Sunday, December 30, 2012

My top 7 games

Swords & Dorkery didn't start it, but it's the first time I'm seeing this (edit: not true, I also saw this at Over the Misty Mountains, still don't know who started it, though) and I'm happy to oblige: here are the 7 games I played the most.

Source: Midgard-Wiki
1. Midgard- Das Fantasy Rollenspiel

Was my first love. 5 years of ongoing campaign, nearly every friday for at least 5 hours. Those were the times!
As far as systems go, it's a very skill-heavy and low fantasy roleplaying game made in Germany. And one of the oldest at that. Other than the newer/better/faster approach in current game design, a new edition Midgard was always about growth without bloating and not about "the new different".
Maybe I will be playing/DMing it again some time in the future.

2.  Vampire: Die Maskerade

Cover (German version)
It was innovative at the time and we played it before the hype. Our way of playing this was more punk than goth (with a little bit of Rammstein and Tarantino in the mix) and we had a lot of fun for a year or two.
One campaign in Hamburg and one weird german road-trip thingie with human characters (later on one found out he was a werewolf, the other became a vampire, they were brothers, it got complicated...), a heritage, some mafia involvement and the end of the world.
If I ever were to DM an urban fantasy game again, I wouldn't go for the V:TM rules. Instead I would loot whatever I can carry and run it with Witchcraft (it's free, check it out!)

Rammstein - Asche zu Asche

3. Cyberpunk

Source: drosi
What a game! It introduced me to William Gibson and Akira, that alone is reason enough for tribute. I was young at the time and didn't bother thinking about the rules, so we played it RAW. And a lot of one-shots whenever there was an opportunity. But never a campaign (which is a shame, I know).
Two of my favourite scenarios to run were "The Delivery Guy" (get the package delivered, whatever the cost!) and "The Health Inspector" (red tape vs. urban brutality).
Most remembered scene. The characters (a health inspector with some backup) try to enter a diner. Some heavy shooting on the parking lot, one manages to get inside only to be confronted by a crazy gun-wielding clerk.
Clerk: What THE FUCK do you want!
She: A Currywurst? (made me laugh hard and gave her the advantage in the end)

4. D&D 3.0

Source: D&D Wiki
A bad time for gaming. I had some experience (not a lot, mind you) with AD&D as a player and thought the 3rd edition was rad. I loved it for all the wrong reasons and soon after hated it for all the right reasons (my opinion, really).
The good: Rappan Athuk. It was brutal, it was evil, I loved it. They came down to level three ("Beware the purple worms!") and fought some legendary battles (some players are still haunted by it...). All the players bought the handbook.
The bad: Mostly I didn't like the combat rules, the time consuming preparation and the flood of D20-material (I bought way to much of this stuff).
The ugly: Too much power gaming.

5. HackMaster

Source:  wikipedia
Some time during my D&D 3.0 experience I discovered Knights of the Dinner Table and loved it for all the truth in it. As soon as they started publishing HackMaster, I was all over it.  A complete and new set of rules, basically AD&D in a funny dress, quirks and flaws, exploding dice and they gave all that classic modules a rerun! What's not to love? It is a bit heavy on the rules, but it was coherent and it never felt as bloated as D&D 3.0 (and friends).
My weapon of choice at the time was The Temple of Existantial Evil (they were funny like that). We played it a little over 3 years. The final showdown in the moat house was a 12 hours game with 8 players. Very good memories...
I probably won't DM it again, but I stole all the rules I liked and use them in my houseruled D&D aberration.

6. D&D Rules Cyclopedia

One day (maybe 3 years ago) we met for a game without having a plan what to play. HackMaster was to much of an effort (as were most other games I could propose). Around that time I had discovered the OSR-blogosphere for me and the D&D Rules Cyclopedia I had owned for something like 10 years now (but never really used) was my new favourite book. The only other Basic-D&D-thing I owned was the adventure DDA 3: Eye of Traldar and we decided to play it RAW (going as far as reading the flavour text aloud, crazy, I know).
It's not a very good adventure, to be honest. But we had a blast playing the game fast and easy and kept meeting doing so. And soon I started tinkering with it.

7. Bastard RPG (this doesn't exist yet)
Yeah, I'm working on it

Yeah, this is some kind of trick, because I forgot to mention Runequest (I DMed it for a very short time and loved it, my players didn't). So as my 7th top game, I have to blame the OSR for the unlimited supply of houserules, design ideas, tips and tricks, gaming philosophy, setting inspiration and various clones. The game we play today does exist in one form or another in this small corner of the internet. Ever changing and evolving. And one day in the future I will present my very own collection of borrowed and/or altered rules to my players, printable and free for all. A bastard as complete as possible. Blogging is one way of achieving this and contributing to the community that made it possible. So thanks guys, this game was made by you :)

Well, this was a trip down memory lane and I think a good way to close for the year. I hope to continue posting that regular in the months to come. After all I have to create a world engine, some monster advancement tables (ghosts should be next), a few new classes (Dwarves need to be done, a Undead Hunter is almost finished and I have a somewhat new take on the barbarian somewhere to exploit, stuff like that) and some rules to tinker with (weapon mastery is long due, more about magic and maybe some CSI: D&D...). Anyway...

...I wish all of you a nice start into the next year!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Basic thoughts on sandboxing

There is a lot talk about sandboxes lately. Maybe it was always like this, but this time there is a huge amount of fantastic ideas around how to breathe life into a setting. With my game being paused for over half a year now (with a little luck we start playing again between christmas and new year...), I thought it's about time to start working on a sandbox myself.

The ultimate heist as a sandbox

I'm pretty sure I saw this idea somewhere over at From the Sorcerer's Skull, but I can't find it right now*. Basically the adventurers are a group of specialists needed to get inside a highly secured dungeon and steal something very important. The prep work for this heist is the campaign. Ocean's Eleven or Leverage in a fantasy setting, so to speak.

The ultimate sandbox has lost the war

The sandbox itself is a war territory, occupied by evil forces or in the aftermath of a great war. The legendary dungeon is either power source for the evil forces or has something they want but can't get yet to gain more power (I'll take it both). That and shitloads of treasure, of course.

Patron focused adventure vehicles (about sandbox navigation)

The next very important issue is to find a way to ensure total freedom for the players without destroying the main theme. The final heist is the main goal of the game and everything the characters do is more or less connected to that. How is this possible without railroading the players:

  • There is a number of events that have to happen before evil gets into the dungeon. It's like a time bomb that goes of at some point in the campaign. The characters can either slow it down or hasten this process with their actions. This is in no way only connected to the "main quest", ideally every action they take has either a negative or a positive effect on the theme. Pretty much like ckutalik over at Hill Cantons describes his world engine.
  • They need a Mister Smith, someone with a master plan. He is recruiting for the heist, has a general idea what's going on and the connections to point the way, if necessary. But instead of making this some sort of DM tool to controll the players, he needs to be controlled by random tables and the players. He should be part of the character creation, something all the players create together. In the beginning he is just a man with a valid clue and nearly no ressources. The players will be able to finance him and get what he needs to plan the heist. With time he will be able to outsource adventures (if the characters don't want to do it) and work by himself by getting more and more experienced (which might create new plots, etc.). A little bit like the regents game in Birthright, but as a character all the players have some sort of influence in. Some sort of PC/NPC hybrid.
  • Further it's important to let the characters get some clues and hints while they are doing whatever they want. The best idea I could find so far is the Random Clue Generator over at Billy Goes to Mordor. It might need two or three different ones for this, depending on the focus the character decide on. Ancient ruins should produce some ancient connections, hexcrawls others and theme related quests should be the most productive.

This is the engine. The setting is next.

