Friday, January 26, 2024

Okay I Fixed Hexcrawls Now

After attacking a beloved institution last week, the only acceptable follow-up is to describe how it could be improved.  It's a graceful and useful transition.

I'm sure that's what your mom said when you told her that her chicken was dry.

So anyway, here are my hexcrawl rules, along with 4 sample hexes.

Option 1: PDF

Option 2: Editable (make a copy, don't ask me for editing rights)

My design goals were 

  1. Simplicity.  No bookkeeping unless it leads to #2 or #3.
  2. Interesting, Meaningful Decisions.  
  3. Interconnectedness.  (The hexcrawl should connect to itself.  "Random" encounters should still feel connection to the location and events that are happening.)

It's possible that I've missed the point.  Maybe I'm focusing too much on treating hexcrawls like dungeoncrawls.  Maybe I'm spending too much time on the mechanics and not enough on what makes hexcrawls special, which is the joy of discovery and the journey itself.


Please give me feedback in the comments, especially if you end up using any part of this.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Hexcrawls Kinda Suck

 Hexcrawls kinda suck, don't they? 

Or at least, the best hexcrawls are never as good as the best dungeons. You can probably name your favorite dungeons, but can you name your favorite hexcrawls? 

What makes hexcrawls different from dungeoncrawls?

  • In dungeons, exploration is typically my goal. Exploration and gold. It's fun to clear out dungeon rooms because those rooms have interesting rewards and interesting risks (and interesting choices). In hexcrawling, I'm usually going from one point to the other. Hexes often don't have interesting risks that are as concrete as dungeon rooms.

  • Specificity. Dungeon rooms are frequently customized. Many hexcrawls use random generation as an exclusive method of stocking, which tends to create less cohesive stories between the hexes. Because of this, there's little intrinsic incentive to explore the hex map.

  • Surprise. Dungeon rooms connect to each other in surprising ways. Hexes rarely surprise (except in the sense that there's more swamp tiles in this direction than I was expecting). True, there might be something on the random encounter table, but when you're walking overland you can typically see things coming from a lot further off.

  • Size. The root cause with a lot of these issues is size, with dungeons commonly having less than 20 rooms and hexcrawls commonly having more than 100. It makes it hard to have a specific challenge. I might think of a way to make a vertical ascent challenging in a dungeon (ghost spiders!) but if I think of an interesting way to make a mountain hex challenging (living waterfall) then I either have to put it on one hex (where the players might miss it), make it a random encounter (where the player might miss it) or make it a quantum encounter (where I put it in front of the players no matter which hex they go into. . . but of course they are usually free to go pick a new hex to cross the mountains).

  • Meaningless choices. In a well-written dungeon, all (or nearly all) choices should be meaningful. If you come to a T-intersection, there should be some difference between both directions. Maybe a smell. Maybe the players know the approximate direction to the treasury. Maybe they can listen at the doors before they pick which one to open. But when hexcrawling, you usually just pick blindly, oftentimes between two

  • Engagement. Most of the stuff in a hex is skippable. You notice a dragon on a hill in the distance--you better go way around it so it doesn't see you. Spooky tower? Skip it if you don't think you can take it. Hexes are skippable in a way that dungeon rooms aren't. Dragon in a room? Sneaking past it is a much trickier proposition. Dungeon rooms force you to engage.

  • Resource management. The primary resources in dungeons are HP, rations/healing, and torches. When one of these runs low, it's time to leave the dungeon. They run low often, so I'm always paying attention to them. When I'm hexcrawling, the resources are similar: food, money, HP--but they rarely feel limiting. Lost HP is recovered quickly, and I can usually stash enough food that it never feels critical, just like empty bookkeeping.

  • Homogeneity. Every dungeon room is unique, and my players can often remember their favorites. Hexes are often similar (and often identical) and blend together.

  • Challenge from the location. If a hex is too difficult, I can almost always go around it. If a dungeon room is too difficult, I usually need to find a way through (although there may be alternate routes, its not as likely).

Remember: good gameplay comes from interesting and meaningful choices. If your hexcrawling is just empty bookkeeping, then it's not good gameplay.

I stopped tracking ammunition a few years back for the same reason. It just felt like bookkeeping. I never had a situation where someone was running low on arrows and had to make interesting decisions about when you use them. Resource management is only fun if there are interesting limitations and scarcity risks--arrows didn't have either, in my experiences.

"You cannot have a meaningful campaign unless strict time records are kept" is only true if there is some benefit to keeping time records--it leads to interesting limitations and scarcities.

Luckily, all of these things can be fixed. Here are some guiding principles:

Gameplay > "Realism"

Yes, we've both watched a lot of videos about how much food Roman soldiers could carry and researched how far a horse can travel in a day.  That doesn't mean that we have to base a game around it, or that those metrics will be fun.  (Yes, our game has to follow real world rules to a point, in order to let the players make informed decisions, but it doesn't need to be our first priority.)

Smaller Hex Maps

This is a root cause for a lot of these issues.  It makes the next few items easier to accomplish.  This might mean that there are more miles in your hex, but that's okay.

Directional Constraints

Let's consider the three basic types of movement that your players will make when they're hexcrawling:

1. Fixed Route.  Well, that's just a pointcrawl, isn't it?  A collection of scenes that the DM throws at you.  Random or not, you either go forward, rest, or go back.  Not a hexcrawl.

2. Fixed Destination.  Now the players need to make choices.  Which route do I take?  There usually isn't a meaningful choice here.  Either they have a path that they know and trust, or they have to choose between two similar options.  The constraints (HP, money, time) usually aren't limiting.  You might have the players choose between a fast route or a safe route, but those are rare.

3. Searching / Exploring.  Now this is where it feels like dungeoncrawling.  You want to make sure that they have meaningful choices to choose from.  It's easier to have two choices feel meaningful than to have six.  In this case, having fewer directions to choose from feels better.

So give them limits in which directions they can go.  The average hex map shouldn't just be a hive of rooms with six doors in them.  Create interesting connections between hexes, e.g. the only way up to the plateau is through the Stairs of Leng. 

Think about how much the "Obvious Door, Hidden Lever" type of secret doors drive player ingenuity.  They know there's a way up to the Plateau of Leng, but they've walked around the whole thing and haven't seen any path up.  So now they have to search.

