Monthly Archives: June 2013

JRPG Basic Magic

Here is the core of the magic system. Spell crystals alone function sort of like scrolls (consumed when used, no mana cost), or they can be inserted into foci for repeated use (such use requires mana). I think this creates an interesting and diegetic magic economy while not compromising either simplicity or flexibility. They system for sustaining spells also reigns in the complexity of stacked effects without artificially limiting the power of spells. Right now, I see black and white mages starting with a wand (focus) and 3 crystals of 1 mana spells and red mages starting with a wand and 2 crystals of 1 mana spells.


Magic is the ability to use the power of mana to reshape reality. On its own, however, mana is raw potentiality. It is dangerous and overwhelming. Only some character classes, notably mages, have the ability to use magic.

Types of Magic

Magic comes in two varieties, black and white. Black magic is mostly destructive and offensive, while white magic is mostly supportive and defensive. The two types of magic are different enough that they require different skills to master. Black mages can only cast black magic and white mages can only cast white magic. Red mages learn how to manipulate both kinds of magic, but this generality comes at the cost of specialization.

Spell Crystals

In order to focus and tame the dangerous power of magic, mages have learned how to encode spells in special, alchemically prepared crystals.

Spell crystals may be used directly to cast the spell contained. No external mana is required, as the spell draws upon the mana originally used to encode the spell, but using a spell crystal in this way consumes it. In other words, when using spell crystals directly, spells may be cast “for free,” but this uses up the crystal, leaving only a worthless, burned out husk.

Spell crystals are considered insignificant items for purposes of encumbrance.

Creating Spell Crystals

Mages can manufacture copies of any spell crystal they have access to, though the process requires expensive material components (50 GP per point of mana spell cost) and takes a full town turn. Sometimes special components, such as unrefined meteor crystals, may be used in place of purchased alchemical reagents for spell crystal creation.


Spell crystals, on their own, are consumed when used. However, with the help of a focus, mages can use spell crystals multiple times. Foci allow a mage to supply the mana required for spell casting themselves rather than drawing on the inherent mana infused in the spell pattern. Most foci are wands or staves, as something about that shape helps facilitate the channeling of mana. Each focus may hold one spell crystal. Traditionally, all apprentices of the three primary mage orders are given a wand (that is, first level mages begin with one wand focus). Each focus carried is encumbering. Special foci exist that can add benefits to the casting of certain spells. For example, a particular magical staff might add extra damage to fire spells that are cast using it as a focus.

Modifying Foci

Attaching a spell crystal to or removing a spell crystal from a focus is a complicated and delicate procedure, and may only be done during town turns. Any number of foci may be modified (within reason), however, and this does not consume an entire town turn.


Mages often need to draw on their own personal mana to cast spells, such as when using a focus.

Recovering Mana

A character’s mana is replenished following a night of restful sleep. Certain items (such as mana potions) or spells (such as the black magic spell leech) may allow limited mana recovery between rests.

Temporary Mana

Some items or effects may provide temporary mana. This mana functions like normal mana, but should be tracked separately, and evaporates after combat or one exploration turn.

Casting Spells

To cast a spell, a character must have the ability to use the type of magic in question (black or white) and either consume a spell crystal or spend mana to cast a spell through a focus. No magic is possible without spell crystals.

Magic Defense

PCs use wisdom saving throws to determine their magic defense, but most NPCs have a static magic defense (10 by default).

Spell Checks

Offensive spells require a spell check to determine their effectiveness. Mechanically, this is an intelligence check opposed against the magic defense of any targets.

Spell check: 1d20 +level +INT vs. magic defense

This functions sort of like an attack roll, but for mages, though there are a few important differences, the biggest being that spells that “miss” can sometimes still affect the target, though in a lesser manner. For example, spells with the save-half property still inflict half damage on a miss. For spells with multiple targets (such as area effect spells that affect an entire melee), roll once and compare that roll to each target’s magic defense score to determine the outcome.

