Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Fixing Religion: Augury, Blasphemy, and Oaths

So I've read three things that have each been extremely instrumental in reforming how I think about religion.  None are short, all are excellent.

There's a lot of intriguing aromas wafting up from this stew.  There's also the stench of an idea: that I've been doing religions wrong this whole time.  And perhaps, so have you.

If you are like me, dear reader, then most of your knowledge of religion is firmly rooted in Christianity and Greek Myth (and probably a smattering of Norse).  These retelling are themselves repackaged by the hands of European Christianity, and by the time we crack open the DMG and hear Gary's infectious categorizing, we're all groomed to treat religion as if it were a cohesive system of gods and domains that all grew out of common mythological origin.

Which is almost entirely all backwards.

Relgions emerge from societal needs.  They reinforce a society and are in turn reinforced by it.  They  justify behaviors that can't be explained any other way.  And importantly, religions can emerge as behaviors before they become beliefs.  

Why do we grow crops for two years on a field and then let it rest on the third?  Because Obrieda the Earthmother had three children, but the third one died in infancy, so we let the field rest on the third year to honor her.

Farmers that follow this practice will have better yields than farmers who don't.  This is proof of Obrieda, and it is proof that she is pleased by our sacrifice (every third year) since it acknowledges her loss.  The crops grow and spread--so do stories of Obrieda.

Gods grow from the dirt between a farmer's toes, not the peaks of Mt. Olympus.

Gods become something that needs to be placated.  What behaviors please them?  What behaviors anger them?  More babies are born during the full moon because this pleases the goddess of motherhood.  Drinking stagnant water angers Ogoria, the god of mosquitos, who curses your intestines.  You can learn a lot about the spirits this way.

Square yurts fall down faster than round ones.  This is proof that the Envalys, who is the sun, favors things that are round like her.  Squares are bad luck.

These things don't work because they're magic or divine.  They just work.  How do chickens make eggs?  Same thing.

Later, much later, comes the cosmology and the stories told around the campfire.  Later on, religion is co-opted into supporting a societal structure, through the invention of religious morality.  Only then does Obrieda the Earthmother start caring whether or not wives commit adultery.  

Religions rise and fall with their practitioners, who must necessarily make compromises as they interact with other religions.  Gods are merged, inconsistencies smoothed over.  By the time Plutarch shows up to write about the local religion, the divine wilderness has been tamed, caged, and organized as a zoo.  (The mistake is to think that from the zoo, the wilderness was created.)

Priests are the people who know how to best keep the gods happy--when to hold the festivals that guarantee good harvests.  Priests are not pushing a divine agenda.  Athena is the goddess of wisdom become she is wise, not because she wants people to read more books.

by Andrew Kuzinsky
How I Will Use This

First off, I'm getting rid of clerics (at least in the traditional sense).  You can still be a wizard attached to a church (just as you can be a fighter attached to a church), but you aren't a cleric.  (Because why wouldn't a religion employ wizards?  It almost implies that wizards are the secular counterparts of the religious priests, when historically magic was very, very closely interwoven with religion.)

I'd really like to blend the boundaries between non-magical, the arcane, and the divine.  Why does it work?  How do chickens make eggs?  

Clerics are the guys that perform weddings and funerals.  They're no more of an adventuring class than "merchant", "scribe", or "pope".

Bottom line: There's very little difference between a typical D&D Cleric and a Wizard of the Red Temple.  I already gave my wizards weird observances, boons, and banes anyway.  You could also view this as a merging of the cleric and wizard class--common people probably see them the same, and any wizard is going to be religious (because everyone is religious).  

Instead, faith is something for the whole party to practice--not just one member.  Let's talk about how to do that.


Augury isn't a spell.  It's something that anyone can do.  Just go to a temple (or shrine) and make a sacrifice.

The important thing to know here is that you aren't asking a deity to tell you the future, you're asking the deity if they will be pleased or displeased by something.  You aren't asking if you will win the battle, you're asking if it will please Dendari if you go into battle tomorrow.

The trick is that you can still sort of tailor the question by choosing the god carefully.  Different gods want different things.  (See Three Gods that Every Adventurer Knows, below.)

Performing Augury

This requires either a shrine or a temple.

1. A divine intelligence will tell you whether they approve of the thing you name.  You can name a course of action ("Setting out to recapture the Traitor Horse.") or a noun ("The city of Mondaloa.")

2. Make a sacrifice and roll a d100.  Consult the chart.

3. Receive the answer: auspicious, ill, or terrible.

If you get it under a certain value, the augury will be accurate.  Otherwise it will be random (odds = inauspicious, even = auspicious).  If the augury fails and the dice show double odd numbers (e.g. 99) then this is a terrible omen and you must do something drastic (very possibly this is many sacrifices) in order to avert a horrible fate.  If you were asking about a possible plan of action--and I must stress this--you must not do it.

If you ask "Will it please Phosmora if I rob the tomb of Godo the Heretic?", receive a terrible omen in return, and persist in robbing the tomb of Godo the Heretic anyway, the DM is well within her rights to collapse the entrance, trapping you in the tomb.  Because fuck you, you were warned.

