Sunday, September 6, 2015

Make a BASTARD! RPG concept, perspectives and ideas ... Part 3 (of 5)

Here we are again, talking about the BASTARD! DungeonPunk D&D-hack I'm writing right now. Today it's about character creation. In Part 4 I'll talk about character advancement, static dice versus the environment and I'll introduce my ideas for (what I call now) a DungeonHeist-Interface (which is, as of yet, the rawest part of the game). Part 5 will conclude this series with examples and DM Tools. Thought I'd manage all of this in 4 posts, but those things tend to grow ...

Also worth checking out: The DungeonPunk Initiative, Part 1 and Part 2 and an Intermission (presenting a character sheet)

And the skies were burning for weeks ... [source]
Me again with the etymology (but only a little bit ...)

Some of you might remember this. It's a thing, I believe. Every time I post something like this post, people start telling me that you just can't change the names of things.

Well, I did anyway and it had been lots of fun finding new names for the same old D&D terminology. I honestly like some of those alternatives more than the original. So I don't know about calling the DM "Skipper" from now on, but calling adventurers "grinders" (because they "grind" dungeons for loot) has some appeal (to me at least). Don't know about "Calling" instead of class (well, I really like it, but I recently saw this used in another game and I don't think it's appropriate ...), but I could settle with Dodge, like:

"Ey, what's your dodge, grinder?"

See? BASTARD! describes people lost in a vast and brutal industrialization, just like those of the 18th/19th century but with evil magic as the main force of change instead of technology ... The whole DungeonPunk idea is also about subculture and subcultures have their own vocabulary. So what I'm doing here is mirroring this in the RPG's terminology (just like in the example above). Still, it's an experiment. Let's see if it flies.

What's there (rules in a nut shell)

Here is the character sheet again for close reference:

Below is a filled example ...
There are four ability scores (upper left on the sheet): Brawn, Brain, Luck and Owed. Each got a number of dice assigned. Luck and Owed change over the course of a session, the other two mirror a character's resources for physical and mental activities. If a character is more physical, he'll have more Brawn, if he's more of the brainy sort, he'll go (obviously) for Brain.

Characters (or "Grinders" from now on) also have a Breed (their heritage or race) and a Dodge (their specialization or class). Breed may give a grinder some special abilities because of their heritage (elves are quite resistant to magic, dwarves are able to form stone, see below for details). Handle is the grinder's street name and status is his level name (all of this in the lower left corner).

There also are "Statics" (upper middle), which are (in short) additional dice Grinders have on specific tasks (like recon or detecting traps).

Statics determine the flow of the game, because they are not only used as dice if a task needs resolving, they also reduce the main difficulty of challenges ahead by 1 per static die. And if a difficulty is reduced to zero this way (3 would be the default), the group manages to overcome it without any problems, thus speeding up exploration and focusing the game on the juicy parts (when the group is really challenged). They are also flexible and connected to a grinder's dodge instead of specific skills. This way players are encouraged to plan ahead and set their statics according to the situation.

Another benefit would be that statics encourage teamwork and support low level groups. If 3 characters, for instance, assign one static each to "Finding Traps", the group will find all traps up to a difficulty of three with ease.

The saves (middle) are from Lost Songs, as I think they work really well in our test games. Withstand is a save vs. force, Reflex is a save vs. the unforeseen, Stomach is a save vs. poisons and disease, Sanity is a save to keep you sane, Stress will test if you keep your cool and Good Will is all about the impressions others get when they interact with you. The first three (Withstand/Reflex/Stomach) are tested rolling Brawn, the other three (Sanity/Stress/Good Will) are tested using Brain (in both cases pool dice + save vs. difficulty).

The core mechanic is pretty simple. You got a pool between zero and five d6 in brain and brawn each. If a task is at hand, characters bet a number of dice from the appropriate pool (brawn for physical tasks, brain for mental tasks) and roll them to collect successes. Every result of 4 or more is a success (3 or more if specialized, see below). Every 6 generates a new die immediately rolled for the task and either raises a character's Luck by 1 or reduces the owed dice by 1 (players choice) and every rolled 1 reduces the used pool by 1.