Add INT to damage done by spells (to the whole damage, not to each die). For example, a black magician with INT +2 does 2d6+2 damage with a blaze spell.

Sustained Spells

Some spells have effects that persist. Only one persistent effect may be maintained by a mage at any given time; sustaining a spell does not consume any additional mana beyond the initial cost. If another spell with the sustain property is cast, the previous sustained effect ends. Instantaneous spells (that is, any spell that does not have the sustain property) may be cast while sustaining a spell. For example, a black mage that is sustaining the fly spell may cast a shock spell from the air, but if they cast a darkness or invisibility spell (both of which also require sustaining), then the fly spell will end. Sustained spells also end if the caster becomes unconscious.

JRPG Basic Town Inventory

For this JRPG game, I want to create an impartial “treasure table” style system for determining what is for sale in a given town. I’ve had good experiences doing something similar in my Vaults of Pahvelorn OD&D game (Thracle’s Grand Emporium). I wanted to create something similar, but more transparent, simpler, and also reactive to player actions such as selling items into the economy. Here is the basic structure, which I think should be easy to remember and manage. Some lists of uncommon and rare items will come in future posts. “Town turn” procedure will also need to wait for the main gameplay and movement post.

Town Inventory

There are four types of items available in a town. Common, uncommon, rare, and special.

Common items are generally always available and may be purchased freely. Items may have a chance of running out if PCs buy a large number of them, however. This threshold will differ based on the town in question, but a reasonable default would be to have a 1 in 6 chance of running out if more than 6 common items of the same type are bought at once (how many grappling hooks is a small town likely to need, anyways?). Assume that they come back into stock during the next town turn. By default, all common items cost one gold piece.

There will always be a few uncommon items available also, and occasionally a rare item. Uncommon items usually cost around 50 GP, and rare items much more than that. In addition, there may also be special items available to reflect particular residents or capabilities of the settlement in question. For example, a town with a witch might always have 1d6 potions available. It should be clear how to handle those sorts of special inventories based on the other systems described below.

Initializing the Town Inventory

  1. Roll 1d6 for the number of uncommon items available.
  2. Determine each uncommon item randomly.
  3. Check if there is a rare item available (1 in 6 chance).
  4. If so, determine that rare item randomly.

This procedure only needs to be done once per town. The inventory will then fluctuate naturally based on further die rolls and how PCs interact with the economy.

Updating a Town Inventory

The referee’s town turn should include updating the current town’s inventory. Follow these steps.

  1. Check if each uncommon item was sold (1 in 6).
  2. Roll 1d6 to see how many uncommon items should be for sale.
  3. If there are not enough items for sale already, determine new uncommon items randomly to fill any vacancies.
  4. If there is a rare item for sale, roll to see if it was sold (1 in 6).
  5. If the rare item was sold, or if there was no rare item for sale, check to see if a new rare item becomes available (1 in 6). If so, determine that rare item randomly.

The inventories of other towns may be updated similarly, but this is not necessary. Don’t bother unless you enjoy watching fictional economies fluctuate. A town that hasn’t been visited for a long time can always be reinitialized when it is visited.

Selling Item

The maximum number of items for sale with rarity of uncommon or above that a given town’s shops can support is as if the dice had come up at their full value. That is, a town that rolls 1d6 for the number of uncommon items available can support up to 6 such items. If the town only has, for example, 3 items currently for sale, then there are three vacant “uncommon item slots.” Assuming there is space in a town inventory, PCs may sell items for 50% of the list price. Add any sold items to the town inventory. This may prevent the town from getting new stock in, as those items must go through the same process of selling before the merchants will invest in new items.

Larger Towns

The system above is designed for a small town, but it is easy to adjust for a larger settlement. Just modify the key numbers to reflect greater availability. For example, a larger town might have 2d6 uncommon items available, and 1d3 rare items.