Your two big forms of barriers here are water and verticals.  (Elden Ring uses this to great effect, turning an open map into a huge dungeon where you're often asking yourself "how do I get there?").  Other forms of barriers include hostile people (who can chase you off from horseback), giant prehistoric walls, forcefields, poison swamps (DO IT), and cold places (like mountaintops).

Give your players fences to push against (and peer over).

More Information

Tell players more about what's in the hexes ahead.  It shouldn't be blind guesses.  They've been in taverns a lot--I'm sure they've heard about what sort of thing is beyond the hill that looks like a lobster.

More Unique Hexes

Give each hex more details.  Not just "Grasslands.  Wild horses."  but "Ratwind Plains.  Wild horses."  Give them more connecting details.  Bespoke.

Meaningful Resource Depletion

I've come to believe that the resources that are typically depleted during hex crawls (time, money, food) aren't very good constraints--they don't affect people's plans often enough to be worth the time tracking them.

You'll have to come up with your own solution.  (I'll attempt my own below.)

Strong Hooks

Strong hooks force players to interact with them.  A random encounter is a strong hook.  So is the king announcing that you are the people he's been seeing in this nightmares.

Soft hooks are things you can walk away from.  A beggar in the street.  A dire slug noticing you from a mile away.

You obviously don't want to only have strong hooks.  You want your players to have some freedom engage/disengage, but hexcrawls tend to have only soft hooks scattered on the map.  (The only strong hooks tend to exist as random encounters, and even those tend to be easier to run away.)


You'll notice that the stuff above is really a mix of "hex map design" + "hexcrawling mechanic".  I jumbled them up because they overlap in some places, but really you need a good hex map alongside your mechanics.  

Anyway, let's try to make some hexcrawl rules that don't suck.

Design Goals

1. Simplicity.  Too many people are driven away by the complexity of hexcrawling.  What's the minimum amount of complexity I need to hit my goals?

2. Resource constraints.  Money, food, HP, and time are rarely limiting factors.  Food can stay--food can be limiting.  I'm also going to add morale as the second limiting factor.  Hopefully those two are sufficient motivators on their own.

3. Integration with Hirelings.  It seems strange to have your characters be loners (or nearly-so) until they suddenly start building a stronghold and attracting followers.  Shouldn't it be a more gradual process?  Before you're king, you are managing smaller groups of people.  Porters, hostlers, mercenaries, etc.

Hexcrawling Rules for GLOG v19

(This is actually my first time writing this section.  The first two attempts were too complicated.  I'd wager that 80% of system designers have a first draft that is more complicated than their second draft.)

Hexes take a number of days to pass through.  You only count the days when you enter a hex, not when you leave.  A forest hex takes 3 days to enter.  A road hex takes 1 day to enter.  So if you leave a road hex and enter a forest hex, that takes 3 days.  Returning takes 1.  The whole trip takes 4 days.

You can feed yourself for 1 day for every 2 rations you are carrying.

Once you hire porters, you can explore for 6 days.  It doesn't matter how many rations you are carrying.  You have to hire a porter for each PC and mercenary.  A porter costs 10s per trip.

If you swap the porters for donkeys, this turns into a maximum of 9 days.  Donkeys cost 50s up front and cost 10s per trip.  However, you can pasture them in grassy/forest places and they'll forage happily.  Hire a hostler (10s per trip) and you'll automatically succeed at checks made to control them.

Horses are identical except that they cost 200s.  You can also take the bags off them and ride them, plus they can be trained for combat (another +100s).  Untrained horses shun combat.  Like with donkeys, you don't ride these horses when they're covered in packs.  You walk beside them.

Carts costs 100s for the whole party and requires donkeys/horses.  It increases your range to 12 days, but it can only move on roads, paths, and plains.  Outside of those environments, it moves it half speed.  It's pulled by 2 animals.  If you have a wagon, you still need the regular 1 mount per PC.  So you'll have two horses pulling your cart and the rest walking alongside, with packs on their backs.

A wagon costs 800s.  It increases your range to 20 days, but can only travel on roads.  It's pulled by 4 animals (minimum 2 to move).

How big is this wagon?  How many carts does the party need?  

It's handwaved.  Everyone needs their own horse and donkey.  When you pay 100s for a cart, it's appropriately sized for the party.  When you pay 800s for the wagon, it is similarly appropriately sized.  

Hunters can also be hired.  1 hunter per PC is typical.  When stationary, they can feed themselves and also generate enough food for 2 other people per day.  So if you park yourself in a forest and just hunt for a while, the hunters can feed themselves, the PCs, and allow you to replenish your rations.  Lasts for 3 days in a single location--after that you'll have to move around a bit, even if its just inside your hex.  Hunters can only hunt on certain types of terrain.

Lastly, because I like the idea of the party traveling with a group of hirelings, you can also hire camp followers.  The party can decide if these are cooks, bards, prostitutes, servants, or whatever.  Point is, these are people who make your life in the wilderness more comfortable.  If you travel with camp followers, the PCs wake up each morning with +1 temporary HP (from good cheer and good food).

Streamlined.  This is roughly based on 5 PCs going on a 10-day journey.
You may want to double all of the "Per Trip" costs once they get a wagon,
or if they have a 10-person party.

Morale -- You leave town with a group morale of 8-12, depending on how happy everyone is.  If everyone went carousing and got massages: 12.  If you only at the cheapest food and stayed at the cheapest flophouse: 8.

Every time something bad/spooky happens, the party loses 1 morale and then the DM rolls a d12.  The first time you roll above the hirelings' morale score, they get skittish and there will be some sort of small delay / inconvenience / argument.  The second time you roll above the hirelings' morale score, the hirelings insist that they return ASAP.  They'll leave without you if necessary.  (You can grab your share of the food, but without porters/wagons, how will you carry it?)

Morale applies to horses and donkeys, too. 

Fights don't count as spooky if they go smoothly.  If someone drops to 0 HP it counts as spooky.  Really awful shit (a demon bursting out of someone's chest) causes the loss of up to 3 points of morale.

You can raise morale by paying them money (100s spread across all the hirelings = +1 morale, price increases by 50s each time you use it) or by resting somewhere safe(ish) for a day and eating double rations (this also causes +1 morale).


I like the look of it.  I think I got it down to the level of simplicity that I like.

