Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Holmes/AD&D/B/X: Spells Known

I often find rules in D&D that don’t work the way I expect them to, and blame my younger self for having been too lazy to learn the rules correctly back in the day.

Turns out, I’m usually just remembering Holmes Basic.

This came up recently, when a campaign decided to switch from LL to AD&D, and I was ready to rock this table:

My spell caster was going to get a massive upgrade to his spell book! With INT 18, he was going to go from five spells to at least 18! He had a good chance of making a clean sweep.

Then someone kindly pointed out that the above percentages apply to learning spells that you find lying around amongst owlbear pellets. It takes Gygax about five paragraphs to explain this chart, and... well, let's say that clarity is not among its virtues.

To summarize:

  1. If a spell caster finds a spell, they can roll their percentile chance to learn the spell.
  2. This roll can only be made once. If you fail to learn a spell, you can never learn it.
  3. Except you can make this roll more than once, because there’s a minimum number of spells you can learn.
  4. But when do you make this second attempt? If this is a roll you make after finding a spell, do you have to find and fail to learn every spell on your list so that you know you haven’t met your minimum, and then find them a second time to roll again? Or do you roll twice each time you find a spell until your minimum has been met?
  5. And then check out this sentence: “Although the magic-user must immediately cease checking to determine if spells are known after the first complete check of each spell in the level group, or immediately thereafter during successive checks when the minimum number of spells which can be known is reached, it is possible to acquire knowledge of additional spells previously unknown as long as this does not violate the maximum number of spells which can be known.” Jeeziz, Gary.
  6. The “previously unknown” spells referred to in that sentence are, apparently, once found on scrolls or in spell books. Which… is exactly what the previous mechanics were also supposed to be for, right?
  7. And if anything happens to change your intelligence, you have to recalculate all of whatever this mess is.

To summarize the summary: You only have one chance to learn a spell that you find, unless you have a second chance, or if you find a spell.

Here’s the previous iteration of the Spells Known Table from Holmes Basic:

 Ah. See, that makes sense. It’s a little chargen mini-game to find out what’s in your spell book.

Of course, Holmesian spell books are massive, immobile tomes that spell casters have to leave at home, and they can only recharge their spells by trekking all the way back. No one-hour study sessions around the campfire for these wizards. Given this lack of portability, it’s nice that they have a bit more selection.

And how adorable is it that you could have a magic user with INT 3?

Moldvay Basic, quite sensibly, doesn’t truck with any of this:
Each magic-user and elf has a spell book for the spells that he or she has learned. A first level character will only have one spell (a first level spell) in the spell book. A second level character will have two spells (both first level) in the spell book; a third level character will have three spells (two first level spells and one second level spell) in the spell book. The DM may choose which spells a character has in the book, or may allow the player to select them.
And Cook Expert only adds that a spell-caster has to spend a week with guild masters when leveling up to learn these new spells.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Playbook-style Chargen without Playbooks

Beyond The Wall's playbooks are a really fun part of the game, and, for awhile, I was into the idea of writing playbook variations. I found myself making them more and more open-ended until I had something that really wasn't a playbook, anymore, but a simple chargen process that can be applied to any 3d6-attribute-type game.

Then I forgot about it.

Then I remembered! So, here's a process for generating characters, backgrounds, and setting:

1. What part of the campaign setting is your character from? Civilization, Wilderness, Sea, Underworld, Other? 
2. Roll 2d4, in order, for each attribute.
This is you as a child. What sort of a child are you? What trade were you raised with?
(You can google up a list of Medieval occupations for inspiration.) 
3. Make up a location and an NPC for the campaign setting. 
4. Roll 1d4, in order, to add to each attribute.
This is you as an adolescent. How have you changed since childhood? 
5. Pick a class. Who trained you? 
6. Make up another location and NPC for the campaign setting. 
7. Roll 1d4 for each attribute and assign as desired.
This is you, as of a few months ago. What are you doing with your training? Describe a meaningful memento in your possession. 
8. Make up another location and NPC for the campaign setting. 
9. Determine one attribute randomly (1d6). You get a +2 bonus to this attribute and the player to your left get a +1 bonus. Make up a two-sentence adventure where the use of this attribute saved you and your friend.
(You can use an adventure plot generator, such as the one in the D30 Sandbox Companion or google something up.)

If your game uses skills, then Where Your Character Is From counts as a broad indicator of competence, and the Trade They Were Raised With is a specific skill set. Otherwise, it's just more lovely fluff.

I think the numbers work out better using 4d4 +3 bonus points, but there is a strong impulse to stick with the iconic 3d6. In which case, just roll 1d6 at each stage, and don't award points bonuses for the Adventure With A Friend. Or maybe just a +1 bonus to the character being generated.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Extra-Planar Entity Name Generator

Inspired by +Ralph Lovegrove's recent post on Stormbringer-style demons, here's a quick idea that really doesn't need to be a post.

  1. Roll 1d12.
  2. Blindly hit that number of keys on your keyboard.
  3. Write down a phonetic approximation of your keyboard-pecking.
  4. Edit to taste.
  5. Demons named!

Demon Names
Juguntun' Visdgu' Exle

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Undersea Odd

The kid woke me up this morning, saying "Let's play D&D, but let's be sea creatures."


I asked him to make up a list of sea creatures he'd like to play (having no idea if he meant natural sea fauna, or mermen and sea serpents, or what), while I did a quick re-skinning of +Chris McDowall's  One-Page Edition of Into The Odd.

Here is the result:

Quick and dirty, but we were playing before the cereal got soggy, and that was good. Although, I think the kid would have appreciated more fights and treasure.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Into the Odd: Campaign: UNDERGROUND

I have compiled a campaign document for 21st Century dungeon-delving using Into the Odd. In the spirit of Into the Odd, it's brief—4 pages—but contains everything a player needs to get started.

I also redrew a map for one of +Chris McDowall's adventures from the Oddvent Oddpedium, SUPERCAPACITOR. Not that there was anything wrong with the original map. Just keeping my hands busy.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: Into the Odd

Oh my goodness. +Chris McDowall's Into the Odd is the business.

Personal gaming context: I've been thinking up some campaign possibilities for a gaming group. One of the notions I've been playing with is a dungeoncrawl.