The Augury Chart

Bottle of Wine (1s): Base 40% success rate.
Three Chickens (10s): Base 50% success rate.
Cow (100s): Base 60% success rate.
But bear in mind that you can literally sacrifice anything.

Favored sacrifice: +20%
Rare, favored sacrifice: Automatic success.

Tip the Clerics: +X%, where X is the square root of the money donated.  X is also the X-in-20 chance that the high clerics will take an interest in you, and will want to talk to you personally.  Clerics are found at temples, but not shrines (and yes, some of them are wizards).

Remember that everything you sacrifice must be in pairs.  One for your deity of interest, one for Zulin.  There will be someone at every temple who will take your second cow.

If you don't have either a shrine or a temple, you can do it yourself at a -10% penalty.

If you don't have a sacrifice, you can still attempt it at a -10% penalty, based on what you promise to deliver.  ("Great Dendari!  Have mercy on those who are lost!  I swear to you on my hope of heaven, I will sacrifice 100 chickens to you when I return.")  Failure to immediately repay this debt incurs a curse.

I haven't mentioned it yet, but all of this must be accompanied by proclamations and praise.

Three Gods Every Adventurer Knows

Phosmora, Goddess of Gold, Darkness, Domestic Violence, and the Underworld
Favorite Offerings: black goats, black wine, black pearls
Rare Offering: A black goat, born under a new moon, ritualistically blinded and consecrated at birth.
Augury: A parent buries a gold coin in dirt on a new moon.  A child digs it up on the next new moon.  Afterwards it is kept in a bag filled with soil, and no light is allowed to touch it.  This is a consecrated coin.  The consecrated coin is flipped in a perfectly black room, then a torch is lit and coin is consulted.  (Coin balancing on edge = terrible omen).
Approves: When you find gold underground, but especially when you go deeper underground.
Curse: Curse of the Sun.  You are blind.  However, if you are underground and carry a lit torch and a wavy sword, you can temporarily see normally.  Gold burns your flesh.

Dendari, Goddess of Survivorship, Fear, Tea, Acrobats, and Friendship
Favorite Offerings: A tool that has helped you survive, specific types of tea, a white rooster.
Rare Offering: A tool that saved your life, against all odds.
Augury: A four-hour ceremony where three liquids are ritualistically presented, refused, implored, then accepted.  The four liquids can be anything, but are traditionally four types of tea.  Requires a teacup and tea leaves, which are examined at the ceremony's end.  (The teacup spills = terrible omen).
Approves: When you escape to safety, but especially when you meet interesting people.
Curse: The Curse of Bravery.  Whenever you see a monster, you must Save or yell a challenge.  At the start of every combat, you must Save or place yourself in the most dangerous position (e.g. jumping off a boat to stab the sharks, etc), with another Save on subsequent rounds to end this effect.  Immune to fear.

Cembric, The Second Holy Emperor, God of Crossroads, Pilgrims, Amputees, and Wolves
Favorite Offerings: Cattle
Rare Offering: A carnivore that has eaten your hand.
Augury: Haruspecy.  An animal is killed.  The heart is thrown to the West.  The stomach is thrown to the East.  The kidneys are thrown to the North.  And the genitals are thrown to the South (because fuck the South Wind).  Finally the liver is removed, examined, and burned.  (Malformed organs or unknown pregnancy = terrible omen).
Approves: When you reach your destination, but especially when you get lost.
Curse: The Blackheart Curse.  Your hands become bent and your thumb becomes warped--you can no longer use tools or weapons correctly.  The Authority rescinds the gift of Language.  You run on all fours.  Your teeth snaggle.  You gain a natural attack (clawing and biting) that deals 1d6 damage.  You are tormented by fleas.

And of course, all gods will encourage you to kill orcs.  (But not underground.  Orcs are invisible to gods underground, except Phosmora (who they hate) and the monstrous, ancient gods that only orcs know of (who they hate).

Beware, since gods tend to enjoy more than one thing.  For example, if the Third Emperor approves when you ask about travelling down the subterranean river, does that mean that the river will bring you closer to your objective?  Or that the river will get you lost?


Whenever you blaspheme, or make light of a god, you have a X-in-20 chance of being cursed, where X is your level + your Charisma.  Gods are more likely to notice important people.  And honestly, if you've made it past level 1, it's probably because some god thought you were worth keeping alive.  Show some gratitude.

This rule is negated if both the player and the character whisper their blasphemies, very quietly.

The rule is also negated if you are very clearly doing something in service of one god, against an enemy god (such as destroying their temple and massacring their priesthood).

This also applies to players who blaspheme against your gods.  If they want to make fun of Dendari, they can do it away from the table.


An Oath is entered into by one or multiple parties.  

They must loudly state:
1. Which god they are binding themselves to.
2. What they promise to do.
3. What their penalty is if they renege.

Then, if they break their promise, they suffer the god's curse (see above).  If they die with a divine curse on them, they go directly to hell.  For example, if you swear on the Second Emperor that you are telling the truth, and then you lie and your teeth go all fucky, everyone will know that you were lying.

To determine the odds of this happening, use the Augury Chart above, with the following addition.

