Showing posts from 2012

Time's Frayed Clue

Unrelated to any other settings or systems mentioned in this blog, this is a reposting of something I wrote back on the Delta Green list.  At the time there was a scenario competition on the Delta Green list.  One of the entries "Double Dog Dare" had to do with an uncontrolled skipping over to parallel timelines.
At around the same time there was some discussion of the problems associated with players having read the book enough that they could guess what mythos beasties they were up against in advance.  Someone suggested, as a possible remedy, partially or entirely changing the names or descriptions of the various entities to throw off well read players.
These two ideas sort of coagulated together in my mind to produce the following:
Appropriating, swapping, and re-inventing the names and qualities of antagonists in games and literature is a fine old tradition.  But mulling over the Agent Nancy discussion along with Jeff's "Double Dog Dare" scenario from the c…

Back to the Stone Age

Just amalgamating a few additional sources on the subject of prehistoric roleplaying accumulating over the past months.

Inuksuk and Inunnguaq - stone markers used by certain Arctic cultures:

"something which acts for or performs the function of a person"

"...from the morphemes inuk ("person") and -suk ("ersatz" or "substitute")"

Re-reading the Scara Brae wikipedia entry I realized that in my youth I'd actually read a story about the place:

The Boy With The Bronze Axe - Middle grade fiction. Was an ok read as I recall. Nothing overwhelmingly inspiring, but did provide a slice of life regarding the place and time.

Land of Nod recently published this blog entry.  A nice addition to the field.

Also, in the comments of Mr. Stater's entry, a commenter named Sean pointed out this article with a police lineup of some of our more interesting hominid kin.

Dark Sun Hexcrawlin'

On Sep 19, 2012 +Ramanan Sivaranjan said:
Any Dark Sun game I run now could never live up to the game I imagine in my head. I never actually played Dark Sun back when I was buying and reading all the books, so it's even more mythic than it really should be.
But yeah, old school Dark Sun hex crawl. I can imagine that. This is pretty much exactly my experience of Dark Sun:  An epic setting that no one every played, and which could now never live up to the promised dream.

BUT, a hex crawl seems like the prefect fit.  And I say this as someone weened at the teat of story-ish, plot-heavy AD&D adventures, an who has never played a hex crawl (and precious few dungeon crawls) in my life.

I think the thing is that the big ticket plot features in the setting are all so in your face: killing off a sorcerer-king, inter-city-state politics, saving Athas from further environmental disaster, etc.  If those are your goal, it's so front-loaded from the get-go that being killed by a tembo…

Narrated vs. Immersive preferences

A recent invitation to play Dungeon World, Land of Nod's post about Quests of the Mind, and recent Hack & Slash pieces on "Design Demons" have gotten me trying to sort out my own preferences with regard to externally narrated vs. immersive styles of play.  These terms may not be a great fit, but what I'm trying to get across is:

The more "immersive" a game is, the more the mechanics and style of play are trying to put you in the character's viewpoint, trying to use their limitations and abilities to make choices and overcome problems.

The more "narrated" a game is, the more the mechanics and style of play allow you to step outside the charater's viewpoint, and allow you to make decisions about the character and possibly even setting elements and events beyond the character's control.

Reviewing my experiences as a player, there are elements of both I like, but I find myself gravitating more and more toward the immersive.

I do like …


This is the short story of how I edited together an system reference document (SRD) of the Generic Old-school Role-playing System (GORE) by Goblinoid Games.
(SRD now found here.  PDF here.)
Took a break from grinding away at Wyrms & Warrens stuff for awhile, and was paging through a copy of Bug Hunters!, a  world-book designed back in the day for TSR's old Amazing Engine.  And the idea of cloned space-marines with the injected personalities of folks back home started sounded pretty damn badass.

Amazing Engine seems to run on a percentile based skills system.  I'm not normally a fan of percentile based systems, but I occasionally get nostalgic for the Elder Gods, and the RPPR folks do make allthatjazz sound damn sexy.  And and in this mood I thought me the following thoughts in approximate order: BRP seems a little less wonky than Amazing Engine.I bet you could convert the skills over without much trouble.Skill based play without inflating hit points or combat level balance…

Five Worldly Ascetics & Rogue Exponents

I've always liked psionics in my D&D, both as an innate set of traits, and as a trained or ascetic practice.  But one of Telecanter's blog posts, which helped highlight these differences got me thinking about how odd it is that a character whose claim to fame is self reliance, would be marauding through a dungeon looking for wealth and power.

