Saturday, June 29, 2013


You may find this blog post useful if you:
  1. Want to introduce some randomness into a simple class, without slowing down chargen (much).
  2. Want a random suggestion on your new PC's personality.
Basically, whenever you roll a new level 1 Fighter, you also roll on this table of descriptors.  Each of these descriptors is both a personality type and a minor mechanical change to the class.

The player normally just gets 2 descriptors at random. But if they have a desire for a certain type of character, they can opt for 1 descriptor of their choosing.

The personality traits described are just suggestions. If you get Cowardly and decide that you don't want to play a cowardly character, draw a line through the personality bit and just keep the mechanical half.  It's just a suggestion.  Interpret it however you want. In fact, if you get a weird combination like Cowardly and Brave, it's going to require some interpretation on your part.

Fighter Descriptors
Roll 2 or pick 1 at character generation.

1  Belligerent: Agressive attacks* have their AC penalty reduced by 2.
2  Brave: +2 to save vs fear.
3  Protective: Defensive attacks** have their attack penalty reduced by 2.
4  Hasty: +5' to run speed when unencumbered.
5  Gruff: +2 to save when holding breath or for feats of endurance.
6  Lithe: +2 to AC when unarmored.
7  Lush: Alcoholic drinks heals you for 1 hp.  You still get drunk, though.
8  Methodical: +1 to hit with ranged attacks, but -1 to hit with melee attacks.
9  Nemesis: +1 to hit and damage against a certain type of creature (determine randomly).
10 Cowardly: Can disengage from combat without penalty, attacks of opportunity, or whatever, 
11 Reckless: +1 to hit with melee attacks, but -1 to hit with ranged attacks.
12 Superstitious: +2 to save against curses.

*Aggressive attacks are when you accept a -4 penalty to AC in order to get a +2 to hit. So, the belligerent descriptor improves this to -2 to AC, +2 to hit.  If you don't use something like that in your game, change this to whatever sequence of words makes you frown the least.
**Defensive attacks: The inverse: accepting -4 to hit in order to get a +2 to AC.

I have no delusions that these are balanced. But balance is for chumps. 

If you want, you could also use subsets of this list to make packages or archetypes.

So, after the the laser elementals and prism golems TPK everyone, Alice and Bob both decide to roll up new level 1 fighters.  Alice's fighter is Brave and Protective, so she calls him Sir Tonsilbottom.  Bob's fighter is Superstitious and Cowardly, so he calls him Bungo the Brave (because Bob's an ass). Even before gameplay has even started, their fighters feel a little different from each other, and they'll play a little different from each other, too. 

I think that's pretty good for just two rolls.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Dinner Jackets, Plate Mail, and Barbecue Sauce

If you're writing a ruleset for setting, you've got to slather it on.  Don't miss this opportunity to drench your players in the setting, like barbecue sauce on ribs.  Pour it on thick, so it soaks through the bone.  When your players are finished eating the game you served them, they'll walk away stained with all the setting and flavor and deliciousness that you covered it in. Even reading the rules should get them sticky to the elbows.

So for the Eldritch Americana setting (post-apocalyptic 1920's America, swing-dancing with Cthulu, etc), I decided pretty early on that I don't want people running around in plate mail and shields.  I also don't want a lot of rules. With that in mind, I present Armor and Fashion.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Roaches, a Playable Race


Roaches are anthropomorphic beetle-people who come from another dimension.  They are about 4' tall and range from poop-brown to a lovely dark bronze color.  They're one of the more common xenocultures on the Noxious Continent.  They are a player race!