No Sacrifice (0s): Base 10% success rate.
Touching the Vulgate (Bible): +10%
Touching a relic: +20%.

Once you make this check (in secret), you'll never make it a second time.  For example, if you swear on the Second Emperor that you are telling the truth, and then you speak and you don't suffer a horrible curse, then it isn't clear if you were telling the truth or if the Oath check failed.

Bear in mind that questgivers will sometimes make you swear an Oath that you will perform the quest as described.  The upside is that the patron will usually be forced to bind themselves according to the same Oath (so they won't backstab you either).

If a group makes an Oath together, then they will suffer the effects together (if any).  One roll per Oath.

This replaces geas, which was always an ungraceful spell.

Desperate Prayers

A party can attempt a desperate prayer once per session.

The character must loudly state:
1. What they want from the god.
2. What they promise to do if they get it.

The default chance of success is 0%.  The god will only intercede once, and in the smallest way possible.  These rolls are made in secret, and at the last possible moment.

If the player requests something small, that could possibly be explained away by coincidence, they get up to coincidence, they get up to +5%.

If the player promises something generous that they have the capacity to give, they get up to 5%.

Example 1 - Goren Kriegod wants to know which path leads to the surface, and so he cries "Phosmora, who was once as slave as I am a slave, guide me out of your embrace!  I must find again the sky, or be swallowed up by these black walls!  Rescue me and I will sacrifice a fine bull for your!".  +5% for a tiny, deniable action.  +3% for a decent offer.  There is an 8% chance that a black rat crawls out from a crack and then flees, showing Goren the correct way out.

Example 2 - Goren Kriegod asks Dendari to help him survive this battle.  If he survives, he promises to build her a temple.  +3% for an action that difficult to hide as coincidence.  +1% for an unlikely promise (Goren is too poor to build a temple to Dendari).  If Goren would take lethal damage in this fight, there is a 4% chance that some coincident prevents it, leaving Goren at 0 HP but otherwise unhurt.

Up Next

Religion is not something that one party member (the cleric) has.  Religion is something that the whole party enters into together.  Religion something for the party to put on their party sheet.

I haven't got the prototype off the ground yet, but it will work a bit like the guardian angel concept that I wrote about before.

Essentially, the party declares that they want to worship Esuna, the goddess of serpents and healing.  The party works together to raise their Devotion to Esuna.  The party gains magic dice (that they all share) that they can use to cast heal on each other through exhortation.  The party has no cleric, and  yet they all still have access to healing magic.  (Bonus: no one has to be the healbot.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Death Metal

The Debasement of Metal

According to the Metal Heretics, metal was an invention of the Great Spirits of Earth, who had seen far enough into the future to discover the heat death that awaited us there.

Metal would be a perfect, immutable, timeless material.  It would not rust or bend.  It would be the only shield capable of defending against the ravages of entropy (for even liches crumble to dust, after a few millennia).

Allegedly, before the arrival of the Authority the planet was in the process of turning itself into solid metal.

The notion of any immortality other than his own was offensive to the Authority, who stripped this trait away from metals.  Iron was the first to submit, and so it was allowed to retain its strength.  Iron that accepted the element of life (carbon) was allowed to retain even more.  But iron forever bucked the reins, and so diseases and rust were sent to it.

While the Church has never tamed iron's bloodlust, titanium's loyalty and obedience have been unflinching.  It is what the weapons of angels are made of.

The proudest metals resisted the longest.  Shameful was the fate of gallium, but none were brought lower than mercury, which was beaten and shaken until nothing was left of its perfection except its shine.  It is a watery cripple, its hatred for the Authority's creations manifesting as venom.

The only metal that could not be bent was adamantite.  Although the Authority could not humble it, he sent his angels to gather it up and fling it into space.  This is why adamantium is only known to come from meteor strikes.

Precursor Golem by Chippy
Transmetallic Alchemists

The Immortality of metal is what the Transmetallic Alchemists seek.

The Transmetallicum manufactures gold only to fund their research into immortality.  So far, their most successful processes involve the large-scale consumption of mercury.  So while they've successfully created immortal, metal humans before, these alchemists have never retained their sanity.  One by one, they have all been captured and entombed inside cubes of steel.

This is not to say that the Alchemists never free their Immortals, whenever they require an immortal metal man to fuck some shit up--it's just that they're a little hesitant to do so, given the high chance that the cure will be worse than the disease.

(Stats as an ogre.  Capable of forming metal weapons and tools from their body.  Capable of creating fins and 20' spider legs from their limbs.  Can drink water to create steam explosions (3d6 AoE) after a few minutes of heating.  Insane.  Utterly immune to damage.)


No one ever resisted the Authority without allies.

When Adamantine spurned Heaven it alloyed itself with Hell.  It is only through Hell's blessings that the metal has been successful in its defiance thus far.

All of the adamantine swords in Centerra were hell-forged.  Strip away the swordgrip of Saint Handrayda and you will find a hell-sword, bound, purified, and annointed.

A less-commonly known way to forge Adamantine is through the blasphemy-forges of the dwarves, who build blasphemy-wheels to light their furnaces.  (Just as prayer-wheels submit a prayer whenever they revolve, so does a blasphemy-wheel provoke divine wrath.)  Once the blasphemy-wheels are spun up to an appropriate velocity, they use divine lightning to create an arc furnace of incomprehensible power.