Safe vanilla havens in a destroyed and weird world

Weird doesn't work for my players. There, i said it. Unlimited variations of monsters with huge amounts of strange and alien elements in it,  to give but one example, disconnect them from the setting. Giving them a twist or an explanation using the weird is like using a deus ex machina every time. Appendix N doesn't mean anything to them, they just don't care enough and I have to accept that.

In conclusion the weird needs to be labeled to work out. At least I believe that could work. So here is what I'll try to do: I'll take a painfully vanilla setting (mostly Lord of the Rings, because it's what they know) and destroy it (using tropes derived from anything Dark Ages or Wild West). The element of destruction is where the weird comes in. Demon threats wills be recognizable as such and should be in a clear contrast to what is perceived as normal. It's more like how the horror genre works than like D&D (in the horror genre reality is perverted by something alien and hostile, in D&D alien and hostile has gone domestic...).

That's the basics, more is to come

All of this might seem a little trivial. I get that. A lot of text with general assumptions. But sometimes it's useful to take a step back and re-evaluate the situation. Other than that I have a lot of D&D prep-work ahead of me if I want this to happen, which is very nice and I'll tackle it as soon as possible.

Playtesting for christmas

Last month, when I was writing about Endurance, I took a shot on a very small sandbox setting to kill a horse (just scroll down to the dotted line). When running the game next time, I will use Count Shrops domain as a test run and see if my basic assumptions about players and setting work out. First time I will use my own blog as a resource and escalate some goblins :)

Until then I wish all of you a merry, merry christmas! And thanks for stopping by. May the dice be with you...

*Edit: Beedo's comment below helped me find the right post and the right blog about the ultimate heist: it's The Acererak Caper over at Michael Curtis' The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope. Thanks, Beedo! (I think the very nice Goon-meets-D&D setting over at the Sorcerer's Skull lead me to believe I saw it there. Still, good stuff.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How to pimp a zombie

I wrote about this yesterday and wanted to start showing what I was talking about as soon as possible. So here is my second take (after the goblins) on monster advancement tables: Zombies. Have fun!

Brainless dead tinkering table (1d8+1d12):
2  Pimped: Somebody tinkered with the zombies. Stitches, strange fluids, you name it. Roll again and see what was done to them. This is now part of a zombie masters* m. o. and my be encountered again (if he isn't caught). 
3  BRAINS!!: They go for the brain. Every successful attack starts (in addition to damage dealt) with holding the victim (STR resolves), 2 successful and unresolved attacks mean the victim is grappled and the next attack is going for the head. A successful attack now also needs a successful save vs. death (-1, -2, etc.) or the victim looses consciousness for 1d4 (1d4+1, 1d6, etc.) rounds. 
4  Infectious: Once bitten by a zombie, a character gets a save vs death +4 (+3, +2, +1, etc.). Failure means he'll turn into a zombie in 1d6 (1d4, 2, etc.) days. CON declines in that time to zero. Alter one aspect every time this comes up. 
5  Groping: One attack more per round, up to three attacks. After that a DEX (additional -1 every time this comes up) check is needed to keep balance because of the wild attacks. Two attacks do each 1d4 damage, three attacks each 1d3. Upgrade either DEX penalty, number of attacks or damage of one attack. 
6  Turn off: One category harder to turn every time this comes up. 
7  Faster: They don't lose initiative automatically when this comes up the first time. After that they get faster every time. 
8  Wailing: They wail a lot and summon 1 (2, 3, 4, etc.) Zombie(s) more every 3 rounds. (Wandering Monster checks, too). 
9  Goo spitting: When hit, spits body fluids at facing enemy. 1 load (+ one more load for every time this is rolled) for 1d4 (1d4+1, 1d6,, etc.) damage. 
10 Meaty: More flesh to hit! +3 to hit points for every roll. Getting this for a second time is upgrading the zombie by one more hd, Four times equals two extra hd and so forth. 
11 Better saves: Save as Fighter 2 (3, 4, etc.). 
12 Armored: They have random pieces of armor on them. +2 to AC every time this comes up 
13 Paralyzing touch: Save vs. paralyzation or paralyzed for 1d4 (1d4+2, 2d4, etc.) turns. Elves and anything bigger than an ogre are immune (might change too, if it is rolled again). 
14 Hit the head: They can only be killed if you destroy the brain! Using the rules I proposed for aimed hits I'd go for 12 hp damage needed to annihilate a standard zombie ((3 x 2hd) + 6 (AC, because brain is protected by skull)). This comes up again, it needs one more point of damage every time. Damage to the rest of the body may immobilize it, but doesn't kill it. 
15 Fear effect: They look much more disgusting than other zombies! Save vs. spells (-1, -2, etc.) or don't fight them for 1d4 (1d4+1, 1d6, 1d6+1, 1d8, etc.) rounds. 
16 Regeneration: Whatever forced them back to unholy live wants them to stay that way. They regenerate 1 (2, 3, etc.) hp per round. Damage from holy or magic sources or from fire can't be regenerated. Finding and destroying the unholy source responsible for the undead, destroys the undead raised by it too. 
17 Diseased: Taking more than 6 (5, 4, 3, etc.) points of damage from those zombies could result in a disease. Save versus poison (-1, -2, etc.) or random illness (DM's choice). 
18 Exploding: Death blow makes them explode because of the gases inside (or because the evil spirit bursts out of them, etc.). Gory damage is 1d4 (1d4+1, 1d6,, etc.) in a 5 (+2 every time it comes up) feet radius. DEX negates. 
19 Remembering: Basic motoric memory (INT +2 up to INT 7). A zombie might remember or possess something dangerous/useful (1d6: (1) level 1 spell (defensive), (2) level 1 spell (offensive), (3) level 2 spell (defensive), (4) level 2 spell (offensive), (5) magic weapon, (6) magic item) and is able to use it. 1 in 20 (1 in 10, etc.) zombies can do that. Those make expensive trophies for collectors or pets for zombie masters... 
20 Strange origin: Roll 1d6 to determine: (1) parasite in humans, (2) plant infection in humans, (3) fungi in human, (4) animal, (5) humanoid, (6) monster. Roll one more time for special enhancement (and keep rolling if it comes up again...).
Rolling 5 times on this table should result in a zombie variant that is not too strong, but a challenge for low to mid level characters. With about 10 times it gets messy. Ghouls are a possible result by design and many effects complement each other (10 would alter 14, for example, either by adding 3 to the damage needed to destroy the head or by adding a hd with the same result).

* For every level a zombie master has, he can choose one alchemist/magical alteration for his zombies (just choose or roll).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Encounter hooks and chaotic advancement tables

A week ago I wrote this post about goblins. The basic idea was to let them advance fast to a certain degree and give a DM some ideas for goblins in general plus a random on-the-fly generator for any specific encounter with those misfits.

Stuff for a Monster Manual?

I have to admit, it did something to my brain. Now I think it would be a very good idea to use this method on several monsters in a loose series of posts. The way I see it, it's a streamlining process that, in combination with the basic monster stats available, allows a DM to add setting- or location-relevant encounter behaviour, gives monsters a (fast) way to advance without being to clonky and all that with only a little prep-work but high reusability.

This is nothing new per se, but I'd like to get away from using monsters as generic one-offs. Any group of monsters the players could encounter, should not only be recognizable individually, but also be able to evolve and be different if encountered again. This is one point. The limits of this advancement is another important point. Those limits define how individual groups of the same type of monster are within the same "rules". Variety is a good thing, but at a certain point it makes everything that is encountered unpredictable. And a setting full of unreliable variants paralyzes play.

Ideal Monsters for doing this

Those are the first ones I can think of. Suggestions are appreciated.


