Diceless in Finnish and other unfinished projects

26 July, 2011 at 11:40 am (Amber, dungeon crawling, game design, Ropecon, Solar system) (, , )

I developed the ideas of previous post a bit, cleaned them up, and wrote them down in Finnish. It is not done yet. It is free of copyright, so do whatever you will with or to it. Here’s the link: diceless

WordPress does not allow uploading .tex or .txt files, so if you want the .tex source for the PDF, feel free to ask. You can then recreate the PDF with LaTeX and easily modify it, change the appearance, remove the aesthetically unpleasing hyperlinks, or whatever you want to.

I also have two other PDFs that may have content of interest. I have not really worked on them for a while, and if I do so, it will include rewriting and in case of the old school project redesign from scratch. The projects are scifi material for Solar System (in Finnish) and yet another attempt at old school system (in English). Links: huomisenvarjot and OSrpg. A fair warning: The writing and presentation are horrible. These are more first drafts than anything else.

As previously, the .tex and .bib (bibliography) files are available on request.

Now I’m off to meet relatives and then to Ropecon, where I’m running one throne war of Amber diceless and one town of Dogs. Back online after a bit more than a week.

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D&D my way

4 May, 2009 at 5:16 pm (game design, generic fantasy setting) (, )

Starting today I’ll be running my version of D&D in the university/Kortepohja gaming evening/club, assuming, of course, that there are interested people. I am too cheap to buy anything and too lazy to print excessive materials, so I’ll homebrew/design my own version. As such, the rules presented herein are in flux and draft stage. Before the rules, a bit more detail on the game I’ll be running.

Setting and some situation

The world is my very own homebrewed generic fantasy world. As such, it is not of much interest to outsiders (I keep assuming). I’ver written about it before and ran games in it before. All of the related material should be in the generic fantasy setting category (which I might rename some day if I bother naming the setting; naming is difficult business).

This game happens a number of years, such as ten or nine, after Tirae, the capital of the only credible human kingdom, experienced rebelling and fires as a result of the actions of a heretical cult of dragon-worshippers. The area claimed by the kingdom of Tirae is very light on wood (hence, fairly constant warfare with the elves who inhabit the northern forest of Thaleth(ia); I told, generic fantasy setting). It is bordered by the aforementioned elven forest, ocean, and some tribes of dissenting, semi-hostile barbarians who are much like the Tiraeans themselves, except they are living in blissful freedom/without the benefits of civilisation. In the north there is a formidable range of mountains. Previously there has been one garrisoned entry through the mountains (in the eastern part of the range, yet still firmly in Tirae’s grasp); the three lizardfolk that are born annually in place of humans have been thrown off the garrison; literally, after the serpent cult and related chaos. They are not killed and the lands beyond the garrison are not settled due to a prophecy, or a curse, involving the dragons coming back. Just a few months ago another entrance through the mountains was discovered near the western ocean. Behind it lies a vast forest, but also untold dangers; many a treasure-seeker has perished there. Regardless there is plenty of wealth to be found there and even a small, but growing, village to support more adventurers. The wealth can be acquired by cutting and selling wood (a task somewhat boring to play through), by protecting people and keeping peace, or by exploring the occasionally mysterious locations found within the woods.

Unfortunately, the forest strikes back (in a way similar to, but distinct from, the one outlined in that article) and is closely connected to the Dreaming so that some of those strikes are formidable; in particular, nasty monsters might appear now and then. In addition, there are natives already inhabiting the forest: A tribe of lizardfolk and some wild elves. To add further excitement, the scum of Tirae is flooding to the newly established village. In particular, there are rumours about certain heretical and dangerous cults, like the serpent cult that people in power had, to their knowledge, already rooted from Tirae. As the game starts the village is ruled by a certain somewhat wealth ruffian, whose position is fairly perilous.

Characters to play and generating them

There are Tiraeans, barbarians, very lucky Thalethians, wild elves and daring lizardfolk to play. If people create characters clearly in conflict with each other they must also be okay with inter-character conflict leading potentially to death. This is D&D and I’m going to assume there is a party that can, at least in theory, stay together. It is recommended that players do not come to table with elaborate character concepts, as dice will be rolled. There’s no point buy here.

