Monday, June 30, 2014


a wizard and his familiar

Many people assume that familiars are animals that a wizard has empowered to be servants and allies. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Paladins will tell you that familiars are demons, sent to corrupt wizards with power. Others say that they are the ancient spirits that originally taught mankind magic, or that familiars are spells that have slipped away from their masters and now meddle in the affairs of wizards.

Whatever is true, wizards obtain familiars by casting the spell known as call to familiar spirit. This is optional, and many (smart) wizards never mess around with familiars in the first place.

Once called the familiar will appear in 1d20 hours. What sort of familiar appears depends on where they are summoned. A frog familiar might appear if summoned in a swamp, while calling for familiars within a city sometimes returns a brownie or a jenkin.

a wizard and his familiar

The wizard must then bargain with the familiar. Familiars usually want to ally themselves with promising young savants with a bright destiny. Every familiar wants to be the voice in the ear of an archmage. They want power, indirectly. After bargaining, the hopeful wizard makes a Charisma check with the following modifiers.
  • If the wizard is boring, meek, or unambitious, there will be a -1/-2 penalty.
  • If the wizard is power-hungry or promises the familiar great things, there will be a +1/+2 bonus.
  • The wizard can sacrifice things to appease the familiar. First, sacrifice as much stuff as you want, then make a Wisdom check. Success means that you get a +1 bonus for every 100sp of stuff sacrificed this way (gold thrown in the well, holy books burned, gemstones turned to dirt,etc). Failure means that you have misjudged the familiar's desires and your sacrifices will count for nothing.
If the wizard succeeds on the Charisma check, the familiar agrees to join you in a mutually-binding, magical contract. If the check is failed, roll on the Breach of Covenent Table below, and that familiar will never again appear to you. In fact, no familiar will ever appear to you at this location.  You've been 86'd.

a wizard and his familiar
Once a familiar has agreed to work with you, it can be summoned to your side. But familiars are fickle. Whenever you attempt to summon your familiar, make a Charisma check. Success means that the familiar arrives immediately. Otherwise it arrives in 1d20 hours. If you have annoyed your familiar, you automatically fail this Test, while familiars that are extremely pleased will always arrive promptly.

Your familiar doesn't really exist before it's summoned.  It crawls out of your hair, or scrabbles out of the wall.  And leaves in similarly dramatic fashion.  It can only be hurt by magic.

Familiars can use the detect magic spell at will, and will even share the results with you if you ask nicely (this is so trivial that it doesn't demand a favor in exchange). More importantly, familiars can perform services, but never more than 1/day. However, for every service it performs, you owe a favor.

1. Familiars can teach you spells, which you can then add to your spellbook immediately and at no cost. Roll on the random spell table to see which one. The familiar will only perform this service 1d4+1 times before it refuses. It cannot teach you what you cannot understand. The first spell is free.

2. Familiars can give you an extra spell slot of your highest level spell for one day.

3. Familiars can give you +2 to your caster level for one day. 

4. Familiars can save you from a violent death—but only once, and only if the familiar answers your summons immediately (i.e. you make that Charisma check mentioned above). The details are best left to the DM, but the familiar might crawl inside your mouth and give you the strength you need to overcome the situation, or you might just walk back into the campsite later on like nothing happened. Regardless, once your familiar has performed this favor for you, you become bound to it body and soul. You will never be rid of it. You owe it a favor every time you level up, or every time you gain a negative level.

5. Pretty much anything else you can dream up. Want it to scout out the next room? No problem. That counts as a favor, though.

Each favor is always something that the familiar can call in immediately, or at a later date. It's up to the DM, but the most appropriate favors are ones that are appropriate to the familiar's goals (see below) and potentially destrucive. Forgetting to return the spellbook to the wizard who has treated you kindly? Kill the silly NPC paladin who always gets in the way? Stealing a torch from a baby?  If this seems harsh, you can roll a 1d6 or something to see how unpalatable the familiar's request is.

If the wizard performs the favor that the familiar requests, that's the end of it. But if the wizard refuses, that is a violation the contract with the familiar, and deserving of a roll on the Breach of Covenant table.

Breach of the Covenant (d6)
1-2. random curse
3-4. random mutation
5-6. permanent -1 to an ability score

a wizard and her familiar

As long as you can convince your familiar that you still have a chance to fulfill your destiny, it will not abandon you (although it might get grumpy). It has a contract to fulfill, after all.

To see a suggested familiar, roll on each table below, or just roll once for all four.  DMs are encouraged to make up their own, and especially to tailor the appearance for the environment where the call to familiar spirit spell was first cast.

Suggested Appearances (d8)
1. matte black crow, flies backwards.
2. fat weasel, sleeps constantly in your pocket or purse.
3. swollen toad, nearby objects and surfaces become soggy.
4. miniature woman, 2' tall with gold skin, wearing only jewelry.
5. small pig, walks like a man, fond of eating bones and skin.
6. white mouse, everyone gets goosebumps when it appears, speaks like a king.
7. brown jenkin, sort of like a large rat with human hands and face, fond of fetching things.
8. black cat, always stands on your shadow, causes discomfort on places where it's paws touch

True Appearance (d8) visible only using wizard vision or some magical truesight bullshit
1. small, misshapen version of you.
2. nauseous cloud of impossible colors.
3. hole in the universe.
4. empty skin, twitching/fluttering as if in a wind.
5. misshapen human child
6. pulsing mass of roiling meat.
7. there is nothing there and never has been.
8. suspiciously, it looks the same (or does it?).