The setting for the dungeoncrawl is the modern world. Players can equip themselves with anything you'd find on Amazon, or at Home Depot, or from some weirdo internet swordsmith. The PCs live in a city (I've been thinking I'd make up a forgotten borough of NYC). Of course, the city is sitting on top of a megadungeon.

The gist: There are secret urban spelunking clubs. Most of the wealthy families in town can be traced back to an ancestor who was in a club. The Borough President is intent on stopping the clubs, and closing up any passages to the Underworld that are discovered. The Municipal Sewer Authority is rich and powerful and unruly. The deeper you go, the less technology works, and the more mythic things become. Be nice to the rats, because they can follow you home.

That sounds like it could be fun, right?

And danged if Into the Odd isn' the perfect system for it.

Odd is extraordinarily rules-light. Chargen is four rolls and the actual game mechanics could fit on an index card.

I love rules-light systems, but there is often a sense that they are rules-light by leaving undetermined a lot of important decisions.

Odd, on the other hand, is pared down by focus on a particular style of play: exploration. As such, the game is less concerned with simulating anything (rolls are infrequent and cover broad, abstracted outcomes), and more on creating a tricky, challenging, and memorable scenario for the PCs to investigate.

The results are more old school than the Old School. Lots of things happen automatically in order to focus attention of player choice and player skill instead of mechanics. Combat strikes always hit, although damage is highly variable. Monsters reliably wreak havoc. Any adventurer can break down any door or pick any lock, given enough time (but they won't always have enough time, and there's the chance of attracting unwanted attention, or setting off a trap). Traps are almost always detected, because working your way around a trap is more fun than being told you're surprise-dead. Death is common, and you are advised to value expediency over realism in getting a replacement character into the party.

Time and time again, while reading the rules, I'd nod and think "Yes, of course." Everything is so danged playable. These are clearly battle-forged rules, honed and practical. Odd is elegant not for elegancy's sake, but because only the fittest rules have survived.

There's not a magic system, but there are magic items, and you have a decent chance of starting out with one. This would make it a poor fit for some campaigns, but is exactly perfect for the one I have in mind.

Rather than go into more detail, I'll just point you at this free pdf that covers the player-facing rules.

Now I face the task of digging through Mr. McDowall's blog, SoogaGames, which is packed to the gills with really useful game content. F'risntance:

How I Run Into the Odd—good advice for any GM.
Odd Classes and Orders
3HP, Sword (d6)—from one stat line, many NPCs.
Jolly Underground Ghost Cruise with Severin Sistern—a no-prep adventure.

The full game is available via Lost Pages. Highly recommended.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Schrödinger's Backpack

Every character has a backpack or equivalent carryall.
It is assumed that your pack contains:

  • 1 week of rations
  • water skin
  • bedroll
  • change of underthings
  • Something Class-specific (equipment for maintaining weapons, spell book, holy symbol, lock picks, etc.)

All other contents are uncollapsed wave functions.

When you need something, roll against your WIS (or maybe LUCK, if you have a Luck stat) to see if you thought to pack it.

  • First item: roll 1d6. (Automatic success if WIS is 6+)
  • Second item: roll 2d6. (Automatic success if WIS is 12+)
  • Third item: roll 3d6. (Automatic success if WIS is 18)
  • Etc.

The GM may add/subtract a die to/from the roll based on how likely they think it is to be in your pack.

You may only roll once for a given item in a given adventure.

Once an item is produced from the backpack, write it down. That item is now definitely in your pack until the next adventure.

The quantum backpack resets at the end of each adventure.

Before an adventure begins, you may specify up to three items that are definitely in your backpack. To find anything else, however, you must begin rolling at 4d6.

You can carry stuff until the GM calls shenanigans—usually because of extra weapons or treasure.
First shenanigans: Encumbered. All physical Attributes are effectively at -2.
Second shenanigans: Heavily encumbered. All physical Attributes are effectively at -6, and movement is dropped to Slow.

If “Shenanigans” is too imprecise, then allow each character to carry as many items as their STR. Large items (like two-handed weapons) count twice, and treasure is 100 coins per item. The backpack counts as three items by itself, not counting whatever items you have discovered in it.
Items > STR = Encumbered.
Items > 2*STR = Heavily Encumbered.

If a character starts out an adventure without a pack, they can roll an extra hit die. These extra hit points will last as long as the character remains substantially unequipped. However, the character will have trouble recovering hit points without rations, a comfortable place to sleep, and dry socks to change into. Instead of allowing automatic time-based healing, require checks to hunt, forage, and make camp.

Just noodlin', over here. I haven't playtested this even a little bit. Or even really thought it through all that much.

Obviously, this is not for games that are focused on resource management.

This is based on a notion +Jarrett Crader  used in his Whitehack Chargen document, which, in turn, is inspired by DungeonWorld.

This would require rethinking starting wealth. Maybe everyone but fighters start out with 3d6 cp?

I suppose a character could choose to pack heavy instead of packing smart. Packing heavy would allow you to use either STR or CON as the attribute tested, but would take up... I dunno, six slots instead of three?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Grappling Rules, Compared

I've been noodling with an Ancient Greek seacrawl. And you can't have Ancient Greeks without Pankration, and you can't have Pankration without grappling rules.

There isn't a standard OSR approach to grappling. Holmes and  B/X don't address it, and AD&D presents what I assume is a Gygaxian prank.

So, here, I've collected and broken down into constituent parts all the grappling rules I found close to hand, with the thought of cherry-picking the best ideas. It includes two sets of houserules by Douglas Cole, who has written quite a lot about grappling. Not included here are the grappling rules he and Peter V. Dell'Orto wrote up for Tim Short's The Manor. Hurry up, postman.

Nature of the Contest: How Grappling is Initiated
5e Basic: STR check vs. Target STR or DEX. This doesn't apply terribly well to OSR, since NPCs don't have attributes.
AD&D: Oh, man. Oh geez. Ohohoho. Forget it.
AD&D Dragon #61: Melee attack vs. AC 5 (+DEX mod, any magical bonuses, +3 for a shield, and Speed Modifier that requires a chart).
Bloody Basic: Melee attack.
Blood & Treasure: Melee attack against a Difficulty Class of 14.
Douglas Cole’s 5e Houserule: STR check vs. Target STR or DEX.
Douglas Cole’s OSRIC: Melee attack
DCC: Opposed melee attacks: Each side adds Agility or Strength mod (monsters add HD).
Delving Deeper: Melee attack required to engage if Target is armed or non-humanoid. Roll 1d6 per HD for each attacker; compare total with defenders 1d6 per HD.
LotFP: Contested roll: d20 + melee bonus + STR bonus. High number wins. Ties broken by contested DEX roll.
Mazes &Minotaurs: Melee attack
Swords &Wizardry Core: Melee attack to initiate grappling. Success is determined by everyone involved on both sides rolling 1d6 per hit die. The side with the highest die result wins.