JRPG Basic Starting Weapons

In JRPGs, weapon upgrades are a big part of advancement. To facilitate that aspect of gameplay, characters start with only a common weapon, and must find or purchase better weapons. I have created a town inventory system (which will be a future post) to go along with treasure tables so that upgrades can be bought and sold according to core rules as well as discovered (though randomness is still involved). Acquiring the most powerful gear will still require adventuring.

I’ve attached some properties to these weapons, but that might end up being overly complicated for this project. In the final game, I may go for something less involved. Maybe just 1d6 for one handed and 1d8 for two-handed common weapons.

Common Weapons

  1. Bamboo pole (1d6, reach)
  2. Cudgel (1d6)
  3. Hunting bow (1d8, ranged, two-handed)
  4. Knife (1d6, throwable)
  5. Scythe (1d8, two-handed, unreliable-1)
  6. Sling (1d6, ranged)
  7. Smith’s hammer (1d6)
  8. Quarterstaff (1d6, two-handed, parry/melee)
  9. Wood axe (1d8, two-handed, unbalanced)
  10. Wooden sword (1d6, quickdraw, riposte)

Bamboo pole (1d6, reach)

Though perhaps the most primitive of spears, and lacking the weight for proper throwing, bamboo poles can still be wickedly sharp. Also useful for poking things from a distance.

Cudgel (1d6)

This heavy oaken club probably once belonged to a town guard, merchant convoyer, or barkeep. What, you are expecting some added ability? It’s just a heavy stick! Being made of wood, it probably floats though…

Smith’s Hammer (1d6)

Good for smashing heads or boxes (+1 to force skill checks).

Hunting Bow (1d8, ranged, two-handed)

This simple hunting bow should be unstrung when not in use and takes one round to string.

Knife (1d6, throwable)

Common tools of daily life, knives also make good weapons of last resort.

Scythe (1d8, two-handed, unreliable-1)

Not the most reliable weapon for combat, the scythe is nonetheless terrifying to behold and can inflict gruesome wounds, though it requires two hands for proper use. Some black mages carry scythes purely for the visual impact.

Sling (1d6, ranged)

Basically just a cloth cup attached to a pair of cords, the sling is one of the simplest, lightest, and cheapest weapons around. You can often pick up ammo from the ground, though metal sling bullets are more effective (improvised ammo only does 1d4 damage).

Quarterstaff (1d6, two-handed, parry/melee)

Quarterstaves are heavy wooden staves that are often shod in metal at the ends for durability. They excel in defensive maneuvers.

Wood axe (1d8, two-handed, unbalanced-1)

This heavy axe was designed for splitting wood, but can split skulls as well. It requires both hands, and does not have the best balance for use in combat. On a natural 1, swinging the axe has left you overextended or unbalanced, and your effective AC is decreased by 2 until your next combat turn.

Wooden sword (1d6, quickdraw, riposte)

This practice sword is well-carved, and weighted with a core of metal. Though intended for practice and lacking a keen edge, in can still deliver brutal strikes.

JRPG Basic Retainers

It’s true that retainers are not really present in most of the JRPGs that serve as inspiration for this project, but retainers have become far too important to how I like to run games. In any case, this game is just as much influenced by traditional tabletop fantasy RPGs as it is by the console games, and doctrinal purity regarding either domain is neither desired nor attempted. These rules are heavily informed by my experiences running OD&D online in Pahvelorn over the past year. I think they are really good, and should be easy to bolt on to any trad game or simulacra.


Retainers are sidekicks and support characters. PCs may have up to 1 +CHR retainers. PCs may always hire more NPCs as well, but such NPCs beyond the CHR limit are entirely controlled by the referee and do not use the loyalty system described below. Most retainers found in town are zero level characters, though occasionally a more specialized retainer will be available for hire (availability is determined by the town inventory system).

Zero level retainers have 1 HD (1d6), AC 10, a loyalty score from 1 to 6, and a maintenance cost. The only other details that need to be recorded for retainers are a name and any equipment carried (up to 10 items). Don’t assign ability scores to retainers unless they are promoted to PCs.

