Monthly Archives: August 2012

Hexagram Path of Steel Draft

Image from Wikipedia

Here is the first of the Hexagram paths, for the warrior traits.

Traits all range from 0 to 6 and describe some core capability (broadly understood) of an adventurer. The design is built around the idea of niche protection, popularized recently by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. For example, characters do not get better at melee combat in any way other than taking ranks in the melee combat trait. That being said, unlike Lamentations, the ability to take off-path traits (with diegetic assistance) allows any character to get better at anything, though at a greater cost, and only up to a certain limit (that limit being 5 by default). Thus, a sorcerer can get better at using a sword, but at the cost of an entire level’s worth of learned trait progression (as the choice is between 2 path trait improvements or 1 off-path improvement).

The limit of 6 on any trait combats the tendency toward numerical inflation and keeps the range of any specific trait reasonable (preventing problems like falling off the RNG). E6 was one attempt to solve that problem that works okay in the context of 3E, but feats and multiclassing are not acceptable solutions to me (I believe the path, prototype, and trait system models the same thing with superior approachability and flexibility). Thus, hexagram emphasizes broad development at higher levels over deep development. A 20th level 3E fighter gets +20 to hit. A 20th level Hexagram path of steel character will have a collection of traits accumulated over their career.

You will note that the style of the traits is not a list of powers that can be used, one per level of skill, but rather a particular kind of benefit or talent that increases with the number of points in the trait. This is maintained, by the way, in the sorcery traits too. I think you will find that cool things to have or do are present in all the paths.

I’m still not sure exactly what the best term to use for trait units is. Points have an association with point buy systems that is connected to a “character build” style of play that I don’t want to emphasize. “Ranks” is another potential term (as in: 4 ranks of spells, 3 ranks of melee combat). In any case, in the final draft I’ll normalize the language to only use one term, once I decide what is best.

Many of these trait names are still insufferably bland and will certainly be improved. For example, certainly there is a better trait name than bonus HP. (Yes, toughness would work, but I don’t want to use the same name as a common SRD feat.) The exact number and ordering of the traits is also not final (the order is important as the table may be rolled upon with arbitrary dice, and the more iconic and common traits should be toward the bottom).

I think it should be easy to create either a generic traditional fantasy game fighter by concentrating improvement on the first few traits (this is encouraged with the prototype system and ease of advancement in starting traits). Further, using the guided randomness of rolling d6 (for example) on the trait table upon levelling will result in an interesting and viable character. And a large diversity of character concepts should be possible using this list of traits, all while staying within the domain of the traditional fantasy game (no need to resort to “melee spells” or something similar, as was done with 4E powers).

I am particularly happy with the implementation of tactical superiority (forced movement and mobility without the need to use a grid) and warband (a small group of fiercely loyal followers that derive their combat skills from their leader and also create obvious hooks into domain level play). And, if you just want a fighter that gets really good at hitting things, the first six traits on the path table provide 18 levels worth of advancement.

T is the number of ranks in the trait. So, melee combat 3 means T = 3 which means +3 to attacks with melee weapons (in this case). I think this is clear in context, but let me know if it isn’t.

The Path of Steel

  1. Melee combat. +T to attack rolls with melee weapons.
  2. Missile combat. +T to attack rolls with missile weapons.
  3. Damage. +T to weapon damage rolls.
  4. Bonus HP. +T HP on top of normal hit dice and constitution bonus.
  5. Defense. +T floating AC bonus (may apply to companions).
  6. Cleave. T extra attacks usable after taking an enemy down.
  7. Unarmed Combat. +T Attack, max damage T, and T cleaves while unarmed.
  8. Tactical superiority. T x 5′ worth of reaction/forced movement.
  9. Warband. Attract T loyal followers.
  10. Frenzy. Use berserk rage in combat.
  11. Animal companion. T HD worth of animal companions.

Image from Wikipedia

Melee combat provides +T to attacks with melee weapons. Melee combat is also used for improvised thrown weapons. Weapons designed for throwing (such as throwing knives or shuriken) may use the most advantageous of melee combat or missile combat.

Missile combat provides +T to attacks with missile weapons such as bows, crossbows, and slings.

Damage provides +T damage on any attack with melee or missile weapons (but not unarmed combat; see the unarmed combat trait below for details).

Bonus HP. +T HP on top of the normal hit dice total.

Defense. Experienced combatants learn tricks to more easily dodge blows and turn deadly blows into minor wounds, even when unarmored. +T AC. This bonus does not stack with armor, and using this bonus requires active engagement with combat (it is not, for example, useable when picking a lock or casting a spell). This trait allows warriors to fight effectively when lightly armored. Defense is a floating bonus that may be applied to companions as well. Assistance to companions must be declared on the warriors turn, and must make diegetic sense (for example, a warrior must be adjacent to a companion, or able to move into an interposition).