I posed this question in the comments, and in Telecanter's response, he mentioned a similarity between kung fu narratives and westerns.  This led to a roundabout epiphany on my part.

In my mind westerns will now always be associated with this weird little niche of geekdom:

The Dark Tower - With it's knightly gunslighters.Knights of Cydonia - Which crosses the kung fu and western genres.21 Guns - Which crosses the Dark Tower with Knights of Cydonia.
The Dark Tower in particular suggests a foil to the gunslinger:  the failed gunslinger. Gunslingers who fail their Test are forced to turn in their guns and head into the West, wher…

Toward a Psionic Class

Telecanter's blog post today about psionics, and especially the  older one he references, got me thinking about the details of my own ad hoc psionic system. Not sure if this would end up Crude Simulation Engine or not. I'm thinking more of a snap-on attachment to any pre-4E systems.

I go back and forth about whether to represent characters as classes or just have a single character path where abilities are chosen a la carte. This leans a little in the class-based direction, but is pretty flexible.

Aside from a liberal dose of "middle of the road" attack, save and hit point progression for the psionic class, the class would have the following qualities:
Disciplines ≈ Spells Trained "disciplines" and wild "talents" are represented by borrowing or slightly re-skinning divine and arcane spells of similar effect. There are a few caveats to this:
Psionic powers never consume material components and rarely require words or gestures to work.Psionic powe…

From Protozoic to Heartbreak

Circa d20 System era, I'd been posting my D&D ideas to my friends' blog Protozoic.  Since some of that is the basis for work here, it seems best to collect it in one place for reference.  Especially since I keep thinking I've done a writeup of armor for the Crude Roleplaying Engine, but apparently haven't done anything extensive about that yet.

Armor & Damage Reduction - The basis for most of my armor rules:

Injury & Consequences - Mechanics relating to what injury does to a character and how it is recorded.  Also a revisited version.

Playtest - A playtest of some of the armor and injury mechanics.

Tradesman & Sage - Two new 3.x classes.

Crude Simulation Engine - New basic class design philosophy

Looking at how various old school derived and inspired games treat classes, I go back and forth about how I should structure these things in CSE.  There seem two be two basic philosophies:  Few (2-5) well defined and relatively unmixable classes, or 1 class that fights and maybe casts spells through items or difficult rituals but typically have no "race" distinctions (elves, dwarves, etc.).

The issue that I run into is that neither of these easily allows the kind of customization I'm looking to allow.  Even the Warrior vs. Mage dichotomy I'd proposed earlier seems like it complicates some things (why have a separate class for magic except in the name of "balance"?), and oversimplifies others (so your magical ability, based on class level helps you both to draw forth your natural physical strength, and prepare learn rote procedures better?).

So after more hemming and hawing, I'm leaning toward a single-class system (tip o' the hat to Bandits & Ba…

More Vancian!

Here-in are a set of alternate rules for casting magical spells, intended for use with the Crude Roleplaying Engine, but adaptable to other editions.  Part of the idea here was to avoid the Linear Fighter, Quadratic Wizard (LFQW) issue which certain pre-fourth editions have been accused of.

This material was originally inspired by Gorgonmilk's Memory Cell magic system, but eventually took a different shape here.  It was intended as a return to a more closely Jack Vance inspired magic system.

Spells Spells are complex patterns of information which shift through multiple states, ultimately producing tangible effects in the mundane world.

A spell can be created initially through inspiration of a magician's mind learned on a particular subject, or as an outgrowth of some supernatural creature's being.  For instance a godling may be able to cast a spell at will that is in affinity with its own nature.