From a game perspective, retainers are very useful. In a game where PCs can die, they allow players to keep playing without any “bench time” (by taking over a retainer right away). Also, having a retainer means that you don’t have to start over entirely from scratch if your main PC dies (because a retainer can be promoted to PC).


The influence of a PC over a retainer is measured by a loyalty score. Base loyalty is 1 in 6 +CHR. Each successful adventure increases loyalty by 1, to a max of 5 in 6. Rolling a morale or loyalty check is like a skill check. Whenever you tell a retainer to do something dangerous, you must succeed on a loyalty check. If it goes badly for them, their loyalty will decrease (probably by 1, but maybe more depending on the level of disaster that ensues). If the retainer maintenance cost is not paid during any town turns, a loyalty check must be passed (or the retainer will leave). Even if such a check is passed, loyalty will decrease by 1. If loyalty ever reaches 0 for any reason, the retainer will leave at the first opportunity.

Retainer Advancement

Retainers are always one level behind their employer. Thus, when a first level character becomes a second level, any retainers gain a class and become first level characters. This may be any class, but if the retainer’s new class is not the same class as the PC, special actions may be required (talk to the referee). In the case where a higher level character takes on a zero level retainer, that retainer increases in level by 1 after every session until they are one level behind their employer.

Retainer Promotion

If your main PC dies permanently, you can promote a retainer to PC. To do this, assign ability scores as if creating a new PC, remove the maintenance cost, remove the loyalty score, and create new loyalty scores for all other retainers as if they had just been hired.

JRPG Basic Skills

An X in 6 skill system fits very nicely with the 3 level cap of a “complete” basic game, because level can be directly incorporated into the probabilities without overwhelming the possibility set. No extra system or math is required. You will notice a simple nod to difficulty classes with the climb skill (two potential levels of penalties, for smooth and slippery surfaces) that I think works well, fits into the thief skill math, and is easy to remember. I may add similar tiers to the locks skill as well. In general though, I want to avoid the idea of difficulty classes, which is a concept that I think rarely works well outside of armor classes or other, similar combat targets.

I plan on including LotFP-style “fill in the dice” skill boxes on the character sheet, to remind players about the mechanical interfaces available to them (for example, X in 6 search in exchange for spending an exploration turn and risking a random encounter check). More details about how the skill system plugs into gameplay is contained in the section on movement and turns.


Skills represent the chances characters have at accomplishing certain common adventuring tasks within the game world, such as sneaking up on enemies or picking a lock. They are not meant to restrict potential actions, but rather to provide an impartial system for resolving actions with clear risks and rewards. Creative play may often allow characters to accomplish a task without recourse to a skill roll, and thus avoid the potential risks associated with a skill roll (such as the noise made by attempting to use the force skill on a door or chest). All characters begin with (at least) a score of 1 in 6 for all the basic skills. Expert skills are only available to characters of certain classes.

Thieves have access to the following expert skills: devices, locks, and steal. Thief skill chances start at 3 in 6 and increase by one point at each level gained. Thus, thieves have a chance of 4 in 6 at second level and 5 in 6 at third level.

Basic Skills


This skill is used to break open things like stuck doors and locked chests. Add +STR to this skill roll. Using a tool like a prybar or hammer may add another +1 depending on the object being forced. Because forcing something is noisy, it requires an dungeon turn. Note that thieves do not increase their force skill when gaining levels.


The climb skill allows you to climb surfaces such as rough walls. Climbing a rope or ladder does not require a skill check. There is a penalty of -1 when attempting to climb smooth surfaces and a penalty of -2 when attempting to climb slippery surfaces. Climbing gear imparts a +1 bonus on climb checks. Climbing requires a dungeon turn.


It is often useful to know what is behind a door before you break it down. Two characters may listen at a standard sized door simultaneously. A good effort requires quiet and time, so using the listen skill requires a dungeon turn.