Character generation, then. First select the character’s species: Human, lizardfolk or elf. Next, roll attributes. There are six of them and they might be familiar: Strength (voima), constitution (kestävyys), dexterity (ketteryys), intelligence (älykkyys), wisdom (viisaus) and charisma (karisma, since I can’t be bothered to actually properly translate it, at least now). Humans roll everything with 3d6 in order. Lizardfolk roll strength with 4d6, drop lowest and con with 5d, drop two lowest. Elves roll everything with 5d, drop 2 lowest. Everything includes constitution. Elves are powerful (a quick estimation gives them an average score between 13 and 14, but I can’t be bothered to actually confirm that). Attribute levels 3 and 4 indicate a -3 malus; 6 and 5 map to -2, 8 and 7 to -1, 9 to 12 grant 0, 13 and 14 +1, 15 and 16 +2, 17 and 18 +3.  The trend continues upwards and downwards. Attribute of 0 is bad news. It should be noted that elves are harmed by prolonged contact with iron and that lizardfolk have natural armour equal to their constitution modifier. Elves can see well in all but utter darkness, while lizardfolk “see” heat.

Next step is selecting a class. Physically competent characters are encouraged to be warriors, while too smart ones can try the difficult path of summoner/diviner/sage and the particularly charismatic ones can develop themselves in apprenticeship to shamans/wise women or men/mages/witches/sorcerers/wizards. Elves have one additional path they can tread: That of woodshaping. At this point, players of human and lizardfolk characters should write the past pursuits of their characters in one word, like “soldier”, “hunter”, “pickpocket” or “healer”. Elves are live eternally; even starting characters are somewhat aged and I don’t want to read that novel. More background info can freely emerge in play.

Warriors are skilled at the following activities (hence gaining their level as a bonus): attacking, defending, fortitude and reflex saves, potential maximum hit points. Further, they can use any and all commonly available and even rare weapons.

Summoners are extremely sharp folk; in game terms, intelligence bonus is required to make most use of the class. The most feared ones can contact power entities living elsewhere. Their profession requires strict self-control; many are ascetic and wear simple robes (if that). Summoners are skilled at will and fortitude saves. In addition, they can cast divinations as detailed below.

Shamans have strong personalities (cha 13+ recommended) and can bend others, living or merely animate, to their will. The powers of shamans are often used unwittingly by untrained or weak-willed (wisdom bonus or at least lack of penalty also recommended) shamans. Shamans are skilled at will saves and can cast spells as detailed below. Elven shamans do their magic by singing.

Elven woodshapers can create various items from living wood by focusing on it. Their craft requires significant patience and attunement to achieve (wisdom bonus would be nice). Shapers are skilled at will saves and moderately skilled (half level, round down) at fortitude saves, attacking, defending and shamanism (as shamans of half their level). In addition they can shape wood as explained later. All elves can shape wood as shapers of half their level.

Characters also need to be equipped. They start with suitable fairly basic equipment; no rich ones. A weapon or two, some leather armour, clothes, camping equipment, maybe something little implied by their background. A shield or two, mayhaps.

All characters can speak and understand Tiraean or some language of northern barbarians (they are dialects of the same language and which one the character knows does not affect communication very much, though social position of characters who are not fluent in Tirae’s main dialect may be bad). Lizardfolk also can speak Draconic, lizardfolk dialect. All elves speak their native brand of elven (all elven languages are dialects of each other, too, and enable mutual communication). Characters can learn one additional language per point of intelligence bonus, if any. Alternatively it can be used to learn a written version of some language. Draconic and the elven dialects have written forms. Human languages do not. A certain archaic dialect of elven is the dominating language among human scholars. Anyone with relevant background can communicate in that dialect at fair level, though reading it is far more rare a skill.

Derived values

Some basic arithmetic, such as deriving attack bonuses, is unfortunately necessary. Attack score: Strenǵth modifier plus any from level, -4 if unskilled with the weapon in use. Ranged attacks use dexterity modifier instead. Defense score is influenced by dexterity: First, take all negative modifiers (such as negative dexterity modifier) and add them to 10 (or substract, since adding a negative number is the same as substracting a positive one). Next, add highest positive modifier to what has been established before. Next, sum all other modifiers and halve this result; it, too, is a bonus on defense. In summary: All negative modifiers apply, highest positive modifier applies, as do half of the others (round correctly). Leather armour gives +1, chain or breastplate gives +3 and shield gives an extra +2 (as well as splintering occasionally). Fortitude save is constitution modifier (plus suitable levels), reflex save comes from dexterity modifier, will save from wisdom modifier.