Cleave. +1 free weapon attack per round. A free attack may only be used after taking down an enemy.

Image from Wikipedia

Unarmed Combat. Training to fight without weapons. Allows more than 1 HP damage to be inflicted with unarmed strikes (max = T, re-roll any damage results higher than T), and damage may be lethal. In addition, functions as melee combat and cleave for unarmed attacks (i.e., grants attack bonus and cleave attacks when unarmed). Allows one free parry per turn while unarmed. If T = 6, parries of missile weapons may be attempted. See combat section for details about untrained unarmed combat and parrying.

Tactical superiority. Experienced combattants know how to move about the field of combat while keeping their defences up, and also how to force enemies into the position of their choosing. T x 5′ of extra movement per round, which may be applied to either the character or enemies the character is fighting (following a successful attack roll, which may also do damage as normal). Forcing a large opponent 5′ costs 10′ worth of forced movement (or more for even larger creatures). All uses of tactical superiority must make sense within the particular situation (no shifting through force fields or levitating across pits, for example, unless the character has some other method of accomplishing those tasks). This extra movement may be used in reaction to an enemy’s action, for example to become the target of an attack meant for a companion, but may only be used once per round (remember that everything during a round is really happening at the same time, so this should not be considered dissociated).

Image from Wikipedia

Warband. Warriors of repute often attract followers who wish to partake in the glory of adventure. Up to T warband members will gather to your standard. Warband members do not consume XP as normal retainers and derive the following traits from their leader (-2, minimum 0): melee attack, missile attack, defense (only personal), damage, HD, HP, unarmed. Thus, a master archer’s warband will also have skill with the bow. Slain warband members will be replaced gradually, at the rate the referee deems reasonable (for example, it may be several months following a great defeat before new warband members arrive). For very experienced fighters, warband members often become trusted lieutenants. Warband members are fanatically loyal, though they will not needlessly endanger themselves (by, for example, sampling random potions or walking forward to trigger a likely trap). They never desert due to fear or betray the warrior they follow for money. If mistreated (referee discretion), they may leave, but in time a warrior will be able to recruit replacements. Further, each warband member can lead up to T x 100 trained soldiers and hold a cleared 6 mile hex worth of territory. Warband members do not expect treasure (fighting alongside a great warrior is enough) though they will be more valuable allies if well-equipped.

Frenzy. Rage is a gift in combat to some. This may be mundane berserkergang or the channeling of dark spirits. Initiating a frenzy might require rituals, stimulants, or other forms of preparation (referee discretion). Characters will only use melee weapons or unarmed combat while in a frenzy. Minimum damage T with any successful attack. +T attack (does not stack with melee combat bonus). Intelligent enemies with fewer HD must immediately make a morale check when confronted with a frenzying warrior. Will not retreat or flee while frenzying. At the end of a frenzy, the warrior takes 1d6 damage and must succeed in a saving throw versus paralyzation or fall unconscious. All actions for the next 6 turns (one hour) take a penalty equal to the post-frenzy damage.

Animal companion. The character has an extremely well trained animal or mount. In some cases, there may even be some sort of subtle mind-link. One creature of T HD, with special abilities being worth 1 HD (such as poison or flight). Animal companions are not subject to normal morale rules (unlike standard mounts or dungeon dogs), but can only be given simple and direct commands, which they will seek to accomplish to the best of their ability (players may direct movement and attacks in most cases, but exact actions are always subject to the referee, as the animal companion is still strictly speaking an NPC). Animals slain may be replaced (diegetically). Animals are given the same saving throw versus death at 0 HP as are PCs (see combat section).

Hexagram Character Generation Draft

Learned traits are referenced in the lists of prototypes, but definitions will need to wait for posts focusing on the different paths. I am not satisfied with all the trait names yet (or even all my terminology in general), so in some cases I have simple descriptive names which may be replaced later (such as “listen”). Prototype names may also change, but should get the basic idea across.

Note that by default prototypes provide pretty much all of the game benefits of traditional classes, and default (though not set in stone) advancement up to at least level 9 if players focus only on improving the starting path traits (3 traits to begin with, two improvements per level, leading to three traits at 6 by level nine). This, then, is your stereotypical mechanically simple fighter, magic-user, thief, etc. The variety of traits (hopefully not overwhelming) should, however, give a sense of how more specific character concepts could be represented (or, even better, developed through play).