Unique Power (d8)
1. can see the future in spilled intestines, quite accurate
2. can teleport the caster (only) to the nearest graveyard
3. can double your current HP, but will fade in 1d20 hours
4. can create false gold that will disappear in 1d20 hours
5. can create a feast fit for a king
6. can make a virgin fall in love with you
7. can fetch a named item that has been forgotten by all
8. no special power, but it will pretend that it has one

Goal (d8)
1. exploration of new frontiers (especially of the mind and/or other planes) and cosmic truth
2. iconoclasm and an end to banal religions (cosmic horror-gods are the only true gods; worship is optional)
3. magical power to bend the universe to your will
4. political power to rule the world and become a leader of men (preferred: starting a cult, marrying royalty)
5. deaths of weaklings and fools
6. carnal pleasure, incomprehensible ecstasy
7. construction of a vast object, built for some distant, undefined purpose (preferred: tower, ziggurat, ship)
8. destruction of the self through dissolution, dissociative drugs, anomie, and constant exposure to danger

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Projectors, a Player Race for Synthexia


A female projector is called a projectrix.  Their heads are black prisms.  They cannot speak, but they can communicate by playing back video recordings and audio clips, picked up from echoes of ancient Earthling video waves.  Each projector tends to develop a preference for a particular type of media.  One might communicate mostly through songs by the Cramps; another might prefer late-night infomercials.  Either way, it can be a disturbing thing to hear when they're disemboweling you with a laser-axe.

The most famous projector in Synthexia is Prismax the Unblinking, a powerful wizard who lives in an artificial mountain made of mirrors.  Since he is, technically, one of those "evil wizards" everyone keeps talking about, he's a pretty polarizing figure in projector society.

Projectors are born when gravity-quakes occur within the Infinite Mountain.  As everyone knows, gravity-quakes cause huge chunks of the Infinite Mountain to calve off and break apart, sometimes revealing newborn projectors.  And then the Infinite Mountain grows, bursting at the seams to thrust more black crystals into the air, now taller than it was before.  That's why they call it infinite mountain.

Some projectors live near the Infinite Mountain.  They are called "uncut" by their more urbane peers, and regarded as country bumpkins.  They are genderless.

Some projectors go to the cities, where they invariably seek out a sculptor to carve their body into an aesthetically pleasing likeless.  Some want to be seen as males, and so will pay to be carved into hypermasculine herculoids.  Others wish to be seen as female, and so will chisel themselves into hourglass figures.  Because of this, they hold sculptors in high regard, and some sculptors make a living by carving uncut projectors and projectrices.

Getting oneself carved is quite expensive, and many projectors adventure to raise money for this exact purpose.

  • +1 Con, -1 Wisdom
  • Cannot speak.  However, the player can bring a laptop to the session and communicate via (publicly available) audio and video recordings.  
  • Can redirect light.  Lasers cannot damage you as long as you choose to redirect them in a different direction.  If you are hit by light-based magic (e.g. prismatic spray), you can immediately counter it and redirect it.  Spells cannot be redirected more than 2x in this way.
  • You can shed light as bright as a torch.  However, the light shed is blacklight (borderline ultraviolet).  You can activate and suppress this ability with a thought.  Wikipedia.
  • The first time you die, you shatter into a smaller projector.  In effect, you are being instantly returned to life at half HP, and with the additional quality of being Small (i.e. halfling-sized).  Small characters must used weapons and armor that are sized for them (or suffer a -2 penalty) but can can fight in cramped areas unhindered.  
  • The second time you die, you shatter forever into 1d20 shards.  Each shard will forever project an image from a scene of your life if a light is shined through it.  Resurrection is impossible.
Anyway, here's a bunch of art from Zhichao Cai.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Three and a Half Extradimensional Adventurers

These are all humanoids.  Or at least, they have have two legs, two arms, and a head in the usual place, unless otherwise noted.

red lotus
not even once
Krulhir the Sublimator

He is nine feet tall, six feet wide.  Skin is thick and puckered, like an abused lemon.  Not so much corpulent as he is full.  Arms and legs have atrophied, and resemble stretched out baby-arms poking from his body.  Talks in a falsetto.  Starmetal skullcap is bolted over his eyes, with a pinhole in the center that is actually a portal to black space near canopus.  Negative pressure--air is constantly being sucked into his head, a quiet but shrill whistling sound. 

From his bolted-on helmet hang a bunch of black twine (or at least it looks like twine).  This twine is woven into a net that supports his body.  It keeps him pear-shaped.  Can you picture a 100-gallon water balloon wrapped up snug in a fishing net?  It's like that.

Krulhir is a wizard, sort of.  Where he comes from, he is not considered a wizard, merely a dabbler, but he has a powerful tolerance for gravity and dense atmospheres.  He sweats ammonia.  He is looking for a unicorn to bring back with him.  He is actually very humble, naive, and fearful.  He's like a 7 HD wizard, worst possible AC, with a hover speed equal to a walk.  If he is injured, his mercurial ioun stones will accelerate to fantastic speeds, orbiting body like bullets.  He bleeds milky water from which will sprout pale cilia that will thrash for a day and then die out.  In addition to the stuff in the next paragraph, he knows the spells animate teeth, infectious starlight, reverse object's gravity (permanent), and ultra-magnetokinesis.

From the solar pinhole in his forhead, he can shoot fireballs.  Except they don't look like fireballs.  They don't look like anything at all.  They don't even make any noise, just things start to blacken, evaporate.  It's pyrolysis--slow combustion in the absence of oxygen--but it functions like a fireball spell.  No flame, nor ashes.  Charcoal.  There is also a silence effect in there, too, so there is no noise.  Stealth explosions.  If you watch a bunch of peasants get hit by it, you'll see them be swallowed up by a superheated-but-gently-wafting cloud of steam, which will reveal charcoal mummies frozen in various poses of disbelief.

He is travelling with a quartet of bald, blue-skinned, elephant-nosed space orcs who intend to kill and rob him as soon as possible.

honey, did you remember to feed the dog?
we have a dog?
Malala Kurema Kazhonn (emphasis on the second syllable of each word)

Seven feet tall, looks like an albino python out of the corner of your eye.  Then you get a better look at her, and realize that she actually is human.  Or at least she looks human.  Her eyes are pink pearls, and she moves like a bag full of snakes.

Because that's what she is.  Malala Kurema Kazhonn is a member of a moon-dwelling species of necroparasitic metacnidarians (relative to the freshwater, microscopic hydras).  She has spend her whole life worshipping humans (which are rare on the moon) and ensuring that the humans (sacred pets of the temple) are protected against those who would injure them.

When one of the sacred human-pets died, she was given the great honor of being allowed to inhabit its body.  She lost 880 lbs in 24 hours in order to fit into the dead human's body.  It was a painful process, and she had never been so honored.  Now that she has left her polyp life stage and entered her medusa stage, she has finally become an adult.

