Friday, September 28, 2018

Knaves Unfathomable

I'm thinking of starting up a PbP game, running Jason Sholtis' Operation Unfathomable using Ben Milton's Knave. Here's my interpretation of the setting's additional character options. They're all at least a smidge better than a standardly-generated Knave, but I plan on only offering these as options for replacements characters, once the party is deep in the weirdness.

Cave Otter
You are a black-furred, humanoid otter, adapted to subterranean waterways. You are carnivorous, and untroubled by eating decomposed carrion or creatures warped by Chaos.
Oily Coat: You have natural armor worth 3/13. Against oozes, slimes, jellies, and puddings it is worth 9/19.
Dexterous: When rolling your DEX score, you may choose from the two lowest dice, instead of just the lowest. However, if your WIS is over 3/13, you must swap it out with your lowest ability.
Natural Weapons: Claws (1d3) or Bite (1d6).
Playful: A WIS save may be required to resist the impulse to eat, frolic, or check out something disgusting.
Unusual Proportions: Armor must be specially commissioned at considerable expense.
Starting Equipment: none.

Citizen Lich
Once a powerful mage from a necromantic kingdom in the South, you have lost you power, your riches, and your position in a failed bid to become one of the lich elite. Now you must start over again with only a few scraps of magic.
Frail: Begin with maximum 1 HP. When you advance a level, you roll d4’s instead of d8’s for additional hit points.
Undead: You can be turned as other undead. You cannot benefit from normal or magical healing. You do not need to eat, drink, or breathe. You do not sleep, but require 6 hours of torpor each day.
Hard to Kill: Reaching 0 HP does not permanently kill you. As long as your entire body is not destroyed by fire or acid, you will regain 1 HP per day. At level 4, you regain 2 HP per day; at level 8 you regain 3 HP per day.
Starting Equipment: Ornate but threadbare clothes, walking staff, 2 spell books (determine spells randomly).

Underworld Ranger
You have been trained since childhood to protect humanity by fighting the forces of Chaos in the Underworld.
Ranger: You are adept at tracking and foraging in the Underworld.
Starting Equipment: As normal for a Knave.
Special Equipment
Badge of Service: respected by several Underworld species as designating you as a good guy. Does not take up an item slot.
Light-intensifying Goggles
Service Blade (issued at Level 2) (d8 damage, 2 slots, 1 hand, 3 quality)
 +1 vs. Chaos creatures, can hit creatures that would otherwise require a +2 weapon.
ZR1 Sidearm (issued at Level 3) (d6 damage, 1 slots,
 1 hands, 3 quality, range: 60’) Shoots a ball of lightning. Recharging requires a round of vigorously winding. If fired more than twice per Turn, there is a 1-in-6 chance it explodes, doing 1d6 damage to the user.
Additional Items: At level 4, and Underworld Ranger may requisition additional advanced equipment from a Ranger Station.

Wooly Neanderthal
You are a tall, long-furred native of the frozen lands of Mastodonia.
Mighty Thews: When rolling STR and CON, you may choose from the two lowest dice, instead of just the lowest. However, if your INT is over 3/13, you must swap it out with your lowest ability.
Neolithic: You eschew clothing, armor, or tools that you have not crafted yourself from stone and hide. Should you decide to adopt more advanced armor or weapons, they will cost 50% more due to your large size.
Mammoth Diet: The only food that is wholesome to your people is mammoth meat. You have advantage in preparing rations from mammoths. 1 week’s worth of mammoth jerky takes 1 item slot.
Wooly Hide: You naturally have an Armor of 3/13.
Starting Equipment: Stone Axe (d8 damage, 2 slots, 1 hand, 2 quality)
, water bladder, 1d6 weeks worth of mammoth-jerky, knapping stone (for crafting stone tools).

Available at Drive-Thru RPG:
Operation Unfathomable

Friday, July 13, 2018


I've started a D&D campaign for kids and parents. We're running 5e (the kids have the books, and want to use them), but we used tools from Beyond the Wall to generate characters and their home village.

Ballyjack is a village that grew up around the stump of the giant beanstalk that was chopped down centuries ago in a dispute with a local cloud giant. It is now mostly known for pig-farming.

Significant NPCs
Honeywell Ballyjack, Mayor, owner of a large pig farm at the edge of town
Dirk the Reeve, oversees the town for the mayor and enforces the mayor’s decrees
Butthog, Dirk’s lackey, recently kidnapped and beaten by goblins
Filfory Hogsbottom, brewmaster, owner of Hogsbottom Inn and Brew-works
Tatter Helga, a hedge witch who lives in town and makes petty charms and potions
Jerrod the Bard, lives at the Inn, one of the better-traveled and more knowledgeable citizens of the town
Sylvarus Nuthing, a hermit who lives near edge of the Thousand Acre Wood
Timmory Mill, the Miller
Rose Smith, the Blacksmith
Brother Ignatius Salubrious Albion-Jones, the Priest at the Temple of Urizen
Azaela Winton, master cartographer and grandmother of two of the PCs

Collaborative world-building is a good idea with kids in a game, because it gives you a sense of what level they're approaching things from. For instance, it would never have occurred to me to have one character named Hogsbottom and another named Butthog in the same village.

