Friday, October 30, 2009

Gold & Glory

Enough about rules (although, I'm sure I won't be able to resit more posts) time to get Gold & Glory campaign rolling! I'll be closing on my first house Nov 23rd. Finally will have a dedicated game room! Should be settled in and recovered from holidays mid Jan. Perfect time to start campaign.

It's good to have themes, outlines, brushstrokes and what not. So, I'll start there. Actually, I'll start with a couple of quotes that capture the essence of the D&D I'm offering
"To me, D&D is not about trying to recreate 12th century England. It's Conan meets Aragorn and Boba Fett to go kick Kulan Gath's boney behind." -- Hussar on EN World
"Hey, I've created this world for you to come mess around in. The basic idea is that your PC is seeking fortune and glory. We'll riff off each other and see what kind of cool stuff comes out of it..." --

I dig the seven +/- two concept. Whether it's accurate or not it forces me to pair down my mega-long lists to something resembling a core. Still, I managed to create two such lists.

  1. Fast character generation. Good to go in 10min.
  2. Low rules. Pick it up in 10min/during play.
  3. d20ish resolution mechanics. Ability based Skills/Saves ala C&C.
  4. Low level/power. At 9th, "name", level character retires from adventuring.
  5. Magic (possibly other stuff) is not balanced.
  6. Unlockable content. As players explore/spend time gaming, they gain new class/race/magic/etc options.
  7. Anything goes. Want to play a bucket wielding robotic sea-lion, you'll be the only one and will stick out but go for it!
I like #6. An example; players discover/activate the Portal that leads to Shard. Now they can create characters using Shard's races. The idea being those new characters are entering my campaign from Shard via the now open Portal. I think that's keen.

Flavor & Style
  1. Desirous of Entourage / Western Marches style play, but it's all good.
  2. Exploration & Discovery. Sandbox, Megadungeon.
  3. Mythic Wilderness & Mythic Underground.
  4. Layers of history. Rife with ancient & forgotten ruins/empires/aliens/treasures.
  5. Portals to every Genre, Setting, and other people's campaigns.
  6. Numerous Gods, Cults, Demons, Cosmic Alien Intelligences. They are important. (channeling a little Glorantha)
  7. Magic is not a substitute for Technology. Technology is a substitute for Magic!
  8. A little S&S, S&P, S&H. More Arduin, Mythic Europe, Otus, Howard. Less d20, Eberron, Elmore, Tolkien.
Magic as everyday occurrence / tech replacement is the thing that bothers me most about many modern settings. The "Technology is a substitute for magic." part just came to me. I like it very much. It nails exactly how I view science fantasy in my RPGs.

The world is old. Having already seen spring and summer. It is now late autumn, a time of decline. Golden ages are over. Demons and horrors have long been released. The seals separating dimensions are sundered. The old gods are dead. The new gods struggle against Cosmic Alien Intelligences. Great kingdoms and empires are but memories. Cults and religions hold society together more than kings and nations. All politics are local.

Won't you come and play?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Half Levels

My friends and I sometimes celebrate half-birthdays, the day opposite one's birthday on the calendar. It's a hoot. Looking at the slow progression of older editions vs 3.x and with desire to attract and entertain players accustomed to more stuff, more quicker I present half-levels. The (not original) idea of providing some of the next level's benefit before actually getting there. Don't want to escalate character progression, just flatten it a little.


At mid-point to next level each character receives a few perks. What the perks are depends on your game system and particular mechanics.

Everyone re-rolls (using existing levels Hit Dice) hitpoint with +1 added to the total. This only works if you already play with rerolling hitpoints (taking best result) every level. Alternatively, everyone can get +1 hitpoint. Not much but will make that 1hp guy happy.

Wizards get 1 new spell. (and 1 less when reaching next level)

Thieves get a few percentage points taken from those awarded next level to spread around their skills.

Fighters get a weapon proficiency now instead of at next level.

A few skill points now instead of next level.

One of characters new abilities now instead of next level.

Perks (very light feats/skills) get awarded at half-level. Some examples. I can read!, learn new alchemical formulae, "Slaughterhouse" (ftr ability to mow through low-hitdie scum), local heraldry.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hackmaster / Exploding Dice Analysis

Back when reviewing Hackmaster I wondered about the penetration (exploding) dice. I worried that a d4 would be better than d6 as the d4 was more likely to roll it's max value and explode than the d6. Being a programmer dude I wrote code and ran some tests.

The results of "throwing" each type of die 100,000 times.
die   avg    max
d4p 3.01 24
d6p 3.99 37
d8p 5.00 49
d12p 7.00 55
As you can see, exploding only increases the avg by about .5 and max values ramp up nicely. If you roll 100,000 times you can get some impressive max rolls. But, super high explosions are rare. Here are the details on d4, d6, and d12 (chosen cause of this) rolled "only" 12,000 times each. Results are value rolled, number of times it was rolled, % chance of rolling that value, % chance of rolling that value or higher.
d4p count chance cumulative
1 2954 24.62% 100.00%
2 3060 25.50% 75.38%
3 2991 24.93% 49.88%
4 756 6.30% 24.96%
5 796 6.63% 18.66%
6 740 6.17% 12.02%
7 177 1.47% 5.86%
8 184 1.53% 4.38%
9 181 1.51% 2.85%
10 43 0.36% 1.34%
11 43 0.36% 0.98%
12 42 0.35% 0.62%
13 11 0.09% 0.27%
14 3 0.03% 0.18%
15 10 0.08% 0.16%
16 5 0.04% 0.07%
17 not rolled
18 3 0.03% 0.03%
19 1 0.01% 0.01%
20 not rolled
21 1 0.01% -0.00%

d6p count chance cumulative
1 1951 16.26% 100.00%
2 2064 17.20% 83.74%
3 1922 16.02% 66.54%
4 1993 16.61% 50.53%
5 1992 16.60% 33.92%
6 334 2.78% 17.32%
7 347 2.89% 14.53%
8 331 2.76% 11.64%
9 370 3.08% 8.88%
10 322 2.68% 5.80%
11 60 0.50% 3.12%
12 68 0.57% 2.62%
13 43 0.36% 2.05%
14 75 0.62% 1.69%
15 64 0.53% 1.07%
16 7 0.06% 0.53%
17 11 0.09% 0.48%
18 9 0.07% 0.38%
19 12 0.10% 0.31%
20 16 0.13% 0.21%
21 not rolled
22 not rolled
23 4 0.03% 0.08%
24 2 0.02% 0.04%
25 1 0.01% 0.03%
26 not rolled
27 not rolled
28 2 0.02% 0.02%
29 1 0.01% 0.00%

d12p count chance cumulative
1 968 8.07% 100.00%
2 978 8.15% 91.93%
3 991 8.26% 83.78%
4 1004 8.37% 75.53%
5 987 8.22% 67.16%
6 996 8.30% 58.93%
7 980 8.17% 50.63%
8 982 8.18% 42.47%
9 1006 8.38% 34.28%
10 1025 8.54% 25.90%
11 1057 8.81% 17.36%
12 87 0.73% 8.55%
13 78 0.65% 7.83%
14 74 0.62% 7.18%
15 80 0.67% 6.56%
16 88 0.73% 5.89%
17 99 0.83% 5.16%
18 82 0.68% 4.33%
19 93 0.78% 3.65%
20 95 0.79% 2.87%
21 83 0.69% 2.08%
22 84 0.70% 1.39%
23 6 0.05% 0.69%
24 8 0.07% 0.64%
25 7 0.06% 0.57%
26 5 0.04% 0.52%
27 10 0.08% 0.47%
28 7 0.06% 0.39%
29 8 0.07% 0.33%
30 5 0.04% 0.27%
31 8 0.07% 0.22%
32 7 0.06% 0.16%
33 5 0.04% 0.10%
34 not rolled
35 3 0.03% 0.06%
36 not rolled
37 2 0.02% 0.03%
38 not rolled
39 not rolled
40 not rolled
41 not rolled
42 not rolled
43 not rolled
44 1 0.01% 0.02%
45 not rolled
46 not rolled
47 1 0.01% 0.01%
48 not rolled
49 1 0.01% -0.00%
5% chance for 17+ damage is a little high (2d12 avg=13). Seems not too out of whack for "critical hit" system. Still might change 2-hand damage to d10p.