She's here to obtain some fresh breeding stock for the holy temple-humans in her lunar enclave.  When she first encountered humans "in the wild", she was at first shocked, then disgusted, then resigned.  These planetary humans are unhealthy, uneducated, cruel, boorish, and filthy.  Still, it's her duty to capture a few of the less offensive specimens.  Paladins are good.  So are scholars and nobles.  She's captured six suitable specimens so far (which she keeps inside a specialized bag of holding, which looks a bit like a fanny pack) and has been able to bargain for another dozen sperm samples from suitable males (paying for them with uncut rubies).

She is accompanied by a pack of loyal displacer beasts, and rides atop a giant jellyfish.  She wears a breastplate filled with stinging cnidocysts.  On her belt she has an infinitely sharp dagger, which can cut anything, even space.  (Cutting space is a bit like hanging a mono-molecular wire in the air.  You know immovable rods?  It's like that, except really, really sharp.)  But that's just a novelty, really.

Her real weapon is an amberglass electro-scimitar-whip that she stores in her dead human's throat.  In combat, it looks like the woman is wielding it with her tongue, but really that is just Malala's tentacle (part of her real body) waving it around.  It's a long tentacle, and the electro-scimitar-whip also has a lot of reach, so she'd prefer to go quadrupedal, scuttle up on to the ceiling, and lash out with the electro-scimitar-whip (20' reach, all in all).  She has 6 HD, breastplate AC, and would rather bargain than fight to the death.  She views her mission as noble, good, and sacred, but she's no fool.

If her human body is killed, her real body will spill out and begin screaming as she exsanguinates in our harsh atmosphere.  She will attempt to take over another human body, but this is a feeble attempt that will only succeed if there is an unconscious or recently dead human nearby, and no-one molests her for a full five minutes, since she is so fragile in our atmosphere (-4 to hit, unarmored AC, 3 HD, can only crawl).

Fond of spouting incomprehensible alien parables (The Tale of the Man Raised by Jale Beans, The Priest Who Was Three Babies, The Man Inside the Man Inside the Sun, etc) in an attempt to educate the boorish races around her and make the more moral.  Has excellent maps of the world, seven hundred years out of date.  Has absolutely zero regard for children and babies, since personhood is intrinsically linked to sexual maturity.  

Has a paladin's morality, but it is an alien paladin.  Thinks that she is doing a good thing by kidnapping humans, and in a way, she's totally right about that, since the humans on the moon are treated like rich people's favorite dogs.  Good food, lots of sex with lisping moon beauties, great medical care.  The moon-priests will try to avoid the claustrophobia, but the oxygenated crust-cysts are only so big.

whatever.  you get the idea
fuck you for judging me
Vladimir and Estragon

Vladimir (or Estragon) looks like a perfectly normal naked man who is wearing a crown of fetuses.  A closer look reveals that the fetuses' skulls are conjoined with his.  Conjugated hextuplets?  That happens, right?  In truth, this is exactly what he is.  Or at least, he's was one member of conjugated hextuplets when he was born, but he's gone on to become so much more than that.

Vladimir (or Estragon) is a friendly man, although hairless and a bit too pink.  Only one of the fetuses is awake.  The other four fetuses (Nibellen, Walpurgio, Sothric, Thulotes) appear to be deeply asleep.  The six brothers are a bit like six people that share a body.  If Vladimir is the full-size human, he can squeeze his mass into Estragon (the other awake brother).  Vladimir will shrivel away into a tiny fetus, while Estragon will swell up into a full-size human.  Since they are naked twins, the only difference is which side of their head the awakened fetus is.

They are pleasant enough.  They'll chat amiably and share news as long as they aren't approached with any hostility.  If asked, they'll share that they're waiting for someone.  They're waiting for God.  Polytheism?  No, there is only one God.  He is a good and kind God.  He told them to wait here personally, but they don't remember how long ago, or how much longer until he arrives, exactly.  They don't mind.  Nothing wrong with waiting.  They're quite good at waiting.

It'll be nice when God gets here, though.  The whole world will merge with him, and everyone will be happy.  No more sadness, no more war.  No more beaten dogs.  Just bliss, just unity.  It'll only take a second, and then poof--everyone will understand everything and be happy forever.  Ecstasy.  And because we'll all know everything that everyone else knows, it's like we'll all be one person.  Vladimir and Estragon know something about being one person.  It's quite nice.  Never lonely.  You always have a sympathetic ear, right Estragon?  Right.

Oh yes, there will be so much rejoiced when God arrives to devour the sun and everything else.

THE CATCH is that Vladimir and Estragon are sitting somewhere awkward.  The PCs need to use the summoning circle that Vladimir and Estragon are sitting in.  Or they need to retrieve that throne.  Or they're sitting on part of the inscription that needs to be translated.

Under no circumstances will Vladimir, Estragon, or their brothers budge from the spot.  God ordered them to stay here.

Their special ability is theft.  Attack them with a sword and suddenly the sword is in their hands.  And suddenly your armor is gone, too.  The hextuplets are wearing it.  They cast a spell, and the party mage forgets it.  They drink a potion and suddenly it is gone from their inventory.  How strong are they?  How strong is the strongest person in your party?  

If they feel sincerely threatened, they'll also drain party members, usually starting with the strongest ones.  People who get drained will shrivel into fetus-things, only 1' tall, with a 3 in all of their physical stats.  And another of the hextuplets will inflate into a full grown person, until there's just a cartwheel of six full-sized men, joined at the head, spinning like a ferris wheel made from stolen weapons, laughing and apologizing and praying and chatting.

Honestly the best tactic would be to take off all of your equipment and charge him en mass while naked and without any spells memorized, then just headbutt him into submission.  Of course, the PCs might be dead before they realize this.

Okay, he wasn't really an adventurer.  I guess I owe you guys another one.

Lady Molassah, a.k.a. the Stain

Molassah is a woman who is also a sentient tattoo.  She is also an assassin.  She looks like something that a sailor would get tattooed in a seedy tattoo parlor, and in fact, that's exactly where she was born. 