Hit points are determined as follows: Take number of six-siders equal to level. Add number of dice equal to the absolute value of constitution modifier (e.g. 2 dice for +2 and -2). Roll them. Forget number of dice equal to constitution modifier; the highest ones if con mod is negative, the lowest ones if con mod is negative. In other words: Positive con modifier adds bonus dice and the highest results are kept, while negative modifier adds malus dice that are rolled and then lowest ones are kept. E.g. level 1, constitution 14: Roll 2 dice, keep the higher. Level 2, constitution 4 (modifier -3): Roll 5 dice, keep the two lowest ones. Hit points are capped above by constitution plus any fighter level. Someone with 5 constitution can never have more than 5 hit points unless he has fighter levels; a 2nd level fighter with 5 con can have up to 7 hit points (but good luck rolling that with two penalty dice). Damage characters deal is d6 for most one-handed weapons; 2d6 take higher for two-handed ones and bows; 2d6 take lower for light or improvised ones (dagger, unarmed, thrown rocks). An off-hand weapon in melee increases damage by one step.

Gameplay and magic

The primary activity shall be adventuring, which includes exploring places, combat, interacting with creatures and finding lost treasures. As a GM, I’ll stick with arbitrating the world and offering hopefully interesting things to get involved in; the players ought to have motivated characters (greed is good motivation to start with; let more emerge in play) and either engage opportunities I provide or create their own goals and go for them.

The rules have fairly good coverage of combat. First everyone declares what their characters are attempting, then the activities are resolved in an order that makes sense; this means that quick actions happen before slow ones and ranged attacks happen before spear-thrusts which precede sword-strikes. Shamanistic magic is slow. In case of equal situations, roll d6 + dexterity modifier to determine initiative. Attacking characters roll d20 + attack and the attack hits if opponent’s defense is reached or exceeded. Damage roll tells how much damage the attack deals. Damage is reduced from opponent’s hit points (which are abstract and not pints of blood). Anyone reduced to 0 hp is safely unconscious; anyone reduced below it must make ortitude save, difficulty 10, to not bleed to death. Any character at negative hit points can be automatically killed by taking an action to achieve that.

Characters naturally heal 1 hit point per night of proper rest. Characters reduced to negative hit points require the services of a skilled healer or shaman.

Saving rolls and some magic involve rolling d20, adding relevant modifiers and hoping for a suitably high result.

General resolution works by the help of a six-sided die. As a GM I estimate chance of success for task at hand; for example, picking pockets might be 1/6 or 3/6 for someone with background as a thief. Next, a relevant attribute modifier is added to the aforementioned chance. For someone with +1 dexterity modifier, the chances would be 2/6 and 4/6, while a somewhat clumsy (-1 dex mod) would-be pickpocket would have chances of 0/6 or 2/6. Then roll a d6 and try to get under the chances. I declare the chances before you need to roll, assuming there does not a exist a specific reason for not disclosing them (the target is something preternatural in disguise, say).

Experience and advancement need a few rules, too. Human characters need current level times thousand xp to get a new level, lizardfolk characters 3/2 times that, elves double what humans require. Each gold piece is worth one experience point to whoever acquires it. Slaying monsters is worth 100 experience per hit die to those engaged in the killing. In addition, I’ll let players set up goals for their characters. Minor or boring goals are worth d1oo experience when completed, while major or interesting ones give ten times that. What is minor or major is entirely up to GM fiat. Level means rerolling hit points and gaining whatever benefits the level gives.

Mysticism

Summoners know one first-level divination per point of intelligence bonus at the start of the game. They can prepare one divination per level per day so that they always prepare more divinations of lower levels than of higher levels (at first level, 1 level 1 divination; at second, two first level divinations; at third, two first level divination and one second level one). All divinations give information or do something else to the caster; this is intensely personal craft.

New divinations can be mastered only by hard studies or as a gift of dubious value from some powerful entity. Learning a divination takes number of days equal to the divination’s level squared and can happen through reading or being taught, with the latter being more common. Receiving a divination as a gift means that the entity has typically installed a backdoor of some sort so that whenever the divination is used the entity learns what is happening and can perhaps influence the events in some way. Consult proper summonings of the same level for guidance. Suitable D&D spells of same levels can be pretty freely added to the list.

The entities summoning is concerned with are always powerful ones and characters happen to know the true names of them, which grants a measure of power over them. Still, they are far beyond controlling.