All of the builders and blacksmiths go to Hell, of course, but dwarves don't believe in Hell.  And the great blasphemy furnaces have a limited lifespan.  They hang from the roofs of great caverns by adamantine chains, but even those chains and the systems of counterweights are eventually shaken loose by the furious earthquakes that assault the region.

And so adamantine persists in a state of tension.  If Goxlagon (the Elemental Evil of Earth) were ever to falter in his support, it is likely that all of the adamantine in Centerra would have its boiling point set to somewhere about room temperature.

The Throne of Heaven

Inside the sun, the Throne is built from the most loyal servants: titanium, bismuth, and tungsten.

Tar Lath Lien, the Dracolich, the Serpent of the Apocalyse, who holds the key that opens the lock that seals away Armageddon, claims to have visited it and plundered it.

The Seat of the Authority is empty,  he claims, and all the hosts of heaven conspire to hide this fact.

The Gift of Metal

The Authority made metal malleable and finite, and by doing so, made it useful to mankind.  This has always been painted as a charitable deed, and one worthy of praise.

Indeed, nearly every aspect of the world was tuned in order to primp it for the arrival of humanity, the Authority's favored children.  Metal would hardly be an exception in this regard.

This story of metal and heaven is usually told alongside another one. . .

The Gift of Death

The first gift the Authority gave humanity was Life.  The earth would give them food, they would breathe the Authority's sweet air, feel His warmth upon their skin, and they would offer him joyful praise.  Such was the intention.

But there were problems in these earliest gardens.

The first humans were immortal, and knew neither death or age.  Their children were numerous, and soon they crowded the valley and the riversides, and struggled against each other.

Secondly, they would never inherit.  They were subservient to their fathers, who were subservient to their fathers, who were subservient to the Authority.  Without the passing of the elders, they would remain servile, and would never know what it was like to have authority themselves.

Third and most distressingly, was the corruption that the world instilled in its residents.  A child was born innocent, of course, but a decade of struggle and insecurity brought dark thoughts.  The Authority began to see that after several centuries of immortality, there would be no one suitable to join him in Heaven.

And so the second gift of the Authority was Death.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

This is my attempt at a comprehensive system for HP, Sanity, Death and Dismemberment.  All that good stuff.


HP stands for Heroic Poise.  This is your ability to survive the world's cruelties, both mental and physical without impact.  HP turns potentially deadly blows into bruises, exhaustion.  It also includes some intangibles such as luck and divine favor.  HP are "don't get hit points" but they are also "keep it together points".

Your HP is a reservoir.  They soak up bodily injury and emotional trauma similarly.  Once you are out of HP, enemy blades start to carve up your belly, and panic begins constricting your brain.  You no longer stand like a hero; you stand like someone in fear of their imminent death.


Anything that could reasonably kill a person deals at least 1 HP of damage.  Cats don't deal any damage, because cats have never killed a human (except through infection, or that one cat that I assume smothered a baby somewhere.  Babies have 1/2 a point of HP.)


When the world tries to kill you, you take damage, which subtracts from your HP.

Damage works the way that it always does, except that it includes emotional damage as well.  Your HP can be reduced all the way down to 0 without any ill effect, but any damage that your HP cannot soak up will Overflow and cause something bad.

Additionally, exhaustion can deplete your HP as well.  Run some sprints and I guarantee that you will not be able to defend yourself as effectively as if you were fully rested.  (Exhaustion counts as non-lethal damage.)
  • Non-lethal Overflow merely knocks you out for 1d6 + Overflow rounds.
  • Lethal Overflow will cause Wounds, and may kill you.
  • Emotional Overflow will cause Stress, and may have additional effects depending on the emotion.  For example, fear damage causes you to flee or stand there gibbering (player's choice).
There's no penalty for being at 0 HP (except that you are very easy to kill).


Emotional damage is something that I've flip-flopped on many times.  It does make intuitive sense--once you realize that HP is not meat-points, you realize that it can be worn down by fear, depression, and despair.  I guarantee that soldiers do not become better fighters when they are panicked.

Emotional damage will be something rare, though.  You won't see it often.


Any lethal damage that is not soaked up by your HP overflows into your Wounds.  So if you had 3 HP and then took 5 damage from an arrow , you now have 2 Wounds.

Wounds subtract from your Max HP, but cannot reduce it below 0. (Damage, Wounds, and Stress actually all subtract from your Max HP, which is why they're linked in the image above.)

When you gain Wounds, you start Dying.  :(

Dying characters fall unconscious and drop whatever they were holding.

Dying characters make a Stabilization check at the end of each round.  This is a Constitution check against a DC of 15 + Wounds.  Every person attempting to stop the bleeding (max 2) gives you +2 to this check.  Certain things (bandages) can give an additional +2.
  • Natural 1 = You die.
  • Fail = You gain another Wound.
  • DC 16 = No change.
  • DC 24 (or Natural 20) = You stabilize.
Once you stabilize, you wake up in 10 minutes.  You have gained a scar and you feel like absolute shit.

