Tag Archives: Gravity Sinister

Landmark remix settings

Creating an entire, unique setting from whole cloth can be enjoyable, and also yields a setting which is guaranteed to be at least somewhat surprising, due to lack of familiarity. Doing such is also a lot of work, however, and does have several downsides. Namely, players either needing to absorb significant setting information before sitting down to play (at the very least, everything relevant to character creation) or players being radically unaware of setting elements (which can be fun, but can also feel somewhat contrived; sometimes it’s reasonable for PCs to know something about the world around them). Using an existing setting can moderate some of these issues, but comes with its own set of problems, such as referee research requirements (you have to actually read and absorb the thing), reward of player setting mastery outside of engagement with actual play, and potential misunderstandings regarding accepted canon.

It seems to me like there is space for an approach between the two extremes. Rather than writing encyclopaedic gazetteers or creating raw tables that must be entirely experienced though their effects on play, instead consider a list of slightly more detailed setting elements that are not yet fully integrated into a comprehensive setting. A full example of this is beyond the scope of this post, but one might think of Middle Earth being expressed as something like: Shire, Mordor, Mirkwood, Saruman, Moria, Rivendell, etc. Each of these elements is a landmark, something that everyone involved can use to become oriented.

How these elements fit together in your particular instantiation of Middle Earth (or whatever), both politically and geographically, would be unique, but players would have a bit more to go on than the standard home-brew setting, and with less work required on their part. Players could have access to a basic version of the list as well (hopefully not longer than a page or two) outlining the major features and obvious factions. That, plus some campaign seed event, would be enough to get started. This is somewhat like how the Final Fantasy franchise reuses common tropes in different games. Players go into these games looking for chocobos, Cid, airships, and so forth. Discovering the various elements is part of the fun.

This is the approach that I plan on taking with the default setting of Gravity Sinister. There will be a number of landmarks presented, but exactly how they all fit together, and where they show up geographically, is expected to be unique to every campaign. This not exactly the same thing as an implied setting, as the list of core elements will be presented directly, and referee guidance provided for how to place the landmarks and generate relationships between them. Torchbearer takes a somewhat similar approach, by referring to archetypal fantasy locations without detailing them (TB directs the game master to create a starter map by placing locations such as elfland, dwarven halls, a religious bastion, a wizard’s tower, and so forth). I’m thinking about something similar, though not quite so generic.

This method could also be used with existing RPG settings, as suggested by the Middle Earth example above. Scan through your favorite campaign book and come up with a list of 20 or so elements that make up what you consider to be the essence of the setting. Thus, your own personal Forgotten Realms could be distilled into a list such as: Shadowdale, Waterdeep, Evermeet, Calimport, Harpers, Red Wizards, Drow, the fall of Myth Drannor, and so forth. (I’m not really very knowledgeable about the Realms outside of the first few Drizzt trilogies and the Avatar novels, so forgive me if that seems like a poor starter list.) Keep the list somewhat limited so that preparation time is minimized. Just let your players know that you will be basing the setting on a (possibly randomized) custom jumble of those elements, and to expect new and surprising juxtapositions. The benefits of a shared aesthetic and shared world knowledge are maintained while the hazards of such are minimized.

Gravity Sinister Gameplay

mage avatarFirst order of business: I have a real name now for the JRPG Basic game, Gravity Sinister. The blog tag will be shortly updated to reflect this, though I’m not going to bother changing previous post names. Hope that’s not too confusing.

This part of the rules took a surprisingly long time to write, despite the simplicity of the underlying idea, and I suspect it will still require more polishing (though I don’t expect to modify the approach in any substantial way). The structure formalizes the idea of a referee turn, which has a slightly different manifestation in each turn type, but should hopefully be easy to understand, and make the time cost of actions (at all time scales) salient.

In addition to having an easy to remember, generalized approach to gameplay at all levels of detail, the method described below has some interesting corollaries, such as automatically and mechanically increasing danger by taking a separate referee turn per group if the party splits.