A player might use a Luck point for an automatic success or to save a lost die (i. e. compensating a rolled 1). A player is also allowed to "owe" a number of dice to the DM. Owed dice work just like Luck dice, but also raise the players Owed pool and the DM's Threat pool (the DM will be able to use those dice against the group later in the game). Owed dice must be resolved with Luck dice and the DM may use owed dice only once (they remain "owed" on the character sheet, though) and the player already used his. So owing dice will have immediate benefits, but will come back to haunt the players in the long run.

Statics and Body Modifications will have an impact on the number of dice available for certain tasks and characters can share dice among each other, which means they declare to support another character, name the number of dice they use for it, roll them and follow the same principles as described above (and yes, if they roll a 1 they loose a die for sharing ...).

Every session start with the players rolling ALL their pool dice and see if they owe dice from the beginning or get some Luck points instead (statistics say Luck is a bit in favor with this system). At the end of a session all remaining owed dice are subtracted from all remaining Luck dice. If the result is positive, the group gets a xp-bonus, if it's negative they get a xp-penalty.

Character Creation

Nothing fancy here. Level Zero Grinders have 3 dice points distributed among brain and brawn. There is two ways to do so and both are connected to breed: you either choose a human and distribute them yourself or you choose one of the other breeds and take their distribution. There are 8 Breeds (so you could just roll 1d8 to find out):
  1. Human (distribute 3d6 between Brawn and Brain, choose one Trait)
  2. Elve (1 Brawn, 2 Brain; Trait is Resist Magic)
  3. Dwarf (2 Brawn, 1 Brain; Trait Form Stone)
  4. Goblin (1 Brawn, 1 Brain; Trait Small and choose one more)
  5. Ratfolk (1 Brawn, 1 Brain, 1 free to distribute; Trait: Resilient)
  6. Fairy (0 Brawn, 3 Brain; Trait: Small and Flying)
  7. Halftroll (3 Brawn, 1 Brain; Trait: Giant)
  8. Clockwerck-Automat (3 Brawn, 0 Brain; Trait: Force)
There are more breeds possible, of course, but for now I'll keep it simple, so that's what you get. Here are some short descriptions of the breeds:


Humans are still all over the place. Some have arranged themselves with the new regime, but most are considered nothing more than a resource to exploit. The rebels criminals called "Grinders" are usually recruited among humans from slums all over the known world, as those guys 'n girls really got reason to kick back. They are the most flexible of the lot.


Those poor suckers were hit as hard as one could imagine. Untainted forests are a thing whispered about in the darkness and those too slow to flee from the realms of men, now lead a miserable existence in the slums, often enough fleeing into drug induced dreams or stealing what they can to get their fix again. But not all of them have given up. Some of them go for the grind and then for revenge! They know their way around magic (which is illegal, as you very well know) and are handy that way.


They fought to the last dwarf standing. Some say they are still fighting back from the dark redoubts they fled to deep in the earth. Others say that's just crazy talk from violent drunks (which most dwarves are by default). Either way, some dwarves still live in the cities and some of those are still sober enough to seek the grind and save what's left of the dwarven glory. they have the ability to form stone with their bare hands and that's certainly something.


They always got the shitty end of the stick (even those working for the Imperium) and some of them start to think it's time to grasp that stick a little harder and hit something with it. Those little bastards are quite flexible and useful, once you cut them some slack. And they are eager to grind what their little hands can carry.


Nobody liked those guys back in the day, but suddenly the slums are crowded and the rats have a head start. They are quite tough, which is always good on a grind, and really not that different from humans once you are able to get beyond the smell ...


It's good to be small if you want to survive. And that's what they did. Had it surprisingly easy to adapt to the city, too. Mainly because they're very talented in stealing anything they can get away with. Some of them are even ambitions enough to go for the grind and make it big time. They are also infamous for their mean attitude ...


Who'd have thought, demons hate trolls and love to see them in the dirt and as slaves. Some make a decent living in the slums, keeping a low profile (well, they try ...) and they are easy to crossbreed, so while the big oafs are getting fewer and fewer, some of their spawn is alive and all muscles. You need muscles on the grind, so that's a no-brainer. They also like bridges for no reason.


