Friday, May 31, 2013

Scarcity, Population, Maps, Shopping Trips and Item Quality.

This is less focused than I like to normally post, but here it is.


Session one, I show the PCs a piece of paper with a dot in one corner. This is a city. Closer to the city there are towns and villages and further out there are just villages. Even further out it's basically just outposts, a few villages along the border and the like. I don't know how many, we've not been there yet.

So, let's pick a town and a village, where are they?

Let's make some character thumbnails, three each (including the me, the GM), and they'll be from either the village or the town. Now, everyone creates a single character based on one of those thumbnails, etc, etc.

You'll likely start play in whichever of the two locations is further out from civilization.

In the next session, I'll have  hexmap of the immediate environs sorted out (thanks, Welsh Piper!), but we don't need to worry about that yet.


When I say "settlement" I mean, "a place with some kind of at least semi-permanent structure and people living in it," which can mean a whole slew of things.

Assuming the GM knows about as much about a settlement as the players, there are some immediate questions about what the place looks like.

You could rely on the Pathfinder SRD for Settlement size or you could just pull stuff largely out of your ass, which is what I like to do, because I'm much less concerned with how many people there are in a given settlement than how many people it "feels like" are there. There are camps, outposts, villages, towns, forts and cities.

Camps have about 20 or fewer people and are hunter-gatherers/subsistence farmers, maybe a religious/political commune, maybe refugees, maybe a village in serious decline, maybe a hunting lodge or the like. (Reaction to adventurers: Neutral or Chaotic Needy)

Outposts have as few people as camps but maybe more (as many as a town in rare circumstance) and are dedicated to very specific tasks and are usually built in an ad hoc manner. The more common are military outposts, outposts for scientific or magical research and outposts dedicate to some kind of labor like quarrying, foresting, mining, etc. Research or labor outposts are often quite noisy. (Reaction to adventurers: Neutral Indifferent)

Villages have enough people to form some moderate degree of hierarchy and there is usually a religious leader, political leader, maybe a couple of trade specialists, while most people aren't living terribly far above subsistence farming. (Reaction to adventurers: Neutral Wary)

Forts include castles held by nobility, large military installations, and fortified wizardly or clerical enclaves. They likely have fewer people than a village and are highly idiosyncratic. Usually have a single reliable point of access to trade. (Reaction to adventurers: Neutral Wary or Indifferent, unless the head honcho of the fort is a total dick, in which case, AVOID)

Towns have plenty of hierarchy  likely multiple religions, and some bureaucracy, possibly taxes/levees, etc. There are likely lower, middle and upper classes here. To survive as such, a town has to be associated with some nearby farming villages and communities and are often intermediaries between food sources and cities; accordingly, Towns are always central to the maintenance of trade routes. Most towns have walls, somewhere, though they may have long grown beyond their walls. (Reaction to adventurers: Neutral Disgusted)

Cities are large, with a much greater distance between the upper classes and the rest of the citizenry. The bureaucracy is bloated and byzantine, taxes are often oppressive and arbitrary, and there are usually a whole lot of really poor people. Cities may or may not be walled and any such defensive structures are probably out of date and in disrepair. Cities are generally well-positioned near large, reliable food sources - usually there are a lot of farms nearby and/or they're on the water. (Reaction to adventurers: Neutral Unreliable or Dangerous)

Camps, outposts, villages and forts are all likely built largely out of ambient material (if near a forest, wood; grasslands, likely poor quality brick; near stones, likely piled rock). Forts and outposts may have central structures built with more modern, refined materials, but these are likely in disrepair and decay if the settlement has been around for long.

Villagers, and possibly some townsfolk that deal in livestock, likely share their sleeping quarters with their animals.

Towns might have cobbled streets and Cities almost always do, but anything smaller is usually just dirt roads and mud (and of course, excrement and rotting food). Towns might have a sewer and Cities almost always do, but, of course because dungeons and monsters are metastatic and virulent, the sewer is likely a haven of Old One trans-dimensional spider monsters or chaos cultists or punk priests or vampire gangs. Similarly, as trade routes are cut off by war, dungeon or monster incursion or other natural disasters, towns, villages and even cities contract and die off, ceding the remaining edifice to dungeons and monsters.

Really new settlements may stink of the building materials (sap, sawdust, mud, dust). And most have that delightful beast of burden smell. Likely everything larger than a village smells a bit like a latrine (including Forts). In towns and cities, the poor likely like in the oldest, crummiest buildings, likely closest to areas of employment and lowest to sea level.

It's always safe to assume that there is a place to stay. If you've got enough valuable stuff (more on that in a second), the locals might even offer you their beds while they go bunk outside or with the neighbors. It's not always safe to assume that they've got stuff you need or can afford to give you money for what you want to sell.


The B/X equipment list has like twenty things on it. Here is my take on it:

1. Portable containers (Backpacks, large sacks, small sacks, drinking skins)
2. Food (Standard Rations, Meals)
3. Small Hammer
4. Wooden Pole (10')
5. Wine/water/beer (quart)
6. Torches (6)

7. Tinder Box
8. Rope (50' length)

9. Flask of Oil
10. Iron Rations
11. Lantern
12. Mirror

13. Thieves' Tools
14. Holy Symbol
15. Vial of Holy Water 
16. Specialty items (herbs, medicinal potions, or anything else not included in the above)

Camps and Outposts at any given time have d6 of items 1-6 for sale and they likely can't buy much of anything off of you (or even barter). You likely aren't buying from a store, but a quartermaster or foreperson who likely has none of the items to sell you, but has to buy them off the locals herself. You can get one of 7-12 by successfully begging and rolling d6-1 for quality. They've got about 50 gp on hand.