I like the idea of backgrounds, but they are certainly the least core element of Hexagram so far, and could easily be omitted (though I like having a named thing that differentiates one soldier from another, for example; it gives players an easy descriptor to hang meaning on). Still considering how to handle them exactly, but I have some ideas about plugging them into the scenario design system (as a way to quickly communicate the tenor of a particular game).

Zero level play is supported by not picking a prototype or any learned traits at the beginning. In this mode, all advancement is considered off-path and requires diegetic justification (finding an item or teacher) for every point gained. Path may also be selected at any point diegetically in a similar fashion. Gaining 100 XP is perhaps a good threshold for path selection (and is how I’ve been determining when zero level humans get a class in my OD&D game). To summarize, a player need only perform stems 1, 4, 5, and 6 in the checklist below to create a zero level character. See also the section on scenario design to work diegetic goal features into the beginning campaign (basically, one can place a few options for how to pick up a prototype within the game beforehand as a kind of treasure).

As always, I expect the language to tighten up in future drafts (I always start out too wordy). Also, thanks to Paul from Dungeonskull Mountain for the trait name thrall-binding.

Character creation checklist:

  1. Ability scores (3d6 in order or arranged to taste)
  2. Path: steel, guile, or sorcery
  3. Prototype (or distribute three +1s among path traits)
  4. Background
  5. Possessions, both general and trait-specific
  6. Intrinsic and derived traits (HD, AC, saving throws)
Talisman of Saturn

Ability scores are the measure of basic character potential, and consist of the traditional 6: strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, charisma (see ability scores section). Unlike many fantasy roleplaying games, ability scores do not have a strong determining effect on character power, potential, or survivability. They do not control things like maximum power attainable, do not provide large modifiers to other tasks, and are not used in life or death situations such as catching yourself if you fall off a cliff (saving throws, which are dependent upon level attained, are used to resolve those sorts of situations). However, ability score checks are used to resolve the outcome of less critical actions, such as how many characters are required to lift a heavy gate and provide minor modifiers (such as +1 to missile attacks for extraordinary dexterity). They are also an aid to individualizing characters. 3d6 in order can assist you in developing characters that you might not otherwise play, but if you have a clear concept in mind, feel free to arrange them to taste. In general, below average ability scores (less than 9) will come with a small penalty, and above average ability scores (above 12) will come with a small bonus.

Path determines what capabilities characters have to confront adversity. There are three paths, in service of three broad traditional fantasy archetypes. The path of steel, for characters than focus on solving problems through force of arms; the path of guile, for characters that focus on solving problems through cleverness and misdirection; and the path of sorcery, for characters that focus on solving problems through magic and the intercession of arcane powers. Path controls only what traits characters advance in most easily, and the final degree of power attainable; it does not limit which traits may be taken. For example, in the default mode of play, Hexagram characters may only attain level 5 (of 6) in any off-path trait. See the section on advancement and the sections on specific paths for further details. The specific selection of the three starting traits is governed by prototype (see below) or may be selected directly by players.

Prototype is a selection of starting traits in service of a narrow archetype. Selection of traits by prototype will support progression up to ninth level with no player choice required (though, of course, players may deviate from expected prototype progression at any level gained). Characters who draw all or most of their traits from a single path will end up advancing slightly faster due to their focus, but at the cost of flexibility. A prototype is not required, however. Players may opt instead to select three initial learned trait improvements. No trait may be selected more than twice at the beginning. Note that off-path traits will advance more slowly (see the section on advancement). Off-path traits are noted in italic.

Path of steel prototypes:

  1. Soldier: melee combat, missile combat, HP bonus
  2. Archer: ranged combat, defense, stealth
  3. Commander: defense, melee combat, warband
  4. Barbarian: melee combat, frenzy, defense
  5. Knight: melee combat, missile combat, defense
  6. Paladin: melee combat, defense, banishment

Path of guile prototypes:

  1. Scout: tracking, stealth, missile combat
  2. Assassin: assassination, stealth, missile combat
  3. Thief: climb, stealth, pick locks
  4. Acrobat: climb, tumbling, unarmed combat
  5. Antediluviest: listen, pick locks, antediluvia
  6. Infiltrator: listen, stealth, pick locks

Path of sorcery prototypes:

  1. Sorcerer: spells, magical devices, scrolls
  2. Warlock: supplication (demons), spells, thrall-binding (demons)
  3. Necromancer: thrall-binding (undead), spells, magical devices
  4. Witch: potions, spells, banishment
  5. Artificer: magical devices, potions, thrall-binding (constructs)
  6. Spellblade: spells, aegis, melee combat

Some prototypes may draw from all three paths:

  • Demon hunter: banishment, assassination, melee combat

In such cases, path determines which single starting trait is “on path”; the other two will advance more slowly and have extra diegetic requirements. Such is the cost of flexibility.