Sometimes your body is worth more then the rest of you and sometimes you can sell just that: your body. You won't get much for it (3d6 Imperiale Münzen), but to keep you as a cheap work force, you also get a new body. Sure, it's weak, noisy and all about hard labor, with what's left of your soul in a softly glowing crystal, but there's so much old technology out there to grind and it's all so easy to add to you that this might very well be the best thing that happened to you in, like, forever.


Traits reduce the difficulties of related tasks and saves by 1 or give other benefits in the game. Here is a selection of 17 traits (roll d12 to choose 1 random, 13 - 17 are exclusive to the breeds):
  1. No Trait: get 1 die more to put either into Brain or Brawn
  2. Skilled: get one more static die
  3. Tough: get + 1 to Health roll per level
  4. Powerful: get + 1 to Affinity roll per level
  5. Stubborn: re-roll a single result of 1 per task
  6. Lucky: a rolled 6 always generates another d6 (usually initial roll only)
  7. Talented: successfully casts with a result of 4, 5 and 6 (instead just 5 and 6)
  8. Versatile: may move one static die during heist at will (= need to roll for it)
  9. Strong Soul: Taint is only 1d3 per used slot
  10. Fortunate: Difficulty of all saves is reduced by 1
  11. Resilient: die difficulty for all rolls related to mental tasks ans saves are reduced by 1
  12. Force: die difficulty for all rolls related to brute force are reduced by 1
  13. Resist Magic: die difficulty for all rolls related to magic are reduced by 1
  14. Form Stone: may form stone with bare hands, difficulty for related tasks and saves is reduced by 1
  15. Flying: moves as fast as a human would, gets to high places
  16. Small: no big weapons, only level as slots for body modifications but -2 to AC, must always take highest result for Affinity, also general benefits and drawbacks of being small
  17. Giant: +2 AC, two handed weapons echo if the highest two results come up (so with a d6 he'd echo with a 5 and a 6), must always take highest result for Health, also general benefits and drawbacks of being giant
As with the breeds, there are more traits possible, but for now we'll keep it short ...


A character's "dodge" is his job on the grind. It's his responsibility and if he fails, all others will feel the impact. There are 5 dodges, each having 3 specials (roll d5 to determine):

1. The Grunt (Gr)

This is the guy you need to keep the party poopers busy. Guess what his main ability score is ... Anyway, his special talents are:
  • Kill - He knows how to move over the battle field and attacks, does, counters and shares free on a result of 4, 5 and 6 (instead of 5 and 6).
  • Bind - Grunts are able to bind (level +1) enemy hd in combat (additionally to those any other character is able to bind ...).
  • Stand - Gets his level to his AC when he's covering his fellow grinders' withdrawal or holds a passage to let them do their job.

2. The Trickster (Tr)

The thief and scout of the party.'Nuff said. Uh, specials:
  • Sabotage - Skilled in manipulating machinery of all kinds (traps, clockwercks and so on).
  • Sneak - Skilled in hiding and moving through the shadows.
  • Dirty Fighting - Deals 1d6 more damage when attacking from a hidden position or when the enemy is unaware

3. The Whisperer (Wh)

Those dabbling in the art of magic. Their specials:
  • Read Magic - Skilled in reading and interpreting magical programming.
  • Manipulate - Killed in manipulating magical constructs.
  • Cast - Affinity costs for casting spells are 3 per level (instead of 4).

4. The Crowscare (Cr)

Demons fear those holy man and are mostly referred to as "crows" on the streets, hence the name for those clerics and holy women. Their specials are:

  • Repel - The ability to invoke a god's power to scare away (or even kill) demons, undead and the like.
  • Activate - They are able to cleanse shrines by channeling Affinity into them. This produces a save haven under the protection of a crowscare's god.
  • Pray - The ability to call a god for assistance and get help via wonders (as long as an activated shrine is within (level + 1) x 100 meters)

5. The Tinker (Ti)

Those able to salvage, repair and rebuild the lost technology rotting in dungeons all over the known world (and the only real currency of the criminal underbelly of the demons Imperium).

  • Grind - Skilled in salvaging parts of old technology (always (successes + level) as number of parts per machine (until salvage limit is reached)).
  • Repair - Skilled in making machinery work again.
  • Make - Is able to build machines with spell-like effects/duration/range according to level (quite like The Whisperer, details follow).