Gameplay consists of turns. A turn can represent a very short time, such as an exchange of blows during combat, or a longer time, such as a week of recuperation in town between excursions. There are four such levels of detail: haven, travel, dungeon/exploration, and combat/tactical. The game moves between these kinds of turns as appropriate, moderated by the referee.

The basic turn structure is similar at all four levels of detail. Everyone playing the game gets a turn (including the referee), and then the whole process repeats, perhaps at a different level of detail depending on the fictional events. Sometimes (for example, during combat) turn order matters, but often it’s enough to just make sure that everyone gets a “go” before the next round starts. The rules for the different turn types explain when order matters and how to handle it.

The referee takes a turn during every round, just like other players. Referee turns work a bit differently than player turns, as the referee has to manage the entire fictional world. In combat, the referee’s turn is to act as the foes (attacking, running away, pleading for mercy from the PCs, and so forth). During exploration and travel rounds, the referee’s turn includes making random encounter checks. During haven turns, the referee updates the state of the world at large.

It is suggested that all dice (even random encounter checks) be rolled in the open and transparently with regard to underlying mechanics. There is no reason to hide the fact that an area is dangerous from the players, and rolling dice in the open will increase the sense of impartiality, which is important for a fair and challenging game.

Random Encounter Checks

Many referee turns require rolling for a random encounter, and the process is handled the same way irrespective of the turn type. The referee rolls a die (by default, 1d6), and a random encounter happens on a roll of 1. Other die sizes may be used to reflect differing levels of danger (thus, 1d4 or 1d3 might be used for a very dangerous place, as the chance of rolling a 1 using those dice is higher than with 1d6). If party members separate, the referee will need to alternate between the various player groups, and will take a separate turn for each (thus increasing the danger).

Combat Turns

Combat turns are used for handling fighting, pursuit, and other situations where minute to minute or even second to second actions are important. Turn order in encounters is managed using initiative, and acting prior to enemies in a given round offers several benefits.

Characters not yet in melee may make a ranged attack or engage in melee. Retreat from melee is more involved, and is covered in combat positioning. In addition to attacks, any conceivable action may be attempted; success or failure is adjudicated by the referee, and may require various attribute checks as appropriate.

The referee may take multiple combat turns, to represent different groups of NPCs acting at different times, but will usually only take one turn for ease of play. During this turn, the referee takes actions for all NPCs involved in the combat.

Exploration Turns

Exploring dangerous, unknown areas is handled using exploration turns. If an area is well known, or safe, don’t use exploration turns. Instead, jump to the next fictional situation where one of the turn types applies.

Each player takes an action for every exploration turn. In many cases, the entire party will take the same action (such as move to the next area), but this is not required (some characters might stand guard while others try to force a door, for example). Character actions during exploration turns are expected to be careful and deliberate; it is thus appropriate for players to ask as many questions as desired about the environment and situation before deciding on an action. All players should declare their actions before the referee’s turn.

The referee’s exploration turn is used for making a random encounter check, which represents the dangerous environment reacting to PC incursion. Random encounters usually take the form of encounters with the locations’s denizens (for example, a patrol). Random encounters may also be used to represent countdown timers for events like slowly-flooding tunnels. Referees must either prepare beforehand for potential random encounters or improvise as necessary.

Some exploration actions include:

  • Searching an area carefully (with the search skill)
  • Forcing a door or breaking open a locked box (with the force skill)
  • Picking a lock (with the open locks skill)
  • Moving cautiously to an adjacent area

Many of these actions correspond to basic skills, but player options are not limited to those covered by the skills available. Other actions should be adjudicated as necessary by the referee, perhaps using ability checks.

Examining a specific feature in an area is often not a full turn action. For example, opening a cabinet might not require a full turn (unless it is locked and needs to be forced). The exact length of an exploration turn is not important. Turns are just an abstraction to encapsulate the chance of complications arising.