Treat wandering salespersons, swamp-witches and members of less reputable guilds as having d3 of items 1-6 for sale, but they don't "use up" what they've got for sale and they likely have d2 of a single uncommon item for sale (roll d10+6 and consult the above). You can probably get items 7-12 by successfully begging and rolling d6-2 for quality. Alternatively, you might get a magical (ahem, cursed) item, depending on the vendor. They've got coins jewels, gems or jewelry worth about 200 gp squirreled away for exchange.

You ought to be able to find and buy anything from 1-16, however:

9-12 are available for sale in limited quantities (if you're in a Village, there's one of each, in a Town, d6). The shopkeep knows where you can get more, but you'll have to roll on the quality table (standard roll). You're probably buying Uncle Jed's lantern he's had for twenty years or a cracked and tarnished mirror his wife keeps.

13. Is always available from the local Guild and shopkeeps in more disreputable areas might have one or two "lying around." Of course, asking for them from people that aren't disreputable will prove problematic.

14-15. Are only available from religious institutions, but might be picked up at un-manned shrines (drop a donation in the box), or perhaps purchased from pious villagers (you'll likely need to convince them of your need and demonstrate your association with their deity).

16. Is unavailable in Villages and available in limited supplies in towns. Likely available outside of towns from a swamp-witch or half-man.

All the villagers could likely pool have 100-200 gp, but mostly in bartered goods (grain, etc). Town shops will be able to draw on letters of credit to pay you thousands of gold for stuff. No real concern there, though they're likely not interested in any single thing worth more than about 100 gp.

Work just like Camps and Outposts, but you can get items 1-8 and some uncommon items as a Wandering Salesperson. Might be able to get multiples of 13-16, depending on the nature of the fort, otherwise, there's one of 9-16 with a standard quality roll. Probably have a couple thousand gp to buy stuff off of you, but they're only interested in what they think is important.

Have everything and magical stuff too and you never need to worry about getting your stuff sold.

Note: Rogues in a Guild have access to fences. So long as they can get stuff back to a settlement, they can signal for an occult courier to take good to a fence. The fence takes 5% and the Guild another 15% of the sale.


I'm using B/X here again, but I think the breaking point is obvious.

A. If the settlement is a Camp, Outpost or Village and local law enforcement is a police body (likely the settlement is unwalled, agrarian and close to trade routes) then anything costing more than 25 gold (Crossbow, Long Bow, Silver dagger, Chain and Plate) just isn't for sale or maybe even to be had by less-than-legal means.

B. If the settlement is Camp, Outpost or Village and local law is generally more interested in defending the settlement than policing it or if the settlement is a Town or Fort (likely the settlement is walled, pseudo-military and further from trade routes or is a town), anything costing more than 25 gold is absolutely and totally unavailable for sale without rolling for quality. Even then, they've probably only got one to spare at any given time.

Have everything and things need not necessarily be subject to a quality roll.


A modified d6. You might be able to get a point in your favor if you're a particularly charming or convincing haggler but some places have better stuff than others...

1: Junk. No resell value. If you're playing with these encumbrance rules (part one, and part two), then this kind of stuff is the first thing that breaks. Likely negatively affects reaction rolls if the item is worn or carried regularly (write "Junk" on your character sheet, by your Charisma score)
2-4: Crummy. It works ok, but it looks terrible and is only worth a handful of coin (usually 1 gp for anything cheaper than 25 gp, and 10 gp for anything worth more). Might negatively affects reaction rolls if the item is worn or carried regularly (write "Crummy" on your character sheet by your Charisma score)
5: Well worn. Looks OK. You can re-sell it for half list price.
6: Good. Works like it should.

pictures: top is by (I think) Pablo Clark,  whoops, no, +Cédric Plante from Le Chaudron Chromatic, I can't remember/find who did the middle and LC picture by Gerald Parel

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Affordanaces and the OSR (& Joesky Tax)


Brendan describes Affordances here. It's highly interesting and I think he's right. As +Richard G notes, Affordances (gameable elements, elements in a text that can be used as/translate easily to elements of play at the table) are basically that old "crunch"/"fluff" thing.

What comes immediately to mind is that the people I like, respect and look up to as designers and people-who-think-about-rpgs-on-the-web often work to maximize the number of Affordances  in a given chunk of text while reducing or eliminating all together the non-Affordances.

For example, I'd suggest all of the below are meant to be pure Affordance:
A.  +Alex Schroeder's +One Page Dungeon Contest
B. +Jack Shear's use of pastiche in setting description (see Gothic Earth or any of his other settings [there's a free pdf of Gothic Earth on his blog, check the right-hand column])
C. Noisms's 25 word description of Yoon Suin
D. +Wayne Rossi's exegesis of Volume 3 of OD&D
E. +Jeff Rients's Encounter Critical for Star Wars (or nearly anything Jeff does)
F. Both +Brendan S and +Talysman the Ur-Beatle seem to actively endeavor to limit their posts to only Affordances or ideas about/for Affordances (their blogs are here and here, respectively).
G. +Zak Smith's whole "let's find good things in old modules" thing (AKA reviews) is basically looking for really good Affordances in the otherwise barren field of over-written, professionally produced D&D modules. 