Thought long and hard about it and came to the conclusion that it might be fun to randomize the saves, so each character may roll 3d6 and keep the highest two per save. Rolling a save will always be d20 + save value vs. 20 (default) or 25 (hard). If you want to owe a die for a save, go ahead, roll it, add it. Every time a character go up a level/status, he may raise one save by 1. The End.


Here is a completely random example. Meet Hakalai, some Halftroll Crowscare Scum (took about 5 minutes to roll up and I was pretty slow ...):

All the important pieces are there ...
Sure, there's still some empty spaces. It'll need some random equipment lists, spells and gods to choose from, but that's it at the core. Use the Petty Gods and a D&D cleric level 1 spell list (or whatever) and you're good to go. She's level 0, so maybe she doesn't own more than a piece of cloth and a club ...

Statics and other loose ends

Thought I'd be done in 4 posts. Stupid me. But I see the finishing line already. What's missing? Statics and the DungeonHeist Interface, which basically is a group sheet to use at the table during missions. It's where the heist is prepared on until it gets triggered and the mission is a "go". It also introduces "The Brain", "The Fence" and "The Haven", all important for a life in the underground. How all of this is supposed to work together in the game is part of the fourth post in this series.

Same goes for advancement. I'm going some new ways here and think about "group advancement", which basically means that the group as a whole makes progress and if they level up, a dodges level name (Status on the sheet) is what a character has to show for when he's changing teams for another heist. Just like in most heist movies characters do not amount to much outside their dodges and have unsatisfying jobs (if at all) ... Gold also has no meaning in this game (poor suckers selling their bodies ...) and instead it's salvaged goods and what you can get for them (I really want to write now "hence the fence", but I won't). Anyway, more on that in part 4.

All in all I'm quite happy how all of that comes together right now. All that is left now are tables, fluff and DM tools (which is a lot, I know). But if you've read all BASTARD! posts, you could print the character sheet, bridge spells and machinery with your favorite D&D variant and get going! That's what I'm going to do the next few weeks and I'm looking forward to it (will sure pester my poor readers with it, too).

As always, thank you for reading ALL THIS and please feel free to comment and share your thoughts about BASTARD!, as feedback is always welcome.


  1. I like 'grinders', but why don't you just call all PCs 'bastards'? I don't like 'dodge' because it sounds like a skill, not a profession.

    1. I'm not saying those are final, but here are my thoughts on it: I like Grinders more than Bastards, wouldn't use it as the game's title, though,which means BASTARD! will remain solely for what it describes: my D&D bastard :-) I'm also not quite sure how fast Bastard jokes would get stale at the table, so there's that.

      "Dodge" is a bit of an odd bird, I agree. I'm experimenting, of course, and I'm in a strange position here, where what you say certainly rings true but the word nonetheless exactly describes what it should, as it actually had been used that way in the mid 19th century (which is incidentally part of the atmosphere I want to invoke), And it's slang, you gotta love slang.

      But an explanation isn't the solution (unless I directly quote the etymological source in the book and even that is tricky), so this is not necessarily the final solution. I like it in a strange way. But English is not a mother tongue and I can only guess how it sounds to a native speaker ...

      Any thoughts you care to share about the rest?

  2. I Like it!
    I feel this post gave me the best idea of how rolling the dice and "owed" dice are actually going to work inplay. Now that I'm coming around to understanding it a bit better and I am looking forward to trying it.

    1. Thanks, Mark! Glad to hear it :-) I'll definitely pester you with the beta version for some testing. Only thing that remains right now is how statics exactly work and what advancement will look like. I really hope to get those two done till the end of the week. After that it's only tables and DM tools. I think I should provide a little test adventure with the whole gig to get comparable results with the test games (yours and mine, for now).

      @ Tim: If you are up to it, I'll send you a beta version, too. No obligations to test it or anything, but you seem interested, so I'd be glad to give it to you in a more concrete form ...

  3. A test adventure is a great idea !

    1. I'll have something ready when I get there. Right now I got to test the game two times. Both times the players didn't want any dice from me, both times bad rolls and bad decisions lead to a tpk ... But I gotta say: it works. Had a few kinks but I think I got them solved :-)


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