Travel Turns

Overland exploration is handled with travel turns. Generally, there is one turn per day and one turn per night, though rough or dangerous areas may require more turns per day or night. Resolve travel turns much like exploration turns. The referee should first present various movement options, including any landmarks, and then all players declare an action. Players may either travel to a new area, or search the current area for hidden features. The referee makes a random encounter check on her turn, just like with exploration turns.

In the common case, the travel round following a day is a night. If PCs do not rest every other travel turn, they become exhausted. Players may choose to travel during the day and rest at night, or vice versa. Different kinds of encounters may occur during the night. Night encounters are often more dangerous, though this depends on the specific area, and they may also offer different kinds of reward.

Players may decide to explore any feature discovered during travel in more detail, and it may be appropriate to switch to exploration turns in such cases, as determined by the referee. Just as with exploration turns, if the party separates, the referee should take a turn for each group, increasing the relative danger.

Haven Turns

Haven turns represent time spent away from adventure, usually in a refuge like a town or stronghold, where PCs can recover, gather information, recruit retainers, and perform other such actions. Like other turn types, exact durations are usually not important, but a haven turn most often represents several days or a week of in-game time. Haven turns may only be taken when PCs are in relatively safe, protected areas. In addition to a standard haven action, PCs may re-roll their HP, to represent rest and recovery, taking the new roll if it is higher than the previous total. Specific classes may have special options for haven turn actions, such as crafting items.

Taking a haven turn is not without cost, as, like with all other turn types, the referee takes a turn during every haven round as well. During the referee’s haven turn, the state of the game world is advanced. Active situations are processed and dungeons are restocked. Doing this thoroughly can often take time, and thus is best handled between game sessions. This will give the referee a chance to think about the repercussions of PC action on the wider world, and generate more adventure locations if necessary.

JRPG Basic Golems

Within the setting, golems fill the role of giant robots, mecha, built minions, malevolent constructs, and even adventure locations. The golem wars serve as a landmark setting element, which can be incorporated in a number of different ways depending on the particular campaign. Golems will also be the basis of at least two upgrade classes, the golem crafter and golem knight. They will likely interface with spell crystals and mana somehow, though I haven’t totally worked out those game systems yet. The “JRPG Basic” project now has a real name: Gravity Sinister.


Golems are constructs fuelled by magical energy. They have dramatically different forms and powers based on the materials used for their manufacture and the skills of their creator. The first golems were originally created by mages as servants. As the art form of creating golems developed, it became more specialized, requiring practitioners to dedicate their entire attention to the crafting of magical automatons, to the exclusion of other kinds of magic. Such mages became known as golem crafters.

The use of golems spread as their power was discovered. This led to the creation of golem armies, used by wizard lords to conquer vast swaths of land. The destruction wrought by these powerful constructs in service of war was great, toppling kings and forging empires. However, the real danger posed by golems came later, as many living mages lost control of their automaton servants, their will usurped by the spirits of long-dead arch-mages. What ended the tyranny of the golem kings is unknown, but in the wake of the golem wars, creation of golems has become anathema and is looked upon with great fear. Golem crafters thus rarely advertise their skills. Many ancient golems still moulder (or lurk) in unexplored ruins.

There are several different types of golem.


The first golems were simple, mindless constructs which could be directed by mages to do specific tasks. They had minimal intelligence, and usually required continual magical attention, like remote controlled robots. Despite this limitation, some puppet golems can be immensely powerful. Puppet golems are still created, but due to the stigma attached to golem creation, they are usually disguised.


The next evolution of golems was as spirit prisons. Golem crafters learned how to prepare a mechanical body so that it could be inhabited by a spirit. The conjuration and binding of this spirit was an elaborate process. Wise mages learned how to strip most of the individuality from the bound spirit, leaving a pliable, but still intelligent, core. Host golems do not require continual direction, but are still mentally inflexible and lack initiative. Hosts continue to follow their programming for eternity if they outlast their creator, which many do.