D. is really an extended effort to demonstrate how much evocative stuff you can get out of a few mechanics and some tables without ever going into the usual setting book's wall of text (in other words: an argument for the power and elegance of an Affordance-heavy approach to design).


OK, I'm intentionally misapplying the tax here, but whatever.

1. Write down the main concept of the setting. Can't be more than five words.
2. List everything about the setting. Or maybe do like a web-looking brainstorm thing. Whatever. You need at least 23 ideas and each idea should be no more than a couple of words, but the ideas should be evocative and can be names of spells, general things, a monster, etc. Just write them all down.
3. Take the 23 best ideas, the ideas which are most evocative, interesting and which most closely cleave to your notion of the setting and write them down as a list, one thing on each line.
4. Number them 2-24.
5. Find a blank hexmap. Somewhere in there is the home hex. This is where play starts. Roll 2d12 and write down the number on that hex. That's whatever idea is operative here.
6. Each time the players hit a new hex, roll 2-24 again and assign accordingly.
7. Make several sublists from your 23 options for rolling wandering monsters, city encounters, wilderness encounters, what kind of dungeon it is, etc, etc. Obviously, most of these entries are not necessarily going to point to something obvious (you've rolled "Magic" on a city encounter, what does that actually mean? [Figure it out GM]).
It'll be tricky at first but as more and more gets filled in/figured out, it'll become easier.

Friday, May 24, 2013

What's a Hit Point?

This is a companion to this post about death, dying, critical hits and Wounds and this discussion has been raised a couple of times recently, so:


Fighters start with 6 Hit Points, Clerics and Rogues with 5 and Magic Users with 4. 

Fighters use a d8 Hit Die and everyone else uses a d6. 

From levels two through seven, upon level advance a Character's total HP is increased by rolling the appropriate HD and adding the result.

At level 8 and upon attaining any future levels, Fighters gain 2 HP and everyone else gains 1 HP.

(Monsters, in case you're interested, generally use a d8 Hit Die)


The word "heal" is used here to as in, "to make sound or whole" and not necessarily to indicate rectifying actual physical damage.

So long as you can take a breather, you get back 25% of your max HP. A breather is a few minutes of relatively unthreatened, unoccupied rest. (Like, if you run from some orcs, fight for a bit then retreat, bar the door and rest for a couple of minutes while the orcs hack down the door: everyone gets back 25% of their HP except for the orcs hacking down the door; if someone has to hold the door, everyone but the person holding the door and the orcs hacking it down get back Hit Points).

A good nights sleep gets you back 100% of your max HP (keeping in mind that being Wounded reduces your HP to 50% of its original amount and that being Wounded is pretty damn common).

In combat your options for healing are limited to magic, except when it comes to Hideous Wounds.

Hideous Wounds come with a risk of bleeding out (d6 HP loss a turn). Bleeding can be relieved by magical means (magical healing, regardless of how it's applied, stops bleeding), but also by simple triage:

Applying a tourniquet can be done in a round and lasts as d3+1 hours but cannot be re-applied.

Patching up a Wound takes 2d4+2 rounds and these patches generally stick around, logic of the situation permitting. 

Cure Light, Serious and Critical Wounds become Cure Wounds, Improved Cure Wounds and Greater Cure Wounds. Take a round to cast, require touch, and...

Cure Wounds

Grants an automatic save v poison for Wound recuperation and reduces convalescence by a week or it heals 1 HD+1 HP; always stops bleeding.

Improved Cure Wounds

Grants two automatic saves v poison for Wound recuperation and reduces convalescence by two weeks or it heals 2 HD+1 HPalways stops bleeding.

Greater Cure Wounds

Heals 1 Wound completely or heals 3HD+1 HP; always stops bleeding and mends bones.


I think of HP as the character's capacity to actively and intentionally forestall what would otherwise mean death. So a Hit Point is composed of a little bit of luck but is mostly evidence of superior endurance and previously gained combat experience (or experience points, in the case of characters past the first level). 

That's not to say that HP are purely probabilistic and not at all descriptive, just that they're probabilistic first and it's in that light that they ought to be considered descriptive. So, if a Character is struck by a knife and loses a third of its HP, that's exegetically probably a nasty but shallow slash; on the other hand, if a Character is struck by a knife and loses only an eighth of its HP, then it's likely just scratched or it got smacked in the face by the attackers elbow, etc, etc.

The cinematic application of HP loss could include: scrapes, bruises, a broken nose, black eyes, lost hair, a good bit of skin missing, loose or lost teeth, fingernails broken, a blow to the funny bone; and would not include: most broken bones, any serious wound, frostbite, major burns, large wounds, sucking wounds, or anything else that would represent actual impairment of the Character in their general role as ersatz hero, delver and murderhobo.

