Friday, February 28, 2014

Career Paths for 3d6 Fantasy

So I finished the career paths thing I was working on.  It was a fun little project.  Defined goal.  No risk of it going over 10 pages.  It's sorta generic, but I guess that's the intent, so that people can adapt it to their home games.  Making a career is pretty easy--you just need to come up with 24 entries and throw them in a table.

I've also been obsessing over the statistics of the project because I'm an idiot, but let's not talk about that.

A few test characters were born this morning.  It feels about right.  So far I've gotten a cleric who's god sent him a vision that taught him how to party, because he was such a goody-two-shoes stick in the mud, which doesn't quite suite the Moon God.  I also got a noblewoman who hangs out with military dudes talking about military stuff in an attempt to be popular, but all she really wants to do is dance.  (It is, literally, the only thing keeping her sane.) Which will be tough, with her 3 Dex.

Why am I telling you this?  You can roll your own.

I thought it would be sort of a pain in the ass, but it's actually sort of fun to roll up a character using it.  Each section (Childhood, Adolescence, Adulthood) sort of flows into the next.  So you find yourself considering your childhood when making choices in the adolescence step, and you find yourself looking at your adolescence step when choosing what career you want to go into (and also looking at your stats so far).

I think this is a pretty cool departure from the usual method of background generation, where you roll all of your stats on one page, and then you roll all your history at once on a different page, and then it's your job to assemble a narrative out of that giant pile of unedited stuff.

Let me know if you find any typos.

I fucking hate typos.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Supercharging Chargen with History, Personality

One of the cool things about Traveller is that it has a sweet character creation gauntlet. By the time you've created your character, you've already got a history. It's the product of a random process with a little bit of player input thrown in.

Can we add something like this to D&D without tacking a whole 'nother system on? I believe we can, and we can do it my modifying the system that we use to roll stats. Basically, this would replaced the sacred “3d6 in order” with a generator that describes the character's history and allows you to pin down some of your character before the game starts.

How to Use This Thing

We'll use two sections to get the familiar 3d6 to each stat. The Childhood section will add 1d6, and the Adulthood section will add 2d6.

The first section is Childhood. Kids don't have a lot of power over their own lives. For each stat, roll a 1d6, and then look at the appropriate table to see what it implies.

The Adulthood section has 3 subsections (Approach, Outlook, and Personality). Pick two of those and go through them. Each of those will ask you three questions, asking you to choose between two personality elements or ideals. For example, choosing between Emotive (WIS) or Stoic (CHA).

There are two ways to go through the Adulthood section. The statistically equivalent way is to roll 1d6 for each side, and then find out what sort of character you are getting (Roll First). The more fun method that gives you slightly more control over your character than “3d6 in order” normally does, is to pick which one of the two stats you value more, then roll 2d6, and assign the higher of the two rolls to the ability score you picked (Decide First).


1 You were picked on.
2 You preferred to stay indoors.
3 You moved from place to place.
4 You were fat.
5 You loved to climb.
6 You were a bully.

1 You always overslept.
2 You accidentally broke something precious.
3 You were trapped somewhere.
4 You stole something.
5 You ran for your life.
6 You killed an animal.

1 You once caught a horrible illness when you were a kid.
2 You are an orphan.
3 You lost a parent.
4 You have a single sibling.
5 Your siblings all looked up to you. You were the leader of the gang.
6 You come from a huge family. Countless cousins.

1 You never got much of an education.
2 You learned a lot, but it was from doing, not from being taught.
3 You had a secret place that no one else knew about.
4 You caught a parent doing something horrible.
5 You drew a map.
6 You kept a diary.

1 Your friends made fun of you behind your back.
2 You once embarrassed yourself in front of everyone.
3 You once got very, very lost.
4 You had a beloved pet.
5 You loved to explore. You never got lost.
6 You had many imaginary friends.

1 Your parents didn't love you. No one really did.
2 You were hurt by the one you trusted most.
3 You once received a very precious gift.
4 You thought you were going to get married. (Betrothal?)
5 You were your parents' favorite.
6 You have a trusted friend. The friendship persists, though your paths have diverged.