If you gained Wounds from a critical hit, you gain a Disfigurement (e.g. a missing arm, but more on this later).  (See Disfigurement Table below.)

Disfigurements are permanent, and most will make your character weaker in some way.  Perhaps its time to retire?

So our example adventurer might wake up with 5 Wounds.  Their Max HP, formerly 3, is now 0.  They cannot gain HP until they remove the Wounds (since the Wounds are greater than the HP).

If they woke up with 1 Wound, their effective Max HP would be 2.

Wounds are removed by spending time in a safe place with medical care.  Once the player spends a session playing a different character, the Wounds are removed.  (It is not enough that a character spends a session unplayed--the player must actually play a different character for a session.)


Character death is one of the more severe punishments the game can dish out to a player.  It's a Failure condition: you fucked up and now you don't get to play your character anymore.  Consider Wound removal a similar punishment on a smaller scale: you fucked up a little and now you don't get to play your character for a session.

"Take a session off to heal Wounds" also serves another purpose: encouraging troupe play.  A player gets to experience another level 1 character, which could be a nice change of pace, plus it gives you someone to fall back on if your primary character dies.

If you stop here, and don't incorporate Stress (the next section) you basically have the same amount of bookkeeping as your average D&D version.  (Wounds are no more complex than death saves, for example.)

Here's a scrap of a character sheet I drew to illustrate it.  (It doesn't include Stress.)

Stress-Free Version

Any emotional damage that is not soaked up by your HP overflows into your Stress.  Stress causes Breakdowns (short-term badness) and Derangements (semi-permanent badness).

Stress subtracts from your max HP, but cannot reduce it below 0.

If you have any amount of Stress at all, your Derangement becomes active (see below).

Whenever you gain Stress, you need to make a Stress check.  This is a simple check against a DC of 5 + Stress.  (Roll a d20 without any modifier.)

If you fail this roll, you have a Breakdown.

Every character has a random Breakdown and a random Derangement.  These are rolled the first time that the character has a Breakdown.  Once rolled, they are permanent.  (Think of it as a delayed facet of character creation.)

Whenever that character has a Breakdown, it is always the same one.

On future failed Stress checks, the character merely has a Breakdown (since the Derangement is already active).

Once your Derangement is active, you perform the bad behavior described.

When a character spends time in a safe place that is peaceful, Stress is removed and the Derangement is inactivated.  Once the player spends a session playing a different character, the Wounds are removed.


Since emotion damage is rarer than physical damage, we can assume that characters walking around with Stress will also be rarer.  However, the Derangements are pretty shitty, so it balances it out.

Some characters will have worse Breakdowns and Derangements than others.  These are the ones that will probably be asked to read the Latin.  This is as it should be.

The full pain homunculus

Bypassing HP

Emotional and physical damage are ablated by HP, but there are ways to sidestep this buffer.

Horrific Lovecraftian shit will bypass your HP and deal you Stress automatically.

Similarly, an attack against a helpless character (asleep, tied up) reduces their current HP to 0 and deals its damage entirely as Wounds.

Places of Recovery

An army hospital is safe and has medical care, but it is not peaceful.

A farm is safe and peaceful, but does not have medical care.

A monastery is all three.  So is a town, if you know where to look.


If your Stress + Wounds ever equal 10 or more, you cease to be a playable character.

If Wounds brought you here, you are merely dead.

If Stress brought you here, you go insane (or some equivalent).  You can be dragged back to civilization (while exhibiting the worst of your Breakdown + Derangement) and rehabilitated, gaining all of the benefits of Retirement, but you can never again be a playable character.


This is a buff that you gain when you are in town, and it is gained by having FUN.

Race your horses on the beach.  Cook a big feast for some NPCs.  Host a dance on the village green.

When a party is Cheered, the party gains 3 temporary HP.  These are shared HP.  The first person who would lose HP, instead removes poker chips from a bowl on the center of the table.

It's not hard to get Cheered, but you have to do something different every time (or at least party with different people).


Look at the example above.

We have a character that currently has 9 damage.  They're in trouble, because they're effectively at 0 HP.  If they take any more damage, it'll go straight to Stress or Wounds.

Their Max HP is 9, but if the character recuperated in a monastery while the player used a sidekick for a session, their Max HP would be back up to 12.

They don't have any Disfigurements, but if they gain any Stress, they have a chance to vomit.  They're currently Abusive, and will remain so until their Stress is brought back down to 0.


Disfigurement Table [d6]
Note: Common sense overrides this table. Falls are unlikely to knock out your eye, for example.  Psychic damage might only put people in comas, or it might roll a d6 like normal (missing leg = all the nerves in your leg die), depending on the DM.
1 Arm Missing/Useless Lose 1 point of Str.
2 Hand Missing/Useless Lose 1 point of Dex.
3 Crushed Ribs Lose 1 point of Con. Cannot speak louder than a whisper.
4 Leg Missing/Useless Lose 1 point of Str. -4 Movement (assuming you have a crutch).
5 Coma Lose 1 point of Int. Wake up in 1d20*1d20 days (if either of those dice show a 1, you will never wake up) assuming prompt, competent medical care. 50% chance of waking up with a new skill: Spirits at Rank 1.
6 Missing Eye Lose 1 point of Wis. -2 Ranged Attacks.

