Wednesday, 7 March 2018

House Rules Update! 2018 edition

Another year, another metamorphosis!

PDF here

The main impetus this time around is basically to trim off as much fat and fiddly bits as possible, especially in the combat rules. If there's something in the rules that never gets used or I always forget about, it's gone.
It's become increasingly obvious that the Gambit is the only combat option anyone really needs. It's simple, has an obvious risk-reward angle, and has the exciting partial success possibility.
I've trimmed off anything that's not covered by a Gambit and simplified the rest.

The other thing is that Sneak Attack has always been a sticking point in the game. It's a weird outlier in terms of how skills work and is useless without a high Stealth to back it up.
Probably the biggest change in this update is reworking Sneak Attack and Stealth so they're not so tightly linked. Sneak Attack has been reworked into Backstab which is primarily for ganging up on the same enemy, but also still effective for traditional shanks from the shadows.
I'll go into it more when I get to that section below.

On the less rules-tweak side of things, I've added a few more bits to make the rules a bit more standalone, like putting basics about HP and AC and stats in the doc. It's not exactly a Ten Foot Polemic standalone game (yet?), but it's in here so you don't have to cross-reference with the LotFP rulebook so much. This is important if you are, for instance, one of my own players trying to use my rules to run your own session.

I've pulled out the relevant sections of the rules for ease of use, but do feel free to follow along in the house rules document.
So here we go, a change log with explanations and stuff as we go.

Char Gen

- Removed Ammo Dice
Ammunition isn't tracked unless something happens to make ammo tracking important.

I'll talk about this here - the death of the Ammo Die.
Oh wow the site I originally got it from seems to be dead! My house rules are old!
Archive copy of the ammo die post here.
Anyway, the idea behind the cascading Ammo Die made its way into the Black Hack as the Usage Die. Seemed like a great way to track arrows etc in the abstract, but man I can't remember the last time someone fired enough arrows for it to matter. When the bulk of the game is dungeons and firing into melee is dangerous, you just don't fire that many arrows.
I've left the door open for resource management if people are in the middle of a desert or something, but in the main we're not going to be tracking ammo any more.

The Basic Basics

- Added this whole section

 Just making things a bit more clear because there are some minor changes from LotFP.
Most notably, making it clear that HP is your luck-shield not your life points per se.
Also, Surprised AC in the LotFP rulebook is surprisingly hard to find, so that's here now.
Armour rules also gathered into one place, which means there's a teaser for the new sword rules in here too.


- Added this whole section

Explanation of stats because it's subtly different from LotFP, mostly by accident over time.
Clearly the lore/reasoning is more or less transposed directly from the LotFP rulebook.
Most importantly - something I never realised was that Int/Wis were supposed to influence the Saves of people targeted by Magic-User/Cleric spells! I've never done that, so it's gone. In its place is being a better caster via recovered from Interrupted Casting and Spell Swaps. Works for me.
Oh and did you know that Charisma doesn't affect Reaction Rolls by the LotFP rules? I sure didn't! So that's called out as affecting Reaction Rolls now.


- Moved Falling here
- Added Fire rules for ease of reference
- Added Drowning

Original falling rules make falls very dangerous, and means anything that makes your fall count as 10' less could potentially save you from massive amounts of damage.
Fire rules in LotFP are nice. I like them, but added a few extra bits from rulings we've had in the past.
Drowning has claimed the life of several adventurers in my game, would you believe. The ruling at the time turned out to be surprisingly functional - 5 rounds of activity (+/- Con) before you start taking damage.



- Added temporary shelter ruling

All the same as before, except that it's possible to set up a makeshift shelter in the wilderness if you spend a day and roll Bushcraft.
Requiring a tent and rations to heal quickly in the wilderness works well, but what do you do if you forgot to buy a tent and/or your tent got destroyed by an angry bear?
You can build a semi-permanent shelter in the wilderness with a day and a successful Bushcraft roll.
Tents are a shortcut that you can pack up and move easily every day, so they're much better for travel than spending a day scratch-building a shelter every time someone needs to heal quickly.

Magical Healing

- Tweaks to Cleric spells that deal with poison

This has been in the poison rules post for a couple years now, but this is the first time I've stuck it in the house rules doc.
Delay Poison means you'll likely have processed the poison before it kills you.
Neutralise Poison... neutralises poison.


Basic Combat

- Added Magic to this section

This is in the Classes section too, but it really should have been here all along.
Declare casting at the start of the round, you need to be protected until it goes off at the end of the round. Standard in my game since forever.

Fancy Combat Options

- Removed Bumrush
- Removed gimmicky Parry rules, rolled Disengage into Parry
- Replaced Sneak Attack with Backstab
- Added Evade
- Clarified Wrestling
- Moved setting spears to Reach weapon section

Here we go! Some big changes.

Bumrush/Charge is easily a gambit. I'm surprised it lasted so long really.
Parry and Disengage were two similarly defensive but separate actions before. Now Parry is just the overall defensive "please don't hurt me" action, boosting AC and avoiding Opportunity Attacks.

The new Backstab will come up lots more. It's primarily a bonus for flanking enemies now, with a secondary use for killing surprised enemies. Flanking is a 5e-style thing, multiple people attacking one target in melee. Optimally you'll have a tank distracting the enemy while you come in with the Backstab. Conveniently this can be used to make pack-hunting enemies more dangerous by giving them good Backstab scores.

Evade appeared in this skills post as "Combat Stealth" but it's in the house rules now. Takes an action and a successful skill roll, so only useful if you have reliable Stealth.
Great for setting up a Backstab since it gives you +4 to hit and they can't target you on their next turn, guaranteeing Flanking.

Together, Aim, Evade and Parry form a sort of combat boost trifecta.
Aim is use an action, boost ranged attack.
Evade is use an action, boost melee attack.
Parry is use an action, boost AC.
Maybe the almighty Gambit will eat them all next time round, but I like the balance for now.

Wrestling is great. Adding some clarity for multiple wrestlers, and how wrestling rolls happen on both sides of the round.
+/- 1000 for natural 1s and 20s is for the silliness of it, but also neatly describes "a natural 20 automatically wins a wrestle, unless both people roll a natural 20 in which case it's still down to modifiers".