Effects on Target once Grappled
5e Basic: Cannot move, act, or react.
AD&D Dragon #61: Attacker and Target each roll 1d12. If attacker wins by: 1-6, the target is held (in one of seven different holds, each with different repercussions); more than six, then escalating damage is dealt, as determined by another chart.
Bloody Basic: Adjudicated by the GM.
Blood & Treasure: Target is held and suffers 1d3 dmg.
Douglas Cole’s 5e Houserule: Multiple successes increase result: 1st Success: Grappled. Target cannot move. Takes 1 + STR bonus dmg.; 2nd Success: Restrained. Target cannot move and attacks are disadvantaged. Attacks on Target are advantaged. Targets takes 1d4 + STR bonus dmg.; 3rd Success: Incapacitated. Target cannot act except to speak and takes 1d6 + STR bonus dmg.; 4th Success: Paralyzed. Target cannot act and takes 1d6 + STR bonus dmg.
Douglas Cole’s OSRIC: 1d2-1 dmg.; can attack Attacker, but at -2
DCC: Cannot act except to attempt escape.
Delving Deeper: If Attacker wins: Target is pinned. If Tie: Struggle continues next round. If Target wins: Attackers are thrown back 1” and cannot participate for next combat turn.
LotFP: Attacker chooses: Immobilize Target, Disarm Target (one handheld item), or Release Target. Target must Save vs. Paralysis to resist Disarming. After 3 rounds, Target is pinned and unable to act.
M&M: Cannot act except to attempt escape.
S&W Core: If Attacker wins: Target is pinned and helpless and can be killed next round unless external help interferes. If Tie: Ongoing struggle; no one can attack with weapons. If Target wins: Attackers are beaten back and stunned for a number of rounds equal to the amount of their loss on the die roll.

Effects on Grappler, if any
5e Basic: Can move at half speed.
Douglas Cole’s OSRIC: Attacker can attack Target at +2 for 1d2+bonuses dmg.; Second successful grapple results in opponent being pinned.

Means of Escape from Grapple
5e Basic: Contest STR or DEX vs. STR.
AD&D Dragon #61: If the Target rolls higher on opposed d12s, the hold is broken.
Bloody Basic: Target gets a Saving Throw.
Blood & Treasure: Fortitude Saving Throw to avoid being initially grappled. After that, the Target must make their own successful grapple attack to escape.
Douglas Cole’s 5e Houserule: STR or DEX vs. STR. Each success reduces the effects of the Attacker’s cumulative successes by one.
Douglas Cole’s OSRIC: Successful attack on Attacker.
DCC: Another grapple contest.
Delving Deeper: Part of the collective Xd6 roll.
S&W Core: Depends on result of Xd6 roll (see above).

External Attacks on Grapplers
DCC: Any failed attack has a 50% chance of striking the other grappler.
LotFP: Grapplers respond as Surprised if attacked.

Dogpile: Handling Multiple Grapplers
Douglas Cole’s OSRIC: +2 for each additional grappler.
Delving Deeper: Affects the Xd6 roll (see above). No more than 6 human-size Attackers can attack a single human-sized Target.
LotFP: Each grappler rolls, using the best roll with +1 for every grappler on that side.
S&W Core: Affects the Xd6 roll (see above).

Handling Size Differential
5e Basic: If Target is half attackers size, attacker can move at full speed.
AD&D Dragon #61: A matrix comparing opponent's sizes provides bonuses and penalties to the Attacker's d12 roll.
Blood & Treasure: Attackers one size smaller can only entangle an opponent (reducing them to quarter-speed). Attackers two sizes smaller cannot grapple.
LotFP: Creatures with any sort of inherent advantage in grappling get +1 per HD.
DCC: Attacker twice size: +4. Three times size: +8. Four times size: +16.
Douglas Cole’s OSRIC: Relative size bonuses: +4/+2/0/-2/-4

Also: Tuvan wrestlers!
Let me know if I've missed any good rules, or if I've misrepresented any of the above!

As written, my favorite grappling rules are from Delving Deeper/S&W Core. I also rather like the four-stage submission of Douglas Cole's 5e Houserule. 

While most of the time, a straight melee roll vs. AC seems like the simplest and most logical way to initiate grappling, there are clearly going to be times where it doesn't work. I need to look through various monster lists and see how the various exceptions work out, but the obvious one is humanoids in armor. An orc in plate isn't anymore protected from grappling than one in street clothes.

A good rule of thumb might be to use Melee vs. AC most of the time, but to have a handy alternate formula for when that model doesn't work. Some possibilities, depending on system, and possibly depending on beast:

  • Melee vs. 10 + HD
  • Melee vs. 10 + (1/2 HD)
  • Melee vs. 10 + STR bonus
  • Melee vs. 10 + DEX bonus
  • Melee vs. STR or DEX

If I were to write up a Pankraitist class, I would probably make it a Fighter who gives up armor in exchange for extra hit dice. The hit dice would both ameliorate the loss of armor and model the Pankraitists grappling expertise. At level five, their bare hands count as magic weapons and maybe they can wrestle insubstantial foes.

I might let either STR or DEX modifier the Attacker's Melee roll.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Alternate Character Class Round-Up

Apropos nothing, here, from the great swirling surfeit of alternate classes available on the Internet, are a few I'm especially fond of.

Timothy Ide
Delving Deeper: The Illusionist (free pdf)
No shortage of contenders out there for the spell-casting variant, the Illusionist. This one is unique, and wonderful. Rather than a magician who specializes in a particular type of spells, this Illusionist is a straight-up fraud. But an effective fraud. Instead of spells, he prepares tricks—chemicals, gadgets, sleights of hand—to mimic the appearance of magic.