Random Breakdown Table [d8]
Note: No Breakdown lasts longer than 10 minutes (except Alter Ego). When you are panicked, all you can do is move, cry, whimper, and hyperventilate.
1 Fight You attack the the source of your Stress until it is removed or destroyed.
2 Flight You flee from the source of your Stress until it is removed or at least 3 rooms distant.
3 Faint Fall unconscious. At the start of each round, you have a 1-in-6 chance to wake.
4 Vomit You vomit (free action) and drop to 0 HP.
5 Scream You start screaming, once per round. Each scream incurs an Encounter check. You cannot stop yourself from screaming, but other people can. Lasts until the source of your Stress is removed or destroyed.
6 Cling You grapple a random adjacent PC and refuse to move. Lasts until the source of your Stress is removed or destroyed.
7 Self-destruction The DM chooses 1 action for you to perform. It is always the worst possible action (throwing away your magic sword). If you cast a harmful spell on yourself, you get a Save.
8 Alter Ego Roll a new set of mental statistics, personality, goals, etc. You are now a new level 0 character with a new name. Whenever this Breakdown occurs again, you switch back. Your alter ego levels up separately.

Random Derangement [d20]
1-5 Proximal phobia Phobia for whatever gave you the most recent point of Stress. If nothing seems applicable, pick one of the other phobias randomly. Use 6-10 for inspiration.
6 Claustrophobia You panic in small spaces. Gain 1 Stress each time you end a round in a small space.
7 Acrophobia You panic within 5' of a fall (at least 10' high). Gain 1 Stress each time you fall.
8 Thalassophobia You panic in or above water that is deep (5' or more) or murky. Gain 1 Stress each time you end a turn in deep or murky water, or if you fall in.
9 Nyctophobia You panic when you are without a light source. Gain 1 Stress each time you end a round in the dark.
10 Thanatophobia You panic when you see a corpse (including the undead), or when a person starts Dying. Gain 1 Stress each time you touch a corpse, are affected by the undead, or if a PC or hireling dies.
11 Talking to Yourself Never surprise enemies. Enemies surprise the party 1-in-6.
12 Disenchanted Whenever you are supposed to leave town (or a safe campsite) for some dangerous location, there is a 50% chance that you retire instead. When this Derangement is removed, there is a 1-in-6 chance you decide to retire anyway.
13 Escapism Automatically fail Initiative rolls.
14 Guilt Cannot level up.
15 Abusive Whenever someone rolls a critical failure, you will verbally abuse them, dealing them 2 emotional damage (anger).
16 Pacifist Whenever you attempt lethal harm, you take 2 points of emotional damage (despair). You can still trip enemies so that your warrior friend can kill them, you just can't trip them off a cliff.
17 Depression You cannot benefit from Cheer, and neither can the people around you. If the other PCs go get Cheered without you, you have a 50% chance of abandoning the party, fleeing into the night, because fuck those guys.
18 Comfort Object Pick an item in your inventory. Whenever it is out of your possession, gain 1 Stress. You panic until it is returned to you. (This object doesn't change when this Neurosis is inactive.)
19 Sadist Once you attempt lethal harm, you cannot take combat actions that don't include attempting to kill your target. (No fleeing, no healing, etc.) If you level up with this Derangement active, you can only take levels in Slayer.
20 Morbid Curiosity When encountering something that is weird and potentially dangerous, the DM can ask to you to make a Cha Save to resist investigating it ("reading the Latin out loud, picking up the glowing sword, etc.) When you level up, you can only take levels in Warlock. (If you lack a familiar, one will be provided.)


Negative traits are fun, but they shouldn't be something that is picked at character creation.  (Balance issues, synergy/powergaming issues) but it works well if they are generated randomly the first time that they become relevant.  (DELAY ROLLS AS LONG AS POSSIBLE).

A person with acrophobia could walk along the top of a tall wall, they'd just be panicked the whole time. They wouldn't be able to attack an enemy or even shout a warning to their allies.

You'll also notice that Sadist and Morbid Curiosity both force characters into choosing a character class that they might not want.  I think this is wonderful.  Why should players always get to choose their next character class?  (ATTACK ALL PARTS OF THE CHARACTER SHEET.)

Disenchanted is a potentially disruptive Derangement, since it can force a player to retire a character that they don't want to.  To that I say "better than being dead".  I almost named this one as Sanity (because what sane person would go into a dungeon) or Family Man.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Advice for OSR DMs

I wrote an introduction section that is meant for the Lair of the Lamb.  

The most interesting part for most of you will probably be the Advice for DMs section, but I'm posting the whole thing here since it's a good explanation of (a) old-school dungeoncrawls, as I see them, and (b) the style of gameplay that I'm shooting for in the Lair of the Lamb.

by Konstantin Kostadinov

What You are Reading

This text is meant to be an introduction to both the GLOG and an old-school dungeoncrawl.