Spears in a bit.

Melee Weapon Types

- Choppy weapons changed: deal improved damage die against light armour or less
- Stabby weapons changed: +1 to melee AC and +1 to melee attack bonus

I still enjoy differentiating the weapons like this, even if it bumps up the complexity a little. With a general lack of magical weapons in a low magic game, weapon choice takes up some of the slack.
They used to trigger effects depending on whether you rolled evens or won initiative or whatever, but that's really too fiddly and complicated. It might maybe be fine if you're a player, but for poor old me rolling for a bunch of enemies at once that's too much overhead.

So now this should all be much easier for someone rolling a bunch of dice at once, and hopefully easier for the players.

Choppy axes deal improved die of damage against low armour targets. This means a greataxe vs a generic peasant rolls 1d12!
Smashy hammers are the same as before, piercing high armour targets.
Stabby swords are a straightforward upgrade against any target. +1 to hit, +1 to melee AC. Pair with a shield and you've got +2 AC against both melee and ranged attacks. Heavy armour, sword, and shield gives you a tip top 20 AC which is the effective maximum.
I might rename "Stabby" to "Versatile" to make it clear that they're good for offense and defence, but I'm keeping it for now.
Shanky is unchanged, deal bonus damage in a Wrestle if your roll beats their AC. Knife fights get messy.
Whippy is also unchanged. Ranged wrestle.

Noted here too: the Fighter gets extra bonuses on top of these. They're better than anyone else with any weapon, which is as it should be I think.

Melee Weapon Options

- Reach Weapons allow you to make an Opportunity Attack against enemies moving into melee.

Not actually a change, just not highlighted like this before. Was previously under the overcomplicated Parry action.
Opportunity Attack against approaching enemies makes the spear a superior defensive weapon, and good for defending your friends.

Also interacts with the new disengaging Parry. You can close in on a spear wielder by using Parry to avoid the Opportunity Attack, at the expense of not being able to attack them when you get in close enough.
Dropping Charge/Bumrush means that I can just drop setting spears against a charge. Spears are set against anything moving into range automatically, but no bonus to damage.

Ranged Weapon Options

- Firearms are all counted as flintlocks now.
- Rifled barrel improves Aim, instead of making up for range penalties
- Firearms ignore all armour at close range (all ranges for musket)

In a game where all of the various weapons have been cut down to several damage categories, it's a wonder I stuck with the Matchlock/Wheellock/Flintlock thing for so long. Who cares?
Everything is now counted as a flintlock, and if you want to have a rad wheellock on your pistol I'm not going to penalise you for it.

Range penalties literally never come up. I'm not going to measure ranges, and most if not all combat in this game is at short enough range that you don't need to worry about it.
Getting a rifled barrel means you double the Aim bonus to a big +8, at the expense of doubled reload time on a firearm you'd never manage to use more than once a fight anyway.
Finally, a reason to buy an Arquebus over a Pistol.
This should be an improvement even if you do measure ranges, since the Aim bonus makes up for the range penalties. Get your snipe on.
I was also doing the by-the-book firearms thing where guns pierce 5 points of AC, but piercing all armour is easier to adjudicate even if it's not entirely realistic.

Death and Dismemberment

- Updated for the modern era

This is all in pamphlet form now. Go see that post for an explanation of my game's most fiddly subsystem.
The main thing is to call them "Death Tokens" instead of "Death Dice", and add a bit more clarity. I think it's fine now.
This is a big wodge of complexity in the middle of an otherwise fairly rules light game, but it leads to a lot of fun gameplay for me. I swear.


Wear and Tear

- Removed weapon/armour Quality
- Removed sacrificing armour to reduce damage
- Added England Upturn'd misfire table for Notched firearms
- Dwarfs can completely fix a single item per day, up from one Notch per day.

Having different weapon Qualities which gave different chances of taking Notches was a good idea in theory but definitely very easy to forget about in the heat of battle.
You know what's not easy to forget in the heat of battle? Crits and fumbles! Any time a natural 1 or 20 comes up, people notice. So now weapon/armour damage is triggered by those exclusively.

Part of the impetus was having high quality weapons and armour to replace magic weapons and armour, but that was a nice idea that never worked out great. Just make it extra fancy or something. Hell, make it unbreakable. That's as good as magic.

There was a rule here last time where you could sacrifice armour to reduce an attack's damage to 1, but that's gone now. I kept forgetting and so did the players.

England Upturn'd has cool a firearm-exclusive misfire table that it wold be a shame not to use, so I'm using it.

Dwarf repairs are better now, just because it makes it easier. Give a Dwarf a day and he can fix an item. Solid. A Mending spell always fixed an item completely, but I'm calling it out here to make it clear.


- Called out skill-boosting equipment and skills that get boosted by Intelligence
- Backstab is a reworked Sneak Attack
- First Aid reworked - forces patient to Tempt Fate on a 6 instead of dealing damage, no longer heals HP
- Added Rapid Reload to Sleight of Hand
- Added Evade to Stealth
- Added Invention to Tinkering

A few changes around here.
Intelligence modifies Arcana and Languages. Nothing new there.
Specialist's Tools give a +1 to Tinkering and First Aid, that's not been in these rules before.
Same with Crampons granting a +1 to Climbing, which needs calling out really.

Backstab is a big change. See Fancy Combat Options above. Upgrade hits against surprised or flanked enemies to crits.

First Aid is now focused directly on field medicine, healing up a person who's reached 0HP and is dying from Death Tokens. The combat medic skill to bring the dying back from the brink!
Failing on a 6 used to deal 1 damage to the patient, but now it makes the patient Tempt Fate which fits the Death Token angle better.
Healing HP with First Aid has been scrapped, eating to heal works better and more reliably.

Rapid Reload skill was sort of in the rules before, but it's here now.
Roll Sleight of Hand to get a free Reload action. This means you can Reload twice in one round, or even Reload while fighting. Potentially fire a gun every 3 rounds if you've got good Sleight of Hand and focus on reloading, which almost makes it worth it.

Evade, again, see Fancy Combat Options above. Dodge and weave to gain an advantage against an enemy.