Here's how it works: Lady Molassah is trapped on the skin of whoever she's on.  It's a bit like being marooned a smelly, hairy island (she's fond of that analogy).  But whenever that person has sex, she's able to cross over at the point of penetration.  It's like a temporary isthmus between two islands.

She can slide around quite quickly on skin, and disguise herself as any kind of lady she chooses.  She can hide in an armpit, or take a hostage by standing atop a jugular.  

Every morning, Lady Molassah makes an opposed Charisma check with her "island".  She has 18 Charisma and is a level 9 Thief.  If she wins, she gets control of the body for the day.

Did I mention that she's an assassin?  She's usually going somewhere to kill someone, in exchange for a fat wad of cash.

The PCs will meet her after one of the PCs has sex.  She'll just show up on their bodies the next morning, trying to take control of their minds so she can hope on a ship to Meltheria (or wheverever her contract takes her).  She might pose as an innocuous tramp stamp, so it might take the PCs some time to discover why one of their members has suddenly turned into an NPC and run away.

She's impatient, but she's not unreasonable.  She doesn't like unnecessary violence (but necessary violence is another story).  If she is discovered and threatened, she may try to hide (on an inner thigh or something) or take her island hostage (by sitting on a jugular and refusing to budge).  Or she might negotiate, offering to help the party in exchange for them helping her.  Or she might just demand that the tattooed PC sleep with a sailor immediately so that they can both be rid of each other.

Okay, she's not really extradimensional, but fuck it.

A Ruleset of My Very Own

(God, it's so banal.  The idea that you have such good houserules and mechanics ideas that you should codify them into a ruleset or a retroclone.  Vanity project slash fantasy heartbreaker slash no one is ever going to use this.)

(I just wanted to get that off my chest before I typed anything else.)

So here are my ideas for my very own ruleset.  I have typed up some design goals.  I want my ruleset to be:

Compatible. There are a lot of excellent modules out there, from TSR to OSR.  I want to be able to use those without any conversion.  It should also be modular enough that other people's houserules/retroclones can be applied with minimal/no tweaking.

Self-limiting. I want diminishing returns in all things. Other editions have had HP, attack bonuses, and damage that could scale indefinitely.  I want diminishing returns (and I even wrote an article about it).  HP should start to taper off early.  Then skill increases should begin to taper off.  Then attacks.  I want this because I want level 1 characters to stand beside level 9 characters and still be able to contribute, and I want level 8 characters to still fear 1 HD goblins.

Minimal. Whenever possible, consolidate 2 rolls into 1 roll. Whenever possible, adjudicate 1 roll into no rolls at all.  Complicated tables can often be simplified into progressions, which can often be simplified into formulas.  Spend less time fiddling with modifiers and rules, so that more time can be spent playing.

Simple. Rules should be easy to learn and use.  Steep learning curves are one of the biggest challenges facing tabletop RPGs, since they are such a huge barrier for potential players.  A simple game is easier it becomes to introduce it to new players and/or suggest it on family board game night (and even simple rules can offer tactical complexity and meaningful choices).  The game can only happen once the rules get out of the way.  And I say that as a person who fucking loves thinking about mechanics.

I typed up a character sheet.

Take a look at it, so I can start walking you through the ways it's different from B/X D&D.  I'll go right down the list.

Level is pretty much as you know it.  It is divorced from HD, though.  Level 1 characters have 1d6 HD.  Level 2 = 2 HD.  Level 3 = 3 HD.  But after that, you only get +1 hp per level.  Level 4 = HD 3+1, etc.

HP is rerolled every level, and discarded if it is lower than current HP.  You might not think this makes much of a difference, but it gives some beautiful average curves.

With the right ability score to ability modifier table AND capping the HD at 3, there's a very nice moment at level three where you can stop saying "add your Con bonus to every HD" and start saying "every point of Con higher than 10 adds to your HP, every point of Con below 10 subtracts from it" and it is exactly the same thing.  It just seems more granular, you know?  Every point of Con matters more, not just the ability bonus break points.  Every point of Con corresponds to +1 HP.  (This doesn't work if you use 3d6 for ability scores, only 4d4.  Weird, huh?)

Templates revolve around the idea that races and classes are just templates that are applied to the Basic Adventurer.  You can't be a Basic Adventurer (unless you're doing some level 0 bullshit), but it's what everyone is built from.  The Basic Adventurer gets 1d6 HP per HD, a +1 increase to attack every 2 levels (up to +4), and a save that increases by 1 point every level up to a maximum, similar to S&W.  And then templates just build off of that, by adding or subtracting stuff.

You get 2 templates at level 1, up to a maximum of 4 templates at level 3, at which point your PC is considered "full grown" and "totally badass".  Templates are measured as 25, 50, etc, which you can think of as percents.  If you see "Fighter 100", it means that the character is 100% fighter (and is at least level 3).  A 1st level fighter will read "Fighter 50".

I figure this choose-4-templates-as-you-level up thing will (a) give players a chance to "multiclass" from level one (if they want to be a Fighter 25 / Cleric 25), (b) make multiclassing (and monoclassing) dirt simple, and (c) some character concepts are easily expressed via multiclassing, so you could make a Thief 50 / Magic-User 50 and call it a Bard, and give it an appropriate spell-list.  Easy.

AC is ascending, has a base of 10 and a soft (non-magical) cap at 18, like god intended.

Injuries are cool.  Instead of dying at 0 HP, I just roll on the Big Table of Fun Ways To Probably Not Die (using subzero damage as a modifier) to see if you lose a hand or begin bleeding out.  Also on this table: instant death.

Save is also ascending and uses a roll-under mechanic, like making a stat check.  It's calculated from 5+level+Charisma bonus, because I figure Charisma also a measure of how much heroic chutzpah you have, and how much destiny wants to keep you alive.  But more on this later.

Ability Scores are rolled using 4d4.  Compared to 3d6, the average is 0.5 lower, and the spread is a bit narrower.  I think this is a good thing, because I intend to use a lot of roll-under ability checks, and an average success rate of 50% is marvelous, and important enough that I don't want to see any characters with 17s or 18s at level 1 (since 85% and 90% success rates seem excessive, don't they?).