The golem shell is an animate, motive creation, with will supplied by some external source, such as a mage. However, as essentially platforms for consciousness, golems are also susceptible to other influences, as was learned when the first banished lich spirit figured out that a golem was a perfect foothold in the material world. Though undead mages are the greatest of such spirits, kept alive by pure force of malevolent will, other unquiet incorporeal undead can also occupy incorrectly created (or damaged) golems. Such undead spirit possessed golems are called haunts, and often become slowly twisted to reflect the nature of the undead spirit, such as the bony skeletomaton, haunts possessed by spirits so old they have lost all but the most basic will, or the ravenous, golems possessed by hungry ghosts which seek unending gluttony, despite being unable to digest mortal remains or ever truly derive sustenance from eating. Some powerful haunts have strange necromantic powers, such as the ability to animate corpses or summon other undead spirits.

Feral Golems

Most sophisticated golems that remain have become feral, either through hatred of humanity for past servitude, insanity from long entrapment in ancient ruins, or corruption by demonic entities. Sages speculate that the strange energies released by meteorfall have contributed to the aberrant behavior of unchained golems. Some feral golems are engines of destruction, attempting to reduce anything in their path to ash, while others are more devious, hunting conscious beings for their own, inscrutable purposes. All are extremely dangerous. The component parts of feral golems can still be quite valuable to a skilled golem crafter though, so despite the danger, they are still sought out be the reckless and greedy.

Carapace Golems

Once the creation of more autonomous golems was forbidden, the golem crafters turned their considerable intelligence toward other ends, and carapace golems were born. These golems require a pilot and can do nothing without a conscious driver. Special seals are built into carapaces so that they can only be operated by a particular individual, limiting the danger and creating a special caste of attuned operators. They are similar in some ways to the earliest puppet golems, but do not require magic on the part of their operator to control. Instead, they bond mentally with their users and augment their capabilities. The nature of this connection varies from carapace to carapace. In some cases, the carapace provides little more than an adaptable exoskeleton, but other carapaces interface directly with the nervous system of the pilot, providing access to golem vision and other magical senses. There are stories of pilots becoming lost in their carapaces, fusing with the magical construct, and transforming into a new, hybrid form of biomagical life. Carapace golems are the only form of golems that are not generally considered forbidden, and some golem knights are greatly admired for their skill and bravery.


Husks are golems which retain some of their motive force, but have become otherwise alienated from most of reality. Previous programming has been lost or warped, and if they were ever once conscious, that intelligence has been buried or destroyed. Husks are rarely dangerous, but often have strange fixations, such as arranging rocks in piles, staring at waterfalls, copying the motions of animals, or building intricate structures for unknown purposes. They rarely acknowledge or interact with anything living. Some husks have become integrated into the natural world, such as the great pollenating husks, which serve as a vital part of the mobile forest ecosystem.

Moving Fortresses

Huge, moving war machines were the pinacle of golem creation during the golem wars. Most were destroyed or sealed away by those fearful of their terrible power. Despite their great complexity and power, the basic design of a moving fortress is similar to a carapace, though often requiring many mages and pilots to coordinate the actions of such a titanic construct. There are also stories of moving fortresses possessed by demons, or attaining autonomy through their own complexity. Golem crafters still argue about whether such things are actually possible, or just legends spread by those that fear the use of golem craft.

JRPG Basic White Magic Spells Level 1

mage avatar

I’m a black mage! Deal.

Here are the first ten white magic spells. I will probably expand the descriptive text slightly in the final version, but I want to maintain concision. I’m not sure exactly what the best way to present the requirement for spell check rolls (which are, recall, 1d20 +level +WIS, for white spells). On the one hand, I don’t want to clutter up all the spells with boilerplate like spell check WIS vs. magic defense, as I think it is obvious from the context. On the other hand, I do want the intent to be clear.

And yeah, that’s a black mage picture to the right, on a post about white magic. I don’t have a good white mage image to use that isn’t “borrowed.”

White Magic Spells Level 1

  1. Absorb
  2. Barrier
  3. Courage
  4. Cure
  5. Endure
  6. Gust
  7. Light
  8. Repel
  9. Restore
  10. Seal


Properties: interrupt, ranged.