  • Zombies & skelletons - Are they fast or are they out for brain? Are they infectious? Invisible? A plant or animals? There are so many different variants for zombies, why not try and put them all in one nifty random table?
  • Ghosts - Poltergeists, level-drain, ectoplasma as weapon, gotta love the variety. But in this case I think it would be nice to have a table of origins connected with it.
  • Intelligent corporal undead - Again, a big one. Vampires, ghouls, undead out for revenge or possessed by a demons, you name it. To get all of them into one table will be a challenge, but I'll try.


  • Goblins - I did those already :)
  • Orcs & Co. - Tribal rituals (out for human flesh, strength in unity, etc.), likes and dislikes (trading, beneficial social behaviour, combat, crafts, domestication), territories (where and how they like to fight and live, settlers or nomads, architecture, stuff like that).
  • Giants, troglodytes, kobolds, etc. - Uh, this is a lot. Might keep me posting for months to come...


  • Golems - Okay, this might be a no-brainer. Materials, protections, abilities, it's all there. Just needs to be summarized and utilized for advancement (maybe like a construction manual for magic users, with upgrades and all that).
  • Aberrations - Again, more like a construction manual for the little nasties, not beholders and some such.
  • Demons - More likely usefull for the minions, have to think about this one.

The focus here should be on advancement for groups of monsters that are used more or less often and should have an impact on the setting. If forced to DM without preparation, I want to be able to wing it with a few rolls. I hope this idea has some merit for some of you out there, too.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A halfling in peril...

It just happened the other day that I needed to show the guys what a gelatinous cube looks like and this was one of the first pictures showing up:

You gotta love that halfling! Picture by Shockbolt on deviantart.
I thought it's awesome and wanted to share...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Aimed hits, fast and easy

This is a short one about aimed hits and it spooks around in my head for some time now. I can't guarantee this small rule doesn't already exist somewhere in the blog'o'sphere. So if you read this already somewhere and know where, please let me know and I will quote it here.

Anyway, I was thinking about aimed hits and how unapproachable the rules I know are. At least it's something I have to look up all the time if it comes up in play. The real problem I see, is in the fact that damage is constant, but hit points are not (most of the time, there is the idea of damage by size). Ideally I'd need a rule that's easy to remember but allows for higher damage on higher levels and dismemberment even with big monsters.

How to kill a king with a sniper.

My initial approach was along those lines. Some random king is on a parade and a professional sniper wants to take him out. I don't like the rules for assassins, but they point out the problem pretty good by establishing another subsystem of rules to make it possible. If a king is level 9+, he has enough hitpoints to shrug off almost any "natural" damage going his direction other than a critical hit. But a critical hit is luck, it can't happen by design.

First part of the solution is to allow backstabbing for ranged attacks. I let thieves choose with character creation if they either specialize in dealing extra damage with ranged or with melee attacks, when possible. But it's still static and even with double damage and a lucky roll it's unlikely to snipe a high level enemy out of existance.

The second part is to find a key to estimate how much damage is needed to render a limb useless or even dismember it and it needs to be related to any number of hit points imaginable. Can't be too low, can't be too high.

The idea...

Most of the time aimed hits are connected to fixed negative modifiers. Again, this is static and doesn't help other than making it more difficult to hit a location. Anyway, it's a start. The idea is to allow the players to choose how high the negative modifier is, before any positive bonuses apply and, if they hit the target, allow this negative modifier as extra damage. So if a player chooses to aim for a leg with a -10 on the attack roll, he gets +10 damage if he hits the target (in addition to hitting the leg).

This way the dealt damage is strongly connected to the ability of a given character to hit stuff (that is for the biggest part: level).

Now for the dismemberment.

Just working with what a basic monster description is giving a DM, this needs to factor in level/hd and AC. Let's assume a limb can take around 40% of the hitpoints a creature has, before it's rendered useless (one may try and give different limbs different values, like Hackmaster or Runequest do, but I'd like to keep it simple and chose a more conservative estimation to cover all...). Just add the AC to that and it's good to go.

Result: 3 x hd (or level) + ac-value (take it all, magic, dex, protection, whatever)
= damage needed to dismember or cripple

The king is dead, long live the sniper!

To kill a level 9 king, it needs 27 points of damage to the head (I'd allow a save vs. death with attacks aimed at the head) plus protection (plate armour would be +7 = 34). A high level thief taking at least -12 for the hit and backstabbing should be able to pull it off:

(1d6+12) x 2 for damage (again, with basic assumptions,
take extra damage from magic or whatever into account  and it's more...)

On lower levels it won't have that much impact (other than flavour), because of the low hit points (but armour gives low level characters an edge). For higher levels, though, it stays flexible and easy to remember and calculate. You just need hd or level, the negative modifier the player chooses for the hit and the targets AC.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ill deeds and utter escalation (a spin on goblin mischief)

It's pretty early here and I started reading something about goblins and how underdeveloped they are in D&D. Yes, I thought, they are. Poor guys. But what to do about it? Making them stronger or giving them levels won't make it better, just more of a challenge. But that's not what they should be about. The end of a train of thought like this is most of the time: yeah, well, it's all about fluff, setting and Tuckers Kobolds. Even weak creatures can be a challenge, yadda yadda yadda. This time? Not so much. Maybe, I imagined, they could get stronger every time they manage to do some kind of mischief. Some random advantage, more connected to the location than to the creature (but not only). And the longer they get through with it, the more it escalates, the stronger they get.

So I need something like a chaotic advancement table for goblins and some light rules with it to make it stick. I only have to come up with 19 (because, reading this over at Monster and Manuals, it's all about the math) fun ways to make this work...