If you don’t know exactly what to examine, you can just search an area from top to bottom. Using the search skill requires an dungeon turn, and allows a character to examine an area about the size of one skirmish melee (or a medium sized room). Note that examining specific features and interacting with them descriptively often does not require a full dungeon turn, and may not require a skill roll at all, so descriptive interaction is usually advantageous, as you may be able to avoid a random encounter check.


Sometimes you want to avoid danger rather than face it head on. Perhaps this is to set up a surprise attack, or to just avoid detection entirely. In any case, succeeding on a stealth roll allows a character to automatically gain surprise if it comes to combat. All characters attempting to sneak in this way must make separate stealth checks, but discovery of one character does not automatically reveal all sneaking characters. Stealth checks may not be attempted by characters in melee, but might be possible for those outside of melee during combat depending on the specific situation.

Expert Skills


The devices skill can be used to disable or manipulate small mechanical traps and mechanisms. Using the devices skill requires a dungeon turn. Failure does not trigger traps.


This skill is used to pick locks, and requires tools. Attempting to pick a lock requires a dungeon turn.


Take something without being noticed. Steal can even be used in melee. On failure, the attempt is not noticed but the desired item is not acquired. Items held directly by others may be stolen, but this can’t be done secretly.

JRPG Basic Classes

Black Mage

Black Mage (personal sketch)

The set of starting classes is relatively limited, despite the many classes sometimes available in console RPGs. I think Moldvay had it about right with 7 major options for PCs at the beginning of a campaign. In console games, other classes are often made available by the recruiting of new party members as the game progresses, so the complexity is introduced slowly. To allow for something similar, I’m also planning on including “unlockable” classes that must be discovered through play (I do this in my OD&D game too, so it’s not really novel, but seems extra-appropriate here).

Right now, the core classes are black mage, red mage, white mage, thief, warrior, and wushi (a martial artist). Summoner, dragoon/lancer, and mana engineer are all also prime contenders, though some of those may work better as “upgrade” classes, which will be provided to support progressions like black mage → black wizard or warrior → paladin, drive adventures after third level, and make new, specialized powers available (without adding more hit dice or numerical inflation, hopefully). I don’t see upgrade classes having levels, but rather just adding one or two abilities to characters.

Thanks to Brock C. for mentioning spell medallions that must be affixed to hats, which was partially responsible for my spell crystals idea here. I’m still on the fence about whether to refer to “one mana spells” or “first level spells.” Intercept wording is a cut and paste and requires improvement. Red mage mana capacity may need to be tweaked for balance. When considering the various class abilities, remember that max level is 3.

Every class has two primary stats: HD (hit die) and AC (armor class). HD is a measure of combat skill and resilience. HP is determined at the beginning of each session by rolling 1 HD per level and adding CON (+CON to the total rolled, not to each die separately). The lower of hit die and weapon die is used for weapon damage. That is, hit die is a limiting factor on weapon damage. AC is fixed by class and does not depend on the armor worn.

Some examples. A third level warrior rolls 3d10 +CON for HP at the beginning of each adventure, and rolls up to 1d10 +STR for damage (depending on the weapon die). A black mage can wield a sword, but it’s damage die will still only be 1d6 (though other weapon properties may still apply).

Summary of Classes
Class HD AC Features
Mage, Black d6 10 black magic, 3 mana/level +INT
Mage, Red d8 14 black & white magic, 2 mana/level
Mage, White d6 12 white magic, 3 mana/level +WIS
Thief d6 12 surprise attack, improved basic skills, thief skills
Warrior d10 16 attack bonus, cleave, intercept
Wushi d8 14 counterattack, deadly fists, pummel

Locked Classes

Some classes must be unlocked through play before they become available. Future versions of this game will include several locked classes.

Upgrade Classes

Characters may not gain any levels above 3, but once level 3 is reached in a base class, that class may be upgraded. Upgrade classes do not provide more HD, but do make new abilities available. For example, a warrior might become a paladin, and gain a limited ability to use white magic. Rules for upgrade classes will be provided in future versions of this game.