  • Small Size.
  • +1 Constitution, -1 Charisma.
  • Can roll up into an armored ball (+4 AC) and roll down hills, etc.
  • +2 to all saves against death, poison, disease, drugs, or radiation.
  • Obligate coprophage.  You eat the equivalent of 4 human-sized poops per day.
  • If Cha 13+, have an immensely powerful sense of smell when smelling for feces, carrion, or other stinky stuff.  Smell At Door = 2-in-6 chance of success, but has other uses.
There are many different kinds of roach people.  Listing stereotypes would only do them a disservice, but that is exactly what I'm going to do.  These are the sorts that you'll find around post-apocalyptic 1929 New York.
  • The Shit-Lords are merchant princes living on Staten Island.  They are famously wealthy merchants who trade in all things, but are known for their steaming shit-barges that slug their way through the harbor each morning.  A lot of them rule over junkyards, too, and handle the salvage and extradimensional export of recovered items.
  • The Roach Slums are pretty extensive.  Filled with slumbeetles and beggarbugs.  Epithets abound.
  • The Tunnel Boys are famous smugglers.  Many of them associate with gangsters or ARE gangsters.  They have horrible shootouts in the tunnels with Crawling Giants and Pinkies.
  • The Lords Feculent paint their bodies acrylic black and give ecstastic divinations after the consumption of fantastic amounts of feces from their slaves (who are constantly fed hallucinogens).  They also will sell you drugs, both local and otherworldly (such as bug powder).
  • The Knights of Khepri paint themselves gold, fight for honor and cowshit, and war with the Lords Feculent.  Beware their assassin bugs!
  • The Shit Kickers paint their bodies in hieroglyphics and control small sections of ruins.  They may be raiders, or simply demand a toll from those who would cross their territory.
  • The Coleoptric Proletariates clean the streets, repair the roads, and empty the trash in the nicer parts of New York, slaving away for only a few crumbly turds.
Full details after the break.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ghoul Bear

"Is someone there?" Somin asked as he whirled around, looking for the source of the noise. But there was no one there. Just the wet wood that bristled around him like a statuary. The rain had stopped, but the sun had not yet risen. Somin licked his lips and blew some rain water out of his straw-colored mustache  He had heard what sounded like sticks snapping under a heavy foot.

He cleared his throat and tried again. "It's very bad luck to sneak up on a bard, you know." But the dark forest did not answer.

He was just about to resume his lonesome trek when the dripping branches spoke an answer back. The voice was soft and deep, and had a curious inflection. It handled syllables carefully, and gave the impression of speaking between mouthfuls. The voice said, "You are lost, human. The road is not in this direction."

Monday, June 10, 2013

Boggy Pox

Once there was a famously incompetent wizard named Drimwick.  Before he vanished from history, he invented the spell that we now know as Drimwick's Final Blunder.

Drimwick's Blunder is an infectious spell that can potentially turn all of your known spells into copies of Drimwick's Final Blunder.  In its final stages, the disease also turns you into a boggy (an adorable, diminutive fish-frog-human hybrid).

The Blunder functions exactly like Magic Missile, although it can be any level.  If it is cast at higher than 1st level, it does an extra +1 damage (per bolt) for every spell level it is beyond first.  When cast, it resembles a giant, rippling, green-and-black loogie that streaks towards its target.

Spellcasters who are damaged by the Blunder save vs disease or one of their spell slots (chosen at random) is converted into Drimwick's Final Blunder.  The slot cannot be used to prepare any spell except Drimwick's Final Blunder.  The spellcaster has just contracted boggy pox.

The disease manifests a greenish tinge to your skin, and the compulsion to say "boggy" in every sentence (much like a hiccup).  At the conclusion of the disease, the affected person suddenly shrinks a couple feet and turns into a bog-standard boggy.

At the end of every day spent in a location with high humidity (such as a swamp), the spellcaster must make a save vs disease.  If they fail, the spell infects another slot.  If they succeed, nothing changes.

At the end of every day spent in a location with low humidity (such as a house with a fireplace), the spellcaster must make a save vs disease.  If they succeed, one of their infected spell slots returns to normal.  If they fail, nothing happens.

If they successfully infect another spellcaster with boggy pox, one of their infected spell slots returns to normal.

There are colonies of infected boggies in the wilderness (called boglocks by some).  They are despondent creatures, eager to infect others with their disease and hopefully regain their humanity.  (Very possible if they only had a single spell slot infected.)  Any children they had while they were boggies will remain as boggies, however.