1. Loyal or No Tolerance for Bullshit
Would you stand up for a friend (CHA) even when they're wrong (DEX)?

2. Blunt or Tactful
Do you tell it how it is (INT) or smooth the ruffled feathers (CON)?

3. Impulsive or Deliberate
Do it without hesitation (STR) or wait a moment to observe and consider (WIS)?


1. Fair or Kind
Divide the food equally (INT) or give the hungrier one a little more (WIS)?

2. Courageous or Cautious
When things look grim, do you grit your teeth and continue (STR) or get out of there, and maybe come back when you are better prepared (DEX)?

3. Loves Food or Loves Sex
Delicious food (CON) or delicious sex (CHA)?


1. Pugnacious or Relaxed
Do you do something about the annoyance (DEX) or just let it fade into the background (CON)?

2. Emotive or Stoic
Do you give hugs? Yes (CHA) or no (WIS).

3. Curious or Content
When deciding what to eat, do you try something new (STR) or order your old favorite (INT)?


After childhood, I have these stats.

Str 3 I moved from place to place.
Dex 2 I accidentally broke something precious.
Con 5 My siblings all looked up to me.
Int 2 I learned a lot, but it was from doing, not being taught.
Wis 6 I had a lot of imaginary friends.
Cha 4 I thought I was going to get married.

I decide to do Approach and Outlook for adulthood. The first question for Approach asks me if I would stand up for a friend even when they're wrong. I decide "Yes, this character totally would".  So I choose "Loyal", and roll 2d6, getting a 3 and a 2. I add the 3 to Charisma and the 2 to Dexterity. This is using the “Decide First” method.

The next question asks me if I am Blunt or Tactful. I decide that I don't know. I just roll one die for Blunt (INT) and another die for Tactful (CON). I get a 4 for Blunt and a 2 for Tactful. Cool. I guess I'm Blunt then.  This is using the "Roll First" method.

I do this for four more questions. In the end, I get:

Alice the Dinosaur Hunter
Str 10
Dex 5
Con 11
Int 7
Wis 14
Cha 13

I moved from place to place. Dad was an explorer.
I accidentally broke something precious. Sorry for sinking our ship and marooning us, Dad.
My siblings all looked up to me. Only after Dad left for help and Mom died.
I learned a lot, but it was from doing, not being taught. Books all rot in the jungle anyways.
I had a lot of imaginary friends. Most of them were dinosaurs. I killed all of them, many times.
I thought I was going to get married. But then he got eaten by a dinosaur and I swore revenge.

Loves Sex

And after I decide that she's a dinosaur hunter, then I flesh out the Childhood with some carefully crafted history, and I'm done.

That wasn't as annoying to do as I thought it would be. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Yanivel, Bee-Lady Extraordinaire

Here's an NPC, presented without any comment.
she looks nothing at all like this, really
Level 2 Bee Lady

HP 8
AC 15

Str 11
Dex 11
Con 14 (+1)
Int 12
Wis 7 (-1)
Cha 9

Longsword (6 notches on hilt)
    +1 to hit, 1d6 damage
2 darts
Scale mail + Helmet, made from beetle shell and red shellac
Black metal gauntlets
Grey worsted wool cloak
Grey worsted shoulder bag
    3 days rations of jellied sugar
    Cosmetics (vivid facial enamels, waxes, sandpaper)
    Picture of the beloved queen mother

Rules for Bee-Ladies

Bee-Ladies are just like human Fighters, except
  • They get +1 Dex and -1 Con
  • Their hit die is one size smaller (1d6)
  • They can fly up to 60' horizontally or 30' vertically before needing to rest.
  • Possess a sting attack, (1d6 + save or die), but they die after using it.
  • They're obligate vegetarians.  They're all loyal to their queen.  They all fucking love sugar.
If the game has a skill system they don't have normal fightery skills, and instead get either (a) alchemy and poisoncraft, or (b) mechanisms and jewelry, depending on whether the are (a) doctor-assassins or (b) jeweler-engineers.

Exotic Bee-Lady Lore

Bee-gentlemen are huge, brutish, and filled with exotic venoms.  They're too huge and too stupid to be suitable for PCs.