I see four consequences of this perspective:

1. At Character creation starting HP is awarded in a non-random way because I assume that a character of a certain Class has likely had a bit more or less experience or training in combat and other strenuous activities. OD&D models this in a similar way by giving Fighters HD+1 at level 1.

2. When a Character advances in level, they are handed a packet of new mechanical advantages. These advantages are directly tied to what sort of stuff the character, being of a Class, has been up to, both during the active parts of the game and during down-time. Fighters spend much of their time hauling the heavies stuff around, wearing the heaviest armor, carrying the heaviest weapons, spend more time trying to draw fire while also avoid immanent death  than anyone else (hopefully), and then spend their free time doing cardio, martial arts or the like. Accordingly, Fighters get a Hit Die one size larger than anyone else. As everyone else spends most of their time trying to be useful in a way that involves not carrying the heavy stuff, not trying to breaking down doors and not being in the middle of melee, they get the same d6 Hit Die.

3. Throughout play there are certain events and classes of damage for which Hit Points are an entirely unsuited metric of probable death. Instead, in these instances, death is highly certain regardless of Character combat experience and endurance; the only way to avoid death is by some kind of miraculous "save." So: saving throws. What precisely happens when a character makes a save is up the GM. My personal take is that they survive but come back suffering a Wound, usually as a direct result of what would have otherwise killed them. Wounds are what happen when the damage caused is so total, persistent or catastrophic that it cannot possibly be totally avoided or complete mitigated in a meaningful way.

4. HP is really easy to recharge because it's much less a descriptor of the condition of a character's body and much more a descriptor the character's capacity to actively and intentionally avoid dying.

Also: Mathematically, my HP advancement scheme works out such that, on average a level 7 character in my game has as much HP as a level 10 character of the same class in OD&D, but level 10 characters in both systems have nearly the same HP. I've found the early "artificial" increase in HP and increasing the Fighter HD size makes being Wounded interesting and not so burdensome that everyone wishes the Character would just die already, otherwise I would have just stuck with the OD&D HD advancement scheme.

picture: Kimitake Hiraoka/Yukio Mishima's St. Sebastian

Monday, May 20, 2013

Shinto-Doctor-Mushi-Shi Clerics for OD&D and B/X

(O)D&D's Cleric makes sense for (O)D&D, but it makes increasingly less sense outside of the euromedieval milieu. What if you've got a much more immanent and plural divine in your game world than in the euormedieval model and what if there really isn't much of a good/evil, law/chaos thing in your campaign?

Wandering Shinto-Doctor Class

d6 HD/level
Gear Restrictions
can wear leather armor without penalty
can use any weapon without penalty, but gunpowder weapons freak out your allies (-4 to Authority)
Attack Die
d6 attack die (I use damage based on class. If you don't like this, then just ignore it)
After Level One (XP/Level and Spell progression as B/X Cleric):
a. bonus to hit starts at one at 3rd level and increases by one at 5th, 7th and 9th level
b. one point training/bonus to two different skills (Advanced Medicine, Archaeology, Occult Knowledge, Paleontology,  or Survivalism) at 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th level

Special Abilities:
Can "cast" Cleric spells as per Cleric.
At level two, choose or seek out a supernatural ally (think: patron).
Local temples will be home to at least one oni/abdead/elemental/demon/yokai/kami; rural shrines and holy sites work as well. You'll probably have run into one or more during the ramp up to your second level. You can pick a new ally or gain an additional ally every time you gain access to a new spell level

For each ally, the player can suggest a monster type (outsider/abdead/elemental/demon/yokai) and a name if one or both aren't already known. GM gets the final call and some already known entities may not be willing to aid you.

Your ally gives you a charm, fang, hair, feather, tattoo, scar (physical, spiritual, psychological), vial of ecto(cyto?)plasm or vital fluids, bit of skin, finger, etc., etc. To "cast" a spell from the Cleric list, you  hold/touch/kiss/whatever the implement and invoke the will of your ally and they act through you. You'll work out what implement with your GM (suggest something if you want, otherwise the GM will make a suggestion). If you can't think of something right away, maybe come up with a vague placeholder and then fill in the blanks later.

Authority (replaces Turning)
Roll d20 + number of spells available yet to cast today - 4
Call on the authority of your allies and attempt to argue/plead/reason with one or more outsider/abdead/demon/oni/yokai as if you and it were on the same level. Discourse occurs in the pre-language spoken by all such creatures and is not properly telepathic or audible. Discourse is with the leader or leaders of the group (combine HD if more than one). If the roll results in a number equal to or greater than the total HD of the opposing side, they will "settle down," depart, or simply sit down, frustrated. Bonus points for making an argument the GM considers would be persuasive to the opposing side. Takes a d3+1 rounds to complete conversation. No limit on uses. Lesser beings will likely follow the lead of their more powerful cohort, but not always. Can always be used to communicate with these kinds of creatures, if not sway them. Can occasionally be used to read pre-language scrolls, maps, puzzle glyphs, and the like. Higher beings (not the garden variety kami) are likely reachable by Commune only and attempts to use Authority on them will immediately fail (your allies know better, even if you don't).