It's kind of gated like a metroidvania.  The Getting a wagon can be a big deal--you could even make it a gated purchase.  Maybe wagons are scarce, and you'll have to befriend the right person before they'll even consider selling you a wagon.  (These are pre-industrial times after all.  No one has a big stock of wagons sitting in a warehouse.)

Hunters also function as a type of metroidvania gate.  Once you get some hunters on your team, you can penetrate into the further reaches of the map, existing there for longer (and maybe indefinitely).

As you gear up, you become able to penetrate further into the hexes.  By yourselves, you can search 1 forest hex at a time.  With a wagon and a full complement of donkeys, you can search 7 forest hexes before needing to return to town.

However, the wagon can't come into the forest with you, so you'll have to park it on the plains, making a temporary camp by the roadside.  Your hunters will stay there and stockpile food for when you come back.  This is good, because you'll eventually have favorite campsites and NPCs.

In a dungeon, HP essentially functions as your risk budget.  If you have 10 HP when you walk in a dungeon, you know that you can take twice as many risky actions as the guy who walked in with 5 HP.  You're allowed to venture 2x as far, really.

HP can't serve this purpose when hexcrawling, since it gets replenished every day, so instead we have morale.  Not sure how well it'll work, but I'll playtest it soon.

Hex Map

Of course, good rules are nothing without a hex map that embodies the same principles.

I chose to rely on rivers and lakes as the primary type of "walls", but you can also see where I have some cliffs (thick red lines) to make certain hexes impenetrable from certain directions.

The roads are accessible for even a new party, but you'll need more people and equipment to penetrate the further reaches of the forest.  I wish the rivers were on the boundaries between hexes, instead of in the middle of them.  They're meant to be boundaries.

You'll need cold-weather gear for the mountains.  (Not readily available in town.)  You'll have to ask around to find someone who will sell it to you.

And some places will require water transport to reach, which is its own separate thing.

And each location needs a strong description and key features.  Bottlenecks between hexes (like bridges) need to have a strong sense of location on their own.  And you'll probably need to have some NPC events on the random encounter chart, and/or risk of your wagon breaking.

Anyway, feel free to disagree with me.  I'm sure lots of you guys love hexcrawls.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

You're Doing Demons All Wrong

In the older conceptions of “demons”, they were invisible spirits of wisdom, messages, or disease. They twisted fate and puckered men’s hearts. It’s pretty long list, since so many types of evil spirits have been imagined.

But now most of the demons we encounter are just bags of hit points with thematic powers. Blame Gary and blame Blizzard, but also blame yourself and blame me. Our players need interesting things to stab, after all, and for that we’ve caged them inside stat boxes.

And yet.

There is something there, isn’t it? In the old, cruel, incomprehensible concept of demons? A demon could be religion or disease or bad luck but whatever it was it was poorly understood, and only the wisest could hope to circumscribe their shape.

But we can’t have them be too nebulous either. After all, we are writing for tabletop games, so the thing probably needs hit points somewhere.

So here’s my attempt to make a better Demon, without making it too complicated.

The Horrors of AI "Art"

Cool Things About Demons

One of the cool things about demons (that they share with vampires and liches) is that they’re sometimes hard to kill permanently. Oh you killed it, but you didn’t sprinkle the remains with holy water, so the demon will come back in 3 days.

So that’s fun. That creates the possibility of having your demon be something of an OSR-style puzzle instead of just a bag of hit points. And unlike vampires and liches, your players probably don’t sit down at the table with a clue about what is required, so they come in as blank slates, which is excellent.

The second fun thing about demons is the whole possession thing. In Centerra, both demons and undead are just evil spirits puppeting an animal or corpse (respectively). However, mind control and possession kinda suck in play, since the player loses all agency. So, while possession is cool, it must be deployed tactically. This also gives us fictive license to put demons in whatever you want. Corpses. Stone Gargoyles. Volcanoes. An ambulatory suspension bridge. A whaling ship dragged along by an undead whale crawling on tapeworm tank treads.

The third fun thing is the whole ritual of summoning, binding, bargaining. That stuff is all over fiction and it’s great. Let's not forget about that.

The fourth thing–and this overlaps a bit with the third thing–is warlocks. The idea that you can bargain with this horrible entity for magical power is quite nice.

Other Design Goals

In their current implementation, demons are kinda locked up in a cage that only high level wizards can open. You need spells like see invisible, dimensional lock, banishment, protection from evil. You need magic weapons to even hurt them. I don't like that. It seems like you're creating an artificial problem (this demon is only hurt by adamantine weapons of +3 or better) that has an equally artificial solution. It turns a it into a clash of system mechanics, not of anything supernatural. And worse, it locks a solution behind a door that a low-level party has no way of opening. (If the key is dimensional lock, then it's not an OSR-style problem.)

Demons are also an opportunity to roleplay against an alien psychology. Demons are creatures of the outer chaos, they should be at least as diverse and weird as the human NPCs in your game, and potentially much weirder.

The last thing to mention is how demons were handled in Geoffrey McKinney' Carcosa. There were specific rituals that the players could learn that let them summon, bind, and banish specific demons. The rituals were tied to places on the map, sort of like how Wolves Upon the Coast handled magic, where spells were rituals you learned and performed in specific places.

I like it when magic feels embedded in a setting. You aren’t just summoning a glabrezu from hell, you’re summoning the Orphansnake from the basement of the burned-down orphanage in west Lon Barago.

Those are the ingredients. Let's cook.


Of the little demons who perish irrevocably upon their bodily destruction, we will squander no further words.

Let us speak of Demons, then, brought to our world and bound in flesh. Sometimes by a summoner, less often by their own force of will, and rarer still by the strange siroccos of the Underworld.

Unlike the lesser demons, if a Demon's fleshy vessel is destroyed, they will typically return in 3 days.

For every demon, there exist at least four rituals: Summoning, Binding, Tormenting, and Banishing.

When a demon is Summoned from hell, it appears in short order, entering through the vessel you designate, most commonly inhabiting the sacrifice itself.

When a demon is summoned from elsewhere, it is compelled to travel to you in all haste, unless other obligations prevent it. Once it arrives, it is free to act as it pleases.

Demons can also be Bound. These are methods by which a demon may be prevented from leaving a summoning circle, or barred from crossing a doorway, or trapped in some behavior. In all cases, the demon cannot willingly interfere with the binding device; they cannot smudge the chalk themselves. However, if the device is destroyed, or the demon shoved across the line, the Binding is undone.