F'rinstance, this first level "spell":
FOG (affects: 4" diam, duration: 6 turns + 1 turn/level, range: 6") The illusionist mixes two ethers that immediately produce a thick bank of fog 4" in diameter (or any equivalent dimensions) and up to 20ft deep. It is impenetrable to sight.
Some of the contrivances for the fake spells are more convincing than others, but it's not important that each spell hold up to practical scrutiny. Once the class's schtick is sufficiently established, I think we can all allow some hand-waving on how exactly some effects are achieved.

Interestingly, some of the higher level spells actually do cross over into actual magic, as Illusionists begin to tap into some sort of shadow plane. Rather than undercut the conceit, I think this implies that, in a magical (that is to say, analogical) environment, a convincing enough lie becomes the truth. It's all very Gene Wolfe.

Beyond the cleverness of the conceit, and the potential for role-playing (imagine the rivalry between an Illusionist and an actual spell-caster within the same party), something I really like about this class is that assumes that magic is not so quotidian that there is still profit to be made from faking it.

Mattias Adolfsson
Anomalous Subsurface Environment: The Robot (link)
So, obviously, all right-thinking nerds want to play a robot at some point in some game. But robots are tricky as PCs. They skip over so many of the basic human frailties that they can really, ah, short-circuit an adventures challenges.

Patrick Wetmore's Robot starts out very frail: a spongy positronic brain in an acrylic case perched on top of a spindly mechanized armature. As they adventure through the gonzo wastelands of the Anomalous Subsurface Environment, they scavenge parts to upgrade and accessorize themselves.

This is an admirable solution. It takes a character concept that typically has been a rough fit for level advancement and makes it work absolutely perfectly. IN fact, it makes leveling-up work so perfectly for robots that they almost don't seem right for non-robots.

My only complaint with the Robot is that the advances are set in stone. At level 5 you will get a plasma cannon installed in your chest, end of story. You can excuse this by thinking of it as a hard-wired upgrade and maintenance schedule. But it'd be fun to expand to a menu of upgrade possibilities, to reflect the randomness of scavenging and the proclivities of the individual.

EDIT: My wish has been granted! Stan Rydzewski has written a version of the AES Robot with upgrade options!

Goblin Punch: The Bug Collector (link) (and also) (further also)
Every morning, while the cleric is praying and the wizard is studying, you dig around in the underbrush, looking to add to your bug collection. You roll a random assortment of collected insects based on what sort of ecosystem you find yourself in, and can expend the bugs (often by eating them) to access spell-like effects.

The class is a really fun class to play, especially in a campaign that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a work-progress, though. Bug lists have only been worked out for a few levels with smattering of suggestions for where to go from there. But we're a DIY community, right? We're not afraid of filling in the gaps. Especially when working with as inspired an idea as this.

The Land of NOD: The Gourmand (link)
John Stater is the poet laureate of character classes. He brought us the Canting Crew and the Master Blaster. His Bloody Basic books are finely tailored rulesets with wonderful classes specialized for given settings.

The Gourmand is less interesting because of his mechanics (his cooking can heal and his reputation can score the party seats at fancy do's) than for his motivation—which is to travel the world finding new things to eat. I haven't played a gourmand, but, inspired by this class, I did play a fire-and-brimstone cleric who felt it was the mission of the Righteous to consume evil and purify it through the digestive process. I really liked that character. Died from friendly fire, fighting some tender-looking orcs.

Erol Otus
Dyson's Dodecahedron: The Gibbering Mouther (link)
I'm half-hoping that my necromantic sabbat-satyr dies in the deep pits of a dungeon, because it would be the perfect chance to replace him with a Gibbering Mouther!

Erol Otus' shoggoths hold a special place in the nightmares of my generation of geeks, and it was a stroke of absolute genius on Dyson Logos' part to turn them into a playable race. Basically, you are a writhing blob of screaming eyes and teeth. You drool, you ooze, you screech, you chatter incessantly in unnerving tongues, and you spread madness to friend and foe alike. And you just keep growing bigger.

I made my own, more dapper version of the Shoggoth for a Microlite20 ASE hack. But I really want to play the straight Dyson version, sometime. Soon. Now.

EDIT: check out this great variation: The Impressionable Young Shoggoth.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Let's Ride!

Just had a fun evening with the kid, using +Benjamin Baugh's B/X supplement: At 5th Level, Everybody Rides.

The idea is that, just as you get a fancy house when you enter upper-level domain-style play, you get an epic mount when you reach the point where B/X introduces wilderness exploration. And who doesn't want an epic mount?

The kid had been asking if his lizardman fighter could catch a hippocampus. I pulled out Benjamin's rules, and the kid forgot entirely about any fish-tailed horses, and instead rolled:

GHOSTLY, the undead coal-fired cyborg horse-fox-spider chimera!

Ghostly is a walking nightmare, ridden by a lizardman with a flaming sword. My seven-year-old is metal as fuck.

And so, of course, we didn't stop there:

Lisa, the rabbit cleric, rides high atop a tiger-striped wooly mammoth that can sound the heavenly trumpets with his trunk.

Bochen, the griffon wizard, doesn't need a mount, because he's a griffon. But he gained a companion: a spectral crab that floats behind him, focusing Bochen's magic and nibbling at anything that catches his interest.

And Durgan, the rustic bear pankratiast, plods along on Wilmore, a grumbling rhinoceros beetle.

In just a few pages, Benjamin packed a lot of goods. There's enough die-roll randomization to spur your imagination, but enough choice that you end up with a mount that feels right for your character.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Thinking about Attributes


That's about as simple as you can get with abstracted quantitative measures of pretend humans. Some might say that you don't need Heart, but they're probably not much fun to play with.


These six attributes are like a beautiful nerd haiku. They not only carry tremendous nostalgic weight, but they're pretty brilliantly flexible. This is the porridge Goldilocks ate.


Yech. Anytime an attribute list gets too long, I start backing away. This is a more accurate depiction of the sort of competencies I test for in my games, though.

Á la Carte Expendable Additions

Depending on the campaign, one or more of these might be helpful. These can be used as roll-under attributes, but points from them may also be expended. F'rintsance, You may roll Resources to generally see if you can acquire the items you need, but your castle burning down may cost you several points, or you might willingly spend points to acquire something rare and remarkable, like a magical artifact. And, of course, you lose Sanity points when you fail a Sanity check, and can probably spend Sanity to gain insight into horrible things.