Casters usually know that boggies can carry boggy pox, and are appropriately wary of the little beasts.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Fire, Fire, and Slime

Holy Fire

You'll see this type of fire burning in the Hesayan Churches, and sometimes carried by their lantern bearers.  It resembles normal fire, except that it is pure white, "soft" around the edges, and burns in slow motion (compared to mundane fire).

Holy fire is hot, but it never burns living things.  People who have put their hands in holy fire describe it as painful but invigorating, like a hot spring.  Objects are still harmed however, and it does tremendous damage to the undead.  The light from holy fire reveals invisible things, and lesser forms of undead find the light from holy fire repellent (especially ghosts, who are accustomed to being unseen).  Zombies are especially susceptible to this effect, and holy fire will drive them away for as long as it burns.

Holy fire can only be lit from another holy fire, or from a certain spell cast by senior clerics of the Church.  The only fuel that can sustain holy fire is holy water.

Ash Fire

This type of fire sheds no light and gives no heat.  It is normally started by magical means.  Aside from that, it is exactly like normal fire, and only experts can tell if an object was burnt long ago by ash fire or mundane fire.

Watching an ash fire spread is bizarre.  Paper will brown and then blacken.  It will spread to the desk, which will discolor and collapse, releasing a shower of cold ashes into the air.  Finally, the floors and walls will follow, as cracked, black charcoal spreads through the wood like a cancer.  Disturbing the charred products will release voluminous clouds of choking ash.  These fires are especially dangerous to houses with sleeping occupants, since it is nearly silent.  Necromancers are also fond of casting this on their enemies, who may not realize that they are being consumed until it to late.  Ash fire causes no pain, just an instant sensation of deadness, which may be hard to notice in the middle of a battle.

Water extinguishes it, as does a lack of air.  However, since it is harder to "see" which parts are actually burning, it is easy to attack the wrong part of the ash fire, or to badly misjudge its size.  Additionally, ash fire frequently releases poisonous gases, and many would-be rescuers have charged into an ash-burning house, thinking themselves safe from any heat, only to collapse on the shivering floor and be consumed.  Bizarrely, ash fire extinguishes itself once it has burned a set amount of material.  All at once, the ash fire from a single casting will cease as abruptly.

It is commonly accepted that the stolen heat from ash fire is used to stoke the fires of hell.

Green Slime

Just as forest fires incinerate forests, so do outbreaks of green slime disintegrate them.
Green slime is related to the larger, mobile oozes.  Like its larger cousins, it also eats organic material.  It can dissolve a man's arm in seconds, producing an equal volume of slime.  It is not hard to see how this could spread and consume a forest.

Green slime is destroyed by two things: heat and sunlight.  For these reasons, it is normally only found underground.  However, under certain circumstances, it can erupt onto the surface and turn entire forests into slimy wastelands.

The conditions only occur in wet forests that have consecutive days of rain, with sufficiently heavy cloud cover to prevent any sun from shining through.  The jungles of Basharna and the southern Dembraava Wilds are known to occasionally have slime outbreaks.

Those who have survived a slime wave (for that is what such things are called) describe the horrible noise it makes as it consumes the wet forest.  They say it sounds like a million hands stirring a million bowls of noodles, which I suppose doesn't sound very terrifying out of context.

Unlike forest fires, animals from the slimed sections of the forest sometimes carry small pockets of slime on their bodies.  When these animals flee from the slimed sections, they carry the slime with them.  Rangers fleeing a slime wave report seeing melting deer dashing ahead of them, only to collapse a few hundred feet later into pools of slime that rapidly spread out into the dark, waterlogged forest.

And there are rumors of even stranger things happening in a forest entirely consumed by slime.  They say that some animals are not eaten by the slime, but form some strange partnership with it (becoming sludgebucks, slimejaws, or green anglers in the process) .  These animals move easily through the slimy mire, and vomit green slime on their enemies.  And no one has ever offered a satisfactory explanation for the the whirlpools that suddenly form in the deep spots, after all the slime has oozed downhill.