In my Post on Weapon Damage a comment was made that exploding dice combined with my house rule, pure fighters get to roll damage twice and take the higher result, is too much of a damage escalation. An unmentioned tweak is fighters get to take the higher of the initial non-exploded roll, they don't roll exploded dice twice. Mostly cause I don't want to deal with insane amount of dice rolling / tracking.

So, modifying my program... Here are 2d10 and 2d12 rolled 12000 times, highest initial roll taken, and then exploded as appropriate.
d10p count chance cumulative
1 131 1.09% 100.00%
2 351 2.93% 98.91%
3 565 4.71% 95.98%
4 867 7.22% 91.28%
5 1082 9.02% 84.05%
6 1278 10.65% 75.03%
7 1600 13.33% 64.38%
8 1763 14.69% 51.05%
9 2072 17.27% 36.36%
10 232 1.93% 19.09%
11 241 2.01% 17.16%
12 233 1.94% 15.15%
13 218 1.82% 13.21%
14 213 1.77% 11.39%
15 243 2.02% 9.62%
16 226 1.88% 7.59%
17 207 1.73% 5.71%
18 234 1.95% 3.98%
19 26 0.22% 2.03%
20 23 0.19% 1.82%
21 24 0.20% 1.63%
22 13 0.11% 1.43%
23 28 0.23% 1.32%
24 27 0.22% 1.08%
25 33 0.27% 0.86%
26 19 0.16% 0.58%
27 23 0.19% 0.43%
28 5 0.04% 0.23%
29 2 0.02% 0.19%
30 1 0.01% 0.18%
31 6 0.05% 0.17%
32 2 0.02% 0.12%
33 3 0.03% 0.10%
34 2 0.02% 0.08%
35 1 0.01% 0.06%
36 7 0.06% 0.05%

d12p count chance cumulative
1 83 0.69% 100.00%
2 227 1.89% 99.31%
3 416 3.47% 97.42%
4 573 4.78% 93.95%
5 767 6.39% 89.17%
6 885 7.38% 82.78%
7 1067 8.89% 75.41%
8 1291 10.76% 66.52%
9 1366 11.38% 55.76%
10 1590 13.25% 44.38%
11 1813 15.11% 31.12%
12 148 1.23% 16.02%
13 149 1.24% 14.78%
14 182 1.52% 13.54%
15 163 1.36% 12.02%
16 141 1.18% 10.67%
17 159 1.32% 9.49%
18 153 1.27% 8.17%
19 181 1.51% 6.89%
20 154 1.28% 5.38%
21 148 1.23% 4.10%
22 182 1.52% 2.87%
23 13 0.11% 1.35%
24 13 0.11% 1.24%
25 20 0.17% 1.13%
26 14 0.12% 0.97%
27 11 0.09% 0.85%
28 19 0.16% 0.76%
29 7 0.06% 0.60%
30 10 0.08% 0.54%
31 10 0.08% 0.46%
32 18 0.15% 0.37%
33 19 0.16% 0.22%
34 1 0.01% 0.07%
35 1 0.01% 0.06%
36 1 0.01% 0.05%
37 not rolled
38 not rolled
39 not rolled
40 2 0.02% 0.04%
41 1 0.01% 0.02%
42 2 0.02% 0.02%
43 1 0.01% -0.00%
Chance of exploding is 2x normal what I'd expected. Did not realize "rolling twice taking best" would produce such high results. 55% chance of 9 or higher on d12.

For completeness here's d6p as rolled by fighter.
d6p  count chance cumulative
1 328 2.73% 100.00%
2 1016 8.47% 97.27%
3 1727 14.39% 88.80%
4 2322 19.35% 74.41%
5 2937 24.47% 55.06%
6 620 5.17% 30.58%
7 589 4.91% 25.42%
8 580 4.83% 20.51%
9 632 5.27% 15.68%
10 612 5.10% 10.41%
11 104 0.87% 5.31%
12 101 0.84% 4.44%
13 104 0.87% 3.60%
14 107 0.89% 2.73%
15 102 0.85% 1.84%
16 18 0.15% 0.99%
17 21 0.18% 0.84%
18 18 0.15% 0.67%
19 23 0.19% 0.52%
20 22 0.18% 0.33%
21 1 0.01% 0.14%
22 3 0.03% 0.13%
23 2 0.02% 0.11%
24 2 0.02% 0.09%
25 5 0.04% 0.08%
26 not rolled
27 not rolled
28 not rolled
29 1 0.01% 0.03%
30 1 0.01% 0.03%
31 1 0.01% 0.02%
32 not rolled
33 not rolled
34 not rolled
35 2 0.02% 0.01%

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Failed Save vs Getting in Internet Argument

[Edited (to be more general and less direct rebuttal) version of my way long comment at Greyhawk Grognard]

[btw this should be understood, but doesn't hurt to mention now and then. It's easy to misinterpret online and spiral out of control, RPGBN ahhem. Even though I'm snarky and sarcastic at times I mean/imply nothing insulting, derogatory, or cruel. I respect and value the words and opinions of my readers and fellow bloggers. Even when they're totally freakin wrong! ;) ]

Temple of Elemental Evil

It's not quite big enough to be a mega megadungeon. It's close and what megadungeon starts out fully formed? Most posts about megadungeons I've read say they must be broad brush strokes, a starting point for DM's to make their own. They recommend creating first few levels and growing it from there. My definition of megadungeon also includes "requires, encourages tweaks & customization." ToEE is ready for growth. It gives you the first four levels (and several sublevels, as well as the surface neigboorhood). Up to you to take it off to the elemental nodes, into the Demon Webs, into forgotten levels, into the Underdark, etc.


Some deride ToEE for being plot driven and the "storypath" main event of the campaign [my paraphrase]. Rather than a nice sandbox within a sandbox that a megadungeon should be. ToEE is only the focus of a campaign if DM / players make it. I see nothing in the published module that implies it must or even should be the sole event. In fact there's a page on Other Adventures. Where it says "you may -- and should -- design and develop other adventures in the area."

Megadungeons are not static. They are dynamic, with conflicting factions, wars, and plots. Reactionary to the characters intrusions. That describes ToEE to a 'T'. There are numerous factions & plots and room for DM created ones in ToEE. The stop "re-ascension of Temple" is just the hook TSR puts into every module. It is totally ignorable.
Old Codger croaks "Temple was sealed up pretty good, not perfect. Why we don't go round there. But, I heard all the treasure was locked up with the critters. Laying there, just waiting for someone brave enough to claim it!"
Works just as well with no plot other than let's explore and loot. As the players explore ToEE they may or may not stumble upon / deduce the various plots and subplots. They may ignore them. They may pack up and move to the other side of the planet. That setup sounds not dissimilar to every megadungeon that I've heard described.

Alternate plots and goals were explored in the computer adaptation (one reason it's a great game). Each party alignment had different reasons and goals for entering the dungeon (9 or so e.g. recover holy avenger and kill goody-2-shoes knight guy, trap Fungus Girl, free Fungus Girl, ransack the place for whatever loot we can and not get killed). Even those were ignorable. It was a total sandbox, do whatever you want. And that was a freaking pre-written, static computer game. A human DM would (and I did) rock that house!

What's Next?

It's been argued that ToEE runs out of bad guys and/or can be "finished".

ToEE has several sources of bad guy replenishment. 1) elemental nodes. 2) Elemental Chaos attracting creatures from all over. 3) insane demigod(s) there are at least three of those in play. 4) in my ToEE there were connections to D1-2 and the "Underdark" It's even implied that more baddies will come to fill the ranks (the rise of Elemental Evil is attracting creatures. There are several examples of that in the moathouse and elsewhere). Experienced DM's don't need to be told how a restock a dungeon. But, ToEE is a training tool for teaching that to newbies.

In the backstory of ToEE the temple had already been "finished" once. There's a published return to ToEE after it has been "finished" a second time. Both of which conflict with idea ToEE can be finished. Zuggtmoy and her followers are not the only power faction in the dungeon, far from it. End (or release) her it's not over (unless you want it to be), just changed. Zuggtmoy can even be a red herring perpetuated to keep the forces of chaos fighting amongst themselves and weak. Again "ending" ToEE is purely a decision of the DM/players. It is not built into the dungeon.