The Goblin Laws of Gaming

The ruleset in this book is sufficient for the adventure in this book.  The rules will serve you well up until the last page of the dungeoncrawl.
But the GLOG that can be printed is not the True GLOG.  The GLOG is a philosophy—gather the rules that improve your game, and exile the rules that don't.  The published rules are just building blocks for you to incorporate or discard as you see fit.
There are two reasons we should shun a monolith.
First, there is no one-size-fits-all RPG.  Your game will improve after you tailor it to meet your group’s expectations and preferences.  Second, the best rules and creatures for your game will not exist in a single book--they will exist in many.  (In another book, I hope I can write about how to best make these decisions.)

An Old-School Dungeoncrawl

The players will control a group of lowly peasants who attempt to escape a dangerous and exotic underground maze.  That makes it a dungeoncrawl.
They will map the dungeon themselves, track light sources, they will rely on their wits (instead of their class abilities), and some will die.  These things make it old-school.
Level-0 Peasants
Each player will play as several level-0 peasants.  By the end of the module, each player will (hopefully) exit the dungeon with a level 1 character who has earned their hit points the hard way.  
We do this so that:
  • The players can start playing quickly.  New players are neither knowledgeable nor invested.  (Later, the surviving characters will be flesh out.  Backstories are for closers.)
  • The players can learn to play with the simplest character sheet possible.  Mechanics can be introduced one by one.
  • The players are not punished too harshly for their mistakes.  Since they have extra lives, they can move on from fatal errors.  Since the dungeon is lethal, it’s best if players are familiar with the genre before they are attached to a particular character.
  • Parts of the dungeon can be closed off to groups without particular gear.  Torches, ropes, and weapons can fulfill the role of keys.
  • The world's cruelty must be instructed.

Advice for DMs

Meaningful Choices

Give the players as many meaningful choices as you can. This means a choice where:
  • The negative outcome is known (at least approximately).
  • The positive outcome is known (at least approximately).
  • The odds are known (at least approximately).
  • The outcomes affect the game (they are not trivial).
  • The player is also free to choose not to choose (they can walk away).
Shoot for at least 4 of the 5.

Similarly, try to avoid giving players meaningless choices.  “Do you go down identical tunnel A or identical tunnel B?”

And respect their decisions.  If the players choose to avoid the ogre encounter, don’t reskin the ogres as half-giants and put the encounter in front of them again.  Conversely, if they find a way to easily kill the ogres in the first round, respect their ingenuity and allow the ogres to die (don’t give the ogres more HP on the fly, or re-insert the encounter later).

We want players to feel ownership of the results of their choices.  “I did this.”  For the same reason, players roll as many of the dice as possible. (The DM rolls as few as possible.)


Part of giving the players meaningful choices is giving them the information they need to make their decisions.  They need to know what the risks and the rewards are for any decision (at least approximately).

Don’t hide information behind rolls--just give it to your players.  When in doubt, give them more information.  It is more important to inform your players than it is to find justifications for how the characters would know things.


You must allow your players’ actions to change, build, and destroy your world.

You are not a tour guide nor a train conductor.  You are the manager of a very dangerous wildlife reserve.  If your players choose to organize the leopards into a militia, tell them where they can find boots.  If your players choose to burn down the forest, let your setting burn.  Let their decisions matter.

(There is nothing wrong with scripted events or fluff encounters; just be cognizant of what they are.)


Players in breezy games will sometimes drink random potions just to see the result, because they know that nothing truly terrible will happen.  This isn’t that kind of game.  Sometimes the strange bottle contains poison, and sometimes it kills you without a saving throw.  Don’t drink poison.

The sooner that players learn this expectation, the sooner they will thrive.  Playing multiple characters helps players learn this lesson without a tutorial section.  Do not go easy on them--if your kindness teaches them that their characters will not die even when they probably should, your kindness has become a cruelty, since it creates expectations that will be shattered much later (and more painfully).

The dungeon is not an unthinking meat grinder.  The dungeon is a test, where wrong answers are penalized.  Skilled players will be able to navigate the dungeon without any deaths, while fools will TPK in the first few rooms.

Combat is a little different, since the chaos of d20 rolls means that the weaker party sometimes triumphs--which is why risk-averse players should also be combat-averse players.

Fair Deaths

Players should die, but they should die as the result of bad choices.

A player that dies shouldn’t feel angry at the injustice of it all.  Ideally, they should sigh, shrug, smile, and say “yeah, I kinda figured that might happen.”

Bad: “You walk into the room.  Rocks fall.  Everyone roll a Dex save or take damage.”

Good: “The sagging ceiling seems to be held up by a spear.”

A player that dies in the first room would have good reason to feel bitter.  A player who dies in the second will only have themselves to blame.  Fair deaths result from meaningful choices.

Keep Track

Every action in the dungeon has a cost.  Searching the bone pile takes precious time.  Torches will burn down.  There is the chance that a random encounter might occur.  Searching the bone pile is a bit like a shop where items are purchased with torchlight and blood.

You cannot have a meaningful campaign unless strict time measures are kept.  The same applies to torches and rations.

HP (or the number of peasants) is another resource.  HP can be thought of as the character’s risk budget.  You spend HP on risky actions.  Characters with more HP can do more things because they can afford to take more risks.  A low-HP group is a miserable thing, crawling past the wonders of the underworld, unable to afford a taste.