Cleric spells are limited by the particular ally type, as determined by GM, but a general guideline might be:

elemental allies grant access to resist cold, light, resist fire, continual light, create water, create food, striking, quest, commune
outsider/demon/oni/yokai allies grant access to cure spells (inc diseases), protection from... spells, remove fear, Bless, speak with animals, remove curse, Dispel Evil and Raise Dead and all their related opposites; also, quest and commune
abdead allies would grant "medium tapping the underworld"-type magic: detect spells, protection from..., know alignment, find traps, silence, snake charm, locate object, growth of animals, speak with plants, sticks to snakes, commune, insect plague, quest and raise dead.

Outsider/demon/oni/yokai are likely the most commonly encountered divine being/kami/potential supernatural ally followed closely by the elemental allies and then, least common by far, are abdead allies, which are likely  super-undead (the ghost of a demilich, the corporate spirit of the many generations of dead of a village, the ancestors of the God-emperor, the spirit of a long forgotten but powerful kami).

If you use this rule, I've found it's best to also not require the player to pick for which spells their character has prayed and instead treat Cleric casting and Sorcerer casting (spontaneous use of "spell slots").

(I'll save how I have protection and alignment work sans good/evil, law/chaos for another post).

painting by Rozefire.

Critical Hits, Weapon Types and Wounds


If a player or GM rolls exceedingly well to hit, the attack is a Critical Hit (as adjudicated by your particular rules, but I like a 5-10% chance for most characters, maybe higher for certain monsters). 

Critical Hits are a big deal, so tell everyone at the table when you roll one and tell the GM what weapon you're using, if it's not already clear. 

Some Critical Hits Cause Damage or Debilitate the Target
Being subject to a critical hit from ...
Smaller bladed weapons  (daggers, short swords, stilettos, punch knives, claws, icepicks), and Claw and Bite attacks from normal or small enemies are Frenzied Stabbing/Biting/Clawing attacks (attacker rolls damage as normal, but adds an additional damage die* to the roll as it stabs/bites/claws like a maniac); and
Whips and the like Trip Up the victim (victim falls over, spins around, stumbles, is disoriented, can't move its next turn, is pulled towards the attacker; if attacker is player-controlled, player describes how this might happen and GM determines if it is so or happens differently);

Some Critical Hits Cause Wounds
Being subject to a Critical Hit from certain weapons earns you a Wound. There are Wounds, and then there are also Crushing Wounds and Hideous Wounds which are just special types of Wounds. If you want, just delete "Hideous" and "Crushing" from the below. I like the granularity, but that's me.

Critical hits with...
Edged/Piercing/Slashing/Claw/Bite attacks cause Hideous Wounds;
Bludgeoning/Crushing/Fist attacks cause Crushing Wounds;
Claws, Bites and Most other melee attacks from very large (think dragon, dinosaur, etc) creatures cause two Wounds and are therefore insta-death;
Flails, Maces and the like cause Crushing Wounds;
Lances are awkward to use on foot but as a mounted attack can cause Crushing Wounds.

Hitting or passing 0 hp means you're dying. Save or die. Successfully saving earns you a Wound and however much HP would bring you to 1 HP.

An Otherwise Lethal Situation
Getting hit by a very large dragon's bite attack, a giant's club, fallking rocks, lava, potent acid are all save or die situations. Succesfully saving means you've made it but with a Wound.


So it didn't kill you, but you're all messed up: you've got a Wound. You've either got a Wound from a Critical Hit or from nearly dying. In either case, before describing the affects of the hit, the GM should roll a d6 and consult the below to determine Wound location.

Wound is to...
1-2 Torso
3-4 Arms
5 Legs
6 Head

With the above adjusted to account for target, attacker size and the general logic of the situation. (Like: the likelihood of Arms and Legs are switched if the attacker is really small or the target is really tall and even bigger discrepancies increasing the likelihood of Wounds to one area or another correspondingly)

Wounds are terrible, horrific, debilitating, scarring injuries. They require care and attention right away and then again in the coming weeks lest they become fatal.

If Wounded, your max hp is immediately decreased by 50%. Two Wounds mean automatic death, no save. You can't heal hp beyond your max hp and any HP currently beyond the max is lost.

Wounds take a long time to heal "naturally" (I use three weeks, but whatever is sufficiently long to last beyond the current session).  Every week (or every third of the chosen healing time) make a save v poison. Fail once and you're infected. Fail twice and you're diseased. Fail three times and you're dead, no other save. Ambient grossness affects Wounds too. So, wading through a swamp with a huge gash down your thigh is probably going to lead to some bad stuff (likely you get an automatic fail for that week's save). Bed rest and light activity will help you along nicely, and medical attention might get you an automatic save. Resting in town, unthreatened, with occasional medical attention is almost certainly an automatic save.

If a Wound is Hideous it leaves a horrendous mark, no matter what. You're losing a chunk of flesh, a nose, an eye, a hand. Player should consider how the Wound was earned and then suggest what's been lost. Hideous Wounds have to be bound and cleaned regularly or you fail your week's save. 
Hideous Wounds also bleed quite a bit and need to be treated (bandaged, bound, whatever) or else the PC takes d6 damage each round following receipt of the Wound until treated.

If a Wound is Crushing you've broken some bones. The affected area is totally ruined until you heal it, get it set. If it's a leg, no moving other than an achingly slow hobble until it's set (and then, you're still slow); it it's an arm, you can't use it for anything, set or not. If it's your head, you're dead, no saves to recuperate. Crushing Wounds have to be set and cleaned or you fail your week's save.