Some first-level divinations

  • Perfect memory: Perfectly recall one scene, including all perceptions related to it, for as long as concentration is unbroken. Analysing the scene can take minutes or hours, depending on the level of detail involved.
  • Instance of time: Everything happens in bullet time; your actions are no more accelerated than anyone else’s, but you do have time to think and observe. Gives +3 (if d20 is used) or +1 (if d6 is used) in any situation that demands fast reaction and where thinking it through can help. Also, the player can take his time making the decision.
  • Recognise: This divination can be cast up to wisdom bonus times; if the modifier is not positive, this divination can only be cast once and only works when the caster actively concentrates.  Each casting selects one person, whom the caster will thereafter instantly recognise, no matter the circumstances. The target can be hidden, disguised, shapeshifted, or dead but the caster will nevertheless recognise them. Moreover, the caster can be unconscious and will upon waking still know that the target was nearby. This spell is permanent; the caster can dismiss any recognition at any time by willing so. Recognise can be cast whenever in the presence of the to-be-target; this includes contact entity and similar summonings.
  • Accurate [sense]: Each sense is a different divination. The relevant sense is greatly amplified, making the caster generally hard to surprise and very scary to be around. The effect lasts for as long as the character keeps concentrating on that one sense (so sniping would be possible with enhanced sight and eavesdropping an entire discussion with enhanced hearing likewise).
  • Contact entity: Character contacts one entity whose real name is known; the entity learns what the character thinks is happening at that moment and can communicate its general pleasure or displeasure about the situation, as well as vague instructions. This divination is instantaneous.
  • Detect auras: Diviner senses auras; that is, spells and entities of power; in some idiom suited to the caster. Sight is traditional. This spell lasts for as long as the caster concentrates. An aura can give vague sense of the power some entity wields. Careful observation can even tell something of the disposition and intentions or past deeds of some observed target.

Few second level divinations

  • Open window: Pronouncing the name of some powerful entity the character opens a window the thing can sense through. It can use some power roughly equivalent to first level shaman spells through the window, hence closing it. Alternatively it can reveal itself or communicate through the window. Unless the entity uses its powers the window closes at next dusk or dawn.
  • Read languages: Character can read one particular written document, regardless of language it is written in. Lasts as long as the character focuses on that document.

Shamanism

Shamans wield power to impose their will on their surroundings. They can cast one spell per level and more lower level spells than higher level ones, much as summoners do. In addition they can cast extra spells but at a cost. Shamans know one spell per level and an additional one per point of wisdom bonus. Shamans don’t have to prepare spells ahead of time. They can improvise spells but at even greater cost and risk.

When improvising spells or casting over one’s daily allotment the shaman’s player must roll a single d6. If result exceeds the spell level, nothing bad happens except that future similar rolls get +1 until the shaman has rested. In case of known spells the shaman gets to add wisdom bonus to the roll. Wisdom penalty hurts all of these rolls. When improvising a spell the player first tells what he is attempting and the GM then decides what level the spell is of.

Failing the roll above gives GM free reign to come up with nasty problems. In general, they should be in line with the level of the spell just being cast. The spell itself may or may not come to pass. Maybe I’ll write down a random chart or something.

The difficulty of saves is 10 + charisma modifier + shaman level, unless otherwise mentioned.

D&D spells of same level tend to be somewhat more powerful. Generally spells can be increased in level by doing one of the following, assuming suitable spell: Increase range on scale touch/personal -> presence -> sight -> far -> wherever, increase duration on scale short/concentration -> till next dawn or dusk -> till next full moon or other suitable lunar phase -> year and a day -> suitable number of years, like 81, 101, 49, 169, 666, 42 -> eternal, increase spell’s target along following scale: single person -> handful of people -> hundreds -> kingdom or species -> everything

Spells of first level

  • Pain: Touched target takes d6 damage per combat round, up to charisma bonus rounds. This spell never kills a target but is excellent at subduing them. Resisted with fortitude.
  • Scare: Target within presence that fails will save must flee or take -4 on all actions.
  • Courage: Target gets +2 on attacks and resisting mental effects as long as it keeps on fighting; resisted with will.
  • Healing: Up to charisma bonus targets heals d6 hit points per night of sleep and rest.
  • Sleep: Target becomes drowsy or, with failed save, falls asleep.
  • Leaping flames: The flames in bonfire or similar suddenly flare, causing 1 damage to those nearby (and serving as a distraction and maybe blinding people; I’m sure there is more ways of using this spell). Avoided with reflex.
  • Breeze: Sudden breeze may extinguish torches, scare, distract, or do whatever else breezes tend to do. It may also move feathers.
  • Hold portal: Door or other closed means of physical entry or exit clasps shut and chooses to not open: Only those with strength at least equal to caster’s charisma may even attempt opening it. Duration is till next dusk or dawn.
  • Charm: Resisted with will. Target treats everyone as basically trustworthy and good personality until evidence to the contrary presents itself. Duration is till next dawn or dusk.
  • Command: Failed will indicates that target follows one simple command spoken out loud by the caster; the spell is instantaneous, so extended actions can’t be forced through this spell. Target must understand the command for the spell to be effective. Self-defenestrate is a bit complicated.