Allow Failure

Your players will die: sometimes heroically, sometimes embarassingly.  Resist the temptation to save them.  This is one of the hardest things for groups to adjust to (which is why it’s so important to set expectations early).

Allow PCs to flee combat, but never fudge the dice.  After all, they chose to stay and fight.

Your players will not find all the secret areas.  Resist the temptation to drop hints.  Finding secret areas is one of the things that separates good players from novices.  Not that there’s anything wrong with participation trophies, but there needs to be a trophy for excellence, too.

After the session, resist the temptation to tell players about all of the things that they missed.  Those secrets must be purchased through cleverness and bravery, or not at all.

Allow Success

There must be rewards commensurate with the dangers.  Allow players opportunities to feel powerful.  They will sidestep your traps and one-shot your bosses; celebrate these moments with them.

They will want to make their characters cool.  Let them go buy the swordcane that they want.  The dungeon made the survivors rich--let them throw a party.

Allow Players to Pick their Genre

You cannot enforce morality on your players if they want to play as murderhobos.  Similarly, a horror game is impossible if the players keep making Monty Python jokes.  You can nudge in a direction (after all, the DM is a player, too) but you cannot require.

If you write up courtly intrigues but your players only want to kick down doors and kill things, either (a) have an open conversation about your goals for this game, or (b) give them the kind of game that they want.

Never Fudge the Dice

Better yet, roll them out in the open.

If you are adjusting the difficulty on the fly, then it’s no different than wrestling with your dad.  A mock struggle, followed by a fictional triumph.  You might as well not roll dice at all.  (It might still tell a good story, but how shallow must that victory feel, knowing that was never any other outcome.)

If a combat is too easy for the players, the monsters will flee or surrender (see Morale).

If the combat is too difficult, the players can always run away (see Pursuit).  Learning to flee a losing battle is something that many groups struggle with, which is why that is the first lesson taught in the Lair of the Lamb.

Advice for Players

Think in Terms of the Dungeon Level

Other games might envision an adventure as a series of encounters, each relatively isolated from each other.

This dungeon is not like that.  It is a single, interlocking mechanism.  Opening paths creates loops that you can retreat down.  Monsters roam from room to room.  Noticing a blank spot on the map allows players to infer the location of a secret room.  Answers to a puzzle are found in a different room.  Think globally, rather than locally.

Keep an eye on that map.

Learn Everything You Can

In the beginning, the dungeon is unknown, and peasants will die because they didn’t recognize its perils.  But eventually the dungeon will be maps and the mechanisms tamed.  You will turn the traps against your enemies.  At this point, the dungeon is no longer the wolf beyond the firelight, it is the tame dog at your side, another tool in your backpack.  Yet, the only thing that you have gained in knowledge.

Information is a precious resource that can be leveraged to gain an advantage in nearly every situation.  Your DM has been instructed to give you plenty of information in every situation, but you can always ask for more.  Try to ask a question in every room.

The more you know about the dungeon, the better you can use it to be clever.

Be Clever

Fuck your Int score.  Always be as clever as you can.  You are not wrestling with your dad; the dungeon will kill you if you let it.  

The solutions are not on your character sheet.  You do not have class abilities that you can rely on in every situation.  Look at your inventory, look at the map, look at the other players.  The rules have fuzzy edges in the GLOG--bend reality to your will by bargaining with the DM.

“Can I fill the pit with enough bones so that Akina can climb out?”

“Can I use my Butchery skill to help stabilize Goren?”

“Can I use the brightness juice to blind her?”

None of these three questions are covered by the rules, yet they are all indisputably good ideas.  A good DM will find a way to reward good ideas.

Similarly, many of the puzzles in the Lair of the Lamb are open-ended.  They have multiple solutions that I have imagined, and many other solutions that I haven’t.  Keep throwing ideas at them--eventually something will stick.

Treat the NPCs Like People

Think about what the monsters want.  Every sentient thing has a set of wants and fears, even if it’s as simple as “food” and “light”.

Likewise, no NPC has an entirely rigid response.   Enemies can become friends.  Friends can turn against you. Not because it’s scripted or because it makes dramatic sense, but because of how you treated them, and how well you fit into their wants/fears.

There are no social skills.  You’ll have to figure out what they want by asking them the old-fashioned way.

Avoid Combat

Unless you know you are going to win, of course.  The best combats are the ones that you have already won before they start, whether through trap, trick, poison, or fire.  Never rely on the dice--they will always betray you, in the end.

You may spend more time choosing and planning battles than actually fighting.  This is good.  And remember that running away is always an option.

And if combat is unavoidable, at least try to fall back to a more defensible position.  

Focus on the Dungeon

Right now, the real focus is the byzantine machine at the heart of the world: the dungeon itself. Quickly learn its moods and anatomies.

Keep a mind on your goals: water first, escape last.  

Look for Secrets

There at least a dozen secret areas and items to discover in the Lair of the Lamb.  Finding them will give you useful tools (and level-ups).  All of them will improve your chance of survival.

You must balance your hunt for the exit with your search for resources.  It is not easy to find a balance between these two things, and yet the best players will find a way.