Goblin escalation (1d8+1d12):
2 Delicate deformation: Maybe it was the waste? Anyway, now they mutate. Roll again on this table and whatever comes up is somehow related to the mutation. 
3 Spontaneous animal control: You want a pig-stampede in your town? Didn't think so. But somehow the goblins not only managed to cut the animals loose for mayhem, they also seem to have a strange kind of control over them (animals worth 10 hd). Every time this comes up, it escalates even more (+5 hd every time).
4 Uncanny alchemy: They don't know what they do, but it explodes and they know how to handle that. Whatever strange ingredience they use, area of effect is 5 feet, damage is 1d4 and a save versus poison because of the wicked smoke this produces (failing means -1 to attacks for 1d6 rounds). For escalation either add 5 feet, upgrade to 1d6 (then 1d8, etc.) damage or -2 to attacks for 1d6+1 rounds. Repeat. 
5 Gibbering goblins: Those guys talk gibberish and have a lot of fun doing it. You think, the words make sense or are at least in a language you know, but if you start listening, it gets irritating fast. Save vs. spell or be irritated for 1d4 rounds (-1 to all actions). If this comes up again, it's either irritating for 1d6 (1d8, 1d10, etc.) rounds or it's -2 -3, -4, etc.) to all actions. Mix according to taste. 
6 Food enhancement: They found some food storage and are now with a full stomach! 2 more hit points per goblin every time this is rolled.  
7  Unusual protection: Pots, pans, barrels, whatever they find, they use for protection. Every time this escalates, add +1 to the AC. 
8  Leg fixation: This is like playing rugby. They run between the legs or duck behind you as soon as you step back. If fighting more than one goblin, DEX-check every round or you trip over one of them. If this came up more than once, it's -1 (-2, etc.) for the DEX-checks. 
9  Joyful clubbing: They have fun hiting things and it shows. They get +1 to melee attacks. With a critical hit they hit a sensible area (grotch, eye, etc.). Roll this again and it's either +2 (+3, etc.)to hit or a sensible area with a attack roll of 19-20 (18-20. etc.). 
10  Random hiding: Are they playing hide and seek now? For every goblin you're able to see, there is one hidden somewhere behind your back for a surprise attack. You can't shake the feeling that the one showing himself does so on purpose. If this comes up again, there are two hidden behind you. 
11  Verbal humiliation: Are they making fun of you? They sure are laughing! Morale goes up +1 every time this comes up. 
12  Speedy gobos: Sugar rush or coffee, they seem agitated. Whatever ini-system is used, they get a bit faster every time.  
13  Painfull aim: Whatever they throw at you, be it book, vegetables or stones, it hurts. They get +1 to ranged attacks up to 10 feet away. With a critical hit they hit a sensible area (grotch, eye, etc.). Roll this again and it's either +2 to hit, up to 15 feet away or a sensible area with a attack roll of 19-20. 
14  Sneaky buggers: Ah, they've just been here! But where are they now? You hear some noise or find a trail, but the goblins are gone already and it takes one round to catch up. Roll this again and it takes two (three, etc.) rounds to find them. 
15  Manic manure: What? They are growing?! Yeah, one in six goblins is bigger than the others. As big as a (small) dwarf and with a lot of muscles. +1 to melee attack damage. Roll this again and it's one in five goblins (then one in 4, etc.) or +2 (+3, etc.) to damage. 
16  Unfortunate ducking: Something seems always between you and the goblin you wanna hit. They always get a cover related AC +2. If a melee attack indicates a miss by one or two, a save vs paralysation is needed or the weapon is stuck for 1d4 rounds (STR-check possible every round). Roll this again and it's either AC +4 (+6, etc.) or stuck for 1d6 (1d8, etc.) rounds. 
17  Coordinated backstabbing: One goes for the attention another, one for the liver. If fighting more than one goblin their dirty fighting tricks give one of them double damage. Roll this again and two of three do double damage and so on. If two of three goblins may make double damage, three goblins will attack one target, if four are needed, four will attack, etc..
18  Trippy traps: Buckets on door frames, pepper explosions, needles on unusal places, they booby trapped everything! Whenever characters search an area and goblins are around, there is a trap. Save vs. magic wands or (1d6): 1. 1d4 damage 2. blind for 1d4 rounds 3. nausea for 1d4 rounds (-1 to all checks) 4. cough attack for 1d4 rounds (-1 to all checks) 5. slippery ground and shards (no running, DEX-check or tripping into something nasty for 1d4 damage) 6. Glue! (fixed to surface for 1d4 rounds or STR). Roll this again and the traps just got a little bit more nasty (1d6 damage, longer duration, etc.). 
19  Gluey fingers: How did they manage to steal this wand out of your pocket?! After every fight with a group of goblins, one of them and one random item of the characters possessions is missing. Roll this again and two (three, etc.) are missing. 
20  Magical affinity: they saw a wizard do his stuff, now they gesticulate wildly and mumble strange words. There is a 5% chance per encounter they copy some spell they saw to half of the effect. Add 5% every time this comes up. The goblin managing to copy the spell, will be able to do so again with a 1 in 6 chance. After that, add +1 to the roll for every time he manages to do so (up to 5 in 6).
Basically goblins adapt pretty quick in any situation, but only up to a certain point. I'd say no more than 10 escalations per location, then they got what they want (mayhem and destruction) and are on the run. But they keep two of the 10 rolled advantages they got (plus the mutations extra). If a number did came up more than once, they keep only the advantage of the first roll. But if a tribe had the advantage to begin with, the next possible increase stays (and so forth). This way they could evolve with time.

Or just roll a number of times on the table to see what a random tribe of goblins might be made of. Works both ways.

Please let me know if you came to use this. Feedback would be much appreciated.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Armour class and basic looting, Part 2

As announced, here is a short one about prices and quality. There are 6 areas that can be covered for armour: head, torso, two arms and two legs (see also part 1). Basic assumptions are all about items of good quality (3 items of good quality light armor is AC 6, etc.). I'd go for 3 kinds of quality in this:

  • poor quality (pq)
  • good quality (gq, being standard)
  • excellent quality (eq, might be tailored, for example)

Poor quality:

This is off the shelf material or shoddy craftmanship (or both). It's generally cheaper, but you nead 2 areas covered, instead of one, to achieve the effects of good quality. It doesn't protect that well and most of the time it's not that comfortable. So, for example, some off the shelf leather trousers do the job (two legs, two areas vovered, counts as one item of good quality). Basically, when using poor quality, you need to cover the whole body with one category of armour to get the full effect of an AC (6 items).

Good Quality:

The standard. Military armour is often like that. They may be stacked. A chainmail coif (medium armour) and a medium armour helmet count as one piece heavy armour. A nice effect of this is, that armour will not only be used more consciously, but also be a little bit more realistic (without being to complex, I hope).

Excellent quality:

Often very expensive, mostly tailored. Any negative effect on encumbrance or movement is halved. Magic armour is always excellent quality.


This is going to be a little bit more expensive and starting equipment will most of the time only consist of the most basic protection available. But this being part of the game, it's no disadvantage. On the contrary, this is about looting stuff and enhancing the meaning of "normal" equipment on lower levels.

Some classic looting (Paul Jamin, Le Brenn
et sa part de butin
, 1893, public domain)
The following prices are more guidelines than anything else. Local shops might be cheaper or more expensive (as the DM sees fit). And there is always the possibility for characters to go for the basic materials themselves (a nice opportunity to let them hunt for pelts or something like that) and drive down the costs. But this is how I'd do it:

Light Armour

  • poor quality: 10 gp per protected area
  • good quality: 30 gp per protected area
  • excellent quality: 60 gp per protected area

Medium Armour

  • poor quality: 90 gp per protected area
  • good quality: 130 gp per protected area
  • excellent quality: 200 gp per protected area

Heavy Armour

  • poor quality: 300 gp per protected area
  • good quality: 400 gp per protected area
  • excellent quality: 600 gp per protected area
For armour with magic properties the prices are multiplied with:
10 x (Ac bonus + number of special abilities)
Have fun looting stuff!

Again, I hope it isn't too complex. Next up are some ideas about abilities and magic items. After that I should return to weapon mastery, I guess (totally chickened out to do that, but it needs to be done...).

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Armour class and basic looting, Part 1

When players buy armour, they most of the time just buy the best AC they can get. They don't care that much what it looks like or who made it. The only thing important is what you're allowed to wear and what is the easiest way to get it. As far as roleplaying goes, this is a missed opportunity.

Questions like "how could a cloak influence AC" just aren't asked. Or what about trousers, arm protection and helmets? Nobody cares that much (other than as part of a whole package or it comes with magical properties, that is). I'd like to change that (in my game, at least), so here are a few ideas how to get this a little bit more flexible and relevant.

AC is only a category, not a set.

Just by looking at the unmodified numbers, it could be splitted like this:
9 - without armour.
8 to 6 - light armour*
5 to 3 - medium armour
2 to 0 - heavy armour
Those are the 4 categories characters can have anyway. And if shields are not treated as something seperate, it changes nothing.

Categories are about material.