Invention has been in the game for a while, because players looove coming up with bullshit mechanical things like breathing apparatus or complicated traps.
Only change is that if a device works successfully it gets a +1 to Invention rolls in future, so you slowly build it up until it works consistently. Previously this had it working after three successful uses, but I think this is mechanically neater.


Rune Magic

- Minor tweaks

Due to mystery campaign reasons (and mild balance woes) the Repel rune doesn't generate stuff any more, only pushes it away. Breath weapons are too easy I guess!
There are a few other bits, but that's the main one.


- Added everything for each class, not just the things that are tweaked from baseline LotFP. You can run a class out of this document now.

Just makes it easier for people who aren't running LotFP to figure out everything a class has.

Onto actual changes that matter.

The Fighter

- Added Weapon Mastery

Fighters are simple. This is mostly on purpose, it's a straightforward class with a straightforward focus on straightforward murder.
People who want to be a fighter type tend to roll Barbarian nowadays. But I have a condition where any time we haven't had a Fighter in a while, I want to make Fighters better.

So here we are. Weapon Mastery. As seen in the Melee Weapon Types section, different kinds of weapons get different kinds of bonuses.
Fighters get those and more, with the bonuses intended to synergise with the base perks.
Having a Fighter that carries one of each weapon around sounds great.

The Choppy upgrade is suspiciously similar to 5e's great weapon thing, from which I took it.
The Smashy upgrade replaces the old "shiver armour on evens" thing. Hammer attack to make the enemy easier for your allies to hit. Combo with the new Backstab to good effect.
The Stabby upgrade means swords are very much the defensive weapon - use an action to Parry and hopefully you'll trigger one or more counterattacks. Amazing for a fully armoured and shielded Fighter.
The Shanky upgrade makes Fighters even more brutal wrestlers, seeing as their attack bonus means they'll win wrestles a lot.
The Whippy upgrade is to do some Indiana Jones shit and trip people up.

The Magic-User

- Altered Spell Interruption to make Chaos Mages more possible
- Made Spell Swap more lenient

Spell Interruption used to mean you could prevent a Spell Collapse with a Save vs Chaos.
Now a Save vs Chaos means you get to see what the Spell Collapse will do first, then choose whether you negate it. A small but significant change.
Shout out again to Aura Twilight's chaos magic table which I can't link enough.

Spell Swap now only has a penalty if you're swapping a higher level spell to a lower one, due to the potential magical leakage. You're forcing a larger amount of energy into a less complex spell and the magic might start leaking in around the sides.
Previously you had a penalty equal to the sum of the spell levels, so this is more lenient.
I want it to be slightly risky to swap a spell, but not so risky that I hear people going "nonono!" to a spell swap like the wizard's about to cast a Summon spell.

These Spell Swap rules carry over to other casters.


The Extras

- Added this class

My Extras class is so similar to Manola's original Extras class that it's not worth a class blog post.
The only minor difference is that the "Magic for the Masses" rule applies to all items.
If you've got less than 10 of an item, it can be used once per scene and each takes up a separate Encumbrance slot.
If you've got 10 of an item, it can be used every round and all 10 items take up a single Encumbrance slot.

Two bows means you can fire arrows twice per scene.
Ten bows means you can fire arrows every round.

Two suits of chain armour means you can get Chain AC twice a scene.
Ten suits of chain armour means you have Chain AC at all times.

It's very strange and meta, but that's the Extras in a nutshell!

The Inheritor

- Added this class

Recently detailed in the Inheritor class post.
Eat monsters to steal their abilities and use them against your foes.
Enough of a niche that it doesn't step on other class's toes, and the game's first Inheritor so far has ended up being really interesting!

So that's that. A whole lot of incremental changes that I hopefully won't have a need to fiddle with for a while. Enjoy!

Friday, 23 February 2018

The Inheritor, or the Extremely Omnivorous Blue Mage

The Inheritor is based heavily on Courtney's Blue Mage except with the vore stuff cranked up to maximum.
In essence - eat monsters to steal their abilities.


To die beneath the harsh eldritch light of the Black Sun is to be born anew. Soul scourged, memories scattered, barely in control of this new body of black-veined mud.
The life of a newly formed demon is one of sin-eating, slow-gained sentience, and hard-won metamorphosis. A new body with an old soul, emerging into the darkness of the end of days.

But this is not you.

You are an aberration amongst even your own aberrant kind. You crawled from the viscous mud of the river Lethe fully-formed, already settling into shape. Stranger still, a weird grasp of your own twisted flesh allows you to alter your body further. A malleable self-image that can be restructured to assimilate the organs and energies of foes you confront and devour.
You are no mere demon. You are something more.


The Inheritor

Core: 1d6 Hit Die. Minimum 3 HP at first level. Saves and Exp Track of the Magic-User.
Monstrovore: The Inheritor is a strange type of demon that can devour monsters to gain their powers.
A sort of monstrous and extremely omnivorous Blue Mage.
Mutable: In order to absorb a power or ability, the Inheritor must have been affected by that power or ability. Then they must eat whatever part of the creature gave them that ability, like a ghoul’s claws for paralysis or spider’s fangs for their poison bite.
That is, to steal a powerful attack you must survive that powerful attack. Then eat them.
In the case of passive abilities, like a Spider’s climbing or a Fire Beetle’s glow, you can steal the ability as long as you’ve witnessed it in action.
During the absorption process the Inheritor collapses into a pile of randomly mutating flesh and mud and strange organs. This process takes 10 minutes.
You can take multiple abilities from the same creature if you wish, but each individual ability is a separate Mutation.
Inheritance: Each ability the Inheritor has stolen is called a Mutation. Each Mutation grants the Inheritor a minor passive ability based on the Mutation. Taking a Giant Spider’s climbing ability might give a passive +1 to Climbing, taking a Gelatinous Cube’s paralyzing touch might grant soporific saliva.
The Inheritor’s Mutation Capacity is equal to their level, eg. a level 3 Inheritor has 3 slots for Mutations.
The Inheritor’s maximum MP is double their level. They regain all lost MP after 6 hours sleep.
Full Power: Spending a Meat Point (MP) allows the Inheritor to use a Mutation at full power for a round, using it as the original creature used it. This causes their flesh to bubble and unfold into a monstrous parody of the original creature as they unleash the stored power.
Other than available MP, there is no limit to the number of powers that can be activated simultaneously.
Doppelganger: The Inheritor can entirely consume a person to gain their voice and appearance. Each whole disguise  counts as 1 Mutation. It costs 1 MP and 10 minutes to transform, but the transformation is permanent until you transform back.
You also get a vague taste of their memories - ask the DM three questions and he must reply truthfully if they’d have known the answer.