But, ya know, YMMV!

I think peoples recollections are clouded by past experiences. And possibly by a desire to pigeon hole ToEE so as to not conflict with their current beliefs. In similar vein I may be under-appreciating the interpretations and alterations I've made to ToEE. I may also still not understand what others mean by megadungeon which is complicated by people having various secular and religious views on what megadungeon means.

ToEE wasn't published as a megadungeon. It was a proto-megadungeon which TSR grafted some "module" facade onto. Those moduley bits are easily scraped off. It's definitely a product you can hand someone "Here are the first levels of a megadungeon. Go read mythic underworld, these posts and forum threads on running a megadungeon and make it your own!" And, if that doesn't qualify a published something for megadungeonhood then nothing does.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Descending AC is Actually Rather Neat

[I recently read about how it's easier to calculate small even numbers, use only additions and compare vs 20 ( a smallish even number ). Lost reference, sorry. It caused me to coalesce these d20ish resolution mechanic.]

Basic Idea
  • d20 roll
  • natural 1 is automatic fail, no matter what always a 5% risk
  • natural 20 "explodes" i.e. add d12-1 to result (a subsequent roll of 12 explodes as well, recursively, but has no practical benefit)
  • modifiers should be positive additions (not subtracted, not negative)
  • >= 20 is success
  • 21-29 increasing range of success (if applicable)
  • >= 30 is spectacular success

To Hit

d20 + ToHit bonus(es) + Defense >= 20 is a hit. >= 30 is critical hit.

ToHit Bonuses are class/level base bonus, +1 magic sword, +2 flank attack, etc.

Defense is opponents descending AC. The best possible AC is 0. Heavy armor and huge shield is 0 not -2.
  • No armor (def 10) hit on 10-20 55% chance of hit
  • Med armor (def 6) hit on 14-20 35% chance of hit
  • Max (def 0) hit on 20 5% chance of hit
  • +2 to hit vs common med armor/shield (def 2) hit on 16-20 25%.

The way the d20 explodes and crits are determined means less armor and/or more tohit bonuses (mostly BAB) equates to increase chance of crits. Which is exactly right IMHO. I'm currently interested in play below level 9 with little bonus inflation. So, the AC cap doesn't bother me much. It forces me to create monsters that have interesting challenges rather than just more AC and more hit points.

Skill/Ability Checks

Using C&C SIEGE engine all skills and abilities are checks using one of the six abilities. Note: rolls should be used only for exceptional circumstances. Common skill/ability use should just succeed. Also, most rolls aren't success/fail but rather degrees of success/complication. Cause falling to your death every 20 checks on average gets old.
Example: Climbing a rope -> no check. Climbing a rope that is on fire while crazed monkeys jump up and down on your heads -> roll to see if you make it to the bottom before rope burns through. Fail -> monkey has stolen your equipment or rope breaks and you grab a tree branch from which you are now pecariously hanging or hahaha you fall to your death roll new character, no you can't keep your old charsheet it goes into the shredder like all the others!

d20 + StatMod + LvlBonus + Difficulty >= 20 success. >= 30 is critical success.

StatMod is std +1 to +3 for high abilities (oh, I guess there are negatives here with low abilities) and +4 more if ability is prime.

LvlBonus is a tricky one. Straight up adding level is too much (8th lvl prime is +12 to +15 which is 95% success for most challenges) No bonus means characters never get better. Guess I'm going with 1/2 level which seems fiddly to me. I'll probably create a couple scales 1/2, 1/3 1/4 (like tohit has) for different "classes" (pie pieces actually)

Difficulty (descender) moderate +10, hard +5, heroic +0. Easy tasks just happen no roll is needed. Alternatively, any number 10 to 0.


Using C&C SIEGE engine all saves are checks using one of the six abilities. Saves should be hard. 10% (30% if prime ability) success rate. Spells cast by higher level wizards, deadlier poisons, ancient dragon breath, etc should be harder to save against than weaker threats. Saves should become easier as characters gain experience. This implies something like CharLvl - ThreatLvl or multiple target numbers instead of just '20'. Or increasing save threshold to 30.

d20 + StatMod + LvlBonus >= 20-30+ is Success Magnitude.

StatMod is std +1 to +3 for high abilities (oh, I guess there are negatives here for low stats) and +4 more if ability is prime.

LvlBonus + 1 per level

Success Magnitude -20 must be >= to threat level i.e. 8HD Shelob's poison requires 28 or better to save against.

So, equal lvl threats can be saved against 5% (25% prime) I guess that works.

I'm most dissatisfied with saves... I'm half inclined to throw out varying difficulty and increasing save chance with character level. Just have static flat 5-40% chance to save based solely on prime and stat mod.

The Dungeons of Castle Blackmoor - First and only Impressions

The thing getting RPG Bloggers' panties in a twist this week has been megadungeons. Whether they can be published or not, and blah blah blah.

Before all this online angst I was at my FLGS looking for Shard (Which still isn't available dammit!). Since I am unable to leave a game store without buying something I picked up a $40.00 tome by Zeitgeist Games. "The Dungeons of Castle Blackmoor". One of D&D's elder gods' PUBLISHED Megadungeon. Something several say can not exist. This book supports their claim. It is not a megadungeon (rather just a large module. If you don't understand the difference you'll have to go drink Grognardia's and Philotomy's kool-aide) Still, you might brush that aside as semantics. What's more important is that I feel "The Dungeons of Castle Blackmoor" to be a waste of $40.

To be fair I'm prejudging as I've not played with it and only skimmed it (there's not that much to read, more than half the text is statblocks and ability descriptions). From what I've seen I don't want to give it a more complete reading. It's probably a good d20 all stat blocks, difficulty checks, combat, kill, kill product but it pretends to be something else and I'm bitter that I fell for the bait and switch.

The first level is straight out of the Great Sweeney's description of Castle Blackmoor's basement. There are call out boxes "Arneson Speaks!", cool bits of history and advice. These end after the first few pages. There are three or four in total. There is also an overview of the level. Level One is pretty boring, but I read Level Two's with it's warring factions. Cool just the sort of megadungeony thing I expect. Level Three is the last level with an overview.

So, reading the first few chapters (as I did in the store) you come away thinking, "This could be a pretty cool old-schoolish product". Only to get it home and realize the rest of the book is just boring level appropriate combat encounters. Mostly static (although there's a single page describing the scripted raging battle occurring on levels 12-14). A telling fact, from my point of view, is there are no less than three persons credited for "Game Mechanics". I have no idea if this is actually Arneson's dungeon or how much he influenced it. He's listed as "Lead Designer" not as one of the writers. I can see him describing this or that encounter/room/trap he rememberd and the Game Mechanics reitepreting that through a d20 lens. There're touches of creativity here and there. But, not enough to save this product. I get the feeling it was slapped together to exploit the Blackmoor license.

I found one thing to like! Rooms mostly have cool evocative names like "Trial of the Adepts", "Goblins Galore", "Crushed", and "Crush, Crush, Crush". Also, every level has it's own wandering monster table.

And I will say it has a lot of features to help make d20 play less burdensome. Each level has a Encounter Index listing area, page, type, EL, and numbers of monsters. "Wasting" all that space on repeating stat blocks and listing out all the rules for critters' special abilities really helps during play. Freeing DM from thumbing through several books just to figure out what a monster does. This is probably what Zietgiest spent much of their effort on and they have done well. Unfortunately, I'm so over soul/mind crushing rules and that level of complexity.

300 pages (about 3/4 of which are stat blocks and d20 special ability descriptions/rules). No index, No appendix, One new monster (a pretty cool one), Ah, there are a few more boring ones buried in the chapters. No new magic items (unless they're hidden within room descriptions). 20 levels too many, esp if you roughly line them up with character levels. Should be 7-9 levels with several sublevels, planer nodes, etc. None of the level maps look particularly inspiring. And mostly go at 45deg angle which is annoying, not clever.