I also think that ability checks should be used more, and saves a bit less, perhaps.  Use Con checks for drinking contests, use Int for seeing through illusions, those sorts of things.  Save the saves for important things, life-or-death-or-dragonbreath things.

Movement is something you've already seen.  It's based on race.  Humans have a Movement of 12+Dex, which is pretty analogous to the 12' you've seen listed as the base speed elsewhere.

Initiative is equal to your Wisdom score.  Whenever you are in combat and try to do something before a bad guy, try to roll under your Initiative.  Can you cast a spell before the orc gives you the chop?  Can you jump off the boat before the kraken grabs you?  I am using Wisdom instead of Dexterity because (a) I think Dexterity is an overloaded stat, and (b) acting before your opponent in a fight isn't necessarily about how fast you can swing your arm, but rather how fast you can think, react, anticipate, predict.  And that's the advantage the fighter with high Wisdom has.

Stealth is equal to half of your Dexterity score.  You try to roll-under it whenever you want to sneak up on someone.  I like this because I think that people will be more tempted to try sneaking around if they have it written on their sheet, instead of it being the expected purview of the Thief.

EVERYTHING USES ROLL-UNDER (except attack rolls and opposed stat checks, probably)
Saves, ability checks, movement, initiative, stealth, even AC can be used as a roll-under check.  Bonuses can be applied universally (Oh, you're cursed?  That's a -4 to all of your roll-under checks for today).  

You're probably already familiar with using ability checks to figure out if the PC can do some basic action.  But have you ever tried using these phrases when you're DMing?

"Roll under your Movement to see if you can get through the porticullis in time."

"So you're firing your arrow?  Roll under your Initiative to see if you can fire an arrow in the charging orcs eye before he reaches you."

"The great rosebeast opens it's bloom and sprays a cone of thorns at you.  Roll under your AC to see if you are hit."

(If you are raising your eyebrow at this last one, consider that asking someone to roll-under-or-equal to their AC to avoid an attack has the exact same odds as an anemic goblin attacking them with a -1 to his d20 roll.  If you say "roll under your AC with a -4 penalty", that's the exact same thing as a giant badger attacking with a +3 bonus.  Just think about the pros and cons and exoticism of this for a minute, okay?)

And the other great thing about using a lot of roll-under mechanics is that players can immediately look at their character sheet and calculate their odds of success.  If they see Stealth 9, then they know that they have a 45% chance to sneak up on the bastard.  Save 12 = 60% chance of success.

Compare to that +3 on your attack roll versus an AC of 15, what are the odds there?

Need to roll a 12 to hit, so that's 7-8-9 numbers on the die that will hit, so that. . . 45% chance of success.

Using roll-unders lets players see at a glance their odds, which helps them evaluate the situation and better informed decisions.

Inventory is measured in Inventory Slots.  You have a number of Inventory Slots equal to your Strength score, and a single Inventory Slot can hold something like a sword or three days rations.  You can exceed your Inventory Slots, but every item in excess gives you -1 to Movement. The number of items that you can immediately access is limited by half of your Dexterity score.  I wrote a whole post about this here.

There are a few caveats, like armor takes up a number of slots equal to its AC bonus.  So a wizard with 6 Str technically can put on that full plate (+6 AC), but anything beyond that (even a spellbook) is going to begin slowing him down tremendously.

Skills are measured in Skill Slots.  You have a number of Skill Slots equal to your Intelligence score.  Skill slots can hold more than just skills.  They can also hold the bonus languages you know, any weird techniques you've learned in strange places (like Kung Fu), or spells outside of your school (if you are a wizard).  Wizards who have 17 Int can pick up plenty of damn skills, languages, and exotic spells, but the barbarian with 5 Int will have to be a lot more choosy.  Does the barbarian want to learn how to speak Orcish, how to sail a ship, or how to throw his axe 100' with melee-level accuracy?

There is a strict philosophy of "Skills should not be useful in combat.  Use ability checks for that."  I don't want people choosing skills based on what they think will be most useful.  Climbing walls, stabilizing a dying comrade, sneaking up on a hill giant, etc, should all be ability score (or Stealth) checks.  Skills are by definition things that aren't directly combat-useful, so, because of their diminished importance, players will (hopefully) be encouraged to take skills like Dancing and Carpentry.  (Getting two random skills at level 1 will also help this, I hope.)

There is no skill list (although I still bet "Pick Lock" and "Forest Survival" will be popular choices).  There are no social skills.  Use roleplaying and Charisma checks for those.  (You don't have to talk in a funny voice, just tell the DM what sort of things you say to the dragon.)  It's trivially easy to pick up a new skill at Rank 1, just attempt it 3 times over the course of an adventure and then write it down when you get back to town/finish the adventure.

Skills are rated on a d20-roll-under system, like nearly everything else.  Marvelous.  It's actually a refined version of what I wrote down here.

This will be controversial: skills are not tied to level.  Skills are limited by level, in the sense that you cannot raise any skills to the maximum level until you are at least level 6.  Instead, you raise skills by using them at least three times, then you have a chance to improve them during downtime (similar to how BRP does skills).  The chance is diminishing, so you will have to be very lucky to max out a skill, even at level 6.  You might not be able to max it out until level 12 or something.  Maybe you'll max out Dancing before you max out Surgery.  Ha, just like real life.

And because there's no limit to how many skills you can test (and raise) per level, there is an incentive to use all of your skills all of the time.  I know you grognards are used to finding ways to extract a tactical advantage from commonplace things (like buckets of lard), but I think this sort of thing will really help neophytes pick up the "use fucking everything on your character sheet to eke out an advantage" philosophy.

MP is used to prepare spells, then the actual casting of the spell is "free".  It's pretty much the same thing that I wrote down here.  It's still Vancian magic (and is virtually indistinguishable for the first few levels), but it has the advantage of being (a) more flexible, and (b) way easier to teach to newbies, probably.

I also want to stop the whole quadratic wizard thing by tying spell effects to "what level you prepare this spell at" instead of "what level wizard are you".  If you want to cast a bigger fireball, prepare it as a level 4 spell instead.

This is probably the part of my kludge that is least compatible with OSR retroclone D&D.  I will meditate on it.