"I'm spending a Meat Point to run as fast as a dog!"


The base of this class is a Magic-User with a bumped up Hit Die.

You get it. Eat monsters, gain their abilities.

The idea of a PC going around collecting monster abilities is a little bit scary for me because my game has lots of weirdo monsters with weirdo powers. What if they pick up some completely overpowered ability and break my game?!?

There are three main risk/reward aspects to collecting monster abilities:
  1. You have to survive a powerful offensive ability in order to obtain it. If you want that dragon's breath weapon, you have to survive the dragon's breath weapon.
  2. You have kill and eat the powerful monster. If you want that dragon's breath weapon you're going to have to actually slay the dragon which is no mean feat.
  3. It takes a 10 minute Turn to assimilate monster abilities, so you need to be protected until you've fully absorbed the creature's ability.
This means that if the Inheritor picks up a powerful ability, they've earned it.
It's already getting a little Pokemon with swapping out moves for more powerful moves over time, but I'm more than ok with that!

To be clear - you can steal multiple abilities at once from the same creature. So if you eat a spider you could steal its Venomous Bite and its Spider Climb.
Bear in mind that each distinct ability takes up its own slot.

This is obviously the main gimmick. Steal an ability and you get a passive perk which is always on.

As an example, at time of writing the Inheritor in my game is at level 4.
She's filled her 4 Mutation Slots with the following abilities and associated passives:
  1. Fire Beetle glow (Glow faintly in darkness)
  2. Dwarf darkvision (Low light vision)
  3. Giant Spider venomous bite (Paralysing bite)
  4. Gelatinous Cube transparency (+1 Stealth due to mild translucency)
Each of these passives has made her a little more mutated. The fire beetle glow comes from softly glowing orbs under the skin, the cube's translucency has made her a little more squat and slimy.

Full Power:
The resource management part of the class. You get two Meat Points per day per level that you use to amplify a stolen ability back to full power!
Spending a Meat Point instantaneously gives you access to the full active version of the ability for the rest of the round.

For this Inheritor, spending a Meat Point will stoke that faint glow to full lantern-strength light, or she can activate full power Gelatinous Cube transparency to go practically invisible.
Of course the big ticket item here is the Giant Spider's poisonous bite - spend a Meat Point and you can bite with a spider's devastating 1d6 damage bite and Save vs Doom poison.
She did well to acquire that one.

A single Meat Point will keep an ability at full power for only a single round, so some abilities are more useful as a passive than an active ability.
Bumping Fire Beetle glow up to full torchlight lasts for a full round, but one round of lantern-strength light is not so good for exploration over the course of ten minute Turns.
Cleverly this Inheritor has exploited the passives to create a better combined effect, something I hadn't initially expected. 
You may notice that the combination of Fire Beetle soft glow and Dwarf low light vision will combine to result in constant passive darkvision. I thought that was real neat! Good use of player skill and exploiting edge cases, so it's perfect.

Straight out of Prototype, eat a person to become a perfect clone of them.
This is ripe for shenanigans, and also means that an Inheritor who is willing to use up a Mutation Slot on a normal person disguise can avoid looking like a weird horror-chimera if they want.

The first use of this ability was pretty fucking wacky - the player ate the corpse of their previous character in order to transform into her.
The ability got swapped out for another power fairly quickly, but it was creepy while it lasted. Especially for the other characters who had buried her.

Friday, 8 December 2017

If You Love Your World, Set It Free

My world is ending.
It's been ending for a long time.
One apocalyptic scenario after another has wracked my campaign. Death Frost Doom unleashed a horde of the Dead. Zak's starter dungeon from long ago unleashed the the demon armies from the west. The Mould came out of a weird old lump in the forest, causing societal breakdown due to the increasing numbers of mould addicts.

All things that could take over the world, maybe ruin a part of it.
None of them would destroy it.

Until now.

The Beast in the Core of the Earth is the World.
And it is rising.

The Highest Stakes

This is pretty exciting! I guess I've always had the end of the world in mind in my game, or at least  willingness to let vast swathes of it get destroyed/impacted/changed by various perils. Running LotFP adventures will do that to you.
But despite all that, this is the first time I'm straight up looking at the end of the entire world.

It's no doubt a reflection of my own vague nihilism that I've ended up with this "ha ha life on earth was some meaningless cosmic accident" apocalypse. The rise of Shub-Niggurath from inside the Earth was always intended to be my version of the Lovecraftian menace that doesn't give a shit about you because it works on spans of time far beyond human comprehension. It's not some epic battle of good and evil, it's not someone with great power getting corrupted absolutely, it can't be reasoned with or stabbed to death, it just is.

And while I'm sure lots of high level D&D campaigns have featured world-threatening events, there's usually something you can find or someone you can kill to prevent it.
I don't know how my players are going to prevent this one, honestly. I sure hope they pull it off though. It'd sure be nice if they saved my world for me!

Maybe the biggest part is just being able to step back and say to myself, "you know what, it's been like 6 years in this one little patch of planet. Am I ok with it getting blowed up?" and yea, I guess I am. It'd be pretty cool.

For the record, this final apocalypse, as with all prior lesser apocalypses, was triggered by the players. They cured one doom, only to unleash another. Such is the way of things!

Saving the World with 10HP

I've saved the world before in lots of games. DnD once or twice, and certainly a heap of times in video games.
Kill monsters, level up, get sweet loot, kill more monsters, and eventually become strong enough to kill the big bad. Classic.