Mages use the energy of mana to cast spells. Each mage belongs to an order as well, which teaches a certain style of spell casting.


Magic uses special alchemically prepared, mana-infused crystals that contain spells. Mages can use a spell crystal directly to cast the contained spell, which destroys the crystal, or set the crystal in a focus, such as a wand or staff, which allows the spell to be cast multiple times. Focused spells require the mage to supply the necessary mana, whereas crystals may be consumed to cast a spell for free.

Mages begin with two spell crystals (each containing a one mana spell) and a wand with two slots. More spell crystals may be bought from mages in town or found during adventures, as can foci with more slots.

Mages acquire titles in their order as they increase in level. These titles are:

  1. Apprentice
  2. Journeyer
  3. Master

Black mage

Black mages study the powers of destruction and death. This does not necessarily make them evil, but they are widely feared. The symbol of the black mages is a pointed hat.

Black mages only know how to cast black magic and have 3 mana per level +INT. For example, a third level black mage with INT +2 has (3 x 3) +2 = 11 mana.

Red mage

The order of red mages prizes broad learning, and thus red mages are able to use both black and white magic. They also train for battle, and thus have greater combat resilience and skill with weapons. However, this versatility comes with drawbacks. Red mages have less mana than black or white mages and have poorer fighting skills compared to classes that are more dedicated to combat.The symbol of the red mages is a red, wide-brimmed hat.

Red mages know how to cast both black and white magic and have 2 mana per level with no modifier by ability scores. For example, a second level red mage with 2 + 2 = 4 mana.

White mage

White mages eschew the dark arts in favor of spells that are mostly defensive and restorative. They can only cast white magic. The symbol of the white mages is a white, cowled cloak.

White mages only know how to cast white magic and have 3 mana per level +WIS. For example, a first level white mage with WIS +3 has (3 x 1) +3 = 6 mana.


Thieves specialize in stealth, cleverness, and surprise.

Surprise Attack

Thieves roll one extra damage die per level for attacks from surprise.

Improved Basic Skills

Thieves have better chances with most of the basic skills (climb, listen, search, and stealth). These skills begin at 3 in 6 (rather than the default 1 in 6) and improve by 1 every level (so a third level thief has a 5 in 6 chance). The only basic skill that they do not have an improved chance with is force (which has a chance of 1+STR in 6, just like any other character).

Thief Skills

Thieves also have access to several skills which no other class has by default. These thief skills are devices, locks, and steal. Thief skill chances also start at 3 in 6 and improve by 1 every level.


The warrior class focuses primarily on weapons and combat. With the largest hit die of all the classes, the warrior generally has the most hit points and also deals the most damage with weapons. Warriors also add their level to attack rolls, and have the highest AC.


After dropping an enemy in melee combat, warriors may make a free melee attack against another target in melee.


To throw yourself in the path of an attack directed toward another character, make an attack roll. If this intercept roll is equal to or higher the attack roll being intercepted, the interceptor becomes the new target of the attack and moves between the attacker and the original target. The decision to intercept must be made prior to the attack roll.


Wushis are martial artists that specialize in unarmed combat and mobility. They train either in monasteries or in a master/pupil relationship. The legend is that the wushu tradition began as a method of combat when weapons were forbidden to the common people by a tyrant.

Wushi titles by level are:

  1. Eagle
  2. Tiger
  3. Dragon


If an enemy attacks a wushi in melee, misses, and rolls a 5 or less on the attack roll, the wushi automatically counterattacks, assuming the attacker is not immune to attacks from the wushi. No attack roll is necessary, just roll damage as per standard attack.

Deadly Fists

Wushis deal lethal damage and add their level to melee attacks when unarmed.


If fighting unarmed, wushis gain one extra strike per level (against the same target in melee). For example, a second level wushi takes three strikes.