Minimalist Divided
Body (Strength/Dexterity)
Mind (Awareness/Knowledge)
Heart (Social/Will)

This takes a page from Star Frontiers, with its paired attributes.

Roll 3d6 for each root attribute. Exchange as many as two points between attribute pairs. Maximum of 18.
Assign 8, 10, and 14 to each root attribute. Move as many as four points from one half of a pair to another. So the maximum spread might looks like:
Body: 8
     Strength: 4
     Dexterity: 12
Mind: 10
     Awareness: 14
     Knowledge: 6
Heart: 14
     Presence: 18
     Will: 10

Just thinkin'.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Agnostic Clerics

Faith and Doubt
In a supernatural environment, parsimony insists that gods exist. But that doesn’t mean that your god exists, or that it likes you, or is listening to your entreaties.

So, let’s keep the efficacy of prayer mostly secret.

Only do this if it’s fun, obviously. Do you and your players like the idea of praying for water, and then looting the body of a dead ogre to find a full waterskin, and not knowing if it’s coincidence or not?

Here’s what your player should tell you about their religion:

  • God/Pantheon’s Name:
  • Domain of Influence:
  • Cleric's Sacred Duties:
  • Cleric's Forbidden Acts:
  • Weapons allowed to Clerics:
  • Opposing Force/The Enemy:

They can make up lots more, but that’s what’s essential.

Secret Spells
The GM instructs the player that they can pray for miracles, and the god might respond. Requesting too much can anger/bore the god. And the Enemy is listening, and will tempt you into damnation if you pray for the wrong thing.

That's all they know.

The GM makes up a clerical spell list. Maybe it’s exactly the standard list, but maybe you add a surprise or two. About six spells at first? Include two additional spells that are counter to the god’s desires, which would be granted by the Opposing Force. Don’t show this to the player.

Don’t worry too much about this list—treat it as a guide for judging the appropriate level of divine intervention.

Let the player pray for anything they wish. They do not need to frame it in standard spell terms. A general prayer ("Deliver us from danger!") can be interpreted lots of ways by the GM, for good or ill. A very specific prayer ("Grant your servant a pony, O Lord.") runs the risk of not being something the god will grant.

If it’s in line with the god’s desires, and has any sort of analogue on the spell list, then a miracle (or at least a convenient coincidence) may occur.

Wearing out the Almighties
Use ammo dice for prayer. Roll it when they pray. On a result of one or less, they have used their portion of divine goodwill for the day. This and all other prayers for the rest of the day will not be granted.
1st Level: 1d4-3.
2nd Level: 1d4-1.
3rd Level: 1d4.
4th Level: 1d4.
5th Level: 1d6.
6th Level: 1d6.
8th Level: 1d8.
9th Level: 1d8.
10th Level: 1d10.
11th Level: 1d10.
12th and all subsequent levels: 1d12.

When the ammo die is exhausted, don’t let the player know. Just let them wait and see if their prayers have been answered. Feed them ambiguous information.

Falling from Grace
If the prayer is best answered by the Opposing Force’s spells, make a tally mark under “Heresy” for that character. If, over the course of an adventure, the character’s Heresies exceed their Level, then they are damned in their god’s sight and now belong to the Enemy. Make up a new list of spells. Use reversed versions of the original spell list when you can. Reversed spells may be cast unwittingly when the cleric tries to invoke the original effect. Other spells can only be cast when the cleric goes against the original god’s wishes—partaking in a forbidden act, refusing a sacred duty, etc.

A character may continue in their faith for a long time without knowing that they have fallen from grace. They may never realize, and decide that the weird results of their prayers are part of the god’s ineffable plan. This is how heretical sects get started.

If a character does realize they have fallen, they can seek redemption, but it should be a big quest-type deal.

Results of Prayer
A lot of the lower level Cleric spells are invisible, and provide such minor effects that you might not be able to discern their presence. A priest lays hands on you and says a blessing, and you feel better, but did you really gain a +1 to save vs. poison?

When prayers are granted, whenever convenient, make the results invisible. The player should not always know when a prayer was answered or not, or exactly how. Results might not show up right away.

Cure Light Wounds: This one seems like a pain to keep secret (extra bookkeeping, and no player is going to enjoy not knowing their HP), so just let them have it. There’s still plenty of uncertainty if they fall from grace, and this reverses into Cause Light Wounds. Also, I tend to allow all sorts of things to provide some HP recovery, including morale boosts, like rousing speeches or battle hymns. So I’d give back 1 HP just for placebo effect, if both healer and healed are sincere about the effort.

Detect Evil/Magic/etc.: Provide false positives even when the prayer is not granted.

Light: You could just make this an obvious miracle, or you could have light show up in some possibly natural way. A shaft of light makes its way through a chink in the rocks, a patch of luminescent fungus begins to bloom, someone finds another flask of oil in the backpack, an exhausted torch sputters back to life. Or a bunch of hobgoblins with lanterns and pitchforks show up.

Protection from Evil/Purify Food and Water/Remove Fear/Resist Cold: All spells where you can tell the players affected, “You feel like that might have worked.” Keep any bonuses awarded (or not) to yourself. Now’s when you’ll see how much faith both the players and the characters have in the gods.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Scaffolds & Dragons: Trainers

Some trainers to go with my Training Levels for the Kid's Game.

I'm thinking that you need to make arrangements with a trainer every level for Levels 1-4, and every other from 5-9, and you're pretty much self-educated from there.