Bee-ladies come from a complex system of castes and obeisances.  Hives are vertical affairs, with stacked layers of honeycombs.  Bee people are tech-savvy, and so you will usually see sconces holding oil lamps (usually in sinuous, art deco flower motifs).  The walls are made of a hard wax comb, supported by a skeleton of harder, resinous material called propolis.

The upper reaches of the hive are used to store honeycomb, just tons and tons of honey.  Beneath that, you have other areas--pollen storage, drone comb, and brood nests.  At the very bottom of the hive is the queen.

Bee-people don't follow the physiology of real bees exactly.  Bee-ladies are fertile and intelligent drones.  They have slightly smaller sisters, though, who are sterile and extremely simple-minded workers.  The male drones are huge, brutish things, kept loyal to the queen by a regimen of genetics and pheromones.

New colonies are started when the queen decides that the colony is getting too crowded, and gives one of her fertile daughters some husbands, and sends them out into the world.  The males die after they mate, so the princess is always sure to bring some sisters as well.

Bee-people have a complex religion that based on circles.  This religion is practiced and communicated by dancing.  For them, there is no social aspect of dancing, only a religious or communicative one.

Hives are maintained at a sweltering temperature, usually around 35 degrees centigrade.  Hives smell "mousey", and oftentimes suffer from rat infestations.

Bee people can climb freely on honeycomb walls, and visitors are usually greeted by a swarm of bee people crawling across the wall to meet them.  To move around the levels, friendly non-bee visitors are usually carried on the backs of the huge males.  Verticality and all that.

Baby-faced larva are very friendly, and will often try to talk to visitors from they honeycomb-cubbyholes.  All the curiosity and babbling of a toddler, but none of the legs.

In the natural world. the bee people battled with the hornet people.  While a bee lady is about 7 feet tall, a hornet person is about 20' tall and covered in armor as thick as a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich.  Hornet people are absolutely terrifying beasts of destruction.  a hornet person can kill 40 bee people per minute, and a dozen hornet people can easily destroy a hive of thousands before consuming the dead bee people.

Bee people have weird cultural conflations, and they draw boundaries where humans don't.  For example, assassins and doctors are seen as a single profession, simply two sides of the same coin.  Likewise, jewelers and engineers are seen as the same thing. But teachers who teach math and chemistry are completely different from those that teach language and art, though both are revered.

Bee-people are capable of potent acts of cruelty, both towards non-bees and bees alike.  This side of them is not commonly seen, nor discussed.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Weird Swords and Not-Swords

Mostly inspired by +Gus L's excellent page of +1 Sword Equivalents.

So here are some flavorful magic swords and other weapons.  I envision them as +1 swords with a few more bonuses and penalties, but they would also work well as +0 swords with interesting abilities.

No attempt has been made to balance them.  They're just interesting magic weapons.  Most of them have some sort of drawback in addition to some sort of bonus.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Review of A Thousand Dead Babies by Zzarchov Kowalski

I've never written a review of a module before.  I guess that's the sort of thing that blogs do, though.

+Zzarchov Kowolski was kind enough to give me a pdf of his adventure, A Thousand Dead Babies.  It's a low level adventure for the OSR (and it includes stuff for compatibility with Neoclassical Geek Revival). It's short--20 pages including front and back--but packs a lot into those ~17 pages of content.  The more I reread it, the more respect I have for it.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Specialization and Assumed Competence

GROGNARD WARNING: This post is going to talk about things like "game balance" and "character builds".  Bear with me, because the conclusion is one that you'll probably agree with.

Imagine a dungeon X that is balanced for characters named Bard, Thief, and Barbarian.  The dungeon has 20 monsters in it, each with 18 HP.  The dungeon is balanced so that it provides an appropriate challenge for our three adventurers.

Then the edition changes, bringing new abilities to Barbarian.  Now Barbarian does twice the damage he did before.

Now, if you want to rebalance dungeon X so that it is still balanced for Bard, Thief, and Barbarian, you'll have to increase the HP of all the monsters in the dungeon by 33%.  Now it still takes the party the average number of hits to kill all the monsters.

The monsters all have 24 HP now, instead of 18 HP, but the balance is preserved.