However, for most magicians the spell exists as a sort of mental wave-function…

The Fallen Lords of the Shash

The Lords of the Shash are monarchs and vassals of a bygone age, at once fae and undead.  They come from a hundred different cultures and the legends about them both abound and conflict.  They symbolize hubris, bravery against impossible odds, fatalism, war against fate, conflict with the natural order, failing of the natural order, the folly of excess, the vanity of worldly glory, the corrupting influence of faery, and a dozen other themes.  Some tellings have them once being human or of other ancient race, other stories claim the Shash merely ape the human form as do other fae.

Sometimes they appear of noble bearing, but there is always some element of corruption or death about them.  This could be a wound that will not stop bleeding, a face pocked by active plague symptoms, maggots falling from clothing, arms and head bound as with burial cloth, colorless gray skin and raiment, listlessness and fatigue when encountering sites related to death and burial, partially exposed bone on t…

Skills: Advancement System

These are the basic components of the Crude Roleplaying Engine skill use and advancement system:

Competent Characters, Competent Players
Player creativity and thoughtful investigation trump skill.  If a player suggests a course of action that is well within the character's ability then just let them do it, even if you think their Intelligence score isn't up to thinking it up.  If the player figures out something based on evidence that their character could possibly have seen then let them use that insight, even if the character's Wisdom score is abysmal.  If the player comes up with a well thought out way of socially engineering a social encounter, then let them succeed if it possibly could despite low Charisma.

In short:  Given any typical situation, if the character has even a marginal chance of success then just let them get away with it.

Think of it this way:  Don't make your players' attempts fail just because you think there should be a chance of failu…

Skills: Existing Mechanics

And another thing:  Non-combat skills.  What's up with those?

Throughout the editions of D&D skills have been handled in a lot of different ways, but something about them has always left me a little cold.  The way skills are handled varies by edition and, within some editions, by class.  Here's a breakdown of the main ways skills have been handled in the first through third editions:

Thieves (etc.) - In most editions prior to 3rd, thieves and those who used thief-like skills got a straight percentile chance of success.  This chance of success increased automatically as a function of character level.  Personally I'm not the hugest fan of percentile type skills, but it makes sense that an adventurer using relevant skills would gradually improve over time, much like attack bonuses increase.

Also, any system where the character's advancement can "max out" doesn't quite sit perfectly with me.  Not that I expect characters to routinely be advancing to superh…

The Autocrat & The Secret Regulations of Desire

The Autocrat is one of the six Powers That Be whose existence widely believed (including, among others the Queen of Ravens and the Machine at the Heart of the World).  He is known to the well educated magicians of the realms as the individual who created the Secret Regulations of Desire.

In ancient times there were magical formulas which could translate any specific whim of a magician into reality at any level.  These formulas are variously known as Entelechies of the Will, Arbitrary Thought Instantiations, or more commonly "Wish spells".  In the heyday of the Wish spell's use, it was employed so freely that it changed reality on both vast and subtle scales.  As a result any attempts to determine the true nature of eras prior to it's use, based on the evidence available, is exceedingly unreliable.

At one point the re-writing of reality is thought to have gotten particularly intense as various mages competed to make their vision of the universe dominant.  However, Wis…

Initiative & Options

A character's base initiative modifier is determined by:  Dexterity modifier + Wisdom modifier

At the beginning of combat this total is added to the roll of 1d20 to determine the order that each character's actions take place during combat, with higher initiatives going first followed by lower rolls.  Any ties are either assumed to take place at exactly the same time or, if such a simultaneous action would be impossible, then each party rolls 1d20 again as a tiebreaker.

Characters with higher initiatives may hold their actions until later in the round.

Option:  Round-by-Round Initiative
Instead of rolling initiative once at the beginning of combat, and using the same initiative order every round, you may choose instead to re-roll each round.  This gives characters a chance to do better if they've gotten stuck with a bad initiative on the first roll.

Option:  Speed Modifier
This alternation is intended for use with round-by-round initiative.  With this variation the speed of …

Special maneuvers

Recording couple ideas I had on combat resources and other considerations for mundane combatants, culled from this thread, for future refernce:
In this instance my own sense of verisi-simulat-emersio-reality would be better preserved if these sorts of things (and "sand bagging") got a special label like "tricks" and combatants got a chance to attempt each once per opponent (or per combat if all opponents are observing carefully) without penalty.