I'm sure there are some salavagable cool bits, looks to be a few clever puzzles/traps. This could be a megadungeon, with a lot of work (writting level overviews, deleting crap, adding interesting monsters/magic). It could have been about 60 pages - 1 map, 1 page overview/tables, 1 page of one-line room descriptions, 3 pages per level. As written it is a boring hack/slug fest to get to the BEG on the bottom level. Just not worth $40. (unless you're the least creative sort of d20 hack and slasher)

[BTW A proper megadungeon (or at least a mini-megadungeon) has been published, It's called "T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil". Great video game based off it too.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Saving Throws

[I wrote this 3months ago, meaning to edit it some more and add pictures. Now I'm too lazy but want to reference this post in another I'm working on. I'm still as undecided as I was then...]

Can't decide what saving throw system to use. Leaning towards Three Stats. The pros and cons below are from my perspective and based on my desires. They aren't "facts". I'm curious to hear why people like elder edition style.

Also, one optional rule is to make players request saving throws (say they are going to do something besides just stand there and take what's coming). Ex: a dragon breathes on a fighter and a wizard. The wizard's player says, "Jump out of the way." The fighter's player says, "Hold my shield up over my body." The fighter makes his saving throw and lines his shield up. The wizard misses and jumps half-way out of the cone of fire and is blown back a few steps. This makes it a little more realistic... if you want a saving throw, you need to try and move out of the way or resist it somehow. Players get too used to automatically getting saving throws.

Three Stats
d20's Fortitude, Reflex, Will Saves. I like the variation were highest of Str or Con bonus applies to Fort saves, Int/Dex -> Reflex, Wiz/Cha -> Will.

  • Familiar (to many players and myself).
  • Simple.
  • Players roll saves.
  • Easy to map effects onto save.
  • Same mechanic d20+bonus > target#.

  • Mechanical.
  • Three more stats needed for every monster, NPC, etc.
  • Have to come up DC's.
  • DC's can be arbitrary.

Abilities Are Saves
Castles & Crusades system. Basically each ability score is a save vs a couple kinds of attack. Str vs paralysis / constriction, Cha vs charm / fear / death attack. Spells are spread around.

  • Simple.
  • Same mechanic d20+level+ability bonus > target#.
  • No extra stats / crap to calculate or track.
  • Same progression for all classes.
  • Players choose what their good at saving against, not fixed by class. (Primary stat has easier saves.)

  • Never gonna remember the categories and what stats they map to.
  • Flavour lost compared to MoM.
  • Saves are brutally hard (easily fixed but that impacts rest of SIEGE)
  • Same progression for all classes.
  • Have to come up DC's.
  • DC's can be arbitrary.

Mess of Mechanics
System used with variations in OD&D / AD&D and I guess BECMI / 2ed also.

  • Different for each class.
  • Has a lot of "flavour".
  • All spells in one category emphasizes magic is magical. Easy to give bonus saves vs spells.
  • No need to come up with DC's, but IRRC there are often bonus/penalties to saves which amount to the same thing except you have to have a DC bon/pen could be ignored.

  • Different for each class.
  • I never remember what the categories are.
  • Have to look up values in table.
  • Slightly different in every system that uses it. (confusingly dissimilar, the opposite of familiar)

4ed D&D
Multiple defences each more or less like Armour Class. I'd use Fortitude, Reflex, Will, Touch, Ranged, Melee (maybe even further split Crush, Pierce, Hack/Slash). Is ranged folded into Reflex?

  • Universal Mechanic, roll > defence.
  • Non-melee player's get more rolls. (spells and such are now often "attacks" vs a defence)
  • Combines attack and save into one roll, faster play.

  • Players don't roll saves and lose "control" over their character's fate.
  • Lots of stats to track.

Systems not considered

One value ala S&W.

D&D 3.5 Spell resistance is DOA.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Post Apocalyptic Thought

I spend about 10hrs a week reading RPG blogs. (until I get burnt out and don't read anything for a month) But, it's totally worth it. In addition to being handed great ideas and resources. Reading all that spurs my creativity and inspires me to do stuff.

Mutant Apocalypse type games typically are wide open wilderness affairs after a modestly advanced civilization nukes itself. The image on Noisms' Post Apocalyptic Play-list made me consider using a "city world" such as Star Wars' Corcusant or imperial capital of Asimov's Foundation as the setting instead. Endless miles of steel and concrete ruins. A hundred levels of metal "dungeon" before you reach the bottom. A hundred more reaching up into the sky in the few towers left intact. I imagine a bit of a claustiphobic Space Hulk vibe.

Maybe too monotonus? Always overgrown "parks", agri-domes, and hydroponic farm levels for that getting back to nature feeling.

When I get around to Mutant Future I strongly consider using this kind of setting.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Choice via Simplicity

It annoys me that "long sword" is almost always the best weapon and players are punished for making different and/or interesting choices. Similar thoughts regarding armor. There are crunchy solutions e.g. weapons vs AC, morning stars bypassing shields. This post is about "lite" methods.


Martial Ability, fighting men got it. Wuss punks like wizards don't. If you ain't got it you can't use "complex" weapons e.g. bows, ball & chains. Otherwise anyone can use any weapon. Maybe not very well but they can at least keep the pointy end pointed down range.

Weapon Damage by Type
d4 all weapons used by those lacking martial ability
d6 all 1-handed melee, thrown, slings, and bows
d12 all 2-handed melee and crossbows

There are no bonuses to damage, none. Not high strength, not magic, not nothing. If, (big if), need arises to increase damage it will be done via expanding the range dice explode e.g d6 explodes on 5-6 instead of only 6. Or, via damage die size increases. d4 -> d6 -> d8 -> d10 -> d12 -> d12+d4 -> d12+d6 -> etc.

With this a dagger tossing hobbit isn't a gimp (unless they lack martial ability). Which works for me cause 1) character kick-assness trumps simulationist "accuracy" 2) hit points aren't representing physical damage but fatigue, luck, confidence, etc. The only reason 2-handed do more damage is gamist desire to provide three options; 1h+shield -> defense bonus, 2h -> damage bonus, 2 weapons -> attack bonus.

Optional bits:
  • Wielding two weapons provides +1 to hit (only one to hit).
  • Pure fighters roll two damage dice and keep the higher result.
  • Damage dice "explode".
  • Damage die is limited by Strength e.g. with 11 Str you only do d10 not d12 with 2-handed weapons. This applies to bows and crossbows as well, abstracting bow pull weight and difficulty a wimp like you has cranking a crossbow.
  • Flails, ball & chains, and the like are +2 hit vs shield wielder.


Three classes of armor; light, medium, heavy. Players get to decide what their armor is and what class it falls into. Ring mail bikini is light, Morrowind glass full-plate is heavy, my lizardman's hide is tough like medium, etc. Whatever players want. But, DM chooses stats. Which are:
       str acc dec move
none - 0 10 sprint
light 4 +2 8 run
medium 8 +4 6 jog
heavy 12 +6 4 walk

str - Minimum strength. Can still wear it, you just don't get as much protection.
acc - Ascending defensive bonus.
dec - Descending defensive bonus.
move - Max movement ability with this armor class

Optional bits:
  • Super heavy / full-plate 14 str, +8 acc, 2 dec, walk.
  • Crit/Wound saves. Roll > dec armor value with d10 to negate critical/fatal hit. Heavy, sight obscuring pot helm = 60% chance of not getting head bashed in. Letting your elven locks flow in the wind = not so much.
  • Dexterity bonus / stat can partially substitute for armor. (10 - 2xDexMod) or same protection as lt,med,hv armor for +1,+2,+3 Dex mod. Take best value, armor or Dex, do not add. Does not provide crit saves.
  • Only three armor types makes doing a few weapon vs armor adjustments easy enough to do in my head on the fly. e.g. Picks do +2 vs heavy armor, 1h slicing weapons do only d4 damage vs heavy, sawzall is +4 vs no/light armor. Don't think I'd mess with this though. If I do crunch I'll crank it to 11 and break out Rolemaster!


There are three types of shields small, large, huge. Anyone can hold a shield up. They get +/-1 defense bonus for their efforts regardless of shield type. Effective use of shields (or parry with weapon in off-hand) requires Martial Ability and provides much better bonuses:
        str def move
parry - 1 sprint
small 4 2 run
large 8 4 jog
huge 12 6 walk (optional) -1 to hit

str - minimum strength. All shields provide only +/-1 unless min Str requirement is met.
def - Added to Ascending armor bonus, Subtracted from Descending armor bonus.
move - Max movement ability wielding this shield
Of course, Shields Shall be Shattered is in effect. See also Cover & Concealment for past ideas on shields vs missile weapons.