Part of the reason I posted this was because +Joey Lindsey shared a really intriguing way of seeing/managing hit points that I want to try next and I wanted to have this posted, with a pin in it, while I play around with Joey's HP system.

Full disclosure: the idea of "Wounds" and certain mechanics associated with them are pretty much taken whole cloth from +Trent B's awesome New Feierland house rules.

Ultimately, the concept I'm struggling with is how to handle PC death. We like lethal games, but there is an interesting middle ground between death and might-as-well-be-dead where the player is now less interested in getting cool stuff and XP for their character and more interested in just making sure that the character stays alive/keeps whatever stuff/XP they've got.

Wounds and the "packs and pouches" inventory management system (here is part one, here is part two) are both ways of shifting the game between the "clever adventurers" mode and the "get to the chopper" mode. The pool/bench system is useful for managing this on the backend, once the (remains of) the party has made it back alive.

*I do something slightly different than OD&D for damage die, but straight d6 for everything works too.

[EDITED 5/24 to add "An otherwise lethal situation"]

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pooling and Benching PCs

This is explicitly for games with lots of dismemberment and attrition. See the Rationale section for more.


Whenever a new person (players, GM) joins the campaign, either on day one of the campaign or later, these new persons create three characters by doing the following:

1. Giving them a name. Preferably just a first name or a nickname, but whatever.
2. Choosing their Class.
3. Giving them a single Trait (nothing to do with a Background/subspecies).

This is the extent of detail/granularity. No one should take more than ten minutes. After doing this the first couple of times, it tends to take no more than three minutes.


Now, each player picks a character to play. If you just created some characters, you can get "dibs" on one of those characters by keeping the character to yourself, not relinquishing it to the pool.  In any event, the one to three  characters you just created that you chose not to play are now up for grabs. Dump them in the pool.

Characters picked from the pool or generated raw have to be mechanically fleshed out and draped in diegesis as normal:

1. Roll 3d6 in order, you may re-roll the lowest and/or swap one rolled score for another.
2. Fill out a character sheet, pick subspecies, gear, skills, etc.
3. Pick a starting location for the character.
4. Pick a second Trait for the character (this can be a Background/Subspecies Trait).



Characters with Wounds or characters stuck in some kind of limbo can be abandoned and a new character picked from the pool as per the "refreshing" rules below.

Note: characters with Wounds have to make saves to recover, even while in the pool. Failure to make a save is adjudicated as normal (can lead to a worsening condition or death).

Note: for every session that a character is alive and being actively played by a player, it earns a 1-2% cumulative bonus for each (in fiction) day it survived potentially perilous situations, up to 16%. The bonus is calculated at the end of a session and applied retroactively to all XP earned. It rolls over into future sessions, into the character dies, is retired or otherwise no longer played. 

Note: Characters stuck in limbos like, "soul stolen by a troll" or "encysted in frozen giant snot," can be more or less "paused." Ie, they don't gain or lose a bonus to their XP, though they will be consistently imperiled by the GM until they are eventually killed by their surroundings or rescued. 


The number of characters in the pool is limited to twice the number of players, so, after just a few character deaths, nobody except maybe the GM going to be creating any new characters. At the start of a session, any player can abandon their existing character, returning its sheet to the pool and generate a new character. Abandoned characters are up for grabs or may be retired completely, should the group so decide. The GM is encouraged to provide stuff for the abandoned PC to do. It is entirely legitimate and wholly encouraged for the GM to threaten or otherwise place in danged abandoned PCs.

After the number of characters in the pool dips below the "maximum," any player in need of a new character can create two more characters rather than pick an existing one from the pool. Alternatively, the player can pick a character from the below-the-limit pool and ask the GM to create a new characters to dump in the pool (ie, to do the work for them).

Any character picked from the pool is level 1, regardless of the previous character's level. Furthermore, players cannot create characters with existing relationships to major NPCs, villains, etc. nor can they fork over from the setting major NPCs, villains, etc. 

The GM, on the other hand, can create and add to the pool existing NPCs, villains, as playable characters. Furthermore, these playable characters need not be (likely aren't) level 1.  Henchpersons are ripe for the picking, and will bring the party their own replacement in tow. These characters may have exotic gear or hail from exotic locales, as yet unknown or unexplored.


This is one of those times where you do these various things and you don't really think of them as a system until someone else describes something similar and you're all, "Oh right." I like what +Gus L  and +William Broom wrote here and here, but it's not for me or my group. This is meant for play that involves a fair bit of major injuries, Wounds, disabilities, dismemberment, diseases, plagues and big parts of the map that are just a nightmare of hazards, poisons, toxins and are generally terribly unpleasant.

Contra to what Gus and Will suggested though, this isn't really meant to "address" anything in highly lethal play. Any time saved in generating a replacement character is negligible and it intentionally limits the amount of pre-plotting that happens with unplayed characters so it's not really any use resolving "dropped threads."

There are really two things this is meant to address: how to handle PCs "taking a break," (ie, getting "benched") and how to encourage player creativity (ie, encourage interesting choices at PC generation).

Hope this is useful to someone.