FP is Faith Points, and its what clerics use instead of MP.  I intend to differentiate it in a few different ways, like (a) clerics get more FP than wizards get MP, (b) prayers are less reliable than spells, since they might be ignored, and (c) you cast from a list of known miracles, instead of having to prepare spells ahead of time.

Other weird shit that I might include: I have no problem with wizards wearing armor (since armor has a bunch of drawbacks anyway, and fuck your tropes, because players will probably dress their wizard in robes anyway), people in platemail should automatically sink if they fall in water, wizards should all be forced to choose a sub-school like Necromancer, Illusionist, Elementalist, etc.  Similarly, clerics should have to choose a god.  And those choices should matter, gul-blangit!

Necromancers should have to spend a skill slot if they want to learn spells from the school of illusion.  Clerics of the water god should have a reduced chance of success if they pray for a flamestrike.

Anyway, aside from those small blasphemies, it's pretty much the same D&D you know and love.

Here's a sample of a finished character sheet, for a level 1 dwarven fighter.

I am now open for comments.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Golems in Centerra

look reeeaaaally closely at this picture
Golems are not made by wizards, but by powerful members of the clergy.  Unlike most divine magic, which seems mostly to be a function of faith and intent, golems (and runes) depend on years of study and intelligent application.

Closely related to divine runes, the process of enactuation (making a golem) is a complex process that depends on the logical arrangement and interaction of words, especially word squares, but also involving ambigrams, word ladders, and anagrams.  Clerical golem-smiths must take a lot of astrology and numerology into account as well, so it's not as simple a matter as copying one word square from one golem to another.

Since every golem is different (time, material, auspices), each golem's glyph-square is unique, since it must account for different mathematical influences.  Each glyph-square includes one of the secret names of God, as well as appropriate words, like "LIFE" or "TOIL".  If even a single letter of the glpyh-square is erased or damaged, the golem becomes de-animates, reverting to a hunk of material.  It's also possible to subvert a square-glyph by changing some of the letters (with the most common result being an insane golem that only destroys stuff).

Each glyph-square is somewhere on the golem's body.  Traditionally on the forehead, but this makes it visible and vulnerable.  Sometimes they are put inside the mouth, behind a (worn) cloth belt or scarf, the palm of a hand, or on the underside of a foot.

The process of manufacturing a golem takes years (or months, with a large team of experts)

True necromancy is a type of magic that involves arcane manipulations of life and death.  The creation of undead is closer to the creation of a golem, and involves carving glyphs into the corpse.  Practical necromancers will study both arts.

Nearly all golems made today are made by the Church, and it's actually considered blasphemous for anyone else to construct one.  Most wizards wouldn't know where to begin (except necromancers, because reanimation is much easier than de novo animation).  There are still plenty of old golems mouldering away in tombs, however, many of which predate the Church's knowledge and sometimes all of known history, as well.  In the pagan territories, some golem-making traditions continue, such as the clay serpents in Basharna, the undead mammoths in the South, golem-boats called Zuddha in Westerlon, velveteens* from the Armenjero Empire, and grassies in Abasinia.

*Velveteens are plush animal golems that are "programmed" to play with children.  Each one is worth a fortune, even if it is covered in blood (since nobles pay so much for them, people are willing to kill for them).  Despite the name, the Armenjero Empire is a tiny city-state with no authority beyond a few square miles and an entire economy based on gambling and entertainment.  It was won from the magocracy of Meltheria as the result of a bet, and is protected by the same.  (Although the magocracy technically follows the Church, the clergy have little power there).


Certain paladins allow themselves to be entombed inside of a golem.  This grants them longevity and the strength (and weaknesses) of a golem, but at the expense of their own humanity.  Large contigents of paladins are usually accompanied by a golemlord, striding along in an 9' tall body of armored alabaster.

The process involves welding, molten ceramics, and a fair bit of necromancy.  (Necromany isn't a sin when the church doesn't.  Or, more fairly, heremancy is the subset of magic that is considered sinful, which has a large-but-incomplete overlap with necromancy).

Golem Knights

The Church in Asria is weirder and slightly more secular (or at least, less dogmatic and more practical).  Similarly, they have given up the practice of creating golemlords in favor of a more reversible solution.

Golem knights are knights who have had their heads detached and attached to a golem.  This is similar to the golemlords, except that the practice is (a) modular, and the golem knights can switch their heads around onto different bodies, (b) reversible, and their head can be returned safely to their original body (as long as the body is undamaged and they never, ever remove their holy scarves), and (c) potentially more unstable.

By instability, I mean that golem knights have a tendency to go insane.  This risk is mitigated by using younger knights.  Because the body will no longer grow nor age as soon as it is put into stasis, the Church is Asria tends to recruit from volunteers in their late teens.  

So if you are ever in Coramont, and see a head being carried around in a "birdcage" by chanting monks, do not be alarmed.

If you ever see a man with a blue scarf, who has an old man's face but hands as smooth as a teenagers, think nothing of it.

And since the Church in Asria doesn't hold the anthroform body in the same regard as, do not be alarmed if some of the Golem Knights have ten legs, wheels, or ballistas for arms.


There is some evidence to suggest that golems, even those carved out of common street-mud, are both sentient and highly intelligent.  The fact that golems lack organs for speech, coupled with the fact that they have severe restrictions put on both their actions and their thoughts prevents them from communicating with us.

It's analogous to a human who has been bound under powerful enchantments to spend all of their waking hours sweeping the paths around the monastery, and to take no other action, nor to even respond to any stimulus except those relevant to sweeping paths.

A golem can be highly intelligent, but never evince that intelligence because of how singular their task is defined.  (And every golem is defined with a task.  A golem without a task is an inanimate object.)

Golem psychologists ply their art through the use of the read minds spell.  Although golems never have any "surface thoughts", it has been reported that their subconscious is teeming with a rich inner life, as subtle and diverse as any humans.  Many of them are muddled, confused, or depressed, even though they have no way of communicating that, or even the ability to articulate those emotions into coherent thoughts.

Small wonder then, that golems usually go berserk when their enchantments fail.  Small wonder, that necromancers sometimes wake to see their "mindless" zombies gathered around their bed, staring at them with hate-filled faces.