Threes, I'm getting really into sets of threes. Some reason three things d4 d6 d12, light med heavy, small medium huge, fit easily in my head. I can quickly reason and make rulings about them. Categorization by three is easy, for me. Is it big? goes in top slot. Is it small? goes in bottom slot. Everything else goes into middle slot. I would have to think if there were four (or more) categories.

"Players can make up anything, DM gets to decide mechanics." Is my new favorite mantra. I've failed at "say yes to players" in past cause they were (or I thought they were) being min-max weenies or trying to get mechanical advantage so they could "win".

I continue to struggle with "simple". Look at all that up there, all those options. Not simple.

One damage die for all weapons comes from OD&D. Martial Ability is simplified damage by character class idea from a couple different places. Exploding dice are all over but most recently Hackmaster Basic has convinced me of their awesomeness. The limitation of movement type vs reducing movement rate also from Hackmaster. +1 to hit when dual-wielding from OD&D forums. Same with rolling two damage dice taking the best, but they used it for 2-handed weapons. I like it better as the signature ability of pure fighters to dish out damage (while avoiding damage inflation). No damage bonus cause I want 1) less math, less lookups, less modifiers at the table 2) to avoid damage inflation. Dex mod "in place of" instead of "in addition to" armor defense avoids AC inflation. Crit/wound saves for armor cause I can't get over wanting armor to be damage reduction rather than hit avoidance. But, also to provide reason to wear armor rather than rely on Dex and reason to wear heavier armor vs light armor + shield and reason for wearing helmets.

Wanted more organic rules than character classes X can't use shields, can't wear armor, can't use these weapons. Hence strength minimums and the Martial Ability. If a player thinks it would be awesome for his wizard to swing a sword why should the rules deny that? I'd much rather allow anything but make it not as effective. There might still be religious/social/sneaking about/arcane magic no worky reasons to not use certain armors and weapons. But, if so, that should be optional fluff rather than "rules".

I'm wondering if this is too much "not D&D". I think it's certainly closer to OD&D, which I find my self gravitating towards more and more. But, exploding damage dice? High bonus shields? Str minimums? Or is ditching character archetypes the worst of my "sins"?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Men the God Worshipers

See Born of Stone and Wood and Elves the Fallen Alvar for other races and background.

Men (Mann)

Men (including Halfmen and Thrallmen) in contrast to Gnomes, Dwarves and other Fey are strongly predisposed to worship "higher" powers. Whether those powers be a single god, several gods, an entire pantheon, demon(s), or entities from the void. It is their defining characteristic and the source for much of their intraracial conflict.

5.5-6.5' tall. Various builds. A multitude of skin, eye, hair colors.
  • No required Prime
  • Starting Language: Any Human
  • "It's a human's world" Most things are made by men for men. Most items are man sized. Few magical items "resize".

Halfmen (Halvmann)

Other names include Hobbits, Halflings, Nubbins. Halfmen come in all the shapes, sizes, and colors of full Men, just half as tall and plumper. They coexist in most Man cultures. Also, occasionally form nubbin communities of their own.

2.5-3.5' tall, plump.
  • Dex Prime
  • Starting Language: Any Human
  • +1 to hit with 1h thrown weapons & slings
  • "Little" +1 defense. -4 opposed Str checks.
  • "Tricksy" skilled at hiding and sneaking about.
  • "Hungry" Acute sense of smell esp for food. Usually hungry, eats as much as a full sized man.
  • "Fool hardy" +4 saves vs fear.
  • "Prone to napping" -4 saves vs sleep effects.
  • "Every body likes'm" +2/-2 reaction rolls (-2 cause some likes the way they taste).

Thrall (Thrallmann)

From Knockspell #1 by David Bowmen

Thrall men are desperate and destitute humans. Willing to take on virtually any undertaking in order to pull themselves up and out of their impoverished state. Descended from slaves they still willingly enter into indentured service for pay. They are simply desperate men who, while untrained, are either braver or more foolhardy than the rest of downtrodden folk of the world.

Starting Language: Any Human
"Ew, poor people" -2 reaction rolls. (goes away upon reaching 1st level)
  • Do not roll abilities, if needed assume all are 10/+0.
  • No starting equipment other than what's listed below.
  • One draw from The Deck that must be shared between the three of ya.
  • Base To Hit +0.
  • Get a trio of zero level human thralls.
  • Roll d6 for each thrall (duplicates *may* be rerolled)
1 pack bearer    2 hp, Str prime, club & large sack.
+1 to hit
Role: Carry loot and protect rear.

2 pole prodder 2 hp, Dex prime, blunt spear.
Bonus to note/detect traps
Role: Lead the way.

3 shield bearer 2 hp, Con prime, club & shield.
+1 AC to adjacent ally
Role: Protect an ally.

4 torch bearer 1 hp, Int prime, 3 torches & tinder.
Not surprised as often
Role: Light the way.

5 map drawer 1 hp, Wis prime, papyrus and quill.
Uncanny sense of direction
Role: Maintaining direction / bearing.

6 guide 1 hp, Cha prime, rudimentary map.
Gains extra info/rumours
Role: Provide some level of insight.

Divide XP equally between living members. When fellow dies his survivors gain 1hp reflective of their determination and resolve. When they reach 1000xp. Choose one survivor to become 1st lvl, the others slink off, relatively rich, to the slums and farmlands whence they emerged. Pick chosen's class, 2nd Prime/etc, roll stats/etc. A former Thrall retain his special ability.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Recent History of the Ancients

After their final war a few Ancients scrabbled for survival in the nuclear wastelands they had created. During the following 10,000 years pre-war tech got used up/broke, mutations stabilized, radiation died down, and the former ancients devolved into primitive tribes all but forgetting their former glory & armageddon. These tribes were just starting the slow crawl back to civilization. When strange lights began to appear lifting people into the night sky. To be returned some days later, deformed, mutilated or transformed. Over the next dozen generations The Greys abducted, experimented on and genetically manipulated the former ancients eventually settling on a swine/human hybrid. The Greys also pushed their technological development. The hybrids rapidly reached the steam age. A few hundred years into the hybrid's Golden Age of Steam, after they had spread across the world and formed several constantly warring empires The Greys obliterated all of their cites, released species specific mutagens, etc. Decimating the hybrids and their civilization. For the next hundred years Greys deposited several hundred thousand humans they had abducted from various points in Earth's history. These humans were encouraged to kill the human/swine hybrids and take their stuff. To escape marauding humans the hybrids hid underground and in the least hospitable wildernesses. Today we call these former ancients / swine hybrids orcs.

[1 in 12 orcs have enough ancient DNA to activate ancient tech and get ancient AI's and robots to obey them. Pure Strain Ancients are not aware of what happened to their less fortunate brethren but will recognize the genetic relation after a simple medical scan.]

Rise of Man, Fall of Elf

Posing as various human gods The Greys conducted medical and social experiments on and generally jacked with the human cultures they had transplanted. Creating grotesque hybrids, helping one nation conquer its neighbors only to inflict famine and plague on it later, forcing the most capable humans(heroes) to participate in death games, survive trials, or complete bizarre "labors". Thus giving rise to the various legends of capricious and fickle gods. Soon Trans-dimensional Beings of Pure Thought (TBPTs) decided Grey meddling had reached a point they could no longer ignore. They weakened dimensional barriers creating many connections and coexistences with a fey dimension. This brought the fey, true magic, made The Portals possible, and overtime caused the various human gods and demons to become "real". Unfortunately, this weakening also attracted Cosmic Alien Intelligences which rival TBPT's power and whose "meddling" is far worse than The Greys. The TBPTs also created a belt of energy around the world which causes Grey technology to fail. Several Grey star ships malfunctioned and crashed before they figured it out and kept away. The crash-landed Greys exacted some small revenge. Posing as Asgardians they convinced the Elves to abandon Alvar ways and take up science. As punishment the TBPTs transmogrified these Greys into true Aesir/Vanir but left the Elves to decide their own future. TBPTs are generally responsible for giving gods their power and they are the primary means the TBPT hope to contain Cosmic Alien Intelligences and eventually drive them away at Ragnarok.