Picture: from Wild Men by Charles Fréger

Monday, May 6, 2013

Inventory Management & Encumbrance in Older D&D (Part 2)

This goes with this post here.


All mundane portable storage containers that are strapped to, looped around or otherwise attached to a PC are either small containers or large containers.
Large Containers are things like backpacks or large sacks (think Santa). 
Small Containers are things like scroll cases, belt loops, bandoliers, braces, ammo pouches and quivers. PCs can have any number of these containers on them.
Items stored in Small Containers are regularly vulnerable to wear and ruin from exposure to the elements but are easier to get at while the PC is under duress. 


New Rule: Other than PCs of exotic origins (PC's body is especially suited to hauling large loads), a given PC cannot carry more than two large containers that are currently in use (ie, have stuff in them).

New Rule: Large Containers have three slots apiece and things take up slots (space).


  • small things and standard ammo (GM's call as to what constitutes small or standard) take up one slot in increments of 100 (ie 1-100 coins take up a slot, 101-200 coins take up 2 slots, etc).
  • a single one-handed weapon uses a slot
  • a single two-handed weapon uses two slots
  • chain armor takes two slots
  • plate armor takes three slots
Obviously, GM's call as to what constitutes what size and all that.

Any one thing that takes up a slot or more on its own (generally, armor, or other large, bulkier things) can be stored only in Large Containers or has to be managed some other way (like wearing several swords on your body).

If you're carrying two full Large Containers, you're encumbered. No precisely negative mechanical repercussion, but it will affect your character's performance in a number of obvious, ought-to-be-expected ways.


I like that encumbrance forces decisions about what to take into and out of a hazardous area, but I generally dislike employing weight as the metric driving those decisions (weight seems opaque to me: I'm not sure how much a given thing weighs and I'm not sure my players know either or that our guesstimates would even be in the same ballpark whereas I think we all can easily describe and guess approximate size). Putting readied items in jeopardy is a fun way of getting the same kind of thing happening at the table.

More to the point, I think it's something that GMs do on a fairly regular basis: "oh, you're fording the stream? How do you get your pack across?"

I've puttered around with how to resolve the backend of this mechanic, off and on, for a period of years. Having only stuff in the large containers encumber. Having a number of slots for Large and Small Containers.

The slots I've suggested above are meant to be mathematically approximate to the excellent/elegant encumbrance system +James Raggi uses in Lamentations, but are inspired by +Jack Mcnamee and +Matt Rundle's system (and, of course, was first inspired by the first two games in the Diablo franchise). Frankly, I prefer Jack and Matt's system to mine, but I can't really get the group on board (too harsh, too tricky to manage going in and of dungeons with loot, which is our primary mode of play). 

I tried a more traditional approach where large containers encumber, but that felt like I was cluttering the thing up.

Things I've noticed in play (do potions freeze?)

Jeopardizing stuff is interesting in and of itself, but as a GM I've frequently felt as if I was being a dick when I ruined someones rations because they'd taken a trip through a lake, a room full of fire, a giant's stomach, etc. I mean, it makes sens that that happens, but it still feels harsh to me. By handing to choice to the players I've noticed that 
(a) they are now hyper-aware of their PC's surroundings and the game has emphasized exploration a great deal more than it used to. This makes establishing atmosphere way easier;
(b) players get way more freaked out by atmospheric cues than they used to (they treat the entire environment as a monster, basically, which is cool and, as someone who has done some  solo hiking and some spelunking, resonates)

ALSO: shoutout to +Brock Cusick  who came up with "Packs and Pouches" as a better name for "Large and Small Containers."

picture: Felice Beato, Native Type 1864-1868 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Inventory Management & Encumbrance in Older D&D

This replaces the encumbrance rules in Men & Magic


All mundane portable storage containers that are strapped to, looped around or otherwise attached to a PC are either small containers or large containers.

Large Containers are things like backpacks or large sacks (think Santa). Outside of exotic PC origins (PC's body is especially suited to hauling large loads), a given PC cannot carry more than two large containers currently in use (ie, have stuff in them). [+Talysman the Ur-Beatle has pointed out that this limitation is pretty much extraneous. Good point.]

Small Containers are things like scroll cases, belt loops, bandoliers, braces, ammo pouches and quivers. PCs can have any number of these containers on them.

Items stored in Small Containers are regularly vulnerable  to wear and ruin from exposure to the elements but are easier to get at while the PC is under duress.

[I don't really care for "small container," "large container" as top level terminology. I normally use in-diegesis terminology when playing with this system ("large containers" becomes "backpacks or large sacks" for example). If anyone has a suggestions for different top level terminology, let me know, please.]


If the PC isn't under duress (ie, she's got a turn to look for, find and use the thing) then

the player can simply have her PC use the item "as normal"*

If the PC is under duress (ie, less than a turn to act or the action might be contested) then:

  • she can use anything in a Small Container as normal
  • for the PC to use as normal something stored in a Large Container without spending a round looking for it, the player must roll a 1 in 6. It's found the next round if the roll isn't successful.

*"As normal" means that the usual rules apply: the PC being able to access the item has to make sense.


Anything equipped, readied for immediate use or stored in a Small Container is vulnerable to circumstantial damage, impairment or destruction. 