Laypersons and wizards are fond of claiming that there has never been a sentient golem, when the truth might just be that we've never had a sentient golem capable of behaving differently from a non-sentient one.

Although the serylites would disagree.

Further Reading:
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
A Twentieth-Century Homunculus by David H. Keller

Mystical Pokebeast Integration

For +Richard Grenville

Okay, you probably don't need a pokemon generator (just roll a d719), but I want to write something anyway.  (Actually, you could probably just roll a d719 and then look up whichever episode featured it.)

This generator has two parts:  The first part generates a pokemon, the second part generates poke-plot surrounding a new area.

let's play Name That Pokemon!

50% chance that it has a second type.  If so, roll 2x.
  1. Normal
  2. Fire
  3. Fighting
  4. Flying
  5. Poison
  6. Ground
  7. Rock
  8. Bug
  9. Ghost
  10. Steel
  11. Water
  12. Grass
  13. Electric
  14. Psychic
  15. Ice 
  16. Dragon
  17. Dark 
  18. Fairy
  19. Slime???
  20. Water, again
Body Plan:
Either think of something psuedo-appropriate, pull up a random animal combination from here, or roll a d20 on this table.
  1. Feline (or small mammal)
  2. Canine (or large mammal)
  3. Rodent
  4. Song bird
  5. Bird of prey
  6. Snake
  7. Human-shape (think Power Rangers)
  8. Child-shape (or maybe just a floating head-thing)
  9. Abstract Angular (think porygon)
  10. Tentacular
  11. Leggy
  12. Army
  13. Dinosaur
  14. Abstract Soft (think solosis)
  15. Inanimate Object (manmade)
  16. Inanimate Object (natural)
  17. Mythological Rip-off
  18. Arthropod
  19. Reptile
  20. Bird
mankey + primeape
Other Trait:
  1. Fat
  2. Skinny
  3. Super Big
  4. Super Small
  5. Intelligent
  6. Mischievous or Malicious or Angry
  7. Beautiful
  8. They all have a specific personality (roll on an NPC trait table).
  9. Huge swarms of them
  10. Breaks physics
  11. Symbiotic with another pokemon
  12. Muscular
Give your pokemon 2-3 abilities (50% chance of each).  Either roll on a random spell table or use this thing to generate some pokemon moves:  Might I recommend 1 spell and 1-2 metronome moves?

In game, pokemon can only ever learn 4 moves, so perhaps it is good to leave some room, hmm?

i can only assume this is a graveler + geodudes


The coolest part of playing a pokemon game is getting to a new area and finding out what kind of pokemon they have there.  Whenever you get to a new area, there will be one type of pokemon that you totally expect, so if you visit a volcano, of course there's going to be a fire pokemon (with a 50% chance that it has a secondary typing as well).  So in addition to the Expected Pokemon, you gotta roll to see how many other pokemon there are in this area.  These Additional Pokemon will be rolled randomly, on the above table.
  1. +1 normal pokemon, +1 legendary pokemon with UBER MOVES AND STATS
  2. +1 normal pokemon
  3. +1 normal pokemon
  4. +2 normal pokemon
  5. +2 normal pokemon
  6. +3 normal pokemon
So when you're finished, the area will have 2-4 normal, catchable pokemon, and a 1/6 chance that there is a hidden, legendary pokemon that is hiding in a well somewhere and will probably TPK you if you glance in its direction.

your mom


The coolest part of the pokemon anime is that there is always a pokemon related plot afoot whenever you get to a new town, or some sort of mystical beast with IQ 300 pulling a plow or some bullshit.

We need to see what the poke-plot is for this fucking village.

First, we need to roll and see which pokemon is part of the pokeplot.
  1. Some travelling trainer is using a pokemon.  Roll a new pokemon, then see table ZORP.
  2. Some entrenched poke-institution is using a pokemon.  Roll a new pokemon, then see table QUARF.
  3. The Expected Pokemon is being used in a generic way.  See table DEGENERES.
  4. The Expected Pokemon is being used in a specific way.  See table SPACKLE.
  5. The first Additional Pokemon you rolled is being used in a generic way.  DEGENERES.
  6. The first Additional Pokemon you rolled is being used in a specific way.  SPACKLE.
Now just roll on whatever table I just told you roll on.  Don't even read this sentence.


ZORP - Pokemon Trainer
  1. Trainer will not let you enter the area unless you can beat him.  50% chance he is being cruel to his pokemon, independent 50% chance that he'll follow you to the next village.
  2. Trainer wants to trade.
  3. Your rival is here.  If you don't already have a rival, you will meet your rival in this town.  He's just like you, except better.  (This can be the rival to an individual PC, or if you're feeling ambitious, there can be an entire rival adventuring party.)  The rival will show up, verbally abuse you, and then challenge you in a friendly way.  You probably can't kill him because he's a prince or something.  Make something up.
  4. Someone is using pokemon to commit crimes in the area!!??? who could it be?  They're probably just stealing pokemon (ripping spirits out of people's heads?) but they might also be committing some stone-cold murder.
  5. Trainer has gone into dangerous area and has not returned.  Friend wants you to go in there and retrieve him.  Dangerous areas with precedents: crystal cavern, burned out building, weird tunnel dug by pokemon, freakishly magnetic mountain, sea cave filled with whirlpools, meteorite-impacted mountain, forest filled with mushrooms and spirits.
  6. Something weird.  Roll a d6: 1 - trainer is possessed by his ghost pokemon, 2 - trainer is fleeing with a stolen pokemon, 3 - trainer must go to great lengths to save his pokemon's life, 4 - pokepoliceman is pursing a criminal, 4 - trainer from a distant land is wreaking havoc with his cultural ignorance, 5 - trainer has died in suspicious, public circumstances, 6 - trainer is researching something that should not be researched
jigglypuff?  is that you?