Except my campaign reeeaaally isn't set up for that. Characters die with some frequency, new characters come in at level 1, and getting as high up as level 6 takes like a whole year.
Getting strong enough to kill the locus of the apocalypse is straight up not the way this thing is going to work out.
So how are they going to do it? Especially since there's no real way to out-fight a world-cancer even if they were a party of One Punch Men?

So far, it looks like the plan is to exploit other world-ending threats and daisy chain a solution to the apocalypse. Get an apocalypse dragon to defeat Shub-Niggurath, then use the unstoppable hordes of undead to defeat the dragon, and so on and so on.
The "There's a Hole in my Bucket" world-saving gambit, essentially.

I fucking love this.

All these different factions have been around for a good while, my players have been in my game for years so they know them pretty well. And now they've got a cause to try to unite the warring clans to prevent the end of everything?
Fuck yea!

Ordinary people saving the day through sheer luck and guile and straight up diplomacy is completely my jam. My whole game is pretty much the story of a party of plucky fools with a few extra abilities making the best of bad situations, forming relationships, and doing their best to get rich without dying trying. Somehow the whole game has been leading up to this, and it works!

There's also the very real possibility that my players will find some way to bullshit or edge-case their way out of this thing. They usually do. No doubt there'll be some artifact somewhere, or some bullshit ability they gain, or even some random object someone has in their inventory right now that will change things up massively.

Basically, instead of ramping up the power level I'm going to try to keep that low-power high-lethality gritty fantasy feel going.
If the world dies, it dies. But man, my players sure seem like they're going to give Shub-Niggurath a run for its money.

Next time:

Some tools I'll be using to throw my whole world into the shredder.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

So It Looks Like You're Gonna Die

Perttu pushed me to this. You're the best, Perttu! You have forced me to become my best self.

Behold, an actual table pamphlet where I actually pulled everything together!

Grab pdf here!
Doc here if you want to edit it!

It's designed as a booklet for table use, as in someone gets to 0HP and you slap it down in front of them like it's a Dealing With Grief pamphlet or something.

"Fuck I died".
Throw booklet.

Letting the player look up their own death table results and working out what gory thing just happened is a lot more fun than me reading it out off a table. Plus it means they get the mechanics better than me flipping coloured beads at them and saying "YOU BLEED NOW".

This is based directly on Courtney's Table For Avoiding Death, and all the writing is directly plagiarised.
If you like it, go back and report about it! That part remains.

The only things I've added are the Bleeding table, and trimming off the fatty status effects in favour of clean Bleed/Pain/Trauma tokens.

The other day we had a super great player-on-player battle due to a series of unfortunate events, which ended up in the gory death of both PCs. It went great, especially since the Barbarian was raging and so couldn't physically die despite getting a rapier to the brain. It was super awesome.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Death and Dismemberment: Redux

The Death and Dismemberment rules in my game are probably my favourite subsystem. They're gnarly, they break bones, they claim limbs, and they let people survive with horrible injuries.

But all my house rules are meant to be a grab bag of pick-and-choosable bits and pieces, and this whole thing seems like it's too big and complicated to slot easily into someone else's game.

So let's break it down into chunks so you can chop off the bits you want. Dismember my dismemberment rules I say!
I'll start with the core mechanic (the Chassis) and give a bunch of +1 Add-ons so you can flavour to taste.

Some overarching stuff as we begin:
- Grab Courtney's sicknasty Table for Avoiding Death. It's crucial.
- You may need this additional table for Bleed damage I made.
- Pretend HP isn't in the game for now. All attacks hit your actual meat.
- Read "Internal Bleed" as "Trauma" because I renamed it.
- Ignore any 3e-style status conditions in italics liked Dazed or Nauseated. Use these for flavour, not mechanics.
- Design notes are in Courier.

The Chassis

- When an attack hits you, gain a DEATH TOKEN.
- Then roll 1d6 for each DEATH TOKEN you have (including the new one)
- Add the damage you took to the result and look it up on the death table.

Ignore the mechanical stuff at the end.
Just read out the main description and make up some mechanics if it seems brutal enough, like losing an eye or limb. Nice and easy.

Say you have 2 Death Tokens and are hit for 2 damage. You get another Death Token (bringing you to 3 total) then roll 3d6+2 on the death table. Simple!
The first hit probably won't kill you unless it did a ton of damage, but the next one will probably start chopping off limbs and stuff.
If you get hit a bunch of times in one round they'll really fuck you up.

These glass craft bead things are perfect for Death Tokens. Use different colours if you use some variant rules!

+1: The First Aid

Additional Mechanic:
- The First Aid skill can be used to remove Death Tokens.
- On a successful First Aid roll, you can remove a number of Death Tokens equal to the number rolled. So if you've got 4 in 6 First Aid and roll a 3, you can remove 3 Tokens.
- If you roll a 6, you deal 1 damage to your patient. This will very probably trigger a roll on the death table! If it does, use the additional entry for Bleeding damage.

The key advantage First Aid has over a generic Cure Light Wounds is that it takes only a single action, while CLW takes a whole round to cast.
The key disadvantage is that you could kill your patient... it's happened.

+1: The Death Spiral

Additional Mechanic:
- Every time a death table result says you gain PainBleed, or Trauma, gain that many additional Death Tokens.

These will convert into Pain Tokens, Bleed Tokens and Trauma Tokens if you use specific variant rules.
This means that the gnarlier results make further rolls on the death table more brutal.
Remember to read Internal Bleed as Trauma! I'm sticking with this!

+1: The Pain

Additional Mechanic:
- Whenever you would receive a generic Death Token you instead receive a Pain Token.
- A Pain Token counts as a Death Token but has special mechanics tied to it.
- Each Pain Token you have gives you a -1 to AC and -1 to all your rolls.

Each Pain Token makes it harder to fight since you're on your last legs.
They're renamed Pain Tokens here because the next add-on rules can give you Trauma Tokens and Bleed Tokens too.
Barbarians reverse this Pain Token effect while raging!


+1: The Knockout

Additional Mechanic:
- At the end of your turn, count how many Pain Tokens you have accrued. Roll your class Hit Die. If you roll equal or below your number of Pain Tokens, you have been Knocked Out and are now unconscious.