Durgan the Bear
Actually a bear. An adventurer that has retired to the woods outside of town. Will happily spar with anyone who shows up at his cave bearing good food.
+1 to hit and damage in melee
+1d6 Hit Points
+1 Save vs. Disease
At Fighting Level 1: wear Medium Armor w/o penalty
At Fighting Level 3: wear Heavy Armor w/o penalty

Fletch the Onocentaur Archer
This rough half-man half-donkey has terrible manners and little interest in taking on students, but is the best archer you've ever seen.
+1 to hit and damage with ranged attacks
+1d6 Hit Points
+1 to Save vs. Paralysis
Hawkeye: +1 to checks relating to seeing things that are far away
Does not count as Fighting Level for purposes of wearing armor

Aldus the Tailor
A capable tailor, but a much more capable thief. Among other stealthy skills, Aldus teaches his students how to pick locks with an innocent-looking set of sewing needles.
+1 DEX
+1d4 Hit Points
+1 Save vs. Area Attacks
+1 to repair clothes

Cynesiga the Syncophant
A faun who knows how to get on everyone’s good side. Folks knows she’s a brown-noser, but she’s so danged likable it’s hard to hold it against her.
+1 CHA
+1d4 Hit Points
+1 Save vs. Charm/Mind Control

Maximer the Munificent
A shrewd merchant who will teach you how to haggle well in any situation.
+1 CHA
+1d4 Hit Points
+1 Save vs. Charm/Mind Control

Deathswift Xerxeseo
A famous sword fighter who is actually pretty lousy with a sword. But he is such a dashing and flamboyant performer that he can usually intimidate his opponents into giving up.
+1 CHA
+1d4 Hit Points
+1 Save vs. Charm/Mind Control

Note: Cynesige, Maximer, and Xerxeseo provide the same mechanical benefits, but result in very different role play when a given character makes a CHA roll.

Maudi the Wolf
A human raised by wolves. If you can prove yourself to her, she will teach you their ways.
+1d4 Hit Points
Wolf Companion
+1 Save vs. Cold
+1 Reaction Rolls from wolves
+1d4 Hit Points
+1 CON
+1 Save vs. Poison
+1 Reaction Rolls from wolves

Gieln the Dryad
This gregarious willow-tree spirit is much more willing to socialize than most of her kind.
+1d4 Hit Points
+1 Save vs. Spells
One chosen spell or two random spells. Spell-fluff should be nature/plant themed.

Bishop Ancellus
Hard-nosed and salt-crusted prophet of the storming seas. Will only take students who dedicate themselves to the Sea God.
+1d4 Hit Points
+1 Save vs. Spells
One chosen spell or two random spells. Spell-fluff should be water-themed.
+1d6 Hit Points
Turn Undead
+1 Save vs. Death Magic
Ability to hold breath for as many minutes as CON.

This famous griffin is covered in scars and missing a few limbs, but is friendly and eager to receive visitors at his remote mountain-top home. Unless you're a goblin. He's had bad experiences with goblins.
+1d4 Hit Points
+1 Save vs. Spells
One chosen spell or two random spells. Standard arcane-wizardry type stuff.

Chieftan of the local lizardfolk tribe. A well-rounded fighter, willing to train non-lizardfolk who live with and help the tribe.
+1 to hit in melee and ranged attacks
+1d6 Hit Points
+1 Save vs. Paralysis
At Fighting Level 1: wear Medium Armor w/o penalty
At Fighting Level 3: wear Heavy Armor w/o penalty

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Bug Collectors In the Necropolis

An additional ecosystem for +Arnold K.'s Bug Collector class. Levels 1-3 roll 1d10. Levels 4-5 roll 1d12. Levels 6-8 roll 1d14. Higher levels, you need to make something up, I guess.

Ain't no sin to take off your skin and dance around in your bones.

Collect the first ten and earn your Necropolis Bug Badge! +2 Save vs. Disease.
Collect all 14 for the Necropolis Master Badge! Turn Undead as a first level Cleric, advancing levels from there.
  1. Banker’s Beetle: This ravenous scarab will eat up to 1000 coins, and then kill itself pooping out a jewel of roughly equivalent value (1d6: 1. 60%; 2. 75%; 3. 80%; 4. 90%; 5. 100%; 6. 110%).
  2. Skull Maggot: Let this guy crawl around a recent corpse for about ten minutes and then eat it. You gain a vision of the exact circumstances of the deceased’s demise, and make the rest of the party think you are super-gross.
  3. Mimic Polyp: Can take on the appearance of a small valuable object for about one Turn. Useful for distracting pursuit.
  4. Boss Gnat: Summon a swarm of tiny insects with can be directed at a single target. They do no damage, but are very annoying (Target at -4 to hit for one round, then -3, -2, and -1 for one round each).
  5. Gill Bug: Wear this bug over your nose to breathe normally in noxious environments for 1d4 Turns.
  6. Armadiiliidae: Roll this black-skinned pill bug up and bowl it at the nearest locked door. As Knock spell.
  7. Ghoul Louse: Can be thrown. Causes paralysis in humanoid target for 2d4 Turns. Save vs. Paralysis.
  8. Umbra Moth: This fireproof moth will do its best to extinguish any lights in the vicinity.
  9. Manna Locust: Nutritious and delicious, one manna locust will serve as rations for three. They’re highly perishable, however, so you can’t keep your leftovers.
  10. Homing Drone: If you rub a substance (silver, gold, potable water, etc.) against this insect’s belly, it will detect and seek out the nearest large quantity of it. It plods along at about half normal human walking speed, keeping a very steady pace. It will not notice if you are delayed by, say, a wandering monster encounter.
  11. Thaumaparasitiforme: Given 1d6 Turns, this tick-like parasite will eat the enchantment or curse off one magic item.
  12. Clavate Morsel: Eat this bug and a pair of antennae sprout from your forehead for 1d6 Turns. You can detect secret doors, traps, and invisible, but get easily overwhelmed by the pleasure of your new senses (-2 to initiative). Eventually, the antennae dry up and fall off.
  13. Zombie Ant: Let this insect burrow into the brainmeat of a recently deceased creature, and it will reanimate it for 10 –(HD of dead creature) rounds. It will obey one brief command.
  14. Vampire Flea: When deployed, the flea will attack one creature at random (you can throw it to make it more likely it bites someone in a given vicinity) for 2d6 damage. In 1d6 rounds, it will make its way back to you, whereupon its bite will heal you up the amount of damage they it caused the target creature.
Go on. Eat it. It'll give you powers. I swear.

I'm playing a Bug Collector in my kid's campaign, and it's a lot of fun. The real function of this post is to spur others to develop more options for the class so that I'll have more stuff to play with.

I don't know if I have the power levels right for these, at all. Mr. K hasn't written any bugs at the 4th or 6th level yet, and he might have very different calibrations in mind.