We started playing The Goblin Infestation scenario pack from Beyond the Wall, transitioning it to the goblin caves from Lost Mines of Phandelver, and I expect we're about to take a detour into some homebrew woodlands encounters, or maybe The Witch of Underwillow.

Beyond the Wall (such a great system that deserves more attention)
The Witch of Underwillow by Merric Blackman

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

B/X Grappling Rules

I'm adding some house-rules and what-nots to an edition of B/X Purple Core, and decided I wanted some Grappling Rules:

Grappling (Optional Rule)
If a character wishes to pin or overpower an opponent, they may attempt to grapple them.

Generally speaking, as many as six grapplers can engage a single defender. Each grappler must succeed at an attack roll against the defender. The referee may choose to wholly or partially ignore armor for purposes of this attack.

Roll the HD of each combatant on both sides.
 • If the grappler’s side has the highest result, the defender is immobilized. They can be disarmed, tied up, pinned to the ground, or pushed in any direction at one quarter their movement.
• If the results are a tie, the struggle continues and everyone must roll again unless both sides agree to discontinue.
 • If the defender has the highest result, they have broken free. The grapplers are thrown back 5’ and unable to act for one round.

Once engaged in grappling, neither side can take any additional actions, including movement, drawing or readying weapons, or casting spells, until the grapple is resolved.

Grappling with Small Weapons
If either side is armed with small weapons which the referee allows can be brought to bear close combat, like knives, or natural weapons, like teeth and claws, the results are as follows:
• If the grappler’s side is armed and has the highest result, the defender is immobilized and may be killed. The defender should roll Save vs. Death/Poison. If successful, they take normal weapon damage. If failed, they are dead.
• If the results are a tie, a member of the side facing the weapon takes normal weapon damage.
• If the defender is armed and has the highest result, they have broken free. The grapplers are thrown back 5’, unable to act for one round, and take normal weapon damage.

This is basically OD&D grappling, as presented by Gygax in Strategic Review #2, but with a few changes:

B/X’s different Hit Dice. I think it makes sense for fighters to be better at wrestling than wizards.

Use of weapons. It’s clear that there are times when a small weapon is better than a big one. Being locked cheek-to-jowl with an enemy seems chief among them. I think this does a better job of modelling the advantages of a small weapon than, say, the Holmesian double-strike.

The chance of auto-death may seem extreme, but it’s really not that much different than having an immobilized opponent, if death is your intent. And I like it when Conan still has to worry about a knife between the ribs. And this could make a swarm of kobolds with pointed sticks a proper threat.

However, it overlaps with some established B/X rules (as quoted from B/X Essentials):
Helpless Opponents
Helpless opponents, such as those sleeping, bound, magically frozen, etc., are automatically hit by any melee attacks in combat. Only a roll for damage is required.

Non-Lethal Combat
Any characters that wish to subdue an opponent must announce that they are attacking without intent to kill. All hand weapons with a blade may be employed to deal blunt blows with the flat of the blade.

Combat and damage are calculated normally, noting how much damage is non-lethal, “subdual” damage. A character or monster that reaches 0 hit points due to subdual damage is knocked unconscious.

Monsters may only be subdued in this way at the referee’s discretion.

I've never liked the idea of tracking subdual damage. And modelling damage to a helpless opponent strikes me as something that calls for a ruling more than a rule. But this is a shift that could have some longer ranging repercussions. It needs play-testing.

Feedback and critique is solicited and welcomed!

Previously: Grappling Rules, Compared

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

B/X Purple Core

I used Gavin Norman's B/X Essentials Core Rules as an exercise in learning InDesign. The aesthetic is aggravatingly tasteful, but it should be easy to scroll through, with lots of hyperlinks and a few helpful annotations.
Click for the PDF

Feedback, as always, is accepted and solicited.

Now to make a houserules edition!

The B/X Monogram on the cover is based the font Rye, which is also used as the header text inside the document.

If you'd like to use it for something B/X related, and want a high-rez or vectorized file, let me know!

Creative Commons License
B/X Monogram by Joel Priddy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Time Rats, in COLOR!

I've been teaching myself layout, and specifically baseline grids, so I decided to fancy-up Time Rats.

click for the TIME RATS pdf

I've fluffed it up a bit, adding enough information to make it an independent game that doesn't require having Maze Rats on hand—although it's still very terse, and will probably only make sense if you're to sort of person who reads gaming blogs.

The most significant mechanical shift from Maze Rats is the introduction of a Turn Sequence, inspired by the Doctor Who RPG, which is intended to make it viable to encounter rampaging death-machines with nothing more than a kettle and some bits of string.