It can get wet and ruined, it can be crushed in combat, dissolved by magic or ooze, etc. This happens in two situations:

  1. The moment (ie, round/turn, whichever is the applicable metric) a PC who has recently taken damage is now no longer in immediate jeopardy (ie, the round after the PC has fallen in a pit or the round following the end of combat).
  2. The second* turn/round a PC has been in an environment that might prove immediately dangerous to things exposed (highly acidic cave vent; very hot, moist jungle; fording/swimming a river, etc). The GM decides whether an environmental is so dangerous.

In either situation, the player rolls a d6. On a 2 an item is damaged, broken or lost. On a 1 two items are damaged broken or lost. The player chooses which item(s) are gone. Failure to choose in a timely manner (like, ten seconds), means the GM chooses for you (or the GM lets dice decide). It's the GM's call to describe what happened to the item.

NB: Things in Large Containers are still vulnerable, just that they aren't regularly vulnerable. If the context makes sense (ie, you fall into a pool and are submerged, if you fall and land on your backpack) then the contents of a Large Container are subject to the same hazard.

*or sixth, your call.


Players are expected to manage what is stored where on their PC. When trying to use a readily available item, the player should be prepared to demonstrate to the GM that the item is readily available. Players should also be prepared to show what items are readied to the GM when their PC is placed in a vulnerable position. Players need not differentiate between which Small Container an item has been stored (ie, I don't care if it's hanging off your belt or its in a small sack hanging off a bandolier or you've got it shoved in your sleeve, I just want to know if its available for immediate use and therefore regularly vulnerable).

picture: Prophet #21 B. Graham & S. Roy

Thursday, May 2, 2013

OD&D Races and Backgrounds

This replaces PC "race" with PC Background.


At PC creation, each players chooses or randomly generates a Background for their PC. Backgrounds are a two- to four-word phrase that describes (i) the basic ethnic/social/cultural origins of the characters and (ii) the character's subspecies.*

So, like, if we're talking Dark Sun, you'd have an Athasian Elf Background. The subspecies component is digital: the PC is an Elf or a Human or a Half-Elf or it's whatever else but it's always just a subspecies. The cultural component of the PC's Background, however, permits a great deal of flexibility. "Athasian" can be reduced to various granules like Silt Sea Elf, or Tyrian Elf or Tyrian Slum-Elf, which is really just a Tyrian Elf with a particular sort of upbringing, etc, etc.


Option One (mechanics-free):
Backgrounds connote some basic in-diegesis facts about the PC and you can leave it at that: the choice of PC origin and subspecies in this instance would be entirely a matter of preference, a choice free of mechanical considerations.

Option Two (Background Traits):
I find that the liberating aspect of Option One does not compensate for the lost interesting situations/tactical options created by the various advantages normally associated with a given D&D race. So:

New Rule: The PC's Background is also a Trait: the PC's player can try to used the PC's Background to try to earn a bonus to a laterally-related non-attack roll.

New Rule: Backgrounds also permit access to special, Background-specific Traits. As with other Traits, anyone should feel free to spitball Background-specific Traits, but, as with other Traits, all Traits are subject to GM approval and, once approved, can be used by any (N)PC with a related Background. Players suggesting Background-specific Traits must supply a reason why the Trait ought to be available to the Background.

Background-Specific Traits are special and, unlike other Traits, grant either (a) a minor bonus to a skill roll (and by minor I mean: to the smallest significant increment possible, depending on the system currently in place - likely a one point or 5% bonus) or (b) access to a spell from the first level B/X Magic User or Cleric list usable 1/day.


Halflings are small and get a bonus to sneaking
Tieflings are infernal and their nature permits them to cast Darkness 1/day as a first level Magic User
Dwarves get a bonus to detecting doors hidden in stone 
Elves in Dark Sun gain a bonus to surprise while in the wastes
etc etc

More exotic Backgrounds should still stick to Traits that work as in (a) or (b) above, though it may be necessary to slightly hack or re-skin the spell or ability in question. Like:

Midgard Gearforged can repair minor damage by spending 4 uninterrupted hours tinkering on themselves or another construct - restores 2-7 hp as cure light wounds 1/day

Lightning Genasi get a single static zap that deals 2-7 damage and functions as a Magic Missile cast by a first level Magic User


A PC with the Tyrian Elf Background might get access to these two Traits:

1. "Standard" Trait: The PC's Background as a Tyrian Elf can be leveraged for a minor bonus to non-attack rolls specific to Tyr
2. Background-specific Trait: Elves in Dark Sun gain a bonus to surprise while in the wastes


"Races" in D&D (a) connote a constellation of genre referents/setting-specific elements and (b) denote the mechanical translation of that constellation. Backgrounds explicitly mimic this structure in a way that I hope is perhaps a bit more explicit and easy to mess around with/retrofit to a specific setting.

OD&D's race mechanics seem unnecessarily convoluted and lean heavily on Appendix N-associated tropes. Backgrounds  aim to offer a possible, streamlined alternative.
*I like subspecies over "race" or species. I sort of assume that any playable "race" in my campaign that is at least mildly humanoid and of the same assumed genus can interbreed, though we never really get into that kind of thing.

pictures: top by Andy Weber bottom from the internet (original source couldn't be located)
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