Had a note "orcs are fallen race, Mesopotamia/Babylon" and a quote "Orcs live in Dungeons to HIDE from marauding humans". Decided to add some flesh to those bones and all the above fell out of my head.

Nicely ties together lots of ideas I've been having; fey/mythic wilderness/dungeon being not of "this world", elves as fallen fey, mixture of real history cultures/gods slightly twisted, Ancients as high tech civilization, Portals to every setting/campaign world/game system, Stargate SG1, high-tech (got both kinds Grey and Ancients), Cosmic Alien Intelligences, Jeff Rients Threefold Apocalyptic Alignment, oh and orcs as a fallen race.

I like to have a "big picture" of the campaign/world/cosmos. Something that lays out the where tos and why nots. Players never need to know this stuff. Probably never will. For me it's a framework from which to grow ideas. Non-orc humanoids can be from the other hybrid experiments The Greys abandoned. Monsters are mutants left over from the Ancients' GammaWorld, genetic manipulations of The Greys, or come from Fey dimension. Old orc fortress dungeons are filled with steam tech. And ya just know some lucky 1 in 12 orc is totally gonna find himself an Ancients gravtank.

BTW This is what Greys look like, and they weren't all turned into Asgards by TBPTs ;)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Elves the Fallen Alvar

See Born of Stone and Wood for background.


The Fallen Alvar(Fey). Long ago turned their backs on the Mythic World and their Alvar brethren. They embraced The Mundane, plowed the meadows, built cities, learned science and technology. In a word they civilized and the Alvar have not forgiven them.

Elves form large family clans. Most of which have banded together into several "city-states". Elves are fiercely loyal to their clan and city-state. Competition, raiding and out right war is common between the city-states. Elves are known for their exploration and colonizations. One may find elven lodges anywhere. Prows of their swan ships on the horizon presage either a violent and merciless raid or a profitable trade meet.

Most elves follow the Asgardian pantheon. Esp Baldur, Thor, Sif and their children. But various colonies and individual elf groups have adopted most other pantheons at one time or another.

4.5'-5.5' tall, slender build. Graceful and beautiful by most races' standards.
  • Cha Prime
  • Starting Language: Elven (low fey)
  • + 1 to hit with bows
  • Low-light vision, see clearly with very little light.
  • "Sly" Acute sense of sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste.
  • "Lost" Resistant to Fey magics, +4 on saves.
  • "Unchanging" Long lives, thousands of years. Most elves die of heartache or misfortune well before old age claims them.
  • "Fallen" Despised by Fey. Cha is not prime and -2 reaction with gnomes, dwarfs, trolls, goblins, and other fey.
  • "Look Elves!" Loved by Halflings, +2 reaction rolls.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Magical Monday - Personalized Magic

A friend of mine played a gnome wizard who had great names for his spells. "Tree Burner" I think was burning hands and he called magic missile "Rat Killer" cause that is what the gnomes back home used it for. The other players would implore "Cast magic missile!" He'd reply "Sorry, I don't have that spell". They'd sigh and yell "Rat Killer!" "Oh, that one, but there's no rats around here? What, you can use it on things that aren't rats? Wow! That could be really useful." :)

That's fun and makes magic more than just mechanics. Jack Vance novels and elder RPG materials such as Arduin have great spell names. I use those names for the odd scroll or treatise on spells characters run across. But it's too much work to rename all existing spells. Even if I did every caster would still be using the same name diminishing the mysterious and personal nature of magic I'm hoping to foment.

Pondering this I came upon what I believe to be the perfect solution to naming spells, don't. That is when a character researches or discovers a new spell I'll describe what the spell does but naming it will be a duty of the player. It's their spell after all! If they are stumped, I'll offer Vancian spell naming tables which they can roll on or simple peruse for inspiration. 90% of players will guess what the spell really is and use the name from the PHB. But, that other 10% will come up with some weird shit. Like numbering all their spells, "I cast 642 at the darkness". Or draw symbols on index cards and hold them up, "I cast this".

I also encourage players to personalize their spells with embellishments and small modifications. Fireball's flames being purple, or for an air mage it would be a lightning ball, or instead of big whoosh of fire the appearance is of cavorting fire elementals, or "Back home we used this spell for slash & burn agriculture and thus call it Tree Burner". The Colour of Magic and related articles at The Vaults of Pandius are great sources for this.

Multi-touch MS Surface D&D Proof of Concept

This is the anti-Luddite gaming experience.

A walk-through of the current build of our proof of concept for a Dungeons & Dragons experience on the Microsoft Surface. Created by the Surfacescapes team at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University.

Kind of lame actually, I've seen better mini integration/tools before. I like the menu and control tokens. But the animations and virtual dice are stupid. And what's with the bright white grid of permanent retina damage?

The first Digital Game Table in that post is better overall experience.

Although, this new one seems perfect to use for mixed in person and online game.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lamp of Recent Sight

Reading about Lamp of Piercing Vision magic item gave me the following brief idea for another magic lamp.

Lamp of Recent Sight

This small brass lamp is shuttered such that it casts a dim thin cone of light 10' wide and 3o' long. A small reservoir holds a hour's worth of oil. The lamp can be lit normally and if done so will function as a normal if weak lamp. But, if the words "Show me." are spoken while holding the unlit lamp it will magically alight and reveal the shimmering indistinct scene as it was 3d12 minutes in the past. The lamp may be panned / moved around always revealing what was occuring X minutes into the past. This will continue until the oil runs out or the phrase "I've seen enough." is spoken by one holding the lamp.

The lamp is engraved with the image of an adventuring party using the lamp to view themselves using the lamp, etc. in an infinite recursion. Below this are the words "And, so it was."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

HackMaster Basic Bits

[I wrote this long ago and forgot about it till now.]

After a more thorough reading here's more review of HackMaster Basic. Bits of rules I missed in my first quick HackMaster Basic review. Extractable mechanics and ideas that might be useful beyond a HackMaster game.


When using the quick character creation rules there are no build points, thank Crom! So, to simulate the build points a player might have spent there is this little chart for ability adjustment based on class
Fighter +1 Str, +1 Con Thief +2 Dex Cleric +2 Wis Mage +2 Int
Combine with roll 3d6 in order, may swap one stat with another, max stat is 18. That hits my sweet spot of healing modern gamers of their "optimal build" mental condition while recognizing that some players come to the table with a particular archetype in mind. Forcing someone to play an Int 5 MU or a thief when they hate that role is not being "old school", it's being a jack ass.

Hit Points
Staring hit points are (Con Score + fixed racial amount + class based hit die). The racial amount is 10hp humans and dwarves 5hp for the two wuss races, 1/2lings and elves. Those hitpoints are very high compared to most D&D and d20. Remember 4th ed HackMaster had a hit point kicker, 20hp I think. The system is also overall deals higher damage. Finally, critically is the Threshold of Pain rules were if you read the awesome KoDT comic combat example you'll see are often what takes down an opponents rather than reaching 0 hit points.

I like the addition of race to equation and how it boosts starting hitpoints. I'd consider using that with normal non-Threshold of Pain games. Also, just thought about races altering class hit die EX: Hu fighter has d10 hit die, 1/2 is one smaller d8 and orc is one larger d12. But that is consfusing exactly what hitpoints are.

Classes get a new hit die every other level. On even number levels players reroll their previous hit die roll taking either roll or 1/2 the die size (whichever is largest). This means that the previous hit die roll result must be recorded, meh. And also hitpoints tend to avg or above. No glass jaws wusses in HackMaster. Interesting variation on the OD&D interpretation that all hit dice are rerolled each level and new result is used if higher than existing hit points. I think I like that system better than HackMaster's. I like the slower hitpoint progression though.

In quick char gen each class is given a fixed set of profeciences and skills + a couple class appropriate skills rolled from a table. If I were to use feats, talents, profecincies, skills and the like this is how to handle them for new characters. You could get as fine grained and complex as you want say offensive fighter, defensive fighter, swashbuckling fighter. The key is to minimize choices, complexity and time needed to start playing. I've totally bought into the idea that after 10min a new character needs to be complete enough to play with.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

All Games Need Names - Google Edition

Ever since reading Language Lesions I & II ("All Games Need Names" by Katharine Kerr, "Even Orcish is logical" by Clyde Heaton) in Dragon #25 I've been fascinated with naming things in RPGs. Although, I'm far too lazy to build my own languages as those articles suggest. Instead I find it expedient to steal from real life. A practice that puts me in good company.