Most summoners would never Summon a demon unless they are also able to Bind it. An unbound demon is liable to kill their summoner, or drag them to hell. A Bound demon is liable to negotiate. However, a patient demon may simple refuse negotiation, sit on the floor, and wait for the summoner to die of old age. (In most cases, this also looses the Binding.)

Powerful Demons (more than 2x your Lvl) are only loosely bound, and can return to hell whenever they wish. You may bargain a trade, or you may pledge to serve them in exchange for some boon.

Demons will not just serve you because you summoned them. Some sort of Contract must be struck. These are typically oaths that are sword in the name of the Ninth Satan, or Zulin, or even the Prophetessa (may she live again). These are not the legalistic Contracts of devils. The Contracts of demons are woven from intent, not sophistry, and for most people, the power of the contract is sufficient that the signers are entirely unable to break it.

If Binding and Contracts are not sufficiently enticing, the demon can be Tormented. This is a third ritual (like Summoning or Binding) that inflicts great harm on the demon. This ritual is useful to both the Summoner and the Scourge, and any prospective demonologist must take care that the rituals of Torment are not discovered by any paladins or witch-finders, less their demon by scattered like a kicked cat.

Lastly, there is the ritual of Banishment, by which a demon may be driven back into the Abyss.

Behold His Girth and Tremble, Ye Truffles


Demons can teach you magic, even if they are not very adept themselves. This is just a fundamental aspect of demons. To them magic is as palpable as dirt. Even if they can't do anything useful with it, they can grab it and rub it on your shirt.

Whether you are master or servant to a demon, you can learn magic from them. Demons are usually happy to teach magic, since it costs them so little, and humans prize it so much. (And there is so many more opportunities for them, when magic abounds.)

Treat Warlock as a single template class that pairs well with Wizard. Based on your relationship with the demon, you will get either the (Master) or (Servile) abilities below. There's nothing stopping you from entering in contracts to multiple demons and taking multiple levels of Warlock. You can even serve one demon while subjugating another.

Spellcasting: as wizard. Like familiars, the demon replaces your spellbook.

Spells: Each demon can teach you 2-3 spells.

Servant (Servile): if a demon serves you, you can probably get it to do stuff for you. Demons are often sluggish and disobedient, though, especially when out of sight. Treat them like a retainer. If your demon is destroyed, you go into a coma until they return. If you die, they are free.

Soul Burn (Master): Once per combat, when casting a spell, you can add another MD to the spell that you are casting. You take damage equal to that die result.

Soul Bind (Master): If you die while bound to a demon, you’ll serve that demon for the rest of your contract (typically a thousand years).


If you have a demon serving you, it’s mostly just a weird retainer, typically one that can appear and disappear when called (jumping in and out of your shadow, etc).

If you have an equal partnership with a demon, then you are a warlock only as long as the partnership lasts. Treat them like an NPC, with their own goals, fears, and personality.

If you are serving a demon, then you will invariably be serving that demon’s interests. This is tough, for most groups, since the demon will probably have goals that conflict with the party. If this happens, the warlock PC probably splinters off as an NPC under the DM’s control. If you want to prevent this, it’s best to serve demons who don’t have antagonistic goals, and probably talk to any potential warlock players about this.

Depending on your demon’s goals, they might be suitable as a warlock patron, or they might be good only as something to be destroyed. If a player wants to be a warlock, they should be able to find a demon in the first category.

Potential Goals for Demon Lords

“Murder the innocent.” - Not acceptable, unless you are playing a very evil campaign.

“Destroy and humiliate the Church” - This might be acceptable to certain types of parties.

“Sell drugs and build a giant brothel.” - Many parties could accept these terms, I think.

“Free all the slaves.” - A perfectly viable goal for a demon. The ones that meddle with the human world are the same demons who love to overturn human institutions.

“Capture other demons and send them back to hell to serve me.” - Another great one.

“Destroy all mirrors/books/shoes.” - Another perfectly viable goal for a demon. I see no reason why their motivations need to ape our own.

“Teach magic to everyone, not just the Rich and the Good.” - Another good one for a campaign. Destabilizing to the current power structures, fun for players, and not too evil.

“Destroy all devils.” - In Centerra, devils serve the Church (ever since the conquest of Hell) and work to tempt humans, in order that all humans suffer temptation equally. Devils labor under their Contracts. Best to kill them, sending them back to where they can be free.

“Build a tower to my specifications.” - 20k cost, 5 year build time. What does the tower do? Does it summon a demon army? Open a portal to hell? Make everyone forget the events of Tuesday, March 8th, 2021?

Anyway, let's put this into practice with a demon I've already written about before.

Scary how lifelike they look.


Fuckload is a legion demon–capable of possessing many bodies at once. He is only capable of possessing pigs. He can possess up to 30 pigs, although this taxes him. At a typical moment, he is inhabiting 1d12+12.

He can harness any pig that is within a half mile of any pig that he controls. The only caveat is that no pig must be more than half a mile from any other pig. Pigs get no saving through against his possession attempts. He is a specialist.

He has one secret ability: he can see and hear out of any pig corpse, as long as it is mostly intact.

Pigs have normal pig stats and are capable of crude speech only with extreme difficulty. Normally, long-term possession invariably has effects on a creature, and if Fuckload managed to possess pigs long enough, the herd would probably get a stench attack or eruptive pustules or fire breath, etc. . .

However, Fuckload’s many-splendored soul is vagrant. He flits from pig to pig, never staying in one long enough to visibly corrupt it.


Fuckload has seized control of Faris Farm, home to about 10 cows, 20 chickens, and (now) about 40 pigs. Here, he breeds and slaughters pigs (two activities he greatly enjoys). He holds the family hostage.

Old Man Lander - The father. Old. Bedridden. Smells like pee. Forbidden to leave the house.

Larabel - 22-year old daughter. Practical. Every time she goes into town, she tries to research demonology. Great at feigning obedience.

Vikus - 19-year old son. Barely-concealed anger. Has embraced religion, and now prays furiously whenever he bring the pigs to market.

Mumin - 4-year old daughter of Larabel. Raised by pigs as much as by her mother. Forbidden to leave the pig-sty. The prime hostage.