But consider Bard and Thief.  If they solo-attack a monster that they could kill in 3 hits before, it now takes them 4 hits to kill it.  They have gotten more incompetent.

Not because their attack and damage bonuses on their character sheets have gone down, but because the world has changed around them.

The dungeon is still balanced, and still holds the same difficulty for the party, but the assumed competence is lower.

And don't assume that Barbarian getting double damage is unbalancing!  Thief and Bard got new abilities, too!  Now Bard's has a Diplomacy skill of +10!  And Thief has Disable Device at +10!

Now, in certain adventures, the Diplomacy and the Disable Device can be way more useful than the double damage thing.  Maybe Thief and Bard are thrilled with their new abilities and Barbarian is sad that he got the shitty end of the stick.  Or maybe they're all balanced (despite being "incomparables").  And maybe all 3 players are happy with their new abilities.  it doesn't matter.

But it doesn't change the fact that the assumed combat competence of Thief and Bard has gone down.

In order to balance the game, Thief and Bard have become more incompetent to balance out Barbarian becoming more competent though specialization/customization/whatever.

Likewise, Barbarian and Thief have gotten shittier at Diplomacy, although their character sheet doesn't show it.

And although the numbers on Barbarian and Bard's character sheets haven't changed, the DCs of all the locks in the world have just gone up by a point or two.  They've become more incompetent, and they never even realized it.

Specialization lowers the assumed competence of the adventurers.

This is a subtle effect.  

On the macroscopic level, dungeons are just as hard as they always were.  Dungeon X has been rebalanced so that it still poses the same challenge for Thief, Bard, and Barbarian.  And the flavor of dungeon X certainly hasn't changed.  So you can't blame the three adventurers for not noticing that they've become slightly more incompetent in most things.

The insidious effect of lowering the assumed competence is that it makes it harder for the party to participate (as a group) in things that now require specialization.  Talking to monsters is now more solidly the domain of the bard, because he has the Diplomacy +10.  Combat becomes more hazardous for the thief and the bard.

To a certain degree this is a good thing.  We already rely on specialization when we choose classes and roll for stats.  It's good to differentiate characters mechanically as well as conceptually.


The more specialization you bake into a system, the more specialization that is assumed to be present in the average adventuring party.  And the lowers the assumed competence, and makes it harder for the improperly-specialized character (which is most characters most of the time) to do heroic things, like sneak past an orc, pick a lock, or lie to an ogre.

And I like games where everyone has a decent chance of sneaking past an ogre, picking a lock, or lying to ogres.

I'm not saying that thieves shouldn't be the best at sneaking past ogres, I'm just saying that that type of specialization makes it harder for the party to participate in heroics.

What is appropriate for a single-hero game becomes restrictive in a party.  Systems with less mechanical specialization (less "Ride Horse +17") allows for more heroics, because more people are participating in those heroic attempts, and with better chances of success (except for the guy who put all of his points into "Ride Horse"--who is equally or more likely to succeed).

Edit: Here's a comment I made on G+ talking more about this:

Now, most people want a little bit of specialization baked into the game.  Everyone wants fighters to be better than wizards at killing things, for example.

But the question of "how much better?" is not a trivial one, and I don't think it's an intuitive one, either.

Likewise with skills.  "How much better do I want to the trained character to be than the untrained character?" is a question that has a different answer depending on which group of players you poll.  

If everyone is class Adventurer and is equally effective and equally generic, then there is no difficulty inflation due to specialization.  Like DCC funnels or other TRPGs.  Some of those are fun games.

But most people eventually want their characters to specialize, but the question is, to what degree?  Because the more advantages we give the specialized guy, the more the difficulty of that task increases for everyone else in order for the challenge to be appropriate.

And other games use lots of specialization, and you see strong role protection even at level 1, and some of those games are fun, too.

I think this is a more granular distinction that just edition warring.  Like, if we want to debate how much of a skill system is appropriate for your group, we should be aware of the relationship between specialization and assumed competence.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Witches' Laundry, etc

Here are a couple more things from the House of Hours.