My first campaign map was not only a traced and munged version of Norway's Fjords it also stole place names from Scandinavia. Norway & Sweden town / river names populated the glorious Viking Nation of Alnor (<- that name sucks, no idea where I got it, I was a teenager gimmie a break) and the evil Kingdom of K'jore would sound mighty familiar to any Finns. (Sorry, for making you guys the evil ones.)

I've used Greek and Roman names often because there are easy and plentiful examples of them online. But they carry a lot of baggage and are very familiar to gamers. Currently looking for something stranger, Google Empire to the rescue! Google Search for baby names and name generators. Google Maps provides plenty of place names. Google Translate provides everything else.

Some Examples:
english     red       blue    green   black   white   
norwegian rød blå grønn sort hvitt
icelandic rauður grænn blár svartur hvítur
finnish punainen vihreä sininen musta valkoinen
irish bán dearg dubh gorm glas
indonesian merah putih hitam biru hijau
swahili nyekundu nyeusi kijani buluu nyeupe

english The red wizard lives in skull mountain.
norwegian Den røde Veiviseren bor i skallen fjellet.
icelandic Rauði býr álfur í höfuðkúpa fjall.
finnish Red Wizard elää kallo Mountain (Punainen velho elää kallo vuori.)
irish An saol draoi dearg i skull sléibhe.
indonesian Penyihir merah tinggal di gunung tengkorak.
swahili Mchawi nyekundu maisha katika mlima fuvu.

To me Icelandic seems more "viking" than Norwegian but heck if I know how to pronounce those words.

Looking for "elvish". Finnish, Indonesian, and Swahili are candidates but none truly satisfy. I really wanted a Hawaiian for that but could not find a translator. Google doesn't do it and all I found were dictionaries which are painful to use. If I wasn't so lazy I might gather data and write or use a markov chain generator.

For creating place names I make translations of common bits; colors, directions, low, high, stream, forest, crossing, etc. for each language I intend to use. Then create english names e.g. "Dark Wood" and use those lists to translate, "Adhmaddorcha".

I build worlds by playing a "mini-game" of civilization. Something like How to Host a Dungeon. In waves cultures form, rise, and fall (probably due to next culture invading/supplanting them). Starting with the oldest culture, my Celtic analogues using Irish, I sprinkle place names around. In the areas that the next culture becomes dominant they modify or replace the old "Irish" names with their own. In some places both names will be used, perhaps old name returning when new culture fades. In other places the old names will survive to the present. This continues for 3-4 cycles of civilization.

This easily builds up a lot of history and "lived in" feeling for a campaign (as well as plenty of ruins, burial mounds, and lost cities for players to explore). Players will know when they travel to Adhmaddorcha it is ancient and wild. Old texts using old, forgotten place names will provide them a puzzle to figure out.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Carcosa Colophon

Is the totally rad colophon for the publisher Carcosa.

From wikipedia:
Carcosa was a speciality publishing firm formed by David Drake, Karl Edward Wagner, and Jim Groce who were concerned that Arkham House would cease publication after the death of its founder, August Derleth. Carcosa was founded in North Carolina in 1973 and put out four collections of pulp horror stories.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Magical Monday - Magic, Yeah we Got Some of That

I've been fairly obsessed with magic systems of late. Reading endless (literally! part of reason I quit blogging for a couple months was I needed an escape from the barrage of new material put out by the online community) blogs, forums, articles, house rules, and a dozen or so RPG systems/supplements. I've arrived at something. Not finished, no "rule" ever should be.

During this magical quest I've been beset by a series of conflicting goals:
- Analytical mind & mechanical elegance / It's magic stupid, it don't make no sense
- Flexibility, "wild"ness / familiarity to existing player base
- Complete, uber / stop futzing with rules and play this thing dammit!
- Fascination with RL historical magic / unplayability of RL historical magic
- House rules rule / game is no longer D&D (which one? OD&D / 3.5 are so not the same game)
- Vancian, it's pretty rad / everything else, is also pretty rad

A few things I'm not of two minds over:
- Balance, screw that noise.
- All spells are magic. God granted miracles are different and use totally different system. A topic for some other post.
- Magic is dangerous and not a replacement for technology.
- Magic is not known, it is discovered. Arcane knowledge is coveted and rarely shared.
- Although, the party might be full of Wizards, Mages, and Sorcerers they are rare in the "real" world. Adventurers take magic-users into their party because they all are dangerous people whose lives are filled with violence, horror, and debauchery.

Instead of deciding on the best magic system/mechanics I'm gonna use them all. Three are described below. Each system's mechanics influence the nature of magic use and it's in game flavour. But players are encouraged to alter/fluff up their particular method and make it their own.

Most of this page is for DMs. To help sustain the "magicalness" I would relate mechanics to players through a "lens" of flavour. I wouldn't lay it all out up front either.
Instead of "you can make a scroll for 100gp per lvl of spell" I'd wait until magi finds and examines (in their "lab") a scroll explain "It appears that mystical energies are infused into the ink and vellum. That no valance would be required to call forth this spell." If they asked "Could I duplicate this marvellous phenomenon?" I'd answer "probably with some research, perhaps you should seek Lucious the Effervescent who's sigil is on that scroll."

A Partial Bibliography, filtered through my poor memory/lack of record keeping: Beyond Fire and Forget, Staff Based Magic, Theurgists Order of Set, Playing with Magic, Strange Magics, Non-traditional Sources of Spells, Fight On! Magazines, d20srd Spontaneous Metamagic / Metamagic Components / Incantations, Alternate Spell Casting System, ODD Boards Counter Spelling, There is Candy, Blue Star Mages and Goat Fuckers, Piecemeal, Carcosa, Ars Magica, Arduin, A Magical Medley. Finally, I spent many, many fascinating hours following links from Wikipedia's List of Magical Terms and Traditions.

Base System: Castles and Crusades with a "class" system derived from delicious pie. There are three levels of casting ability equating to how much arcane pie a character has. Casting ability dictates spell slots and casting options. For example characters with but one slice of arcane pie have no slots and may only cast rituals, never "fast" spells.

"Spell Slots" Three 1st and one 2nd lvl slots equals three 1st circle(lvl) spells and one 2nd circle(lvl) spell. A fourth 1st lvl may not be substituted for a 2nd lvl nor may two 1st lvl be combined into one 2nd lvl. No duplicate spells allowed.

"Casting Checks" C&C SIEGE mechanic with open ended d20, natural 1 always fail, < style="font-weight: bold;">"Cast as Ritual" Most spells can be cast without the usual memorization requirement via ritual, which take 10 minutes.

"Minor Magics" [I've seen this idea several places] Minor magical effects based off of currently memorized spells can be cast at will. Undecided if these will be limited to "cantrip" level of effects or something like with fireball memorized can conjure a fiery dart 1d6 (proly require a caster check) thus giving poor magic users something to do every round. On the other hand, suck it up Wussmage!

"Residual Effects" Unplanned manifestations of power that escape the will of the magic user. A randomly determined spell of the highest level memorized will leak. Once the leaking spell is recognized, the character may then attempt to rein it in. This attempt can be made once per day. If the wizard is successful, another spell will begin to leak. See Trollsmyth's excellent Playing with Magic post.


Other names include: Magus, Magician, Mage.

Spellbook based arcane magic, memorized. Cha/Int.
- Safe, comparatively. Spells work, no casting check.
- Can learn any number of spells.
- Available spells are a mixture of my 4 volume Compendium of Wizard's Spells and 3 volume Compendium of Priest's Spells. Should be enough to get started :)
- Must find and copy or study/learn/research new spells. Maintains written spells.
- May cast most spells as ritual from spell book/scroll independent of memorized spells.
- Material components only required when memorizing spell / casting as ritual. V, S when casting as per individual spell description.
- Minor effects based on currently memorized spells.
- Eastern tradition originally by Zorastor, but practised and altered by many, most recently the Thracians.

Spells are complex mathematical and mystical formulae. Each of which spans many pages [1 per lvl]. These may be written in most any language and are not magical. Rather they are instructions on how someone with the proper training and demeanour can arrange his mind, opening up its valances to be receptive to storing magical energies.