40 Ordinary Pigs - Lvl 1, leather, 1d6. Half are in the (relatively huge) pigsty, but half of them wander around the property, digging up roots. (Remember, Fuckload gets uncomfortable possessing more than 20 pigs.) Fuckload typically inhabits the wandering pigs, but in a pinch, he can possess the pigs in the sty, use a couple of pigs as a ramp for the other pigs, and escape with the majority of them.

The Big Pig - Stats as Lvl 3 bear. A royal swine, still prepubescent, about 600 lbs. The king has already paid for it. It should be ready to be eaten in about 3 more years. Stats as a Lvl 3 bear. (The most dangerous thing at the farm, but the players can lock it in the barn if they are stealthy about it.)

The Little Big Pigs - Hidden in the barn are two more royal swine, recognizable by their dark coats and reddish crests. These are highly illegal, as sumptuary laws prohibit anyone from raising more than one royal swine at a time. (This is also highly dangerous, since mature royal swine are psychotically aggressive towards each other. However, Fuckload believes he can keep them in check.)

Fuckload’s Stupid Plan

Everyone has sworn an Oath. They will never reveal Fuckload’s existence to anyone and never try to escape. In return, Fuckload will never harm them.

Fuckload has a stupid plan: stockpile weapons and money, hire a mercenary army with all the money he’s made from selling ham, summon and install a demon in Mumin to be his wife, and then become king of Lon Barago.

All of these goals are almost certainly doomed to fail. The pig farm is not nearly as profitable as it needs to be. (Fuckload has no idea how numbers work.) There are more people in Lon Barago than he thinks. (Again, Fuckload can’t count.) And he has no know idea how demon summoning actually works. (Just like becoming a midwife requires more qualifications than “being born”--but this is a distinction lost on Fuckload.)

Fuckload’s innumeracy can be used as a comedic device. “The five of you should never have come here!” “But there’s six of us.”

Lastly, Fuckload has a soft spot for Mumin. Although he threatens often to eat her (and might, in one of his blackest moods) he generally dotes on her, appeasing her with synchronized pig dances and such. He keeps her in the pig sty because she is a necessary hostage, but also because she isn’t horrified by him, and treats him like a friend.


1. Vikus is an angry young man who prays furiously in the Church whenever he is in town. A family friend or a priest might want to send the PCs to check on the family.

2. Vikus is also trying to quietly buy weapons. That attracts a lot of attention. Someone might want to investigate him, since he may be turning to banditry or selling weapons to the Fire Cult rebels (a capitol offense).

3. Larabel sells pigs in town, but she is also quietly consulting people and books about demonology. This may attract attention from a friend (who is worried that she may be trying to raise her dead mother) or from a witch hunter (who has among his informants, the local sage).

4. If Davok escaped from the Lair of the Lamb, then he will be looking for his “little brother” to punish him (for the events inside Mt. Maggoroth) and compel his assistance. Depending on how Lair of the Lamb goes:

The players may be serving Davok, who will send them to find his “little brother, who lives in a pig”. (Davok has forgotten that Fuckload can possess many pigs.)

The players may be hunting Davok, and they may hear that Davok is asking for directions to the Faris Farm. (Where the mother died under strange circumstances a year ago.)

The players may just learn that Davok is interrogating pigs for some reason. Maybe he even terrorized a butcher, who then then approaches the party. “He asked where that pig was purchased from. I didn’t tell him it was from the Faris farm. I lied to him. What do I do?”

Investigating the Faris Farm

The players will probably notice the pigs walking around all over the place. (One pig is always carefully observing the party at all times, but Fuckload is subtle enough to not have all of the pigs be suspicious simultaneously.)

Further investigation will probably reveal an extremely dirty little girl playing in the pig pen.

Cracking into the barn will reveal the two (highly illegal) royal swine piglets, and about a dozen spears and helmets hidden in the hayloft.

Unless Vikus is in town, the players are liable to be driven off by Vikus, who will accuse them of trespassing.

If approached by Larabel, she will also drive them off, but she will mouth the words “meet me in town” and glance sharply at the distant town walls. Once she gets them alone, away from the farm, she will fabricate a story about how she needs to learn about demonology to banish her mother’s tortured ghost, which still haunts the nearby hill. She offers the party good money if they can get her good books on demonology.

If the PCs approach at night, they’ll probably be caught by a patrolling pig, who will summon Vikus, who will arrive on a horse, with a lantern, helmet, and spear. The pigs will just mill around squealing. Fuckload will only drop his innocent pig disguise if Vikus is unable to drive the party away.

The exact course of the investigation will be driven by the players, so DMs will need to be flexible.


If things escalate, a counterattack can be conducted by Vikus finding out where the PCs are sleeping, followed by a nocturnal porcine assault.

Alternatively, it could turn into a hostage rescue, where someone needs to be rescued from Fuckload.

A variant on a hostage situation: a witch hunter shows up, recognizes the pigs as demons, assumes that Larabel is the demonologist responsible, and then takes her hostage in the hayloft. If the demon hunter doesn’t return to town by nightfall, his peers will come searching the Faris farm for him. He’s holded up in the hayloft because (1) he knows he’s no match for 40 pigs on open ground, and (2) pigs can’t climb ladders. The PCs may even be the reason why the witch hunter knows about Faris farm. It may even devolve into the witch hunter yelling at the party to go get help, while Vikus promises everything under the sun if they can get his sister back, and the pigs just glower and menace.

And of course, if Davok shows up, it’ll get messy fast. Not in bloodshed but in ancient, unsettled arguments between demons. If the PCs do nothing, Davok will end up subjugating Fuckload and the Faris family. Together, the two demons are much more threatening than apart.

Is this a real picture?  AI is too powerful.

Warlocks of Fuckload

If you serve Fuckload, or if Fuckload serves you, you gain access to the following spells as a warlock:

  • swap souls (self and pig only, lasts until you dispel it)
  • summon pig
  • make delicious (save or all carnivores who smell you want to eat you, save resists)

It's conceivable that the PCs might be able to gain Fuckload as a servant for a fixed length of time, or for a set number of services. If this is the case, you might have to negotiate dungeoneering with 20 pigs alongside the party. If so, you should know that (1) pigs cannot see in the dark, (2) pigs cannot walk long distances, especially not fat farm pigs, and (3) Fuckload is not great at doing more than 2 things at once.