Spell contest to cancel all damage from a single target elemental spell, which need not be targeting the caster of absorb. Gain one temporary mana if the targeted spell is successfully absorbed.


Properties: ranged, sustain.

Make a spell check (versus an enemy’s attack roll) to deflects mundane missiles directed toward the target of barrier. Mundane missiles include arrows, sling bullets, spears or snow balls, but not boulders. This effect works as an interrupt, but unlike most interrupts does not count toward the standard one interrupt per round limitation.


Properties: allies, sustain.

Dispel magical fear in all nearby allies. If sustained, grants a continuing +2 bonus to morale and saving throws versus fear.


Properties: ranged.

Target regains 1 HD +WIS HP. Deals 2d6 +WIS damage if cast against an undead target (half damage on miss).


Properties: ranged, sustain.

Choose an element. Target gains +1 to saving throws against that element and damage reduction equal to the caster’s WIS to damage of the chosen elemental type.


Properties: ranged.

Conjure a powerful blast or single target vortex of wind. This wind is strong enough to knock over a charging horse. Vortex will do damage to a flying creature (damage-2d6, half damage on miss). On a hit, the vortex will also knock the flying creature out of the sky.


Properties: light, sustain.

Magical light radiates from the crystal. This light illuminates as a torch and wards against creatures of shadow.


Properties: area, sustain.

Spell check +WIS versus magic defense forces any affected undead to retreat from the caster. If sustained, any undead affected will retreat before the caster (though they may still fight in melee). The caster must spend another point of mana and make another spell check if more undead are encountered, thought the previous repel effect is maintained.


Properties: touch.

A medium sized mundane object may be mended or restored to working order. Restore will knit together a cut rope, straighten a bent sword, or repair a broken vase. Restore does not allow a new object to be created from disparate parts.


Properties: sustain.

Magically lock a door or gate. The spell must be broken for the portal to be opened (picking a lock, forcing a door, or massive damage will not work).

JRPG Basic combat positioning

Black Mage

Black Mage (personal sketch)

Here is an abstract system for managing combat options that hopefully provides trade-offs regarding risk and effectiveness and interesting tactical choices. I think this system has intuitive guidelines for attempting things like breaking off from combat, or setting up a surprise attack, which are often somewhat hard to handle when not using tools like grids or other cumbersome procedures. These are only part of the combat rules. The initiative and turn taking procedures are still to come.

Many early JRPGs make a distinction between frontline and rear combatants. For now, I don’t think this distinction deserves separate positioning rules, as it can be handled by the intercept rules (a character that is protected by an interception is much like a “rear” combatant). It may be worthwhile to add more depth to reach weapons, though.

I may formalize some of the terms that are currently handled more descriptively. For example, I was thinking of calling casting spells or firing missile weapons while engaged in melee a perilous action, but I also don’t want to fall into the trap of legalism.

Rules for cover at ranged position will probably also be added later (which may end up just being a simple AC bonus, as is probably familiar from other games).

Tactical Positioning

The relationship of combatants to each other in battle is managed by abstract positions. These postions determine the combat options available and restrict movement in certain ways.

Combat positions include ranged, melee, and concealed.

The lists of actions provided should not be considered comprehensive. Anything may be attempted. The referee should adjudicate the outcome using the action examples given as a guideline and call for ability checks, contests, or saving throws as necessary. Particular class abilities or skills may provide additional options, such as a thief’s ability to use the steal skill. See the relevant ability description for details.

In general, attempting anything other than attacking in melee should probably be subject to a saving throw to avoid damage (following the example of firing a missile weapon while in melee), though more latitude is reasonable for combatants in ranged position.


Combats begin with hostile participants in ranged position relative to each other.

Ranged attacks may be targeted against specific ranged enemies, but targets are determined randomly if firing into a melee.

Characters in ranged position are drawn into melee if attacked by a melee combatant using a melee attack. Not all characters in ranged position are necessarily subject to melee attacks, however. For example, a combatant on a balcony above a room, firing arrows down into the room, is not subject to most melee attacks, and thus cannot be drawn into the melee barring special circumstances.