Alternately (or additionally) some sort of "heroic exertion" system could be used to track how worn out a character becomes after each physically demanding attempt.

And of course it's all just personal preference, but to me:
Encounter/Dailies say, "You will not succeed at this task if you tried it once"; while increasing difficulty says, "Your chances are pretty slim, but if you think you can pull it off: Shoot the moon!"

And Encounter/Dailies also say, "You can only attempt t…

You Are Never A Clone

I'm finding some great inspiration in the Old School Renaissance (OSR) movement.  A few things I've seen stressed here and there that are great include:
Kludge it until it's right - Don't just stick with the rules as written if the don't get what you're going for, mess with it a bit.World first, mechanics later (if necessary) - The mechanics provided are just to give a Player creativity first, character skills later (if necessary) - If the players have interesting ideas, don't force them to be constrained to their character's mental stats and training.  If it seems remotely plausible, let it happen.  If they're looking for something in a reasonable manner, let them find it.  Let them solve puzzles rather than rolling to overcome them.  A roll might notice something, but thorough searching can do the same, and actual thought will be necessary to overcome the problem.Skills later (if necessary) - Skill rolls can be saved for dramatically appropriate t…

Spell: Wither

It appears that although Regenerate is a spell in D&D edition 3.5, the corresponding "Wither" spell has been excluded. So although there's a convenient way to attach limbs, there's no specific magical way to remove them. Hence the entry below.

Wither LimbNecromancyLevel:Clr 7, Drd 7, Sorcerer/Wizard 7Components:V, S Casting Time:1 standard actionRange:TouchTarget:Living creature touchedDuration:InstantaneousSaving Throw:Fortitude negates (harmless)Spell Resistance:Yes (harmless)
The subject’s bodily extremities (arms, legs, tails, or even extra heads on multi-headed creatures) shrivel and fall off. After the spell is cast, the physical degeneration is complete at the end of 1d4 rounds.

Withering also causes 4d8 points of damage +1 point per caster level (maximum +35). It is equally effective on all creatures which have bodily extremities including nonliving creatures such as golems or undead.

Casters wishing to invoke this spell verbally invoke a curse or spea…

Warrior Feat: Barehand Technique

This feat allows a character to do increased damage when using their body en lieu of other weapons to attack an opponent.  Through increased combat training the character becomes more effective as follows:

Combat AbilityDamage1-31d64-71d88-111d1012-152d616-192d8202d10

Characters using claws, horns or other innate, physical melee attacks are treated as using either the damage from their innate attack form or the barehanded technique damage, whichever is higher.


As usual Jeff put up another post that stirred a disused corner of my imagination:
Cave man days, through the lens of a D&D fork.

This is something I used to give a lot of thought to back in the day.  GURPS Ice Age seemed like such a neat idea, but I didn't love the system and couldn't figure out what to do for adventures (Fighting wolves and tribes all the time?  Hunting a lot?).  Acquisition of non-subsistence stuff isn't typically a big part of the caveman way of life.

One possibility would be tribesmen stumbling across Lovecraftian horrors, but I had doubts about losing player interest while trying to build a backdrop of normalcy before contrasting it with the first unnatural discovery.

Another thought was contrasting current neolithic era with finds of lost pre-existing civilizations of human or inhuman origin.  It's an idea I like, and I think it could work well used appropriately.

The Lithic setting wouldn't really work as a part of the same planet in w…

Warrior Feat: Forseen Eventuality

Some of the discussions of "buffing" (i.e. combat preparation effects) for non-magic users in this thread led to the inspiration for this warrior feat:

Foreseen Eventuality - Before a combat or, as a free action on a warrior's turn, the character may state a situation they expect to take place during the coming conflict and the action they wish to take if it does occur.  The warrior then spends a point of reserves to keep a piece of their attention focused on this possible outcome.  However, if the stated outcome does take place then the warrior is able to respond in an instant taking a standard action as a free reflex action.

The warrior's contingent, free reflex action comes at the same time as, or immediately after, the triggering situation (at the warrior's option), but before any other actions in the round.  If the triggering situation occurs at the same time, then neither the warrior nor the trigger interrupt each other.  Both have their normal chances of su…