushed to the sidebar), system mastery is rewarded by streamlining the main text. A system master can see the keyword “difficult terrain” and immediately understand the effect of the spell without wading their way through additional verbiage.

But the system also simulates system mastery. The system master sees the keyword “difficult terrain” and immediately knows what it means. With the SRS, however, the beginner can simulate that mastery by simply flicking their eye two inches to the left.

In many ways, the SRS is also teaching system mastery. Over time, the player will probably find themselves relying on it less and less. But when you need it, it will prove itself an invaluable time saver every single time.

Legends & Labyrinths

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5 Responses to “Legends & Labyrinths – Sidebar Reference System (SRS)”

  1. Noumenon says:

    Besides being a cool format, this is nice and clear about whether you’re “stuck” — 3.5 and Pathfinder rely on you making a judgment about whether the entangling plants are “anchored” “to an immobile object.”

  2. Zeta Kai says:

    That’s a clever system. Is the SRS a proprietary (IE patented/trademarked/copyrighted/otherwise restricted) system, or could anyone writing a rulebook incorporate a sidebar system like this?

  3. Justin Alexander says:

    The SRS evolved out of the sidebar page citations in Monte Cook’s Ptolus rulebooks, the classic GURPS sidebars, and a few practices lifted from educational textbooks. My innovations were purely incremental. Although I suppose under the insanity of our current patent law, I could probably patent it and then laugh maniacally like a Bond villain. 😉

    Kidding aside, I actually encourage people to use the SRS. I wish all my RPG manuals included an SRS.

    (As a tangent: The SRS keywords and references will NOT be clickable bookmarks in the Black Book Beta. But unless I run into unforeseen difficulties, I’ll be implementing that as a feature in the final PDF.)

  4. heromedel says:

    Ok, I funded it 50 dollars will you be contacting me about the character name and my name? Well I guess I can tell you here my name is Louis Clark (funded it as heromedel) and the character name I would like used is ZeRax del Ephrion. If you could use him in a spell casting example that would be cool.

  5. Justin Alexander says:

    @Louis: When the funding project is complete, 8-Bit Funding will provide me with a spreadsheet of everyone who sponsored L&L. Once I’ve got that in hand, I’ll be coordinating all the perks.

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