This is intended to stop a Black Knight situation from happening where a character's arm or leg is chopped off and they can just hop around with no consequences as long as they don't get hit.
Meatier classes like Fighters (and especially Dwarfs) are likely to keep standing due to their hefty hit die. Wimpy Magic Users with their 1d4 Hit Die go down quick.

+1: The Trauma

Additional Mechanic:
- If you get a result on the death table that says Trauma, instead of gaining that many generic Death Tokens, gain that many Trauma Tokens instead.
- A Trauma Token counts as a Death Token but has special mechanics tied to it.
- At the end of your turn, count how many Trauma Tokens you have accrued. Roll your class Hit Die. If you roll equal or below your number of Trauma Tokens you have been Killed by shock/internal bleeding/catastrophic organ failure.

Read Internal Bleed on the death table as Trauma etc etc.
When paired with Pain Tokens from The Knockout, you can have a chance to get Knocked Out and a smaller chance to die from Trauma.
This is one of those big game changing rolls where everyones' eyes are LOCKED on that die as it bounces across the table.

+1: The So Much Blood

Bleeding damage table here.

Additional Mechanic:
- If you get a result on the table that says Bleed, instead of gaining that many generic Death Tokens, gain that many Bleed Tokens instead.
- A Bleed Token counts as a Death Token but has special mechanics tied to it.
- At the end of your turn, count how many Bleed Tokens you have accrued. You take that total as damage.
- This can (and often will) trigger a roll on the death table. Use this additional entry for Bleeding damage!

I feel like the perils of blood loss are heavily downplayed in fiction for whatever reason. Blood is important, yo!
The biggest peril with Bleed Tokens is that you pass out and bleed out while you're unconscious. You need help before you bleed to death!

+1: The Stay Down

Additional Mechanic:
- If you have accrued Death Tokens, you can decide to Stay Down.
- If you Stay Down:
  - You lose your turn.
  - You count as Surprised against all attacks.
  - You don't roll for Knockout from Pain Tokens, you don't roll for death from Trauma Tokens, and you don't take damage from Bleed Tokens.

This turns Death Tokens from an "oh shit" race against time into a choice. Can I risk Staying Down?
Do I go out of the fight? Or Stay Down until an opportune moment?
Spellcasters face a tough choice - Stay Down? Or risk casting a spell? Bear in mind spells go off at the end of the round in my game, so it's very possible to pass out mid-cast.
Bear in mind you can't use this ability if you're actually unconscious, so if you pass out with Bleed Tokens you're fucked and will probably bleed out.

Obviously don't use this one if you're not using at least one of The Knockout, The Trauma, or The So Much Blood.

"Yea I reckon I'm gonna Stay Down mate"

+1: The Hit Points

Additional Mechanic:
- You have a pool of HP! This is a shield of luck and skill between you and Death Tokens.
- While you have HP, instead of receiving Death Tokens when damaged, you reduce your HP by the damage of the attack.
- When an attack reduces you to 0 HP, you receive your first Death Token and add any excess damage to your roll on the death table.
- Any effect that states it heals HP (Cure Light Wounds etc) heals Death Tokens first on a 1:1 basis, then rolls over onto HP. So if you have 3 Death Tokens and get healed for 5 HP, you will remove 3 Death Tokens first and then roll over the excess 2HP into your HP pool.

Ha ha I'm pretending that HP is an add-on! It's probably easier to think of it that way.
It should hopefully be fairly obvious, but HP is like your shields in Halo, or like Grit in Last Gasp
When you run out, they start hitting meat.

This system is literally to stop this from happening

Putting it all together

Hopefully this gives you some idea of how you can mix and match the different bits!
The only real change from my initial conception is calling them "Death Tokens" instead of "Death Dice", which I think makes it easier to explain.
It also means I'm not relying on people having a bunch of different coloured d6's! You can just tell someone to write down "Pain 1" on their sheet if you don't have extra props!

There's a lot you could mess with because there are a lot of moving parts. I mainly like it because it takes character death out of my hands. It's the dice that kill you, not me! It also adds an extra level of unpredictability to proceedings and a lot of high-pressure decision making when you go down.

I've updated the Poison rules because it turns out that was way easier to understand if I use "Death Tokens" instead of "Death Dice" too!

I'll update the house rule doc soon, mostly to just find-and-replace "Death Dice" with "Death Tokens".

Enjoy! Feedback appreciated because I know I've struggled to explain this in the past.

Example of Play if you're using the whole lot

I'm going to assume you just stand there and never choose to Stay Down for this. You're fighting an enemy who does alarmingly consistent damage - 6 per round.
I'm trying to explain each step in depth, in case it helps!

Round 1:
You are a Fighter. You have 10 HP.
An enemy hits you with a sword. They roll 6 for damage.
It's soaked by your HP. You now have 4 HP.
How frightfully original.

Round 2:
You are a Fighter. You have 4 HP.
An enemy hits you with a sword. They roll 6 for damage.
4 points of damage are soaked by your HP. You now have 0 HP, and 2 points of damage going through.

Immediately - resolve Death Table:
You gain a Pain Token, a special type of Death Token. You now roll 1d6 for every Death Token you have and add the damage that got through your HP.
You roll 1d6+2, since you only have 1 Death Token and have 2 points of damage going through.
You get a 4.
Result: "You are struck by the flat of the blade and see stars. You are Dazed for 1 round."
We ignore the Dazed condition because I'm not using that stuff, so you're ok! Just a Pain Token to worry about.

At the end of your turn - resolve Death Token effects:
Roll your class Hit Die (1d8 for Fighters). If you get equal or less than your total Pain Tokens (1), you fall unconscious.
You get a 3.
No worries!

Round 3:
You are a Fighter. You have 0HP.
An enemy hits you with a sword. They roll 6 for damage.
You have no HP left to soak. You have 6 points of damage going through.

Immediately - resolve Death Table:
You gain a Pain Token again. Two Pain Tokens total. You now roll 1d6 for every Death Token you have and add the damage that got through.
You roll 2d6+6, since you have 2 Death Tokens and 6 points of damage going through.
You get a 13.
Result: "A cut rips open your forehead. Blood gushes down into your eyes. First Aid: Shaken and Blind. Bleed 2."
We ignore the Shaken condition because that sounds 3e-ish, but I can guess what blindness is! You're blinded by blood until you work out a fix or someone successfully First Aids you.
"Bleed 2" means you also gain 2 Bleed Tokens. Nasty!