Second level spells

  • Instant healing: Immediately heals d6 hit points.
  • Burst of fire: Any flammable object (like someone’s hair) bursts to flames, dealing d6 damage to anyone nearby and thereafter acting as a normal fire. Successful reflex reduces damage to 1.

Woodshaping

All suitably experienced elves can do some woodshaping. Select one object per level: The elf can effortlessly create a near-perfect wooden version of the object, given suitable wood and some time (minute for a knife, hour for a spear, days for a house). In addition, woodshapers know one wondrous effect per point of wisdom bonus, but no more than one per level: Items as hard as iron, fireproof wooden items, reviving some random wooden thing (e.g. fence, door, spearshafts, firewood), growing thorns, so on.

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Of dungeons and crawling therein

20 September, 2008 at 11:21 am (actual play, dungeon crawling, game mastering) (, , , , , )

Previous Wednesday, me, ksym and wgaztari did some old-fashioned dungeoncrawling. I was the GM. A dungeon was one I had designed some years ago after having read about megadungeon mapping and map design. I had basically designed enough of it to keep running the game for several sessions. There is no map except the one drawn in play, partially be me, partially by the players.

The rules can be found in a wiki: http://dungeonsurvival.pbwiki.com/.

Style of play

A sandbox world; surface destroyed, players play a bunch of survivors trying to survive within a vast network of caves, or more precisely a small portion thereof. There are a total of 26 survivors (25 originally, one more joined in game), 5+1 of them somewhere around 1 or 2nd level in power if converted to D&D3rd, 10 1st level NPC or PC class, 10 first level commoners. Players can play any number of these at once, as suits the situation and their preferences.

The philosophy of play is adapted from a document called quick primer for old school gaming. Another influence is an old forum thread called megadungeon mapping.

Observations

This gaming is all about exploration. There were only two combats total in the first session, which was something of an introduction.

The shape of the dungeon and terrain it has are of great importance; they are the arena of play. Large rocks to hide behind as a small kobold warband chases after hooded and cloaked creatures, rocky terrain where centipedes have easy time moving and hiding, while people less so, a deep pond for a crocodile to wait in. And the player characters must divide their forces to watch all entrances they want to hold secure, which means that the activity level of different entrances is an interesting factor.

Random encounters are paramount, not only to keep the PCs threatened, but further to create cause and effect. Kobolds discovered the band of humans, so I will adjust the random encounter tables to reflect that; a much greater chance of kobold warband appearing, particularly. Not all random encounters are threats; rarely there will be a lone survivor who is only glad to find more people (the previous such survivor was mute, though).

It is all about resource management; right now, hit points, people, spells, alchemical ingrdients and torches are all pretty big deal. There is sufficient water, but food may become a problem.

Play summary

I started the game when scouts discover a place that looks promising; there is life and water. So, basically no option to choose another starting location. It is a large cavern with water, bugs, moss and mushrooms. There’s four exits plus the one they came from. Careful investigation, less careful investigation, a crocodile performing a surprise attack, soon dispatched (armoured monsters can take a few hits). One entrance is explored, some centipedes are fought, one character is reduced to 0 hp by poison, none killed. Main group arrives. An alchemist starts brewing poison, the wounded are resting.

The alchemist has completed the venom, which is fed to the centipedes using part of the dead crocodile as a bait. While the poison is (hopefully) taking effect another cave is explored; there are two skulls on wooden poles on the entrance. The maze-like location is explored a little, sounds of marching foodsteps heard, retreat made, whispers heard, kobolds shooting at small escaping hooded figures noticed, kobold party avoided.

Things to improve

Measuring time is difficult due to no sun. I’ll need to make random encounters less frequent and build the time economy more heavily around them. A chance of encounter per four hours, maybe.

Better random encounter tables. Just adding an option for wandering monster, which will include such fabulous beasts as minotaurs, rust monsters, orcish rampagers, giant scorpions, elementals, cave-dwelling versions of boars and big cats and wolves and bears and so on might do the trick. The cave is far too tame as of yet, and it is a place where there is water, so encounters ought to be varied and frequent.