Common ranged actions:

  • Use a ranged weapon against a specific target not in melee
  • Fire into melee (determine target randomly)
  • Charge into melee and attack
  • Hold action in preparation for an intercept
  • Flee current combat, assuming there is an escape route
  • Attempt to hide using the stealth skill


Melee includes all characters in a limited, abstract space attempting to physically harm each other. Exact positioning is not tracked. Ebb and flow is assumed as combatants jockey for advantage and defend themselves.

A melee attack against a character outside of melee that is not intercepted draws the target into melee, whether or not the attack was successful. Characters in melee may retreat from the melee to ranged position as an action.

Area effects, such as some spells, target entire melees, which includes all combatants participating in the melee.

Ranged weapon attacks may not be made against specific targets in a melee. Instead, the target is determined randomly and then resolved as normal (attack roll and so forth). This abstraction represents the chaos of battle. Random targeting does not apply to ranged spells with individual targets, however. For example, a black mage may target a specific melee combatant with the shock spell.

Characters that use ranged attacks or cast spells while in melee must succeed in a dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 points of damage.

Common melee actions:

  • Make a melee attack against an enemy in the same melee
  • Engage someone at range to draw them into the melee
  • Retreat from the melee to ranged position
  • Make a ranged attack or cast a spell (this involves extra danger)


Concealed characters may take an action with surprise and may not be the target of individua effects. Concealed characters may, however, still be affected by some area effects, depending on the nature of the effect and how the character is hiding.

Characters at ranged position may attempt to hide. This requires a stealth check. If the check is successful, the character becomes concealed.

Concealment is not always an option. This is dictated by the environment.

Some effects allow the detection of concealed characters (such as spells of the heightened senses of some creatures).


Fleeing from combat is only possible from ranged position. Characters in melee must first retreat to ranged position (this is an action). When in ranged position, a character may spend an action to leave the combat, assuming there is an escape route. Any character at range is drawn into melee if subject to a melee attack (whether or not the attack hits). Melee attacks may be intercepted by other characters or effects, allowing retreat. See pursuit for handling situations where enemies attempt to give chase.

Multiple Melees

Most of the time, a single melee area is sufficient to represent an armed struggle. However, there are cases which require the consideration of multiple melees, such as an adventuring party being attacked from both sides in a hallway. Large open spaces may also sometimes demand the use of multiple melee zones which could potentially merge and divide based on game world circumstances. The melee/ranged abstraction is meant to structure combat in a way that logically represents the chaos and risk of armed struggle, and may be adjusted on an ad hoc basis as needed by the referee.

JRPG Basic Black Magic Spells Level 1

Though the power of spells is roughly proportional to their level, I have attempted to distinguish the utility of the various spells such that low level spells retain utility. For example, while the inferno spell is unarguably more powerful than the blaze spell (doing 3d6 +INT damage to all creatures in a melee), the blaze spell remains useful if, for example, there are friendlies in that melee (as blaze allows one to target a specific enemy, even though it only does 2d6 +INT damage).

One sustained effect may be maintained while the mage continues to cast other spells. So, for example, on turn 1 a black mage could cast electrify to boost the damage output of a frontline combatant’s weapon, and then keep that effect going (without need to spend more mana) while casting blaze to directly damage an enemy at range on turn 2. If the mage wanted to cast weakness (another spell that requires sustaining) on turn 3 against another enemy, however, the electrify effect would end.

Though it is not explicitly spelled out in each spell description, any offensive spell that targets an enemy directly requires a spell check (1d20 +level +INT versus target magic defense). Some spells have reduced effect (rather than no effect), on a miss though (this is indicated by the half property). For example, spells like blaze, frost, and shock always do some damage, unless the target is totally immune to the damage type. (The half property needs a better name.)

I know that the spells are probably overly focused on combat currently, but I plan on adding more utility spells as well.