I actually started writing these bugs in the hopes of generating 4th and 6th-level bugs for the ecosystems already presented (because my Bug Collector is getting up there), but they sorta turned into this instead.

I really like the name "Scroll Weevil," but couldn't think of a magical effect to go with it. They eat scrolls and then... ah... I got nothin'.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Houserule: Parley

This procedure was developed in the wake of reading the social mechanics put forward by +Courtney Campbell in On the Non Player Character. It is not meant as a replacement for the rich, nuanced, and highly-gameable content of that book. And I think what is presented below is mechanically distinct. But I'm not trying to steal anyone's lunch money. If Campbell has any objections, I'll yank this post down, no worries. EDIT: Got the all-clear from Campbell! Read on with a clear conscience.

Upon an Encounter
When PCs encounter NPCs in a dangerous environment, such as the Underworld or Wilderness, the PCs have a number of ways they can respond, including: attack, flee, stealth, or communication. If the PCs choose to communicate, they enter Parley.

There are three broad outcomes possible from Parley:
         1. Combat
         2. Help
         3. Leaving each other alone.

Unless they have a specific mission relevant to encountering a bunch of adventurers, a group of NPCs is unlikely to immediately leap to either attack or help the PCs. They will typically be uncertain, and willing to engage in some degree of social interaction before they make up their minds. This is modeled through a series of Reaction Rolls.

The Initial Reaction Roll
This roll may be modified by circumstances of as much as +/-2. For instance:
The NPCs discover the PCs looting their holy site (-2);
The PCs have weapons drawn and appear aggressive (-1);
The PCs have moderately greater numbers than the NPCs (+1)
The PCs have had amicable dealings with these NPCs before (+2).

This roll is not modified by Charisma or any other character stat.

This initial roll determines:
         1. Basic attitude of the NPCs.
         2. How long the NPCs are willing to spend in the PCs’ company (Number of Parley Turns before NPCs disengage).
         3. How receptive the NPCs are to what the PCs have to say (Difficulty of CHA check before next Reaction Roll).

2d6     Reaction
2         Attack!
           No opportunity for Parley.
3-5      Undecided: Unfriendly, ready to attack.
           Parley Turns: 1
           5d6 CHA check.
6-8      Undecided: Neutral.
           Parley Turns: 2
           4d6 CHA check.
9-11    Undecided: Positive, will listen to offers.
           Parley Turns: 3
           3d6 CHA check.
12       Helpful!
           NPCs will actively help the PCs until they fail a Morale check or until their own goals take them elsewhere.

Parley Turns
Each Turn dedicated to Parley allows for a new Reaction Roll. These give the PCs an opportunity to push the NPCs towards Helpful, and to risk them choosing to Attack.

If the NPCs are still undecided at the end of the number of Parley Turns determined in the Initial Reaction Roll, then they will withdraw, going their separate way.

CHA Checks
The PCs may attempt to impress, intimidate, ingratiate, or otherwise influence the NPCs. At the end of the turn, a single PC from the party should roll a CHA check, rolling under the prescribed number of d6’s.
A successful CHA check allows for a new, advantaged Reaction Roll.
An unsuccessful one forces a new, disadvantaged Reaction Roll.

CHA Check Modifiers
The PCs should describe their behavior towards the NPCs, and the GM may assign modifiers of +/- 1 or 2 as a result. Sometimes the same behaviors will produce different modifiers, based on the psychology of the NPCs. F'rinstance:
A fearsome display of combat skills or magic (+/-1)
Sharing drink with the NPCs (+1)
Providing aid to wounded NPCs (+2)
Groveling (+1 or -2)
Insults (-1)

A successful WIS check from anyone in the PC Party can read the NPCs and gain insight into how to get the best reaction out of them. +1

A successful INT check may provide useful facts about the culture or species of the NPCs. +1

Failed WIS or INT checks provide equivalent penalties. The GM should ask the player to make up some horrible advice to pass on to the character attempting the CHA check.

Subsequent Reaction Rolls
If the Reaction Roll is advantaged, roll 3d6 and keep the highest two.
If the Reaction Roll is disadvantaged, roll 3d6 (or even 4d6 is the GM feels it is warranted) and keep the lowest two.
2d6      Reaction
2         Attack!
3-5      Undecided: Unfriendly.
           5d6 CHA check.
6-8      Undecided: Neutral.
           4d6 CHA check.
9-11    Undecided: Friendly.
           3d6 CHA check.
12       Helpful!

A Parley Turn takes as much time as an Exploration Turn (about ten minutes). Continue checking for Wandering Monsters!

If the NPCs disengage with the PCs, and the PCs pursue them, Parley can begin again. However, instead of rolling the Initial Reaction Roll, the NPCs automatically begin with a reaction one step more hostile than their previous Reaction Roll.

I think this should work for unintelligent monsters and animals as well a intelligent ones. You just don’t have as many opportunities to affect the next reaction roll. Pretty much food. Or if you have a character with a special proclivity for animals, such as a Ranger, Druid, or Bug Collector, that might be good for some sort of bonus.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Scaffolds & Dragons: Distances and Encounter Awareness

I don't use miniatures, and rarely even use maps, so I don't have much use for measuring distance in feet or inches or what-have-you. Here are the descriptive units of distance I do use instead:

1. Touch/Grapple
        Combat: only small weapons are effective (dagger, fists, very small pistol)
        Communication: whispers
2. Melee
        Combat: standard hand-to-hand distance
        Communication: low-talking
3. Near/Reach
        Combat: long weapons (spears, pole arms, whips)
        Communication: normal speech
4. Thrown
        Combat: ranged weapons are effective; objects can be thrown (rocks, daggers, axes)
        Communication: raised speech
5. Short-range
        Combat: small bow, pistols, sling
        Communication: shouting
6. Long-range
        Combat: long bows, crossbows
        Communication: loud yelling heard indistinctly.
7. Very Long-range
        Combat: siege weapons, sniper rifles
        Communication: horns and drums
8. Far-Away.
        Only advanced technology or magic can have an affect over this distance.

Encounter Awareness
This replaces rolling separately for surprise and encounter distance, and is totally derived from Goblin Punch.

2d6 for each side for each side to see when they potentially become aware of the other. The side with the higher roll has a chance to surprise-attack the other from the indicated distance.