Six areas need to be protected: head, torso, two arms, two legs (most of the time). Any three items of light armor give a character an unmodified AC of 6 (light/small shield could be one of those items). Any one piece of medium armor (as a substitute or an addition) improves your armour by one (up to AC 3). You need at least 3 items of medium armour and one item of heavy armour to get AC 2 another piece of heavy armour and you have AC 1. In conclusion, with 3 items of medium armour and 3 of heavy armour, the whole body is covered = AC 0 (taking of a helmet, for example, would be AC 1 again).This is still about unmodified AC. And it looks something like this:

  • AC 8: (heavy) leather, heavy fabrics, fur and skins (one main piece)
  • AC 7: (heavy) leather, heavy fabrics, fur and skins (2 pieces)
  • AC 6: (heavy) leather, heavy fabrics, fur and skins (3 pieces)

  • AC 5: heavy leather, furs or hide (reinforced with metal, wood or bone), also chain, banded or scale mail (at least two pieces light armour and one piece medium armour)
  • AC 4: heavy leather, furs or hide (reinforced with metal, wood or bone), also chain, banded or scale mail (one piece light armour and two pieces medium armour)
  • AC 3: heavy leather, furs or hide (reinforced with metal, wood or bone), also chain, banded or scale mail (three pieces medium armour)

  • AC 2: mostly metal and/or bone (three pieces medium armour and one piece heavy armour)
  • AC 1: mostly metal and/or bone (three pieces medium armour and two pieces heavy armour)
  • AC 0: mostly metal and/or bone (three pieces medium armour and three pieces heavy armour)

So any combination of armour can get you to the AC your class is entitled to. Let's say a fighter has a fur cloak, some good leather trousers and a horned helmet (a little metal and hardened leather for the helmet). Further assume the trousers and the cloak are light armour, the helmet is medium. Even without a shirt (going for the look and all) he'd be at an AC of 5 (unmodified). Add two metal arm protectors and he is at 3 (still all style over substance...). Give this guy a breastplate, a metal helmet and some chainmail trousers and he's in full plate (AC 0).

It's the basic idea, anyway. But there is more. Two layers of light armour could count as medium armour, for instance. Or: if a character wears more items than needed to get an AC, he can loose or discard them without penalty (a helmet or a shield, etc.). Wearing not enough items would degrade items you wear up to the point the requirements are fulfilled (wearing only 4 items of heavy armour and nothing else, would mean 3 of them count as medium armour, AC would be 2, see below). Stuff like that, but:

Now loot those bodies!

The beauty of it is that armour becomes an interesting part of the game. Starting equipment should just allow for the basic needs. It's not that easy to get descent armour around any corner, to be honest. Why should the smith at your village have all this stuff in stock anyway? But if you see a nifty helmet on that orc chief, it adds to your armour and you have a story to tell about it. Make the need for protection part of the game, but let the players fight for it. It's easy enough to keep track of and adjust armour on the fly. Take for instance this random pic:

Great art and it's from molybdenumgp03

Helmet? Check. Both arms protected? Check and check. Torso? Check! Now, I'd say the arms and the head are protected by medium armour, torso protected by heavy armour (but I could go either way here...). So this dame is down to AC 2 (unmodified)...

Part 2 will be about prices and quality, Part 3 should be about attributes and magic.

*Symmetry being the only reason here.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why not to extinguish Halflings, Part 2 (introducing the Halfing Adventurer a.k.a. The Contractor)

Why not, indeed (see also Part 1). The idea behind this exercise is to find some kind of tagline or abstract to make Halfings (or any race/species, for that matter) interesting for players and an active part in any setting. Elves, for example, could be summarized like this:
"Elves are known to be immortal fairy creatures. To exist in the mortal world they have to become mortal themselves. Reasons for this are diverse and mostly, in one way or another, connected to the Unseelie Court of the Fae. Their motivations may seem alien to most mortals, but in their fight against evil forces they make formidable allies and adventurers. Becoming mortal for a given time is a strange and new experience for those beings, even though they might have existed for centuries already. When they rest, their soul visits the realm of the Fae. When they die and the body is not buried in earth connected to their realm, their soul is lost and may haunt the mortal world. In their mortal form they are a little bit smaller and fragile then humans and have pointy ears. Hair, skin and eye colour vary and may be chosen by the player."(oriented on my thoughts here)
For Halflings it's a little bit more difficult. At least if the idea has to play in an old edition of D&D. This dissolves to some degree with the 3rd edition, but for no other good reason than rules-related diversity. If one had to give an engaging abstract about Halflings in 3.0, one would still be lost (excluding, of course, setting specific sourcebooks, but I digress...). In the Rules Cyclopedia Halflings are decribed like this:
"A halfling is a short demihuman, and looks much like a human child with slightly pointed ears. A halfling stands about 3' tall and weighs about 60 pounds. Halflings rarely have beards. Halflings are outgoing but not unusually brave, seeking treasure as a way to gain the comforts of home, which they so dearly love. Halflings prefer to live in pleasant areas of fair countryside near rolling hills and gentle streams. When not working or adventuring, halflings will spend most of their time eating, drinking, talking with friends, and relaxing. Their communities are called shires, and their recognized spokesman is called a Sheriff. Halfling families live in Clans.
Halflings are woodland folk, and usually get along well with elves and dwarves. They have special abilities in the outdoors. Halflings behave similarly to fighters and dwarves. A halfling's saving throws are as good as those of dwarves. Halflings may only advance..." (Rules Cyclopedia, p. 26)
So this says... nothing. It's all pleasant, fair and gentle. They rarely have beards and like to eat and drink? Sure helps a lot to get a player in the mood. Well, they need an edge. Maybe they need a history?

Halflings, 20.000 years ago (give or take):

Most likely were the first to have some kind of agriculture and very protected, hidden settlements. So they might have been horticultural from early on, organized in small groups of families (no surprise there, I guess), staying in contact via shamans. Mostly avoided social contact to anything bigger than them and lived very reclusive, say in valleys or on islands. Easy enough, they were very good at sneaking around. Other useful tools they needed to develop were effective traps and strong bows. Domestication is also a big thing.

Being more peaceful than destructive and not abusive with magic, they did get along well with elves (good saves tend to help against tricky magic, too). Early production of tools for, say, mining (but all kind of tools are interesting, really) and a tendency to build their settlements in caves (much safer) makes for good trading contacts with dwarves. All that leads to cultural exchange and positive relations (up to protection) long before humans got there, but (also due to the higher live expectancy) to a less aggressive expansion (again, in comparison to humans).

Random legacies: now buried protective magics, decayed and misfiring near a village of your choice; ancient recipies, worth 1000 of gold pieces for collectors (drawings in a cave); ghost shaman, out to avenge the slaughter of his people, triggered by ... ; undead halfling warrior, hunting a recently resurfaced (unleashed?) ancient foe; ...

High Culture, 6.000 years ago (and for nearly 2.000 years):

The Great Travel was the beginning of a stellar cultural and technological development. With threats all around halfling communities throughout the world, spiritual spokesmen, guided by The Great Goddess*, united all Halflings for a long journey full of deprivation to an island** to form a new society. An island nation of halflings. And they thrived. Being ingenius craftsman and thaumaturgs, halflings stayed in contact with elves, dwarves and culturally higher developed civilisations all over the known world by using flying ships (manufactured with the oil of moonlight, a halfling relic, Rules Cyclopedia, p. 146, but it needs to be a lot more effective than described there, maybe an ancient version...).

Those vessels could only fly with moonlight, so halflings needed to have good night vision (maybe like elves) and very good navigation skills (by the stars and with very good maps). This high culture produced many legends, of course***. Flying vessels, highly effective missile weapons, strange machines, expensive spices (not to forget delicious food and beverages), aid given by this ancient race in epic battles, all this could give a rich background for tales, songs and legends still recited to this day. They didn't need that much protection anymore.

Of course, a world shuttering catastrophe of sorts brought destruction to this culture and most of the achievements got left behind in ruin as the world fell into anarchy. Nobody knows for sure how this happened (there were many theories, naturally) and the location of the island, with all the treasures and secrets it could hold, is lost (the old races won't talk about it either).

Random legacies:  ports on mountains and connected to dwarven settlements (lost or forgotten); a hidden salt mine with factory, heavily protected; strange artifacts, mostly cooking devices, but also (maybe) weapons of mass destruction; a halfling spa with a legendary well of restoration in a lost valley, it's in a jungle with dinosaurs and savages; finding the legendary halfing island is stuff for a campaign and should be a real scavenger hunt, many have tried and failed, mysterious halfling cultists with strange weapons protect the secrets, finding it should change the face of the world etc.,etc.; ...