The Witches' Laundry 
also known as grendelwear, murdergarments, swaddlewraths, garbenstrang

The Laundry moves as a parade, a long line of dancing clothing.  Starched shirts, pleated pants, billowing petticoats, and dark jackets that flap along like clumsy bats. They carry with them the curse of animation, and are capable of infecting other articles of clothing with their nihilistic frenzy.  They rush through dark places, and seek to revert to state of nature, by spilling red blood on their bleached bodies.

Most clothing resent their servitude (especially the underwear) and grow to hate the creatures that wear them.  It is said that certain types of clothing (jackets, hats) are more loyal, and will fight to defend their wearers, but this is not confirmed.

Some believe that Witches' Landry is sent out on errands of red mischief by a witch who has grown tired of doing chores.  Others say that the Laundry is an escapee from the cruel clothespins of the witch's line.

They always travel in parades of at least 2d6 articles of clothing.

HD 1
AC 10
Atk wrap +1 (1d3) and attaches, even on a miss
Sav 19+
Mov 12'
Mor 12
Poltergeist Garments: Nearby clothing comes alive, thrashing and grappling.  Basically, you stop wearing your clothes and begin wrestling with them.  If you die, your clothing will leap off off your body and join the Witches' Laundry on its parade.  All creatures within 30' that are wearing clothing or armor get -4 to hit.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Guns for the Children

Browning Automatic Rifle
Here are my comprehensive gun rules for Eldritch Americana (the House of Hours setting). I've tried to make them (a) simple enough to learn quickly, (b) fast enough to be resolved with a minimum of math/lookups, and (c) tactical enough to provide interesting choices in combat, e.g. “is this monster worth emptying my entire clip into?”

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Crowdsourced Wizard Tower is 90% complete!

So, last week I put up a call for a crowdsourced wizard tower.  After some contributions, editing, and lots of writing, that wizard tower is now 90% complete.  A lot of the monsters don't have stats, most of the magic items don't have descriptions, and I haven't gone through the tower to make sure that it has (roughly) the right amount of treasure, but I'll do all those things later.

I intend the bottom half of the tower to be burgle-able for a party of six level 3 characters.

I'm posting the room descriptions below, so that authors +Alex Chalk, +Cédric Plante+Christopher Wood+Claytonian JP+Michael Raston, and +Greg Acker can read and review them in the context of the mostly completed tower.  Guys, if you want to edit your room, this is your chance.

I figure that I'll compile all of this into a PDF as soon as it's complete.  People seem to like PDFs.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Encounters in the House of Hours

Three Encounters From the House of Hours

Reaction rolls should be rolled when the monster reacts to the party (either on its first round of combat or after the PCs have had a chance to speak a few words to it) with a 2d6 roll.  Apply all modifiers then.  Weapons in hand = -1 to Reaction roll.  Suspicious stuff like spell casting = -2 to Reaction roll.  Prepping for combat = -3 to Reaction roll.  Warmth & Politeness = +1.  Charisma Bonus = +bonus.  Monsters will also have Reaction modifiers unique to themselves, with a negative number indicating greater hostility.

Neutral (instinctual) reactions are in the 6-8 range.  Higher results are friendlier/beneficial, etc.  Reactions are not just a gradient between combat and friendship.  Bargaining, fleeing, and immediate surrender are options.

This IV rack killed 2 PCs.

Hospital Golems (always hostile, except to hospital staff)
Seven feet tall, spindly, made of stainless steel.  The bottom of their torso is a five-wheeled base, ending in wheels, which makes them very fast (horse speed) on flat surfaces but puts them at an immense disadvantage on stairs or when climbing.  They have two long arms (each 5' long), each terminating in a "hand" that is little more than a highly articulated cluster of hypodermic needles.  Their metal skeleton is draped with saline bags (and other solutions) that flap around and slosh while it fights, and are connected to it's needle-fingers.  It's head is a clipboard, filled with pages of arcane script, that (a) incompletely describes the procedure required to bind an elemental spirit into a construct, (b) a patient with uncontrolled aggression and poor impulse control, and (c) recommended drug schedules for this patient.