Rangers and druids are sometimes tasked with saving towns from slime waves.  This is an extremely difficult task, but with sufficient resources it is sometimes done.  Ironically, the best countermeasure is to burn sections of the forest to create "slimebreaks".

And even after the slime wave has been exhausted and deadened by sunlight, green slime can still survive beneath the baked surface.  Even years after a major slime wave, parts of the Dembraava Wilds remain dark and wet enough to sustain small patches of green slime.  Many a Dembraavan Ranger has fallen into a murky pool, only to emerge with a patch of green slime rapidly consuming his knee.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Spell Called Catherine


Trovalos Mendalusus is a wizard.  Although he is hardly a world-class archmage, he is known within Meltheria as a summoner of no small talent.  Mendalusus is also regarded as a glutton and a lecher, with an odd sense of humor and a narrow set of associates.  He's not unkind or unpleasant, merely awkward and sometimes self-absorbed.

Just last month, Mendalusus finally capitulated to the demands of his friends, and shared a spell he had recently developed.  It is simple enough any wizard past his apprenticeship can cast it.  He calls the spell "Catherine".


Quite simply, the spell summons a woman of the same name.  The spell lasts for several hours.  She is young, attractive, blonde, and wears a large blue dress (although she can change into anything provided).  In personality, she is quick to laugh and prone to pouting.  In all respects, she acts exactly like a real human being.  She is especially eager to obey any commands, as long as they are phrased politely.

It is fair to say that Mendalusus did not anticipate his spell would get such a reaction.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Yoblins, Funglybears, and Filth Libraries

Boring but Mandatory History:
Vega the Fleshcrafter was an ancient and powerful wizard.  The mysteries of the universe were Monday crosswords to him.  At his touch, living flesh leaped up and swirled into new shapes so that it might be more pleasing to him.  (He gave awful massages.)

He was also very evil.  Like all evil wizards, Vega was continually inflicted with "do-gooders" and "heroes", the most durable and pernicious of which was Sir Hactor.  This perpetually meddling paladin-creature went on to become Vega's nemesis (and eventually his slayer).

In his last decade of life, Vega noticed that Hactor was destroying his strongholds faster than he could construct them.  He needed to find a way to build many, many hideouts cheaply and quickly.  He applied his magic to goblin and fungus, and was happy when he his efforts eventually bore the first yoblin—creatures with a complex and swift reproduction time and a genetic imperative towards making villainous strongholds.

Diminishing HP

I've written before about a type of DnD where players' power levels off early instead of continuing linearly up beyond the stratosphere, where they collide with satellites and survive, despite taking 10d6 damage from the impact.

One simple way to do this for HP is to cap HP at level 3 (or whatever), but allow the player to keep rerolling their HP, ignoring the new roll if it is lower.  The average HP per level looks like this:

I've included the non-plateauing version of the d8 HD, too.  But that's just averages.  If you want a more nuanced look at the HP spread, here's a graph of the chance of each possible HP score for a d6 HD.

You can see how it eventually crawls up to 18, and then kind of scrunches up in front of it.

Just use the best 3 out of all your available levels.  So a MU3, F1 would roll 2d4+1d8 for HP.

And thanks,, for keeping me company at 2am and making such nice graphs.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Skill Score

This is a skill system.  I tried to design something that was as beautifully simple as the "roll-under" method and would integrate seamlessly with it.

Skill scores are treated like backup ability scores.  They have a (soft) maximum of 18, the same as ability scores.  When you attempt a skill, you roll the skill die AND the ability score die.  If either of them succeed, the attempt succeeds.  If they both succeed, the attempt is a double success, and good things happen. (The action is faster/quieter/reversible/etc or an ally gets a bonus on the same check).


Alice has 10 Dexterity.  Tip-toeing silently through a courtyard full of dead leaves requires her to roll a 10 or lower on a d20 roll.

Bob has 10 Dexterity and 8 Move Silently.  When he attempts to move through the same courtyard, he rolls two dice at the same time.  If his ability die is 10 or lower, he succeeds.  If his skill die is 8 or lower, he succeeds.  If both of the rolls succeed, Bob is even able to sweep a couple of cobblestones free of leaves, making it easier for Charlie, coming along behind him.