Scattered, but still around (4.000 years ago til recent history):

So the world fell into some kind of dark age for about 500 years. Everyone struggled tried to rebuild, failed, the usual. Halflings (and here is a surprise) were an integral part of this process. This is only reasonable, because in this fictional history they got some essential talents to make this happen:

  • Due to their (extensive) travels they had not only the best maps of the then known world, but also the diplomatic connections to elves, dwarves and most of the civilised human empires.
  • The need to reestablish civilisation is obvious. In a barbaric world they are just prey (and might have been on occasion in the last 4000 years). In a civilised world they fit in the cracks and find the comfort they got used to.
  • Their island nation (and most of their achievements with it) might have been lost, but some of the knowledge and devices must have been still around. Again with the need to protect them.

Now we have a picture of the halflings nature. If they are able to achieve a protected home base, they thrive to the benefit of all civilised nations. In realising this, they need to be capable to get there, too. So they are diplomatic, civilised, nifty craftsmen and experienced travellers.
They might not be great warriors, but they are great adventurers, infiltraters and thieves (which is a harsh word and they wouldn't call themselves that, maybe specialists?) with an attitude towards "if it's not protected good enougth, it might as well be useful..." and a good sense for business. Altruistic by nature, they have no problem with helping others to help themselves.
They oppose evil and destructive forces that threaten civilisation. Traditionally they go on adventures only to use their talents, earn some experience and get the gold they need to settle down for good as fast as possible (usually to open a business of sorts). Any halfling going further than needed will feel the social pressure (and here are the level restrictions...).

Random legacies: elite academies, education is key; highly organized bands of adventurers; excellent craftsmen from brewers to trap-builders, many a wizard contracted a halfling architect to protect his dungeon; famous diplomats and thaumaturgs; many attempts to restore the legendary island nation; ...
The halfling in the Rules Cyclopedia (p. 27), art by Terry Dykstra

The Halfling Adventurer (aka The Contractor)

This is mostly the halfling as written in the Rules Cyclopedia. The changes are either house rules I already presented somewhere or stuff I wrote about in this post (nightvision, special advantage, skill mastery, etc.). It plays out like this:

Prime Requisites: Dexterity and Charisma (or Luck)
Experience Bonus: 5% for DEX or CHA higher than 12, 10% for DEX and CHA higher than 12
Hit Dice: 1d6 per level up to 9th level.
Maximum Level: 9 (I decided to give them one more level, saves stay the same for 9th level)
Armour: any up to banded mail, no plate mail, no suit armor, shilds permitted
Weapon: restricted by size
Combat Progression: as demi-human
Weapon Mastery: as demi-humans (optional rule: 1d6)
Special Ablities:
  • Skill Mastery (yeah, this includes backstabbing, but only for ranged weapons)
  • 5 skills (acrobatics, sabotage, sleight of hand, stealth, 1 craft or social skill (players choice))
  • Nightvision (like elves in my game and in contradiction to the Rules Cyclopedia where elves got infravision)
  • Use magic scroll (from the beginning, alternative rule: mana is used to activate scroll)
  • +2 AC bonus against Enemies bigger than medium sized
  • Special Advantage: Civilised, d% roll vs. ([3 x Charisma/Luck] + [2 x Lvl]); usable in any kind of social interaction, when successful, the interaction plays out in favour for the halfling (this is mostly instead of a passive reaction modifier)
New xp value to reach level 2: 2100 xp

Again, a very long post with a lot of stuff in it. I hope this presents the halfling in a somewhat different light and has a few new ideas to ponder on. For me at least halflings are now way more play- and usable without being too far away from the original. Now I have to do this for the dwarves...

* Name as per setting.
** In size much like Japan, maybe.
*** I'm thinking Atlantis here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Favourite wikipedia entry EVER!

Working on the post about halflings (part 2), I stumbled over this nice sentence:

"Archaeologists speculate that beer was instrumental in the formation of civilisations."
And this is talking about as early as 9500 BC! Source is the wikipedia entry on beer. Read the whole story here.

Ernie Hare about the prohibition (source: wikipedia)

So I was spot on with the halflings in part 1 :)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Why not to extinguish Halflings, Part 1

Short answer:
They invented beer. Gave them credit for centuries to come...

Long answer:
I like The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings as much as the next fantasy enthusiast, but I always asked myself how the hell hobbits fit in a D&D campaign setting. The values they stand for are neither heroic nor epic. I'm not able to imagine an evil halfling without him being a small evil human of sorts. There is no variety to them, no huge subtext to draw from like I tried with the Elves nearly a year ago. The most sensible conclusion would be to dismiss them or, like Brendan, replace them with something different.

The Neanderthals didn't make it, why should the Halflings?

There are several extinction theories about the Neanderthals. I'll go with Wikipedia, because it's enough for the ideas I'm about to develop here. I'm sorry to say this, but it applies to great degree to Halflings:

  • First things that come to mind, are the facts that halflings are small and live longer than humans. Both are believed to be part of why the Neanderthals didn't survive. They were slower than homo sapiens (halflings are slow as well) and they reproduced slower, too (using the Rules Cyclopedia, humans age up to 100 years, halflings up to 200 years*, this should slow the reproduction rate of halfings down).
  • Crossbreeding might be another cause for the vanishing of the Neanderthals. It's been, as far as I'm aware, never really discussed (or even canon) if humans and halflings are able to have cute little bastards. But them being demihumans (I'm thinking something like homo floresiensis) suggests it might be possible. And believable, too. It's not hard to imagine Halfling men liking big women or women liking kid-sized men (to give but two examples...).
You get the idea...
  • Let's not forget genocide. I know, it's a bad word. But whenever humans encounter something weaker, chances are, it won't be around for long. Why should Halflings get away, where Neanderthals, Native Americans, you-name-it, couldn't?

What could save those poor guys from being extinguished?

Two factors, actually. One of them is magic. Not that halflings are famous for their power in the arcane arts (at least not in the older editions), but if some powerful entity likes and protects them, they are good to go, I guess (I'd go with a goddess, but more on that in Part 2). And look at the saves they got:

This is good stuff (Rules Cyclopedia, p. 109)
The second aspect is something that might be considered another reason for the demise of the Neanderthals. They weren't advanced enough to compete with humans. Halflings, on the other hand, seem always much more civilized and it's not far fetched to assume they might have been a little bit more advanced when they first encountered humans. There you go, halfings invented beer...
Not to forget: they are good at hiding and are good snipers. So the Halfling might be saved after all.

Let's try and give them a history... the next post. Have to learn to keep those things short :) Next up is not only an attempt to fit halflings in an epic fantasy setting (not only "beause Tolkien did it"), but also my shot at an Halfling Adventurer. So stay tuned and have fun!

See also:

A short intermission     and

Part 2

*See Rules Cyclopedia, p. 143

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Let's loot the Mystic for fun and profit (Part 1)

The Mystic, as introduced in the Rules Cyclopedia, is far too special to be of any use in a campaign. I had my take on a Monk about a year ago, but that's not what this is about. Parts of the subsystems used for the Mystic are ripe for looting and that's what I intend to do here...*

The Mystics acrobatic ability is an easy one to steal!