QUARF - Pokemon Institution
  1. Gym Leader will give you a boon if you overcome the trials inside and then best the leader.  Pokemon gyms have gotten weirder in the last few games, and usually involve some sort of puzzle, and always involve some combat.  Giant spiderwebs, lightless mazes, moving dragon statues, etc.  In a more primitive game, you probably want something more topical.  Tea plantation maze full of plant monsters?  Sunken, waterproof ship accessed via tunnel?  Gym leaders always give you three thing.  (1) enhance some stat of all of your pokemon by some tiny, ultimately trivial amount, (2) give you a badge, so that higher level pokemon will obey you, (3) and give you a TM, so you can teach a new move to one of your pokemon.  Honestly, the only thing worth getting excited about is the TM.  In an OSR game, a TM could be replaced with the gym leader teaching you kung-fu, how to walk through walls, or grow a prehensile tongue.  Alternatively, you could just add an ability to one of your pokemon, but whatever.
  2. Museum of pokemon, 50% they have the ability to resurrect pokemon from fossils.  (Depending on the ruleset, you may want to extend this into sort of a pokemon-temple, where pokemon can be resurrected).
  3. some sort of non-violent pokemon competition.  dancing contests, beauty contests, eating contests.
  4. Pokemon breeding / daycare.  Either way, pokesex.  Can be a literal day care run by two old people who have NO IDEA WHAT SEX IS or some sort of mystical ley-crossroads where chimeras mix their bloodlines.
  5. Shopping hub that specializes in pokemon stuff.  50% chance that there is a huge gambling den adjunct.
  6. Something weird.  Roll a d6: 1 - villagers are pokemon in disguise, 2 - pokemon training academy with a 50% chance that it's some sort of trap, 3 - secret castle/ship where bourgeois trainer-nobles do battle with gold-encrusted pokemon,  4 - haunted pokemon cemetery, 5 - pokemon storage system that can send and retrieve pokemon from around the world via technology, so I guess he can store extra pokemon for you if you catch more than your limit, and establish some method of switching pokemon around, 6 - insane professor gives pokemon to children and tasks them to travel the world documenting pokemon, no reason why he shouldn't give PCs the same opportunity.
holy shit cofagrigus

DEGENERES - Generic pokemon
  1. oh noes a bunch of these pokemon are attacking the town!  Surely there's something that's causing this.  Surely you don't have to kill all of them.
  2. oh noes all of these pokemon are interfering with daily living in a humorous way.  what could be causing this?
  3. oh noes all of these pokemon have been taken over by their biologies and won't stop mating/migrating/stampeding/burrowing/sporulating
  4. the pokemon are weaponizing, or at least forming into a warband around a charismatic leader
  5. the pokemon are all dying OR are getting trapped somehow.
  6. oh noes all of these pokemon are being killed/captured by a single person/group with ignoble intentions
  7. weird pokemon interaction: d3: 1 - pokemon have adopted a human as one of their own, 2 - are returning from myth and upsetting the natural balance, 3 - have been artificially created
  8. another weird pokemon interaction: d4: 1 - are invading people's homes with strange intent, 2 - are building/chipping away at a certain structure, 3 - have completely destroyed the natives/invaders and then just-as-suddenly returned to their peaceful ways, 4 - are only present as fossils
SPACKLE - Specific plot
  1. pokemon are being exploited en masse as weapons.  This has to do with their Type.
  2. pokemon are being exploited en masse as non-violent tools.  This has to do with their Type.
  3. pokemon are being exploited en masse as spiritual guidance.  This has to do with their Type.
  4. pokemon's Type has greatly impacted a Certain Human Activity in the area for the worse/weirder.
  5. people have bonded so closely with their pokemon that they have begun to take on their Type, or at least have started living in imitation of Their Favorite Pokemon.
  6. Pokemon is not actually available (possibly gone extinct), but has permanently changed the area, based on their Type
it's zubro!


So the PCs walk into a seaside village.  This place obviously has a water pokemon in it (the expected pokemon).  I'll roll on the Number of Pokemon Species in an Area table, and get +2 pokemon, for a total of 3 in the area.

Let's discover the first, water pokemon.  First I roll to see if it is mono-water Type or Water/something type.  (50% chance of each).  It's bi-typed, and the second type is Flying.  Water/Flying then.  I roll on the random animal mixer and get smelt-goose on my second click.  But that's stupid, so I decide to make it a very literal goose barnacle, that clings to side of ships, but turns into an attack goose when it's molested.  Great.

Then I roll for how many moves it's got.  2 moves.
Sleep spell - probably via yawning.
Pluck attack - similar to Peck, except it also eats any food the opponent has
I'll call it it CYGNACLE (water/flying type).

Roll up two more pokemon the same way.

HELICAN - Flying Type
hated pelican-demons that eat away bad children
people that try to stop them will be shat upon, while the bird flies away laughing
Protection from Good spell: this is obviously an evil fucking bird
Cotton Spore attack: it probably shits on you, working as either an web spell or making you automatically lose initiative
Rock Slide attack: probably just barfs rocks on you, or fish bones or children bones

GARGARFU - Dragon Type
look like chinese foo dogs crossed with chameleons
act like foo dogs crossed with chameleons crossed with wolverines
Blend spell - It has chameleon skin, so it can melt into the jungle
Thunder Fang attack - it's a bite that does +1d6 electrical damage, maybe
Psych Up attack - honestly, this is probably just barbarian rage

it's munna!

That wasn't so bad.  Now to roll up a plot.

4  + 6 = The Expected pokemon is not actually present, but it has permanently changed the area based on its type so, this sounds like there isn't a direct plot hook, but maybe something like:

All of the Cygnacles have been killed off as pests.  Vast graveyards of Cygnacle shells litter the bottoms of harbors and decorate tavern walls.  Because of this, the natural enemies of Cygnacles, Helicans, have proliferated, and the town is now covered with Helican shit.  It regularly rains fish bones and Helican bile.  At dusk, the Helicans call to each other as they circle overhead, but it mostly sounds like cruel chuckling.  A paladin has showed up, but has been at a loss for how to combat the birds (which sleep on the waves over the reefs).  A woman has begun trying to breed Cygnacles back into the ecosystem, but faces two obstacles from both (a) certain townspeople which continue to view the Cygnacles as pests (and will continue to do so, until they see an demonstration of how good Cygnacles can be at killing Helicans), and (b) the Helicans themselves, which will attempt to stop the woman from releasing the baby Cygnacles into the surf, because the Helicans are assholes.

i WISH this was a pokemon