If you serve Fuckload, he will have the same goals as he did previously. He will want to destroy Davok, or enslave him. He barely remembers Drivian. He is terrified of Shinedown. He will remember the great treasures of the Light Collector, and might send the party to those dungeons to recover them.

The Four Rituals

The four rituals should be easy to find once the players know what they are looking for, but they should be located in four different locations. Spread them out a little bit. Maybe deliver them in the order of Summoning - Banishment - Binding - Torment.

As a DM, the deployment of these rituals is a puzzle, since Fuckload is not a trivial enemy to defeat. The players might be able to get 2-3 sausage chains, but getting 20 will probably require calling in some favors.

The farm is an open environment and Fuckload is not a highly intelligent foe. Both of these factors mean that the players have a lot of flexibility in how they approach the situation, so expect combat-as-war.

Some history: Fuckload was first summoned by the Light Collector, a powerful wizard, who employed the demon to run his kitchens. Back then, he was only ever addressed as Chef.

Also be sure to communicate to the players that every Demon is an opportunity to become a warlock, either by serving the demon or forcing it to serve you.


Fuckload can be summoned by raising a pig on a diet consisting of only pig. When it is 13 months old, you must dress it like a king, address it as “Lord Irukan, we've prepared your meal.” thirty-three times, and then feed it a poisonous Amanita mushroom.


Fuckload cannot cross a line of sausages.

If all of Fuckload’s possessed pigs are encircled, he cannot jump to a new pig outside of the circle. If his pigs are all killed while inside the circle, then his malevolent spirit will loiter there for all eternity until the circle of sausages is broken (or decays).

If you’re clever, you can even use sausage to bisect and divide the pig herd until Fuckload is driven into a single pig. Sausages are a much more potent weapon than the anti-demonic spice mix below.


The method of tormenting Fuckload is by throwing a certain anti-demonic spice mixture on him. The mixture is composed of salt, onion, garlic, pepper, and paprika. This burns him for 1d6 damage, always hits, and can strike two adjacent pigs in a single attack. The cost of a small bag is about 20s–spices are expensive, and vendors don’t often stock much paprika.

It can be a little confusing to find this page in a demonology book, since it looks like part of a recipe. Alternatively, it can be hidden in a recipe book, with the demonology book simply telling you the Author, the year, and the page number.


The last pig containing Fuckload must be eaten in its entirety in a single night, between sundown and sunrise. The best way to do this is to kill the last pig inside a sausage circle, bind the corpse in (uncooked) sausages, then cook and eat him immediately.

An adult pig weighs many hundreds of pounds, so hopefully you managed to trap him in a piglet, or else you have a hundred hungry people ready for a meal. A hungry dragon would also work. Ironically, so would a pig farm.

If you want to make this event more hellish, the semi-dismembered pig could return to life briefly during this time, to either hurl abuse or make a last attack.

If you want to make it plaintive, the cooked pig head could briefly awaken and ask if Mumin is okay, before shuddering and tumbling down to hell.

Friday, January 5, 2024

Everyone Has 10 HP

 I think it would be fun to make a ruleset where everyone has 10 HP--dragons, PCs, everyone.

Nothing invigorates a return to blogging like slapping a few sacred cows.

Variant 1: Everyone Has 10 HP

Maybe we can have the actual range be 8-12 HP for the spectrum of unarmored wizards to armored fighters, but let's just assume 10 HP for now.

The trick that makes all of this work is that things deal more or less damage based on what level they are.

If you are attacking someone the same level as you, you'll deal 1d6 damage on a hit.

If you're higher level, you'll deal more damage.

If you're lower level, you'll deal less.

If your target is:

8 or More Levels Higher Than You: 1 damage

6 or 7 Levels: 1d2 damage

4 or 5 Levels: 1d3 damage

2 or 3 Levels: 1d4 damage

0 or 1 Levels Higher: 1d6 damage

1 or 2 Levels Lower: 1d8 damage

3 or 4 Levels Lower: 1d10 damage

5 or 6 Levels Lower: 1d12 damage

7 or More Levels Lower: 1d20 damage

This is bidirectional, so if you're fighting an enemy that is 3 levels higher than you, it'll deal 1d10 damage to you, while you'll only deal 1d4 damage to it.

A bunch of level 1 mooks attacking a dragon would only deal 1 damage per attack.

A dragon attacking them would deal 1d20 damage per attack.

The same dragon, attacking a level 4 knight, would only deal 1d12 damage, which the knight has a good chance of surviving.


I picked 10 HP and 1d6 damage as the midpoint because then the average character takes ~3 hits to die.  If you assume that only 50% of attacks deal damage, then that is an average of 6 attacks from an equal-level foe.  If that seems too high or too low, you can easily adjust the baseline of 10 HP.

This also risks making low level enemies too durable (who wants to take 3 hits to kill a goblin?), so if you want your low-level enemies to die quicker, you could always rule that Level 3 enemies have 8 HP, Level 2 enemies have 6, Level 1 enemies have 4, and Level 0 enemies (like goblins) have 1 HP.  A statblock would look like: 

Goblin: Lvl 0, HP 1, Def leather

The advantages is that the world will always be scaled for you.  A fall that deals 1d6 damage will be equally threatening no matter what level you are.  Healing potions will always be scaled, and so on.  If you deal 6 damage to something, you know that it's lost most of its health.

There are plenty of disadvantages, though.  It's probably counterintuitive, in a few ways.  Players don't get the satisfaction of watching their HP go up every level.  Spells don't have an obvious way to scale (although if you wanted to keep using the GLOG dice, you could say that the spells function like an attack with a Level equal to character level + 3 for every MD invested beyond the first).

Variant 1.1: Replacing the d20 Roll with a Coin Flip

It's pretty easy to run a tabletop RPG using only a coinflip like I describe here.  (I've actually had the opportunity to playtest this since writing it.  If I could rewrite that blog post I would make it simpler.)

Marcia also collected some similar ideas here.

But, since we're simplifying the whole spectrum, we might as well strip out the d20 attack roll, too.

Armor gets abstracted into HP, with higher armored foes getting +1 or +2 HP.  

Attack bonuses are already baked into the Level vs Level consideration above.

If we want to keep fighters better at fighting, then we could always say that fighters fight as if they were 1 level higher, and get +2 HP relative to the wizard.  Alternatively, you could just give fighters 1-2 active abilities, which addresses that category of player who thinks that fighters are boring and have fewer combat options.