Note that it’s relatively easy to put together fun goofy prototypes, which should work within the game framework just fine. For example:

  • Ninja: assassination, stealth, unarmed combat
  • Super villain: thrall-binding, assassination, warband
Note: these prototypes are preliminary, and will probably change as I work more on the traits.

Background determines what your character did prior to adventuring. A small list of potential backgrounds is provided here, based on the idea that the referee will grow the setting slowly through play (see scenario design section). In general, all backgrounds should be an answer to the question: why is my character an adventurer? Note that any die may be rolled on this table, including d1, providing for a reasonable default “treasure hunter” type background. (The background table is still incomplete, and will be included in a later draft.)

Possessions at the beginning of the game are a function of path, prototype, and background. The general idea is that you get one thing relevant to each learned trait in addition to a random selection of adventuring gear satisfying some basic needs (such as light sources and at least one weapon). For example, a character with ranged combat +1 starts with a bow or crossbow. “Possessions” should be understood broadly as anything external to the character; for example, a sorcerer with the thrall-binding trait begins play with a thrall. I plan on building a default table per path for people who want to pick the three starting traits directly, plus more specific tables per prototype (players roll on one or the other, not both). Background will also add one or two items, or, if I’m feeling ambitious, perhaps there will be a random table of extra equipment per background.

Intrinsic and derived traits are the finishing touches. All characters begin with 1 hit die at first level, so write that down on your character sheet (characters with extraordinary constitution and/or the path of steel bonus HP trait will add a small amount of bonus HP). You don’t need to roll for hit points until your first session; maximum HP is transient (the number of HD and bonus HP is the persistent measure of a character’s survivability). Write down the AC based on your armor (which should have been determined from the equipment granted by prototype, background, and any purchasing) and your starting saving throw numbers (which will all be 15 to being with other than the one path-specific bonus).

Hexagram Advancement Draft

Here is a draft of the way Hexagram characters gain levels and accumulate traits, which are the measure of bonuses, powers, and pretty much everything else associated with progressing. Tables of traits will be included in future posts about the specific paths. The three paths are: steel, guile, and sorcery. I’m sure it should be clear which archetypes the various paths should represent. Right now, there are approximately 10 traits per path, each trait being measured from 0 to 6.

A future post will also cover character creation, but for our purposes here just know that beginning characters have two or three different learned traits, making the choice set for improvement eminently tractable, but flexible through the mechanism of diegetic quests for new traits or off-path traits. Please let me know if the distinctions are not clear in the text below. Also, all five saving throws begin at 15, with one trait-specific bonus (that is, one of the five will start at 13, based on the character path). That will also be covered in more detail in the character creation and saving throws sections.

Hit dice end up being limited to 6d6 (reached at 7th level) for most characters. Constitution potentially offers +1 HP per die, and the path of steel offers a specific “bonus HP” trait, which allows the HD for the toughest characters to potentially reach 6d6+12, upon reaching the medium levels (which, as you will see below, come slightly faster than in the traditional XP progression, though of course advancement speed is ultimately determined by referee placement of rewards).

Quick summary: gain a level every 1000 XP, either improve two path traits or go on a quest to improve an off-path trait. If improving path traits, you can either advance in traits you already have, roll on the trait table for your path, or go on a quest in search of an item or teacher to help you learn a specific new trait.

Checklist for gaining a level:

  1. Improve one inherent trait (+1 HD or +⅙ ability score)
  2. Improve saving throws
  3. Improve 2 path traits or 1 off-path trait


Inherent traits are things all characters have that can also improve, and include hit dice and traits associated with ability score advancement. All characters begin with 1 hit die (HD). The number of hit dice is the number of six sided dice rolled at the beginning of each session to determine hit points (HP). After gaining six levels, characters will have maxed out their hit dice trait and can no longer gain any more hit dice. Note that an extraordinary constitution score also provides a small bonus to HP (see the section on ability scores and the section on combat for more details). Additionally, there is a path of steel trail which provides another small HP bonus.

Each ability score has one associated inherent trait for advancement. After that trait has been improved six times, the ability score increases one point. Improving ability scores by mundane means may only be done once per score, to keep the initial 3d6 in order meaningful. (Diegetic features, like enchanted fountains, are another matter, but are generally just as likely to hurt a character as they are to help.) For example, if a character improved no other inherent traits, it would take three levels to improve one ability score one point, and it would not be possible to improve that ability score again. This option is mostly available for high level characters who have already maxed out their hit dice. How characters work within their limitations is one of the most interesting consequences of the game, so unlimited ability score progression should not be possible, but limited and gradual improvement of ability scores fits the Hexagram philosophy of logarithmic advancement.