Damned rabbit muggings.
Awareness in the Underworld and Cities
2d6 for each side
2        Touch/Grapple
3-5     Melee
6-8     Thrown
9-10   Short-range
11      Long-range
12      Very Long-range

Awareness in the Wilderness and Wide-Open Spaces
2d6 for each side
2         Touch/Grapple
3-4      Melee
5-6      Thrown
7-8      Short-range
9-10    Long-range
11-12  Very Long-range

If either side is being actively stealthy, the roll to detect them is at -2. You cannot be stealthy in plate armor or while carrying torches in the dark.

There's no need for a DEX check to be stealthy, in this instance. You're just trying to not draw attention to yourself. Save the DEX check for trying to sneak past someone actively on the look-out for you.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Three Reviews: Creature Compendium, On the NPC, and Kefitzah Haderech

Inspired by a Lulu coupon, I did a little shopping.

Old School Adventures™ Accessory CC1: Creature Compendium by Richard LeBlanc
92 pages, $10.96

I didn't especially feel the need for a monster manual—what's easier than making up a monster? But I wanted to have one lying around for the kid to pore over—what's more inspiring than a bunch of monsters? This has certainly done the job. The kid has been writing up little adventures since he first saw this book.

It's a beautifully organized book. There is a full page at the beginning that clearly explains every statistic and notation you'll find anywhere else, all monsters are fully stat'ed for 0e and B/X, there are complete treasure tables in the back, and an index of XP values calculated for no less than six different OSR editions. And every entry is illustrated, which, really, is the sine qua non of monster manuals.

The book is presented with the assumption that you have a more standard monster manual of some kind or another. None of the standards are recreated here. Some of the entries are variations of standards (Cyclorcs are cyclops-orcs), but many of them seem to be drawn from lesser-known folklore. The one addition I would like to see would be sources for where some of these creatures come from. But that's an extraordinarily minor point, and it's not like I can't google this stuff for myself.

tl;dr: "Isn't this book awesome?!" —a seven year old grognard

On the Non Player Character by Courtney Campbell 
62 pages, $29.99!!

Well, this is truly an old school experience. Just like the original edition of D&D, this book is unusually expensive, frustratingly unclear, and yet contains a thrilling new approach, if only you can piece it together.

The book is about social mechanics, which some people have set opinions on. I'm sympathetic with the "let's role-play everything!" line, but I also like to have structured mechanics to fall back on. And the system here is good. It doesn't add new stats or novel mechanics; it builds off the reaction roll and morale checks. And it does so in an elegant, flexible way.

Just don't expect to get it on the first read. This is the sort of book that only makes sense if you already know what it's talking about. It provides exemptions and variations of rules before you learn the rules themselves. Vital points are presented without context or indication and then not mentioned again until much later and without reference to where the original information was presented. And it seems the book was written with sidebars in mind, but then not formatted with them, creating weird, nonlinear tangents that are entirely confusing when you're first trying to piece the system together.

It's a really, really intriguing system, and one I'd love to use at the table. But I'll have to rewrite the whole thing before presenting it to a bunch of players who won't have the time or obsessive drive to wrestle this text into submission. Which, you know, is fine for a blog post or something. But a thirty dollar book? That's crazy pants. 

tl;dr: Great content, but hopefully there will be a second edition that is more clearly framed. I'd hang onto your many dollars until that point.

KEFITZAT HADERECH - Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals by Paolo Greco
32 pages, $6.46

This was a total impulse buy. I have a hard time imagining that anyone would need this much inspiration for portals. But, boy howdy, if you do, this is the place to get it. And good luck getting through this book without wanting to make an elaborate network of portals a regular feature of your campaign.

In a blog-rich environment where people regularly put forward tables on all manner of things (d30 Rainy-day Encounters, d100 Things Found at the Bottom of a Well, d1000 Animal-motif Combs in the Elf-Queen's Hair), it may seem unnecessary to pay real money for a collection of tables on a minor aspect of the game. But these are solid and extensive. And they're fun.

Because portals and their particular destinations can have big setting implications, this would be a great resource to turn to when you're establishing a new campaign. Or when you need to expand an existing campaign by opening up some radically different vistas.

Paolo Greco writes well. He's clear and ordered, and conversational and funny, but not ostentatiously so. Remind me to look up his other works.

tl;dr: Inessential, but fun!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dice: Attribute Checks

I've been using attribute checks a lot, lately. My PbP game is Beyond the Wall, which uses attributes and additive skill bonuses. At home, I've been playing Holmes with the kid, with straight attribute checks bolted on.

Now, there is a powerful spartan appeal to the default 1d6 skill check of OD&D and B/X. And there's a curvy elegance to the 2d6 check of Traveller and *World. You can use OD&D-style attribute bonuses with 1d6, and B/X-style bonuses with 2d6 without breaking anything. But I've been using using the standard d20 vs. Attribute Score. 

Largely, this is because I hate to not use the attribute scores. They are such a prominent part of the character sheet, we expend such hope and energy on rolling them up, and they are so central to how we envision our character—how could we not use them?

With the kid's games, I've found this especially gratifying. The kid grasped the significance of the attributes, and how to apply them to a single roll of a d20. He immediately began suggesting when checks of which attributes were appropriate. And he's taught his friends how to play using this system. Successful transfer from one seven-year-old to another has got to be the golden hallmark of conceptual elegance.


I don't like the math. I don't like the straight line of probability one gets from a d20. A high stat feels too assured of victory, and a medium stat feels too arbitrary. If you're adding skill bonuses to attributes (which strikes me as a pretty straightforward way to handle skills), you have to start imposing limits to make sure characters aren't guaranteed success. And when I add situational bonuses and penalties, I always feel like I'm kinda pulling numbers out of the air.

I've been thinking about this system.

Roll under your attribute on: 
2d6 for an Easy task;
3d6 for Average;
4d6 for Hard;
5d6 for Extraordinarily Hard;
6d6 for Total Longshot.

And if you every need a comedy roll to, say, see how long your Charisma 3 Barbarian can last at the Duchess' Tea Party, you can use a 1d6.

Thanks, anydice.com
Output 1: 1d6 / Output 2: 2d6 / Output 3: 3d6 / Output 4: 4d6 / Output 5: 5d6 / Output 6: 6d6

If you've played with this sort of check before, I'd love to hear your take on it.