So a statblock now looks like: Owlbear, Level 5, HP 10

I've always despised fiddly +1 modifiers/improvements to d20 rolls, but one I thing I like about coinflips is that these little bonuses are impossible under such a system.  Good triumphs when evil has no place to take root.

(If you want to use a coin flip for things like skill checks, please see here.  As usual, Chris says it better than me.)

Variant 1.2: Removing Damage Rolls

Our little game engine is getting pretty fast, but we could make it even faster if we could remove all those stupid damage rolls.  There's some math involved here, but a good trade-off between simplicity and consistency is probably this:

Naked wizards have 15 HP.  Armored warriors have 21 HP.  The average PC has 18 HP.  

Enemies have 18 HP (or if you want to randomize, 2d6+10 HP or something similar).

Against a foe of the same level, you deal 6 damage if your coin flip comes up heads.  For every level lower, you deal -1 damage, down to a minimum of 1.  For every level higher, you deal +2 damage.

So level 1 PC attacking a level 2 orc will do 5 damager per hit.  The same orc will deal 8 damage per hit. 

A level 1 PC attacking a dragon will deal 1 damage per hit.  The dragon will deal a whopping 24 damage with a single hit.

If you would normally get bonuses/penalties to attack rolls/damage, this instead translates to increases in the effective level.

You might think that this would make combat predictable, but (1) if you are using randomized HP, enemies will still take an unknown number of hits, (2) players will have different levels and will deal different amounts of damage, and (3) situational bonuses/penalties add another layer of noise.

If you want to use GLOG magic, then just say that [sum] = effective level, and calculate damage that way.

I love AI-generated art.
I've been saying for years art needs more fingers per hand, but only the computers listened.

Variant 2: Removing HP

Holy shit, Break!! is looking good.  It makes me want to make a game with no HP, just hearts.

Since the average PC can survive three hits from an equally leveled foe, why not just give them 3 hearts and be done with it?  It's very similar to "everyone has 10 HP" except less granular and much cuter.

We probably can't use coin-flips anymore (since that removes too much granularity from the game) so we'll have to go back to d20 rolls.

In this version, you have an attack bonus equal to your level.  Whenever you make an attack, you roll d20+[attack bonus] and need to equal-or-exceed 11+[enemy level].  Fighters can have a bonus to both their attacks and their defense.  Critical hits and fumbles exist.  Environmental hazards like poison gas and falls need to have levels assigned to them.

This shares the same problem as above, where goblins take too many hits to kill, so perhaps monsters have hearts equal to their level.  This keeps it closer to D&D--but you could also create a maximum number of hearts (e.g. 6 hearts) and find other ways to differentiate your high-level dragons and liches.

Up to you if you want this to apply to PCs or not.  "A Level 1 PC should die in 1 hit" is very fun and old-school, but I've been slowly moving towards "A Level 1 PC should die in 2 hits" and that is also a cool and valid school of thought.

A valid criticism of this is that it is essentially the opposite of bounded accuracy.  A low level party attacking a dragon is going to be missing a lot, and when everyone spends their turn without any progress towards their goal (enemy HP decreasing), it feels bad.  So you may want to limit effective enemy level and simply give your high level monsters more hearts and additional attacks instead.  It might still take the same average* number of attack rolls to kill the lich, but it feels better.

*the variability is also lower this way, too.

There's some risk of dissonance if a level 10 dragon can't kill a level 1 adventurer in a single round, but if the dragon has 3 attacks, it can still shred someone fairly quickly.


All of these are cool, but they change the basic math of D&D.  They are no longer perfectly compatible with published adventures.  (One of my goals with the GLOG was the ability to pick up an old published B/X module and be able to run it on the fly.)

They are all mostly compatible when dealing with similarly-leveled foes, but will scale differently against higher- and lower-level ones.  As a DM, this means that you can no longer rely on your instincts that say "yeah, I can put 20 goblins in this room for a level 3 party".

Another big difference is that these methods effectively scale your damage with your level, which is something that doesn't really happen in normal D&D.  Your HP scales as you level, but your sword doesn't deal more damage.  (I mean, it does in 5e, because your abilities do, but not in most OSR games.)  So if you use the stuff on this page, be aware that fighters are more powerful at higher levels than you would normally expect.

Most of them are faster than regular OSR play, although it may get tedious looking up weapon damage every time you attack a new PC (in method 1.0).

Out of everything above, I'm probably most interested in 1.2, which dodges the damage-lookup I complained about in the previous paragraph and looks like it might be worth a playtest.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Scarabin, the Beetle Knights


From a distance, a knight clad in plate.  Your torchlight glints off his dusky armor.  But his footfalls are quiet, and his gait peculiar.

Closer now, and your error introduces itself.  There are no eyes behind the eye slits of that darkly oiled bascinet.  You behold not a mouthgaurd but mouthparts, a vertical scowl stamped between them.  His dusty antennae curl over his nape like pennants.  You may notice a handkerchief tucked into its belt.

This is an enormous insect, but a noble one.  Although they can only communicate in pantomime, they behave in similar ways to knights.  They always accept surrender.  They are gracious in victory, and honorable in defeat.  If you are in dire need, they will assist you.  If you appear to be strong, they will challenge you, blocking your way until you acquiesce to a duel.

Their primary business is the slaying of monsters.  They may help you in this task, or you may help them, but they always seek the corpse afterwards.

They care nothing for money, but will be impressed by gifts of weapons, women's jewelry, and horses (with home they prosper).  The jewelry is meant to be a gift for their princesses (who always appreciates a prismatic bauble in addition to the monster corpse).

And while they are excellent horse riders, those who are encountered in the Underworld (and there are many) typically eschew the beasts in favor of giant snails.


The a knight scarabin will be accompanied by 1d6-2 (min 0) squires, which are pale and pudgy and a little adorable in a grubbish way.

While some squires may remain with their knight, eventually replacing them, most squires venture out alone when they feel that their final instar is imminent.  They will seek out a new princess and a new tower, and start their own adventure.

The most noble of adventures is to seek out a dragonfly dragon, and best it.


Each princess lives atop a tower, built from saliva and stone.  Her youngest sons build it for her.  Little, tottering things, they will eventually molt and become squires.  But until then, they are simply little scullery bugs, toddling back to the tower with stones balanced atop their flattish heads.