This subsystem in itself is pretty flawed. A Mystic can do Jumps and Flips, move over difficult terrain without penalty and stuff like that, but he gets a -20% xp-penalty for something that should be possible with any character in any game. Plus: it's in addition to the skill system presented in the RC, which is making it kind of redundant. But here is the interesting part (quoting Rules Cyclopedia, p. 30):

"The mystic's chance to perform any of these
actions successfully is calculated this way: Three
times the mystic's Dexterity score plus two times
the mystic's experience level equals the mystic's
percentile chance to perform the action. 
Acrobatics Check =
d% roll vs. ([3 x Dex] + [2 x Lvl])"
It made me thinking. Using it for specific actions is not working (with a skill system, etc.), but describing it as some kind of special advantage a character has might just do fine for flavour. Now it looks like this:
Special Advantage =
d% roll vs. ([3 x significant attribute] + [2 x Lvl])
+ 100 xp to base value of chosen class (using this again)


A player in my group wanted to play a fighter of noble heritage. With this subsystem it turned out to be:
Noble Heritage =
d% roll vs. ([3 x Charisma] + [2 x Lvl])
xp needed to reach level 2 = 2100 (2000 xp as fighter + 100 xp)
With level 3 and 15 CHA he had a 51% chance to use his noble heritage in the game, be it to intimidate officials, to get informations from other nobles or whatever he and the DM think fits in a given situation. One time he demanded a fair duell, because the group was outnumbered and he saw a chance to appeal to the honour of the bandits leader.

It's not much, but I figured it gives players one more tool to interact with the game world and adds a little flavour without taking too much space...

*I realized I'm going to need this for a post about halflings in the (very) near future. It's short enough and I will reference it quite often.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Learning by pain (on xp)

Tucker's Kobolds is one of the most famous examples how low HD Monsters can be a threat to high level characters. The DMs creativity is more of a threat than the basic stats given in the game (and it should be like that, shouldn't it?).

But is it rewarded?

No, not in the game as is. Killing one Kobold (as stated in the the Rules Cyclopedia) gives a group 5 xp to share. 5 xp per Kobold! Highly unsatisfying for a mid-level group, I'd say. But brutally discouraging if they get their asses handed like in Tucker's Kobolds.

Always good to see THE MAN having some fun...

How to change that?

Well, damage dealt (times 20, divided by the number of group members) and taken (times 20, divided by the number of group members) for xp is what I do. Read about it years ago on a blog I can't find anymore. But while googling for it I found this:

Alexis from The Tao of D&D also wrote an excellent post on the subject in 2009! Couldn't top that, wouldn't try.

Go there, read it, be enlightened :)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Things to come (+joesky tax)

My D&D campaign is now officially paused. This is a good thing, because I'll now have the time to take a very hard look at the D&D rules and see what flinches. I did this before on this here blog and at least it helped me to fine tune my house rules and to understand better, what D&D is about (maybe...).

No D&D for my group in the near future.

About the blogging experience.

I'm really not sure I want an audience, to be honest. Of course I want to share my ideas with the OSR and all that. But I just don't think the quality of my ideas match the quality of the things already written in our small community of the web. To me at least it seems clonky at times. And that's for two good reasons: I'm neither a skilled writer nor is my level of rules transcendence very high.

So the reason to blog at all is to GET THERE. Find a voice, get the knowledge, get used to write something on a regular basis. Don't fear the trolls (or pay the bridge toll...).

And for that I might need an audience after all.

But what to do, what to do?!

My regular group will, if Ze Gods are in a good mood, engage in Witchcraft for a while now and I'll be all over D&D variations only in theory. I'll try to post two or three posts a week. Focus should be on some of the following topics:

  • Futher deduction of house rules from THE GAME. My goal shall be to be able to write down rules in a few sentences (as it should be). But to get there, I have to dissect it first.
  • Every aspect of the game should be open for revision. I want to go deep into the rules and make them my own (classes, experience, etc.).
  • What do I need in a game? What is necessary to achieve that?
  • A working setting is is as much part of the rules as anything else (at least in D&D), so before I'm going to  DM another session of the D&D Bastard of my choosing, I'll try and develop a setting, monsters, random tables, etc..

Also I'll try to be a good boy and be more active in the community. Blogging is a lot of work. Nobody mentioned that.

Shameless self promotion (skip that, gentle reader, it's hard to stomach for myself, too):

I'm so glad Jeff Rients is back and not only for the obvious reasons (his blog is one of the best out there and you know it). No, it's also the only blog list I'm on. There, I said it, I want traffic, maybe even some comments. So if you're a blogger and willing to have my blog in your list, I'd be very happy about that (and return the favour, of course, for whatever that's worth).


A plague nobody wants to heal with magic, because (1D8+):

  1. It's justified, the gods think it's a good idea and put the lid on healing it.
  2. The gods are the reason for the plague, nothing to do about it.
  3. They fear to get the plague themselves. Nobody needs a dying pantheon.
  4. Finding the cure another way will save the world from something more dangerous (not that anybody is telling...).
  5. This is no plague, it's the transformation to something new (they say).
  6. The gods are not affected, but the channels to the gods are. It taints magic.
  7. To heal it makes the cleric loose faith permanently. Nobody knows why (or do they?).
  8. To die from the plague transforms a victims soul to ambrosia in the netherworld. A freak accident, but the gods like ambrosia very much.
  9. ...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How to kill a horse (Again about Endurance...)

This is not about animal cruelty. It's rather a dry-run for the Endurance system I proposed here and here (and thanks to the comments by 1D30!).

I really hope somebody will take the time to read all this (and maybe comment?). Sorry for the huge post, I guess (it's not what I meant with "Again about Endurance").

After doing a little research, I realized it's hard to find rules for extreme travel situations like forced marching or how far you can push a horse without killing it. This might be due to the fact that to many factors need to be considered or that it doesn't happen that often in a game and a rule of thumb is enough to make it happen.

But it should be possible to estimate the breaking point for an individual (be it character, npc or monster) derived from actuall play and I think it should have a place in the game (not just a number in a table...).

So what do we have?

Endurance (very short summary):

  • Characters use CON/2
  • Monsters/NSCs use 4 + HD
  • A fight costs 1 Endurance (you loose more in a fight, but it's recovered fast, see links above)
  • Skill checks cost 1 Endurance
  • Endurance is only recovered with a full days rest (or magic)

Travel rates will be taken from the Rules Cyclopedia as a guideline for the loss of 1 Endurance per miles travelled:
As per Rules Cyclopedia. p. 88
Interesting part:

"The travel rates listed here are possible but will kill the horse if only one is used for the entire trip. Typically, a rider only manages to achieve these rates by riding one-third the distance listed and trading his horse in twice at way stations for fresh mounts. At the end of the day, he and the three horses are exhausted, but all are alive. If a rider does not intend to kill or exhaust his horse, he should use the travel rates listed for the war horse instead." (RC, p.88, Travelling Rates by Terrain Table)
This assumes a rate of 72 miles/day under ideal circumstances (36 miles/day with a war horse or travelling without killing a riding horse). Is this realistic? Google agrees mostly, so I'll take it as a basis and go from there.

Now some calculations and additions to make it fit.

  • After 36 miles/day a riding horse is exhausted (normal road/weather for travel).
  • Having an Endurance of 6 this means it looses 1 point Endurance every 6 miles travel.
  • Doubling the speed doubles the loss of Endurance, so with a travelling rate of 72 miles/day it looses 12 Endurance (which is the maximum before the horse is in mortal danger).
  • A first skill check is needed to keep the horse going after it reaches zero Endurance (36 miles)
  • After 72 miles a second skill check is due, after that it needs a successfull skill check for every six miles (the rider looses 1 Endurance for every skill check).
  • The rider additionally looses 1 Endurance for 12 miles travel.
  • So if the rider in our example wants to get there (see below), he has to succeed in 5 skill checks or the horse struggles and goes down before he arrives.
  • Any mount can be forced a number of times equal to it's HD and is entiteled to a save versus death to survive the treatment, after that it just drops and dies with the first failed skill check (same goes for humans, etc.).


With 36 miles/day being the suggested norm, I'd go for 3 possible random encounters on the road (ca. 3 times the norm). Each encounter could force a skill check to avoid and costs Endurance.

This leaves us with the following basics to apply the idea everywhere.