Tools of the trade

Simple googling reveals any number of random dungeon generators, which are fun enough as toys. There’s How to host a dungeon by Tony Dowler, including a free version, which is basically a toy for generating dungeons.

Resources that give random room descriptions would be useful. Not that I would use them as such, but they would be good for inspiration. Do any suitable generators exist?

Another useful thing would be wandering/random monster/encounter tables. I can’t be the only one using them, and creating a wiki or something for them would be of little effort. Are there any such tables online?

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Old school (or not)

30 June, 2008 at 10:59 am (game design) (, , )

I created a fantasy game and played a session with Gastogh and Nakano. Here’s the somewhat updated rules. The combat rules were inspired by Tunnels and Trolls (which I have never played or read).

Chargen

Starting characters have 10 points to divide among hit points, power and miscellaneous. 10 points creates potentially somewhat exceptional characters, but not powerful ones. (A random orc has at least 12 points in it.)

Hit points

All characters must have at least 1 hit point. More will be useful. At least 2 is recommended. Hit points are temporarily reduced in combat, due to some poisons and generally hurting oneself. They can be healed in town (or other fairly calm and pleasant location) at one hp per day, assuming a skilled healer is present. Otherwise one hp per week.

Power

Power is used notably in combat, but also whenever something needs to be rolled. It is the generic competence and heroism of the character. Roll a die with sides equal to the power attribute. If you don’t have a d7 nearby, use a d6 instead (and so on). Using a die roller can get past such problems.

Miscellanous

This is the actual meat of the system. Misc points need not be assigned at chargen and the unassigned ones can, at GM’s discretion, be assigned once adventuring. Use one point to get any of the following and feel free to develop new ones and get them okayed by the GM and other players who care.

  • A cohort: Character built on half the PC’s points. Reasonably loyal, wants money, slows advancement.
  • Followers: 3 characters, all built on one third the PC’s points.
  • Backstabbing: When attacking from surprise roll power twice. (E.g. d6 power => 2d6 when attacking from surprise.)
  • Archer: +2 power when using ranged weapon from distance.
  • Brawler: Suffer no penalty for fighting unarmed.
  • Tough: No penalty for being unarmoured.
  • Spellcaster: Start one school of magic as detailed below, with single spell known. Additional points give new spell each.
  • Hunter/Gatherer: Support one person in wilderness that contains sufficient food and water (not in desert, yes in forest). Additional points support one person each.
  • Heirloom: Start with a powerful, potentially magical toy. Negotiate details with the GM. Selling it is bad form.
  • Contact: Know a potentially powerful ally who can be negotiated with for favours, information and missions/quests.
  • Healer: Offer skilled healing: Stabilise someone dying due to loss of hp, allow recovery of 1 hp per day in good conditions.
  • Fast draw: Once a round change weapon without spending the entire round doing so.

Inventory

In addition to the above starting characters have d6 copper coins, food and drink for 3 days, a knife, some clothes, tools for making a fire and a short pice of rope. Maybe some camping equipment. Also, each character can pick two options from the list below (selling these is bad form):

  • A poor weapon. If ranged, ammunition for 3 fights or one extended fight is included. Shield may be included but does not change the statistics in any way.
  • A poor armour.
  • Torches, rope, a ten foot pole.
  • A lousy horse not trained for war.
  • Spellbook or other magical implement.
  • Other stuff you get by asking the GM.

Profession

Each character has a profession/trade/class, which tells what kinds of stuff the character can generally accomplish. A scholar can know ancient lore, a woodsman can climb trees and track, and so on. It generally gives no mechanical benefits. (Namely, mercenaries and soldiers do not get extra power in combat.) The purpose of professions is to offer a way of knowing if the characters can or can’t do a particular task.

Actual rules

Character generation was above. In actual play the rules should be used in combat and maybe in other situations where there is risk involved and the outcome of events in uncertain. These rules do work for negotiations and playing hide and seek and whatever else, but using them for that is completely optional. I didn’t.

Combat

All characters take a -2 penalty (minimum 1) to power in combat unless they are sufficiently armed. Poor weapon from chargen qualifies. Gauntlets or a stone do not. Sharpened stick is an edge case. All characters take 1 extra damage during a combat round if they are not armoured and take any damage.

Process and example

I am assuming two sides fighting against each other. Example: Three goblins (3hp, 3 power) against two adventurers (3 hp, 2 power and 3 hp, 6 power). All are assumed to have proper equipment (of poor quality, but proper none the less).