This is not the final version. I want to finish up a 3-page adventure. The idea is to have a short document that will let you set up a single evenings-worth of adventure with brand new players in just a few minutes.

And I made the bestiary of enemies without much reflection. I need to consider their relative power levels a bit more.

Feedback and advice is appreciated and solicited!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Portcullis d6 Polyhedral Chart

I've been making little layout projects for myself, to brush up on InDesign. And I saw this Portcullis post for rolling polyhedral results with d6's. Thus:
Click for a pdf!
I'm not sure that this has much practical value in the smartphone age, but it would have saved my 12-year-old self a lot of headaches (I remember spending a lot of time flipping through books to use page numbers as random generators. Weird how I only ever rolled odd numbers).

Anyway, this turns out to be a pretty good way to learn about making tables with InDesign.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Stats in Maze Rats and Into the Odd

Roll High or Die.
One of the things that sets Maze Rats apart from other rules-light systems, even other rules-light 2d6 systems, is the Danger Roll. You only roll the dice when you've done something risky or ill-conceived enough that there could be some serious repercussions. The odds are stacked against you: you need to roll a 10 or over on 2d6. Attributes might give you a +1 or +2 modifier, and skills let you roll 3d6-keep-2.

This builds into the game an onus on the players to think problems through and create plausible solutions in the hopes that they can avoid the roll altogether.

Into the Odd is built around the same philosophy, but Saves are flat roll-under d20 versus 3d6 stats. Players with high stats don't need to be so motivated to think things through—they can just muscle through.

So: point to Maze Rats.

But Into the Odd has a combat system that I enjoy much more. Hit Points are an abstract defensive reserve to avoid serious injury. Once you're out of hp, you lose STR, and every time you lose STR you need to roll against it to see if you're out of action/ seriously wounded/dying.

This creates a world where anyone needs to fear a knife between the ribs.

I've been wanting to combine these two mechanics, so I thought I'd try emulating the odds of the Danger Roll with the ItO Saves. Here's what that looks like:

2d6 ≥ 10: 16.7%    
1d20 equivalent: 3 (15%) or 4 (20%)

2d6+1: 27.8   
1d20 equivalent: 5 (25%) or 6 (30%)

2d6+2: 41.7   
1d20 equivalent: 8 (40%) or 9 (45%)

Imagine starting chargen by telling the players to distribute a 3, 6, and 9 to their stats. That would be so dispiriting!

Advantaged 2d6: 35.7          1d20 equivalent: 7 (35%)
Advantaged 2d6+1: 52.3     1d20 equivalent: 10 (50%)
Advantaged 2d6+2: 68        1d20 equivalent: 14 (70%)

Skills make it better. 7, 10, and 14 don't sound so hopeless.

While I'm at it, here's the numbers for attacking someone without armor in Maze Rats
2d6: 58.3%    1d20 equivalent: 12 (60%)
2d6+1: 72.2   1d20 equivalent: 14 (70%)

2d6+2: 83.3   1d20 equivalent: 17 (85%)

In most games, it makes sense for attacks to fail more often than ability or skill checks, because you get to try many times to attack, but only once at a given task. In Maze Rats, the opposite holds true, since rolling a Save means you've already failed at the primary mechanic of narrative description.

Anyway, looking at the numbers, my plan to marry the two systems won't work. 

Firstly, because of bad optics: the bell-curve of 2d6 looks more forgiving, and +1 or +2 bonus feels positive. A character with stats of 3, 6, and 9 feels hopeless, no matter how many times the GM assures you that these numbers are used differently than D&D stats.

Secondly, because a STR of 3 gives you such a small ability to sustain damage that you lose the benefits of ItO's critical damage system.

But interesting observation to come out of this: the straight up Danger Roll is more or less in the neighborhood of the Old School D&D Saving Throw. It's also in the neighborhood of the Thief Skills. If nothing else, this exercise has convinced me that D&D Thief abilities should be handled descriptively first, and then rolled when that fails.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Doctor in the Maze

If you see this in time, there's a great deal of a Humble Bundle: The Doctor Who RPG, Sourcebooks for 11 Doctors, several adventures, and a few other Sourcebooks and miscellanea to boot. You can get the whole pile for $15. That's a lot.
I have committed fan art.

The Doctor Who rpg is a fine enough system, but not really to my taste. But the Doctor-specific Sourcebooks are a real find. They include adventure breakdowns of each Doctor's TV episodes. So, decades of game-able material.

In order to make use of this treasure trove, I quickly knocked together a supplement to Maze Rats:

I should say that I did this entirely off the top of my head, without reviewing either the Doctor Who rpg, or Maze Rats, so it might be ripe for correction or expansion. But it's enough to get me started.
Twice, in fact.

Also, you can find even more material at the Cubicle 7 forum, where folks are compiling sourcebooks of each Doctor's extra-canonical adventures, including comics and so on.
Three time, if you count this one.
"Come along, Pond."