The princess lives atop the tallest room of the tallest tower.  Unlike the knights, the princess is capable of speech (which the knights can readily understand).  When she favors a knight, she drops a "handkerchief" to the knight, who then carries it.  This token of her favor binds him to her, and he thereafter quests in her name.

When she is brought a slain monster, she lets down her "hair" and gratefully accepts it.  Later, the scullery bugs will throw a great feast for the knights, for each princess has 1d20 knights that serve her.  They will typically meet inside the castle that comprises the base of the tower.  

The castle is large enough for the knights, the squires, the scullery bugs, as well as any guests that visit.  Princesses always welcome priests, pilgrims, ladies, and other types of knights.  Roguish types are always turned away.

Priests are especially welcome, since they are all believers in the Church, but alas, the princess is not able to travel to mass. 

If a knight does her a great service, she will implore her knight to return the "handkerchief" so that she may gift him a new one.  She will transfer the "handkerchief" to her ovipore, and the next generation of scullery bugs will be sons of that knight.

A princess is very large.  The diaphanous "woman" who appears in the tower is merely her head.  Her true body occupies her entire tower.

When a princess has grown to full size, she will allow her favorite knight to marry her, in a ceremony conducted by the most eligible priest nearby.  (Without anyone to officiate the wedding, she will never progress.)  Once married, she will invite the knight up into her tower--the first time anyone has ever been allowed into her personal chambers.  Once their, the pair will copulate with their proper genitalia (princesses have vaginas in addition to ovipores) and the princess will eat the knight.

Then the princess will molt, emerging as a dragonfly dragon and destroying the castle.  The entire household will be driven away.  Any that remain will be eaten by the newly matured queen, who is always hungry after a molt.

Dragonfly Dragons

Huge and monstrous.  They dwell in ruins, where they keep one of their daughters--a princess nymph.   Each princess nymph is clothed in finery and gold, those same gifts from knights, long ago.

Dragonfly dragons kidnap princesses.  They do this because they must have someone to teach their daughters courtly behavior.  (Although this is the traditional method, there are plenty of more modern mothers who simply hire tutors.)

And so it is that scarabin knights who hear of imprisoned princesses invariably ride to their rescue.

Against most foes, a dragonfly dragon fights to devour.  Against a scarabin knight, she fights only to test them.  If the scarabin knight is strong and brave and noble, she will retreat, and allow the knight to rescue his prize.  If the scarabin is unworthy, he will be eaten.  If the dragonfly dragon is hungry, the knight will (probably) be eaten.  If the princess is deemed to be a disappointment, she will also be eaten.

But if the scarabin knight rescues the princess nymph, they will ride off to start their own tower, and their own story.  The young couple will exchange handkerchiefs, and a new generation of sons will start to be born.

A dragonfly dragon may have more than one ruined castle, and more than one nymph at a time.  And since dragonfly dragons are intelligent and capable of speech, the challenges they give may include tests of virtue (if outside agents can be recruited).

In a way, this is not so dissimilar from other species, except the male must impress the female and her mother.

Psychology and Culture

The scarabin are all aware of this life cycle.  However, it would be unspeakably rude to speak of it in plain terms.  Not only is it boorish, but it is nearly sacrilegious--to speak of a knight's lady in terms of sperm and impregnation and such.  

Nor is there any squeamishness about marriage.  It is the highest honor to be devoured by one's wife (and the fact that human wives hardly ever eat their husbands is proof of their baseness).

Although nearly all scarabin cultures in Centerran are members of the Hesayan Church, there may be others who follow some other doctrine.  However, as a rule, scarabin are deeply religious.

Although the males are nonverbal, they understand spoken words perfectly well.  They're capable of speech, it's just considered very uncouth to do so.  If they have anything to say, they'll write you a letter.  Not to be read in front of them, of course.  They may leave it with you before departing (much to the surprise of an adventuring party that assumed that they were unintelligent).  They may also have a traveling companion who speaks for the knight.

In all other respects, they behave like chivalrous knights.


Scullery Bug: Lvl 0, Armor none, Bite 1d6

Squire: Lvl 1, Armor leather, Dagger 1d6, Sling 1d6

Knight: Lvl 3+, Armor plate, Damage as weapon, Can fly up to 30' once every minute, reflect any spell that they successfully save against.

Princess-Nymph: Lvl 2, Armor leather, Damage as weapon, can glide as feather fall

Princess: Lvl 8, Armor leather, Bite 2d6+swallow whole

    When bloodied: thrashes, which causes the ceiling to begin falling (obvious to players).  One round later, everyone except for the princess takes 2d6 damage from falling stones and the arena becomes difficult terrain.

Dragonfly Dragon: Lvl 8, Armor plate, Claw/Claw/Sting 1d8/1d8/1d6+poison(1d6), Fly as dragon, Poison breath 1/day: 50' cone poison 1d6 (recurs until successful Con save--same as sting poison).

    When bloodied: same as Princess.

How To Use Them

The scarabin are another underworld culture.  They're also a good way to put knights into deep underground areas without worrying too much about where they come from.

Because they help you if you're hurt, and block your path if you're not, they self-regulate the difficulty in a dungeon, preventing it from being too easy or too hard.

A princess can also serve as a local quest giver, or a safe haven in the Underworld.

If the party spends a few sessions with the scarabin, it can be fun to puzzle out their biology/culture.  (The scarabin will not speak of their own culture in blunt terms.) The marriage and final molt would serve as a nice capstone for a particular arc.

A princess could even send you out on a quest to "rescue" a princess-nymph from a dragonfly dragon.  

Dragonfly dragons are ravenous monsters, but they aren't bigots, and anyone who seems noble & strong & brave is likely to be deemed worthy of rescuing a princess-nymph.  They'll probably help her set up a little tower somewhere, and a knight can come by later.  Besides, it's no great loss to lose a princess-nymph, since she can always birth another.


This post is a tribute to the Trilobite Knight, which Patrick wrote about almost exactly a decade ago.

These are the oldest notes* in my slush pile and I figured its time I finally forced myself to write something.

*basically just "Beetle Knight > Trilobite Knight, CHIVALROUS LIFECYCLE!?!?"


Cool video about why dragonflies are cool.

Cool video about nymphs molting into dragonflies.