Every combatant chooses one of the following actions during each round: Fight, run (screaming recommended), or do something else. Both sides can choose a goal related to positioning (like “We hold the door so only few can come in at a time.”), assuming the group considers them sensible. Specific targets to attack are not selected (but see surprise below). Example: People would choose positioning now, but this combat obviously takes place in a flat room with no interesting features. Every combatant fights.

All combatants who actually fight roll power. Both sides sum their totals. If the combat totals of both sides are equal, every combatant takes 1 damage. Otherwise one side is winning and has the higher result. Example: Goblins roll 3, 2, 2 for total of 7, adventurers roll 1 and 4 for total of 5.

The winning side achieves whatever positioning it was doing and deals damage to the losing side. If NPCs are losing, the GM chooses the order in which they take damage. NPC is reduced to 0 hp, drops and the next takes the remaining damage until all damage is dealt. If PCs are losing, players can divide the damage among their characters as they will (default: Everyone takes equal damage, rounded up if no agreement is reached). Any character reduced to 0 hp is dying and requires skilled aid within a few hours or dies. Example: Player chars take a total of 2 points of damage. Both take 1. Another round: Goblins roll 1, 2, 1 for total of 4. Players roll 1 and 6 for total of 7. One goblin (GM’s pick) takes 3 damage and falls.

Miscellaneous actions include combat magic, sneaking, shooting burning arrows at the oil pit, toppling statues to crush enemies, and so on. It is resolved after normal fighting. Magic and other tasks requiring concentration can be interrupted if the magus takes any damage.

Any fleeing character gets away if it has any hp left at the end of the round, unless pursued as per positioning (or after combat by other means).

A list of ways to spend a round

  • Fight
  • Run
  • Change/draw a weapon
  • Cast a combat spell
  • Keep watch over a handful of people
  • Wake up
  • Get up
  • Prepare heavy or improvised weaponry for use
  • Give an item to someone

Sneaking and surprise

To remain undetected a character must have two benefits: The character must be hiding and not actively searched for. “Hiding” means that the character must be hidden from sight, not make loud or uncharacteristic (wrt the situation) noises, have masked scent of approach from downwind when that is relevant, and so on. Active searching means exactly that and takes great attention. A guard watching a door qualifies. A lone guardsman at night in a forest can only keep a small section of the woods under active attention; two or more sneaks can surprise one guardsman. Keeping watch is a misc action in combat and prevents active participation in the fight.

A group of characters, or part of such a group, can do a surprise attack if they are undetected as per above. The benefits are simple: The surprising side can select the order in which their targets take damage. This is also true when the PCs are being surprised. It may hurt. Additional benefits: Opponents are often unarmed or sleeping or mounted or have some other reason for wasting actions.

Ranged weapons

Weapons are of 3 types: Melee, thrown or ranged. Melee weapons do good and reliable work at melee range. They can be thrown at -2 power. Thrown weapons work at short range. Round of fighting involves throwing such and preparing more to be thrown or using one in melee, which destroys the weapons or means losing it, requiring an action to equip a new weapon (or being quite good at drawing weapons or fighting at -2 penalty or being a skilled brawler). Ranged weapons work at long range (thrown ones do not), at short range and at melee with -2 power lost as thrown ones are.

It takes a successful positioning or relevant spell to move from long to short range or from short to melee.

Magic

There’s two kinds of magic: Combat and noncombat (ritual) magic. Combat magic usually takes one round to cast. It takes effect at the end of the round. Noncombat magic generally takes at least an hour to use, but often much longer.

Combat spells are either instantaneous or have duration of single combat (few minutes of noncombat). Combat spells should do damage or buff or curse. Ritual magic varies greatly, up to permanent and world-shattering events.

Schools of magic

All mages must select one school of magic. It defines the way they acquire magic, the magic they can acquire, the way it is used and the price for it.

Learning: From books and tomes and scrolls, by natural talent, through mentoring, as a natural ability (can’t learn more magic), by a deal with spirits, by dissecting ancient artifacts, …

Source of power: The fabric of reality, the very bones of earth, the deep oceans, the darkest shadows, death itself, …

Method: Chanting and drawing patterns into air, by brewing potions, by drawing (suitable) energy from the surroundings and releasing it, by inscribing actual runes on targets, by self-mutilation, through extreme concentration, commanding spirits, crafting magical objects, …

Price: Live sacrifices, lengthy preparation ahead of time, self-mutilation, hostile spirits waiting for the opportunity to strike, slow transformation into an undead of other monster, paralysing headache, …

The above should be mixed (and more created) so as to create flavourful and not too powerful mages. Namely, magic from reading is fairly hard to improve and can be powerful in other ways, natural magic can have quite low price (if any), crafting potions and such should be able to achieve great results as it is takes foresight and resources to achieve. Source of power should create mages such as elementalists and necromancers. The fabric of reality as a source of power should be more-or-less limited to book mages and those similarly limited. It is boring.