At the end of your turn - resolve Death Token effects:
Roll your class Hit Die (1d8 for Fighters). If you get equal or less than your total Pain Tokens (2), you fall unconscious.
You get a 3.
No worries!
You also take 1 damage per Bleed Token you have accrued (2).
You take 2 damage.

Immediately - resolve Death Table
You gain a Pain Token. Yea it's fucked up. Three Pain Tokens, 2 Bleed Tokens, for a grand total of 5 Death Tokens.
You now roll 1d6 for every Death Token you have and add the damage that got through.
You roll 5d6+2, since you have 5 Death Tokens and 2 points of damage going through.
You get a 16.
"You black out, smacking your head badly. Pain 2. Bleed 1d4. Prone. Barely conscious until recovery."
Pain 2 means you gain 2 more Pain Tokens.
Bleed 1d4
 means you gain 1d4 Bleed Tokens. You roll a 3, gaining 3 more Bleed Tokens.
You're on the floor and barely conscious until you can recover from the blood loss.
You're fucked.

Round 4:
You are a Fighter. You have 0 HP.
An enemy coup de grace's you with a sword. They deal 6 damage.

Immediately - resolve Death Table:
You gain another Pain Token. That's 6 Pain and 5 Bleed, for a grand total of 11 Death Tokens.
You now roll 1d6 for every Death Token you have and add the damage that got through.
You roll 11d6+6 on the Death Table, since you have 11 Death Tokens and 6 damage going through.
You roll a 32.
Result: "Your jaw is separated from your face. The pain is overwhelming and you thrash about making a horrible tongueless screaming noise as you die over the next 1d6 rounds, spraying blood on everyone adjacent".

Take 3d6 and a new character sheet. Better luck next time!

Monday, 14 August 2017

Improving Your Encounter Tables With Gimmicks!

Encounter tables are the lifeblood of my game.

Overland encounter tables are probably the single most reusable thing you can make, make it once and just use it over and over forever, and the steady beat of the dungeon encounter roll is the time pressure that penalises overcautious parties.

I mentally divide encounter tables into vague categories - Dungeon, Overland, and City.

So here's some tips.

Dungeon Encounters

This is based on Brendan Necropraxis' Overloaded Encounter Die aka the Hazard System.

I assume you know how to stock a dungeon encounter table - just put whatever you'd find on this dungeon level in the table, plus maybe a homeless wandering beast or two and some scouts from the next level of the dungeon.

Roll the Encounter Die every 10 minute turn. In my game I track this fairly loosely. Down long hallways I might start eyeing up squares and movement rates, but this usually gets rolled any time the party stops to investigate a room, messes around with the scenery, or they Take a Break to eat and heal.
"Are you guys aware that this will take long enough to need an encounter roll?" is something I say whenever somebody wants to spend time poking around a room.

Anyway, the Encounter Die results are as follows:

1. Encounter
Your classic encounter. Roll number appearing, make a Reaction roll, roll Surprise if necessary and go.
In a dungeon it's usually quite easy to make up a reason for what they're doing there based on the surroundings and/or the party's recent activity.

2. Encounter Clue
Roll for an encounter, but give a clue about what's out there instead.
Maybe they hear it growling, or voices down the corridor, or see a silhouette in the distance. Corpses are good too, whether it's of the encounter creature or one of its victims.
Basically just make something up that gives an impression of what's out there.

3 & 4. Dungeon-Specific Effect
This is the big one. Effects are on a per-dungeon basis and supposed to give some unique character to the locale.
A more dangerous area will have more directly dangerous results, while a safer area might simply be set dressing.

In the Spooky Dungeon, 3 might be "Chill up your spine! Hirelings check morale." and 4 might be "ankle-high fog floods through rooms and corridors, hiding anything on the ground this turn".
In the Earth Elemental Dungeon you could have "Earthquake! Save vs Stun or fall to the ground! Unsecured objects jostle and fall" and "Floor becomes a muddy quagmire, halved movement this turn".
The Tentacle Dungeon had "Distant groaning and shuddering sound, denizens distracted by the great tentacle's sermons this turn" and "Questing tentacle slithers through room, will summon enemies if disturbed".

Basically put a couple of interesting environmental effects in this category. Between these results and the encounters, different dungeons will hopefully feel very different from each other.

5 & 6. Light Source Burnout
Torches have two checkboxes. Lanterns have 4 checkboxes.
On a 5 or 6, tick off a torch checkbox.
On a 6, tick off a lantern checkbox.

This means that, on average, torches last 6 turns (1 hour) and lanterns last 24 turns (4 hours). Just like they're meant to! Plus there's some variance in how long they last. How lovely.

Overland Encounters

You can do a lot of messing about with Overland encounter tables.
The beating heart of my overland encounter tables is this absolutely inspired Procedure for Wandering Monsters by John Bell.
The core innovation is that you have a standard table of encounters paired with a sliding scale of severity. You roll for encounters and also roll a d6 for severity.
If players are up for it, they can keep track of the numbers rolled so they can predict what's out there.
You end up with something like this:
Click to Expand - or Drive sheet here
As you can see, each Encounter also has an entry for Lair, Spoor, Tracks, Traces and Traces/Benign.
This is explained at the link, but I'll reiterate how I do it here for ease of access.


Encounter: Your classic encounter. You basically stumble right into the situation, or they stumble into you.
Lair: Either an actual lair, or a situation where they're real close. Either way, you might be able to avoid an encounter if you take immediate action.
Spoor: They're real close! Encounter easily avoided, but also easily approached.
Tracks: Evidence that something's been past here recently. You can usually follow the tracks if you want.
Traces: Some evidence pointing to the existence of the encounter in the area.
Traces/Benign: Some more evidence or, if I can't think of anything, some vaguely on-theme set dressing.

Weighting Tables

You likely already know about bell curves, where the average result of two or more dice is most likely to occur. On overland encounter tables I usually use 2dX, so it's weighted towards the middle of the table, and put the most common encounterables there.