Modifying Difficulty
Easy/Hard: Treat the ability and skill scores as if they were 2 points higher/lower.
Really Hard: Treat the ability and skill scores as if they were 1/2 their current value.
Experts Only: Anything less than a double success is a failure.
Really Technical: Only roll the skill die.  Only experience can help you now.

Opposed Checks
Opposed parties roll their ability die and their skill die (if they have one).
Whoever has more successes wins.
In case of a tie, whoever has the highest number wins.

Generating Skill Scores
This is the chunky part.  I have some ideas about how to best do this, but I'll save that for a different post.  But if you want to convert X-in-6 to a skill score, then: 1-in-6 becomes 3, 2-in-6 becomes 7, 3-in-6 becomes 10, 4-in-6 becomes 13, and 5-in-6 becomes 17.

Closing Thoughts
The nice part about this is that both ability score and skill contribute equally to success.  And a lower a PC's ability score is, the more they gain by taking some training in a related skill.  But even if you have 18 Strength, you still might want some Climibing skill, because double successes are very nice.  And it naturally caps at 18/19, so there is no temptation to indulge in infinitely increasing DC silliness, a la 3.x.

Are there other systems that use something like this?  Scrap Princess had a sorta-similar something a little while ago, but I can't find any others.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Triggers and Tricks

Hey, I made up another system to introduce drama and heroism into your game!  It's frankensteined from stuff you've probably seen before.

Optional: every player picks a Trigger.  These can be phobias, addictions, or flaws.  Whatever they pick, it should be something that makes their lives harder.  Claustrophobia means that they'll have a hard time in tight spaces.  Alcoholism means that they'll seek out booze when they're in town, and may be drunk when they need to be sober.  Love means that they love someone else, and will react irrationally when their loved one is threatened (or at least take stupid risks) and be depressed if their loved one is hurt.  Wanted means that there's a fat bounty on your head.

Whenever your trigger causes you problems, you get a Trick.  You can't stockpile these, so if you've got one, use it.

Tricks (a.k.a. hero points a.k.a can be spent to help you do tricky stuff.  Spend them on important rolls, like shooting an arrow that Must Not Miss, or when Saving Against Spontaneous Combustion.  If you spend it right before you take an action/save/whatever, you get to roll 3x and use the best one.  If you spend it after the action/save/whatever, you only get one reroll.

Sometimes players appreciate mechanisms that pander to their roleplaying.  Sometimes people want a mechanical incentive to indulge in some character-building.  The nice this about this system is that it is sort of tit-for-tat: when the character's background causes problems, they get a hero point to balance it out.  So PCs who have triggers are balanced with the players who don't.  Sorta maybe.

Lumpy Space Monkeys

Welcome back, agent.  Please remain in the thermal bath until fully stabilized.  Do not remove the intravenous connectors from your arm while the machine monitors your condition.  If you experience any of the following symptoms, please visit a medical bay for treatment: nausea, dizziness  confusion, cramping, tremors, dry mouth, palpitations, weakness of the lower limbs, seizures, hallucinations.  Memory loss is normal, and usually fades in 3-5 days.

 When you have recovered, you may join your teammates in the adjacent cabin for refreshments.  Do not overindulge in the food carts, as the absorption ability of the small intestine is greatly impeded by the persistent side-effects of cryostasis. 

The Axis Mundi thanks you for your service.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Crawling Giants

There are giants in the earth.  And worms, too.
They are not from this world.  They traveled here long ago by following lights in the ground.  Subterranean will-o-the-wisps that glowed with the baritone frequencies of longwave light.  Even through thousands of feet of lithosphere, the dancing lights burned like torches in the tellurium retinas of the giants.  They still see them  sometimes, moving deep in the earth.  But the lights are elusive, and cannot be captured or approached.
So now the giants live here, although they do not belong here.  A fact that is as apparent to us as it is to them.  They are the vagabonds of the underworld.  They are the dispossessed.