JRPG Basic Ability Scores

In the previous post about this system, I said I was going to write about classes next. I think I should go over ability scores first though, so I guess I lied. This system uses the standard 6 (strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma), but doesn’t bother with the 3 to 18 range and just records the modifier, which ranges from 0 to 3 (no negatives). It also collapses saving throws into ability checks, for simplicity.

The paragraph explaining the difficulty math and when to roll needs to be improved, and maybe moved into a referee section. More info about what ability checks are actually used for will also be provided in sections about specific rules (drowning, falling, catching, contests, and so forth). A summary (or at least list) of those rules also probably belongs here (and will be added to this section of the final document later, probably, if the flow works out).

Ability Scores

Pick one of the following arrays, and assign them to the six ability scores as desired.

Ability Score Arrays
Array Scores
Focused +3 +2 +1 +0 +0 +0
Versatile +2 +2 +2 +1 +0 +0
Well-rounded +2 +2 +1 +1 +1 +1

A quick note regarding compatibility with other games that measure ability scores with numbers ranging from 3 to 18: +0 = 10, +1 = 13, +2 = 16, +3 = 18.

Ability Scores and Their Application
Ability Applications
Strength STR carrying capacity, melee damage, force skill
Dexterity DEX missile attack
Constitution CON hit points
Intelligence INT mana (black), magic attack, magic damage
Wisdom WIS mana (white), magic defense
Charisma CHA social reaction, retainers, retainer loyalty

In addition to the applications mentioned in the table above, each ability score is used for ability checks and saving throws. So even if you don’t cast spells, for example, wisdom is still used to resist magical effects.

Ability Checks

To make an ability check, roll 1d20 and add the appropriate ability and your character level. 15 or higher is a success. Given that the max level is 3 and the max ability score is +3, the max (natural) bonus for an ability check is +6. Some rare enchanted items may be able to raise abilities beyond +3, however, and thus also increase the ability check chances.

For example, say a first level character with a constitution of +2 needs to make a constitution check. The roll is 1d20 +3 (+1 for level and +2 for ability).

The number 15 is not meant to be modified based on task difficulty. Tasks are either impossible, uncertain, or trivial. If it’s impossible, the referee will just tell you, and you won’t need to roll. If the task is trivial, you just do it. Only if task is uncertain should you bother rolling. A first level character has between a 35% and 50% chance of passing an ability check, depending on the ability score. This raises to between 45% and 60% at third level.

Saving Throws

Sometimes characters are called on to make a saving throw to avoid some danger. Saving throws are resolved exactly as ability checks, and every saving throw will make use of one ability score. Think of them as reactive ability checks.

JRPG Basic

Not too long ago, prompted by Huge Ruined Scott’s musings about creating a starter dungeon for Moldvay Basic, I started thinking about what a “basic” style tabletop fantasy RPG would be like if it were a complete game mechanically, rather than just an introduction to a more complicated set of rules. A sort of E3 (level advancement would stop at 3). As it developed, the basic concept remained, but it came to incorporate many elements inspired by early Japanese console RPGs, especially those from the 16 bit era. I have to say, the freedom to ignore cultural and genre consistency (following the syncretic style of Japanese RPGs), is quite liberating. Many of the less central Moldvay classes (dwarf, halfling) were quickly replaced with alternatives like wushis (martial artists).

I’m still looking for a title, though Reynaldo M.’s suggestion of “Sword Saga” is my current, tentative favorite. Maybe I should just call it AFP (“Another Fucking Project”). With this in the works, I have three (maybe four, if the Pahvelorn rules modifications and interpretations count) rule sets under development. In some ways, however, they are all different aspects of the same thing, and all share many of my favorite house rules. They all, for example, use essentially the same encumbrance system. It feels a bit like slowly revealing a single statue by chipping away at different areas of a stone.

Originally, I was thinking about doing this as a Swords & Wizardry variant, but looking at the material I have so far, I don’t think I actually need to use the OGL. On the other hand, I still may, to emphasize the compatibility with other neo and retro clones (though working under the aegis of S&W requires dual armor classing everything, which is kind of a drag). Much of the streamlining that I have done is also somewhat reminiscent of a simplified and level-limited LotFP. Anyways, here’s a bit of preliminary material.