Magi must memorize spells/open valances. The number and power of which is limited by their available spell slots. It is not possible to memorize duplicate spells. Memorization takes one hour per spell level of uninterrupted study and requires the spell's written formulae. Magi may only fast cast memorized spells. Memorized spells stick with caster and are available to be cast again after 8 hours of rest. The written spell formulae are only needed to change caster's "load out".

Notes: As close to base D&D magic as my house-ruling ass could make it. Magi are scientist / scholar types, poring over musty tomes. Int is required to research, copy, and learn new spells. I expect most to choose that over Cha. Spell books don't have to be books; big mess of scrolls, strips of silk, clay tablets, whatever. A player is free to abuse the 8 hour rest by trying to cram more than one "cycle" of spells in 24 hours. Of course they will then learn about the "Mind Wrecking Effects of Magical Overuse" table.


Staff based arcane magic, not memorized. Cha/Int.
- Magic can fail but is not usually too dangerous. Casting check, >30 slot is not expended.
- Focus (staff/wand or tattoo) required to cast any spell.
- Can learn any number of spells.
- Available spells are a mixture of my 4 volume Compendium of Wizard's Spells and 3 volume Compendium of Priest's Spells. Should be enough for my purposes :)
- Automatically gain a few spells per level. May "transcribe" magician spells, is very hard. Foci replaces need for written spells.
- May cast most spells as ritual from focus without expending a spell slot.
- Material components only required when carving spell into focus / during ritual. V,S required when casting as per individual spell description.
- Minor effects based on current selection of spells.

Rather than voluminous arcane formulae laboriously studied and memorized wizardly magic is more intrinsic. Wizards know the art of investing spells into monograms and similar mystical cyphers [Ex On Beyond Zebra]. These are carved into special foci (e.g a wizard's staff / multiple wands and optionally one spell per level as tattoos). The disadvantage being that spell energy is tied up in the focus and not within a valance of the Wizard's mind. Another being wizardly magic is more of a discovered art rather than a studied science. Wizards find it difficult to expand their smaller (relative to Magi) corpus of spells.

Each day wizards perform a short ritual that fixes a selection of their spells (numbers equal to spell slots). Throughout the next 24 hours the wizard may fast cast any of these fixed spells equal to their spell slots.
For example: Dougard, a wizard, has 3 1st circle slots and selected the following Hands of Flame, Dougard's Excellent Enthralment, and Lucious' Arachnid Locomotion. Dougard could then; cast each of those spells once that day, cast Dougard's Excellent Enthralment three times (and not cast any of the others at all), or cast Hands of Flame once and Lucious' Arachnid Locomotion twice.
Notes: Nice feel (wizards have staves ya know, reminds me of LoTR scene, Gandalf getting in to see Wormtongue and King Theodin). Trades flexibility in casting for some loss of spell selection and 5% risk of spell failure. A little less bookkeeping, could use tokens for spell slots. No spell books hassels. But be damn sure to not loose your staff/foci. Unlike magi who can make copies of their spell books wizards have no backup plan! (just like most non-sysadmin RL people I've met)


Focus based arcane magic, not memorized. Cha/Int?
- Norse tradition

Works like wizard using totems, bone of ancestors, runes, etc as foci instead of staff. At least until I find better idea.

Sorcerer / Theurgist

Other names include: Witch, Warlock, Shaman, Diabolist, and EHP.

Mental/Psychic based magic, not memorized. Cha/Int.
- Risky and dangerous. d20 casting check, variable chance of spell failure / variable success aka some sorcery casting chart I've yet to create.
- Can learn any number of spells.
- Available spells pulled from Arduin, Carcosa, and similar sources, plus anything else that seems to fit.
- Must deal/bargain/extort new spells from their "power".
- No rituals or rather they have their own rituals.
- May require focus, tools, objects, components to cast. V, S as per individual spell description.
- No minor effects.
- Ancient / primordial tradition.

Sorcerous magic derives from a "Power", entities such as The Frog Gods, Elder Elemental Gods, demons, cosmic alien intelligences, plain old gods, and the like. Sorcerers bind/trap/worship these Powers and thus extract/extort or are granted mystical secrets (spells and what not). As you might imagine this is rather risky and has a cost, which the Power will eventually collect. They must keep their Power happy/satiated/bound. Sorcerers walk a fine line between lust for magical power and fear of what they have done/must do to gain it.

Not all sorcerers consort with demons and cosmic terrors. Many are respected sorcerer-priests, theurgists, of "good" gods such as Jupitor and Amon-Ra. Their risks are no less. Push too far for spiritual enlightenment and they may accidentaly gaze upon the true face of a god. Perhaps not as frightening but equally as terminal as being sucked into the cosmic void by an alien intelligence.

Sorcerers use their own mental energy and life force, or the life force of (often unwilling) others to control and channel the mystical energies of their power. Which is physically and mentally draining. The strain on mind and body is represented by temporary Constitution loss. The exact amount, 0+, is determined by how they rolled their casting check. It is possible for a sorcerer to push themselves too far, collapsing into a lifeless heap. Depending on what their Power is might use Wisdom loss (insanity) instead.

Sorcerers may attempt to cast any spell they know regardless of level. Although, grasping beyond your means grants large penalties to casting check. Other modifiers to check include; penalties for having less than 3 arcane character pie pieces, penalties for taking damage/being distracted during casting, bonuses for appropriate sacrifices (magic items, rare substances, people). Finally, each spell will have certain circumstances in which it is easier / more powerful to cast. These last bonuses are most important for use in bargaining rituals. For example:
When Morzaad hangs dark in the sky [a lunar eclipse] go far below within the crytal depths to where echos fear speak and the Formula of Geometries will flow easily from thy lips. [aka large bonus to the casting check of that spell]

Bargaining checks are handled as casting checks with higher stakes. There are two primary bargaining rituals "binding" & "extorting". I'll use those names even though a Theurigist is not binding their god, rather they are achieving a higher and more personal rapport with their diety.

Binds come in degrees; partial, weak, strong, etc. and represent amount of influence sorcerer has over their Power. A weakening of the sorcerer's bind over their Power is a common result of failed spell and bargaining (including binding) checks. Weaking beyond partial releases Power and is the end of the sorcerer. The degree of binding provides a modifier to extorting checks. Binding rituals take days and require the purchase of rare insenses, oils, nubile dancing girls and the like. Players are free to attempt the ritual as often as desired. Begining sorcerer characters start play with a weak bind.

Extortions are the sole means by which sorcerers gain new spells and other mystical secrets. The extortion ritual takes days and requires the purchase of rare insenses, oils, nubile dancing girls and the like. Check's level of success determines how many new spell secrets are learned. The levels of the spells is random but bell-curve distribution around characters current abilities. Players are free to attempt the ritual as often as desired. Before play begins newly created sorcerer characters conduct an extorting ritual "off-camera". Truly catastrophic results are rerolled, all others are kept.

Notes: Theurgy means 'divine-working'. Practice of rituals. Sorcerer priests are Theurgists. Maleficium (sorcery) Latin term meaning "wrongdoing" or "mischief". Goetia is the invocation of angels or the evocation of demons. Evocation, the act of calling or summoning a spirit, demon, god or other supernatural agent.

Sorcerers are as powerful as the player is willing to be risky. I tried to apply the mega-dungeon "risk vs reward" equation to spell casting. Played safe they are weaker than wizards and magi. Dial up the danger and be rewarded or TPK'd. Which brings up... The risks of sorcery are shared, willingly or not, by all those near or known to the sorcerer. When you accidentally release an aspect of Shoggoth it arrives with a mighty hunger and indiscriminant palet.

Sorcery is a bit complex and requires maturity/sophistication of role-play so as to not ruin the game for the rest of the players. Therefore they will be an "advanced" class. Not available to players until they've gamed with me for a while.


Other types of practitioners: Rune Casters, Alchemists, Hermeticists, Mystics, Celtic Druids, and Hedge Wizards, as well as Tarot and Hoodo magic have to wait for Part II and Part III.

There is one form of magic available to all characters regardless of class/magical aptitude. Enochian, invoking the magic contained within individual letters of the Language of Creation possibly based off of Incantation mechanics.

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