Black Magic Spells Level 1

  1. Blaze
  2. Charm
  3. Chill
  4. Slow
  5. Darkness
  6. Electrify
  7. Frost
  8. Ignite
  9. Shock
  10. Weakness


Properties: damage-2d6, fire, half, ranged.

A jet of flame arcs toward a target.


Properties: psychic, ranged, sustain.

On hit, improves social reaction by one category. May be terminated as an interrupt to inflict 2d6 psychic damage.


Properties: ice, ranged, sustain.

Target weapon is suffused with bone chilling cold. This weapon inflicts magical ice damage and does +1 damage per hit. Liquid targets must save or freeze.


Properties: area, shadow, sustain.

Area is plunged into inky darkness. In addition all light sources within the area are extinguished. Sight within the darkness is impossible.


Properties: damage-2d6, half, ice, ranged.

A blast of ice against a single target.


Properties: fire, ranged, sustain.

Target weapon is wreathed with arcane fire. This weapon inflicts magical fire damage and does +1 damage per hit. Flammable targets must save or ignite. Weapon sheds light as a torch.


Properties: damage-2d6, half, lightning, ranged.

Lightning arcs from your fingers to strike a single target. May also be useful to power strange devices or mechanical creatures. Becomes a weak area effect (1d6) in a submerged environment.


Properties: sustain.

On successful spell check, target acts on initiative count 6.


Properties: poison, ranged, sustain.

Target weapon gains a sickly aura of poisonous corruption. This weapon inflicts magical poison damage and does +1 damage per hit. Any creature hit by a weapon enchanted with taint must save or become poisoned.


Properties: ranged, sustain.

Target takes 1d6 damage and an ongoing -2 penalty to all physical rolls.

JRPG Basic Spell Properties

Much like with weapons, there are some common aspects of spells that can be factored out into properties. In so doing, we can make spell descriptions more concise, and also create other game relationships, such as the oppositional nature of ice and fire spells, or light and shadow spells (I plan on making these oppositional natures part of a basic counter-spell system, in addition to being useful for damaging enemies with certain vulnerabilities).

Some of these properties reference aspects of the abstract tactical positioning system (such as the area property), which will be more fully explained in a separate post.

Spell Properties


Inflicts acid damage. Save or cause permanent disfigurement, to either sufaces or creatures. Weakens a breakable object subject to acid (such as a door with metal hinges); +2 to future force checks against affected objects.


Effects all allies that could be reached by a ranged effect.


Affects all creatures in one skirmish melee (the size of a large room). Does not distinguish friendlies from enemies.


For each hit, allows another target to be selected within the same melee (which requires a further spell check). Think chain lightning, arcing between multiple targets. The first miss terminates the effect.


Inflicts N +INT damage on hit.


Inflicts fire damage. Flammable objects, such as flasks of oil or bombs, must save or ignite.


Spell still inflicts half damage (or half effect, which should be clear contextually) on a miss.


Inflicts cold damage. Liquids affected must save or freeze. On successful save, targets still take a -1 physical penalty to actions on their next turn due to the slowing. May be used to create treacherous ice in combination with water.


May be cast out of turn. No more than one interrupt spell can be cast per round by a given spell caster.


Inflicts lightning damage. May also be useful to power strange devices or mechanical creatures. Becomes a weak area effect (1d6 area) in a submerged environment.


Inflicts poison damage.


Only works against creatures with a mind or consciousness. If the spell inflicts damage, the damage is psychic, and has no physical manifestation. Generates aura that can be perceived by psychically attuned creatures. On a miss, psychic targets may take a free counterattack as an interrupt. Targets with animal intelligence or lower take half damage on a hit and no damage on a miss if the spell also has the half property.


Equivalent in range to a missile weapon. Requires line of sight.


May only affect the caster.


The antithesis of light.


Spell effect may be sustained indefinitely after the initial mana cast is paid, as long as the caster remains conscious and does not cast another spell with the sustain property.


Requires touching the target (this is an unarmed melee attack if the target is unwilling).

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.