System Highlights

  • Max level is 3.
  • No weapon restrictions; damage is limited by class hit die.
  • AC is by class, so armor doesn’t matter.
  • Spell casting system uses mana.
  • Spells divided into black and white magic.
  • One extra “feature” at 1st level supports simple multi-classing.
  • Skills use a simple d6 system.
  • Town inventory system to drive equipment upgrades.
  • Upgrade classes to gain specialist powers after third level.


In the recent past, the world was struck by a great storm of meteors. This threw the settled lands into turmoil, toppling kingdoms, remaking geography, and transforming what was once a peripheral, frontier region into what remains of civilization. This event has come to be known as the Meteorfall. Further, the physical devastation was not even the greatest danger posed by the meteors, which were in some cases eggs (or vessels?) from which emerged monstrosities.

Further, while there have always been monsters, the meteors themselves seem to have strange magical properties that warp natural life around them, creating strange and terrifying creatures. Many of the meteors are also good sources of mana crystals, which are extremely precious to mages, as mana is required to power spells.


  • Final Fantasy (especially I, IV, and VI)
  • Dragon Warrior and Dragon Quest
  • Shining Force
  • Moldvay Basic


The six classes that I’m focusing on to begin with are black mage, white mage, red mage, warrior, thief, and wushi. I’ll post more about them tomorrow.


The Inferno, Canto 21

The Inferno, Canto 21 (source)

Vio-lances are wicked hell weapons. They usually look like large spears or halberds, with purple-tinged blades of unknown (and seemingly indestructible) metal. Holy magic does not function within throwing range of a vio-lance. If a death blow is struck with a vio-lance, the victim explodes messily, showering all nearby with gore, and making any attempt at resurrection futile.

Echo of Fitzwalter

Echo of Fitzwalter

Echo of Fitzwalter (personal sketch)


  • +1 to hit, bolts fired from it inflict magical damage
  • Cumulative damage bonus of +1 per hit, max +6, resets after combat

This arbalest is said to have once been a standard light crossbow, of wood and steel, before it was taken into the Vaults of Pahvelorn during the time of the Order of Gavin. It was wielded by the adventurer Fitzwalter, warder of Eraria the Sorceress. Fitzwalter fell defending his mistress, but the energy released by his heroism in that cursed place bound something forever into the weapon, perhaps the soul of the fallen warrior or maybe the shades haunting that place. The crossbow’s wood was warped to dark ebony, the steel of the bow twisted into an amalgam of bone, and the tip became a grinning skull. The weapon is chill to the touch. When loaded, shadow seems to bleed from the aperture, which appears like dark, wispy drool from the skull’s mouth.

The Echo of Fitzwalter is a light crossbow +1 to hit that charges bolts with dark energy (counts as magical damage). Each time it inflicts damage during combat, it gains a cumulative damage bonus of +1. So, the first shot that hits does 1d6 damage, the second 1d6 +1, the third 1d6 +2, and so forth, up to +6. This damage bonus resets following combat.

Light crossbows may be loaded and fired in the same round, but don’t have a bonus against armor. (That is, they follow my crossbow rules from before the weapon properties post.)

I have so far avoided “plus” style magic weapons in my ongoing Vaults of Pahvelorn campaign, mostly out of a desire to rein in numerical inflation. However, Green Devil Face 5 (also available from RPGNow) has d30 critical hit and fumble tables that we have been using. Last session, this result was rolled:

18. If this attack is the killing blow, your weapon acquires a permanent +1 bonus to hit.

Further, it was indeed the killing blow. This just seemed like a golden opportunity to break my rule. So this is the first +1 Pahvelorn weapon: a bound spirit fused to a crossbow and sealed with the death of a retainer.

A report about the session that spawned the Echo can be found at Dungeon of Signs.