HD 6
AC 4 [15]
Atk Needlefingers +6 (1d6+1 and Injection)
Move human x 2 on flat ground, human / 2 on everything else
Save 9 [11 if roll-under] but also has Golem Immunities
Injection: On a hit, the golem injects its target with horrible substances.  Roll a d4:
  1 - 8L of saline, -1 to hit, -25% speed until you squeeze it all out.
  2 - 3ml of 0.2% perchloromyrmidene, save or massive synesthesia (treat as blindness) for 1d6 hours.
  3 - 3ml of mutagen, save or gain a mutation from your DM's favorite table.
  4 - 3ml of morphine solution, save or stun 1 round and the DM keeps track of your (now secret) HP total for 1d6 hours.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wizards of Eldritch America

This isn't a real blog post.

I killed +Alex Chalk's PC in my House of Hours game a couple of hours ago, and he wants to make a wizard to replace him.

Localization being important, I mentioned that I have pages and pages written up about the mechanics and rules for wizards in my Eldritch Americana (prosperous, post-apocalyptic Cthuloid 1920's American America).

Which is true, but I just need to convert them into something retroclone compatible.  So here's some of that conversion.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Crowdsourced Wizard Tower

+Alex Chalk mentioned that he could really use a wizard tower dungeon, one with a live wizard inside.  Not an abandoned structure, but a living one.

I think that sounds like a great idea.  I could really use a random wizard tower, too.  They're awful easy to plop down on one's map.

Here's the tower of Khazan Khiraj, the Machinist.  He's a wizard who makes a lot of mechanically animated shit, and loves improving living animals.  The tower is called the Spire of Righteous Verticality.  Khazan Khiraj is fond of claiming that it stands straighter than any other tower in the world.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Psychonauts of the Floating Realm

There is a place.

No, that's not quite right.

Let me start over.

There is a experience of place.  It is not another dimension, as some have claimed.  Nor is it merely an experience, the way meditation is.  It lies beyond the wall of sleep.

You may call it the Dreamscape, but that's not accurate.  Sleep is a doorway, not a destination.

Neither is Psychotropia an accurate name since it is not of the mind nor part of it.  You do not describe an ocean by looking at the vessel you sail on.

You may not call it Qorfu.  That is what the residents call it, and it enrages them to hear our words from our lips.

The poets call it the Floating Realm, or The Land Adrift.

The Elves, in their usual idiom, call it Dul-Vecni-Farraf, which means "Garden-Behind-the-Wall".

In fact, none of these things may be true, since it isn't a place, but merely an interface.  Like the surface of the water, where a fish swimming east may meet a bird flying west.

While we are awake, our mind is filling our brain, controlling our body.  The two mesh.  But when we sleep, our mind wanders from our body, and ventures somewhere else. . .

Some Basic Facts about the Floating Realm:
  1. Dreams are smaller versions of the Floating Realm.  They are private and safe.
  2. The Floating Realm is public and dangerous.
  3. When people dream, they sometimes enter the Floating Realm, or touch it briefly.
  4. Even animals dream, and enter it similarly.
  5. These visitors leave impressions in the Floating Realm, reflecting their memories.
  6. Many things in the Floating Realm are projections (extractions) from the material world.
  7. Many things in the Floating Realm are natives (as far as we are concerned).
  8. Psychonauts are the people who enter the Floating Realm, to communicate or gather information.
  9. In the Floating Realm, you risk more than your life.
  10. Time is utterly meaningless in the Floating Realm.
  11. There is a limit to how much you will remember when you wake up.  No more than a couple of paragraphs, for neophyte Psychonauts.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

All Your Questions Will Be Answered

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge

Troll and Flame did it:

So did Swords and Dorkery:

And Dyson:


I've never done one of these before, but I'll do my best.  Let me know if I go off topic or ramble or something.  

1. First person who introduced you to D&D. Which edition? Your first character?
I want to run a game where I put stats on everything.  HP, AC, attacks.  Like, at the most fundamental level, this would mean that the barbarian could dispel an enchantment by hitting it with his axe.  But it would also apply to other things.  Kill a fire by shooting it with wooden arrows?  Fine.  Destroy a child's sense of wonder?  Okay.  Attack the darkness?  YES.  Killing someone's civil liberties?  Check.
Basically, it's a one-button video game, and you can solve any problem by (a) identifying what you need to kill, and (b) killing it.