Spells

  • Healing: Ritual. Casting time one hour: Roll power, target heals 1 hit point but not above the roll or normal maximum. Two hours: Roll power four times, take the best. Target heals 2 hit points but not above the roll or normal maximum. n hours: Roll n^2 times, take the best. Target heals n points but not above the roll or maximum hp.
  • Strength: Combat. Casting takes one action, target gets +2 power to fighting. Duration: One combat or few minutes.

Some foes

Orc: 5 hp, power d6, armed with javelins, spears or axes, possibly poisoned to do 1 damage every hour for d6 hours. Sees in dark.

Hellhound: 10 hp, d6, can have nasty poison or unhealing bites of fiery bites or whatever. Sees in dark, through smoke and flames, good sense of smell.

Human soldier, professional: d4, 5 hp.

Rewards

Characters get 1 experience point for every gold piece they acquire through adventuring and spend. The characters must divide the gold they spend and hence the experience they gain. Source: Brian’s Trollsmyth.

Once a character has a number of exp equal to current point value +1 (starting characters are worth 10 points and hence need 11 xp), they get one extra point to use as they will. It must be used immediately on power or hp (no justification necessary or can be transferred into misc points which can be used at will. Such expenditures must be explained. Downtime is a good generic explanation.

One silver piece is worth 3d6 copper pieces. One gold piece is worth 5d20 silver pieces. These ratios are specific to a town or other similar economic unit. They will likely change as time passes, too.

Food and drink for a day is worth a copper. A poor weapon is worth 10 to 15. Equipment of quality is priced in silver (or even gold). Gold is rare. Outside towns and such people usually trade goods for goods or favours. Money is not frequently used, but is generally accepted.

(I will accept criticism and advice on pricing things, but I also am too lazy to do research.)

Items of quality, perhaps of magical nature, are another assumed reward. Such weapons give bonus to power when used in combat (and may do something interesting, too). Armours reduce damage taken, but never below 1, so they can’t completely negate it. Healing potions work like the healing spell, varying parameters, foul taste.

Running and playing the game

The point of the game, for characters, is to get rich and powerful. For players it is to come up with imaginative solutions to presented problems. Avoiding fair fights is recommended. For game master it is to create a problematic situation, often a dungeon, and to adjudicate how the fiction works once players get their characters involved in it.

To be explicit: There is a lot of rules material focused on combat. This material is not very interesting to play with. The point is to allow characters who shine at combat and to heavily discourage attacking superior foes, while encouraging attacking inferior foes.

Skills it takes to run this game

Running this game actually takes preparation. I’m not used to preparing games. Namely, I think the following should be prepared ahead of time: The general nature of the problem, the motivations of key figures and groups, the resources they have and the information they have. Vague idea of a map is useful. Should a dungeon be involved, mapping it to some degree is advised. At least as a flowchart with some notable things placed where they should be.

Dungeoncraft

An interesting dungeon should be constructed as follows: There should be internal schisms or outright fighting among the residents. It should be possible to negotiate with intelligent residents and to use the unintelligent ones. There should always be at least three ways to get to any place of importance, though some should be hidden or dangerous. This is a variant of the three clue rule, most recently written about by the Alexandrian.

Random encounters, dynamic dungeons, or other means of discouraging player characters from simply doing hit-and-run tactics, on foe at a time, are advised.

Getting player characters into the adventure

Some GMs may want to prepare several adventures. (Using prepublished adventures takes preparation.) Some will want to only prepare one. I recommend the following methods of getting player characters into the adventure:

  • I have prepared this adventure. We’ll play it or some other game. Here’s the plot hook.
  • As above, but replace the final sentence with “Come up with a plot hook.”
  • Schrödinger’s dungeon: Have the adventure be where the player characters go to. Take care to not nullify player choices; that is, if they specifically want to avoid an adventure or an encounter, let them have a fair chance of doing so, if it is at all reasonable. This is to avoid railroading.

Random, unrelated stuff

My sister shall, as of this autumn, be studying biology in the university of Jyväskylä, where I also study mathematics.

I will (very probably) be offline starting tomorrow, ending near the end of the week.

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