Having four legs is a boon, so a horse would only loose halv the Endurance a human would, while sitting on a horse makes a human only loose half of what the horse is about to loose. Other than that I took the base rate (36 miles for being exhausted) for a given factor (riding horse, 2 HD) and divided it by the Endurance (4 + 2 HD = 6). So here are a few examples how it turns out (based on the table above):

Travel Mode      Trail    Clear   Hills   Mountains Desert
Foot              1/3      1/2     1/1       1/1      1/1
Horse, riding     1/6      1/4     1/3       1/2      1/1
Horse, war        1/5      1/3     1/2       1/2      1/1

With this on hand it is possible to see how far an army might get with forced marching and how many dead would be left behind.

Or one could try and see if a courier would be able to deliver a urgent message in a totally random setting and with a satisfying result...

So this is a small setting and a dry-run.

Let's build a course for our courier. I used the always fantastic Abulafia to generate the background information and gimp for the map. This is what I got:

Cave Bridge is a dangerous farmland in the frozen north.
The weather there is usually almost windy and warm out (because of the Letchhead Gulf).
It is ruled by an ancient vampire (Count Shrop).
The people of this domain are cannibals (a cult that worships the Count and eats the sucked-out victims of him and his vampires).
This domain is famous because it is a place of uncanny magical occurances (see the red skulls).
The laws of this domain are harsh and unjust. Punishments for misdeeds tend to be almost nonexistent.
Recently, the land has experienced the flight of a prince and his forbidden lover into hiding .

Cave Bridge (I'd go for 10 miles per hex)
Hexmap Key

Castle, Towns and Settlements:
0500 Shropcastle
0800 Scholar's Peak
0401 Muntonburgh
0201 Inverby
0704 Chesterwich Farm
0802 Rustyhickory
0305 Trebluff
0505 Havster Springs
0006 Lydstanham
0808 Confidantsbarton Springs
0905 Axefathom
0208 Tower of the Relentless
0508 Monk's Vale

0205 Ivory Arch
0208 Barber's Cove
0303 Dolphin Kurgan
0304 Ruins of Bird Haven
0306 Northwood Bluff
0401 Queen's Bridge
0403 Tree of the Banshees
0507 Bear Head Trail
0507 Bear Menhir
0508 Monk's Vale
0601 Dishonor Cave
0701 Neophyte Mines
0701 Brazen Hill

Areas (land):
0505, 0506, 0605 - 0607, 0704 - 0708, 0807 - 0809 Tinker's Flatland
0502, 0602, 0603, 0702, 0703, 0802 Hog Forest
0305, 0405, 0406, 0504 Griffon Morass
0403, 0404, 0405, 0503 The Marsh of Destruction
0306, 0307, 0408 Berkway Forest
0201, 0202, 0301 Dawn Delta
0006, 0106 Owlbear Isle
0204, 0205 Westlock Archipelago

Areas (sea):
0000 - 0009, 0100 - 0109 Letchhead Gulf
0200 - 0207 Titan Coast
0208, 0209 Wolf Coast
0105, 0206, 0207 Bullsmore Channel
0003, 0004 Hunter's Sargasso
The Course:

Our courier starts at the Wolf Coast from the Tower of the Relentless and aims to reach Muntonburgh as fast as possible. He wants to arrive within the day.

Using the roads available, he has to pass two towns (Trebluff, Havster Springs) and use Queen's Bridge to get there. It's round about 100 miles.

This means he has to travel through Berkway Forest, the Griffon Morass and, finally, the Marsh of Destruction.

And now we deliver an importand message

We need a normal horse and a skilled Courier to make this happen. If it is a player character, one starts with the distance he wants to cover and goes from there (maybe even with an individual horse, healing potions, etc.). In this example I'll keep it as simple as possible (with no random encounters):

The Horse: 2 HD, 6 Endurance

The Courier: 3 HD, 7 Endurance, DEX 12 (riding +5)

First skill check (Courier Endurance after 36 miles = 4):
Dex 12 + 5 (riding) + 1D20 (15) vs. DC 25 (success)
Second skill check (Courier Endurance after 72 miles and one skill check = 0):
Dex 12 + 5 (riding) + 1D20 (18) vs. DC 25 (success)
Third skill check (Courier Endurance after 78 miles and two skill checks = -1):
Dex 12 + 5 (riding) - 1 (Endurance) + 1D20 (19) vs. DC 25 (success)
Fourth skill check (Courier Endurance after 84 miles and three skill checks = -3):
Dex 12 + 5 (riding) - 3 (Endurance) + 1D20 (18) vs. DC 25 (success)
Fifth skill check (Courier Endurance after 90 miles and four skill checks = -4):
Dex 12 + 5 (riding) - 4 (Endurance) + 1D20 (12, close call...) vs. DC 25 (success)
Sixth skill check (Courier Endurance after 96 miles and five skill checks = -6):
Dex 12 + 5 (riding) - 6 (Endurance) + 1D20 (14) vs. DC 25 (success)
So they manage to arrive in Muntburgh, the courier is dead tired, the horse stops and drops dead. I'm happy with that, it is as it should be. But don't try this at home...

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Thief (Reskinning Classes: Part 2)

It's about time...

...someone inspires me to finish my thoughts on the Thief (and reskin it like the MU some time ago...). With all this writing about it, -C finally hits a sweet spot for me in (basically) handling the Thief abilities like Weapon Mastery in the Rules Cyclopedia. Wuhu! It's genius! Let's reskin the Thief.

(funny pic to emphasize how I feel about this)
Basic assumptions for The Game.

In game terms I found it always somewhat unrealistic that Thieves have no access to magic other than using magic items and scrolls at some point, but have no problems handling magic traps. There are just no other connectors. So using this in our game Thieves are able to cast spells with a quarter of the abilities a MU has and more oriented on physical spells like spider climb or jumping (other spells need more Mana). Works out fine so far.

With a skill system in charge, using Thief Skills as they are presented in D&D is not very ideal. On the other hand using the system presented as Weapon Mastery in the Rules Cyclopedia to enhance existing skills for the Thief is just what I was looking for to make this work.

Skill Mastery:

  • The abilities/skills a Thief has access to are: Backstab (melee), Backstab (ranged), Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, Stealth (moving, hiding, keeping a low profile or doing something like picking a lock in total silence...) and Sabotage.
  • Using the skill system of the Rules Cyclopedia, every class has access to other skills. So skills like Disguise or Alchemy are, too, relevant for Skill Mastery.
  • At character creation a player may now choose (like with Weapon Mastery) 4 of those abilities/skills for Skill Mastery.
  • Basic Skill Mastery is one additional D6 either for the skill check or for backstab damage.
  • Every 3 levels a Thief gets one more point Skill Mastery to distribute.
  • Progression is: Basic +1D6, Skilled +1D8, Expert +1D10, Master +1D12 and Grand Master +1D20.
  • Echo applies.

Thief reskinned*:

  1. Take the Thief as written.
  2. Divide ability to Backstab.
  3. Divide Thief Skills.
  4. Add Skill Mastery (this includes Backstab again).
  5. Add 4 skills (Acrobatics, Sabotage, Sleight of Hand and Stealth in my case).
  6. Add ability to cast spells (like 1/4 MU, first spells at Level 4).

New xp value to reach level 2: 1600 xp

List for spell level 1 (proposal, 1D10 for random pleasure):
  1. Affect Normal Fires 
  2. Audible Glamour 
  3. Change Self 
  4. Charm Person 
  5. Comprehend Languages* 
  6. Dancing Lights 
  7. Featherfall 
  8. Jump 
  9. Sleep 
  10. Spider Climb
This is it. I think it is highly compatible with the Rules Cyclopedia and any hack close enough to that.

*Again using this pearl of wisdom.