The clever thing you can do is vary what you roll on the table to get some variation within the area.
Maybe you don't want the elven forest to be completely homogenous, and want to weight it so there's more magic treant stuff near the centre, and more natural normal stuff near the edges of the forest.
Maybe you want the Dragon to only be found near its lair on the east of the map.
Maybe you've got two factions in the area and you want more of one faction to be around their base in the north, and more of the other around their base in the south.
You don't need to break the area into smaller zones, just vary what you're rolling.

There's two main ways I do this:

Roll Different Dice
Down the bottom left of the encounter sheet image above, you'll see that the dice rolled on this encounter table change based on how dangerous the area is.
This table is for the Contested Farmlands area of my map, where man and necromancer alike are still dealing with the aftermath of Death Frost Doom.
In the safer areas close to cities and on main roads you only roll 2d6, limiting the results to the safer lower end of the table.
As you go deeper into unsafe territory, you roll 2d8 and then 2d10, increasing the scope of possible encounters and making the result more likely to be undead-related.

The other way I weight tables is to just add something to the roll.
On my River encounter table I wanted encounters to shade between the weird creature infested Deep Carbon Observatory aftermath at the top of the river, and the less fucked up area at the river mouth.
This means that results 2-5 can only be found in the DCO area, and results 17-20 can only be found at the rivermouth. So this is where you put the big rare stuff that's very specific to those areas, like a big ol' age of sail galley at the river mouth, or a big ol' Giant Cuttlefish around DCO.
Everything in between can be found further away from that main starting point.
Remember, the average roll also changes this way, so result 7 will be very common in the DCO area, rare in the Centre and, and not seen at all at the River Mouth.

Using Excel for fun and profit

Excel is fucking great, and you can do a lot of encounter table automation with it.
I'll go into the wacky world of automated subtables in the City Encounters section, but for now allow me to tell you a really simple trick.
You'll want to grab a copy of this sheet.

The main trick is RANDBETWEEN, aka the Excel diceroller.
=RANDBETWEEN(1,6) will roll 1d6.
=RANDBETWEEN(1,10)+RANDBETWEEN(1,10) will roll 2d10.

The other trick is that you can chain text into a formula with & and quotation marks.
="Ghouls ("&RANDBETWEEN(1,12)&") led by a Ghast" will give you Ghouls (1-12) led by a Ghast.

Thus endeth the lesson.

City Encounters

The trouble with towns and cities is that I want to make the district/borough/area unique, but also allow each district to be part of a cohesive whole.
So unlike, say, having a different encounter table for the Forest and the Mountains, or rolling different dice in different areas of the Forest, I want one that has a fair amount of overlap while also giving each area its own flavour.

First you want to split the city into zones. In Moondin, a town that was in the middle of riots, I had a central Anarchy Zone and several other zones under the control of various factions.
My campaign map's capital, Fortress-City Fate, has 12 main districts arrayed like the face of a sundial. Each district is defined by the sort of businesses or housing that the area is known for.

Rather than have a separate encounter table per district (too much effort), we're going to have table entries we swap out per district. The other results will be permanent fixtures or subtables that remain the same no matter where you go.

Here's the encounter table for Fortress-City Fate. It's the most complex one I have since it's the most important city in the country, and players can get embroiled there quite easily.

Drive link here if you want to check it out, you'll have to save your own copy though!

Man that's a lot of subtables and lookups!
It's all automated on the actual sheet, but this calls out what each thing means.
Cells highlighted in yellow point to subtables for things you'll see or experience in any district of the city.
Cells highlighted in blue are swapped out depending on the district.

The encounter roll at the bottom is the equivalent of the overland severity roll, just more loosely defined and city-related.
Clash between two encounters (result 3) isn't necessarily a fight, just one result affecting another.

District Differences

The blue-highlighted per-district results are the most important part.
My hope is that players who get lost, or find themselves popping out of a manhole somewhere after a deep dive into the undercity, might be able to work out where they are based on these.

For instance, Result 7 is "Common Local Encounter", which is the population you'll see most often in an area. It pulls from the following table:

So in the Lower Class district you'll often see money-grubbing urchins, while in the Learning district you'll come across lots of boisterous students.
Bear in mind that if the players look around they'll probably see these types of people, rolling them as an Encounter just means they're directly notable.

City Subtables

The yellow-highlighted cells are subtables for things that can happen anywhere in the city. This could be because it's a more generic result (like thieves), something that could happen anywhere (like a cart crash) or something that affects the entire city (like a rainstorm).

As an example, here's the City-Wide Event subtable:

This stuff could happen anywhere. You may notice that some results are from Vornheim, steal from it liberally!

Excel Again

You can automate this whole process with Excel. Rather than flipping between tabs or physical pages to use subtables, you can just pull everything into the one front page.
As an example of the final result, check these out.

Entertainment area

Middle Class area

If you already know the wonders of VLOOKUP (or its mighty brother, Index Match) then you have finished the blog post! Congrats!
For those who don't, you were going to have to learn one day.

First, make a table. Numbered first column, results in second column. Standard D&D stuff.

Second, set up your auto-roller with VLOOKUP. To our D&D-trained eye, the formula looks like this:
=VLOOKUP(Die Roll,Random Table Location,Column,FALSE)

Replace Die Roll with our good friend RANDBETWEEN. As in the Overland Encounters section, this is the Excel dice roller.
RANDBETWEEN(1,6) will roll 1d6.
RANDBETWEEN(1,10)+RANDBETWEEN(1,10) will roll 2d10.
Adjust to however many "dice" you want to roll on the table.

Replace Random Table Location with the coordinates of your table. 
If your table is between Cell A1 and Cell B10, this will be A1:B10.
Usually you just click and drag over the area.

Replace Column with 2 for a simple two-column table. This means that we'll get the result from the second column, ie. the results.

Keep FALSE as is. It needs to be there for some reason.

And voila! Your very own hands free in-Excel dice roller and results-giver.
Top tip: you can press F9 to reroll.

That's all folks

There's a bit of extra Excel bodgery going on in the Fate encounter table, but it's mostly based on VLOOKUPs. Feel free to poke around! If you need a hand, send me a message.