There are 6 intrinsic traits for improving saving throws. Every level, players may choose one to improve. The first is a general saving throw bonus which applies to all saving throws. The other five are each specific to a particular saving throw. For example, there is a specific bonus trait for the dragon breath saving throw. So for the first 6 levels, all five saving throw categories improve at every level. After that, the saves improve individually; a single +1 bonus per level may be allocated to the save of the players choice.


Upon gaining a level, characters may improve two path traits or one off-path trait. The same trait may not be improved twice per level.

Players may choose to improve any two learned traits that the character already has numbers in. For example, if a path of steel character has melee combat +1 and damage +1 the player may just choose to improve both of those traits by 1 (each to +2).

To learn new traits, more is required. Instead of improving existing traits, players may instead opt to gain training in new traits. There are two ways to go about this. The first is to roll on the path trait table for the chance to begin advancing in a new trait. The tables are designed with the most general and archetypal traits at the bottom, so any die may be used for this roll (including d1; the first entry is always available for improvement, assuming it is not already at 6). Traits selected randomly in this way that are already at 5 or 6 may be re-rolled (if desired).

Another option is available if the player wishes to improve a particular trait that they don’t already possess any skill in. To do this, the character must seek out a teacher or item diegetically which will allow them to progress. Note that such self-directed quests are the only ways a character can advance in a non-path trait. Additionally, such quests are always required for advancing to 6 in any learned trait, even path traits.

The default mode of Hexagram is to support non-path trait advancement up to 5. For example, a character on the path of steel may learn to prepare spells, but the spells trait may never go above 5, will take 5 dedicated levels of advancement (5000 XP) and will require locating special items or teachers (to be determined by the referee) before each advancement is attained. Referees, see also the section on setting up scenarios for advice in placing such diegetic advancement necessities prior to play. For a game that privileges archetype role more, consider limiting off-path advancement to 3.

The increase in the number of XP required to gain a level in most games is a numerical illusion, because the reward for defeating a high level challenge (whether it is a powerful monster or a valuable treasure) is usually scaled as well, yet the inflation of numbers to support such illusionism affects all the other aspects of the game, including the economy of both threats and rewards. One of the primary goals of Hexagram is to eliminate numerical illusionism, so that approach is no good. Instead, gaining a new level always requires 1000 XP. Improving traits, however, becomes more and more specific, and very high level characters can always advance in non-path traits (though the advancement is even slower, due to the fact that non-path traits can only be advanced at the rate of one per level and in place of normal path trait advancement, as described above).
Why 1000 XP and not some other number? Some degree of granularity is required for objective reward based on value, and 1000 gives a nice resolution and allows the traditional 1 GP of treasure = 1 XP equivalency. The fact that levels always require 1000 XP also means that treasures do not need to become necessarily ever more valuable as the game progresses. A somewhat objective standard can be maintained. For example, a 5000 GP emerald will always be a fantastic reward, because it is objectively worth a level for an entire small party of adventurers.

Further, as treasure is the primary way to gain XP (the other ways are through exploring hexes and conquering hexes), money will likely remain somewhat scarce, meaning that spending character money is likely to be done more carefully (though note that it is also possible to gain more GP in ways other than just recovering treasure; such earned GP does not award XP). The one downside of this approach is that referees will need to adjust treasure values downward if using modules, but generally modules require numerous adjustments in any case, so I don’t see that as a significant problem.

Hexagram Introduction Draft

I’ve been working sporadically on an RPG system. Well, it’s not exactly a system. It’s more like my gloss on traditional fantasy gaming. Bits and pieces have already seen light (like the recent post on weapon abilities, and several trait ideas shared on G+, like this post on frenzy and this post on potions). I made good progress working on this over the past weekend, and now feel like I have enough of a real thing that I can start sharing parts and getting feedback from people. The text is still necessarily rather rough, so please excuse the unfinished edges.

This is a draft of the introduction. And for players of my OD&D game, no I don’t intend on changing anything about how we have been playing, though small things may creep in as optional rules now and again (like the weapon details).

Hexagram: A Fantasy Roleplaying Miscellany

Contained herein are a set of subsystems ready for use with any traditional class and level fantasy roleplaying game. Hexagram also constitutes a complete set of rules, with a particular philosophy, and may be played it as such.

This is what hexagram is about:

  1. Character advancement that tapers off, but never halts. 
  2. No numerical inflation or numerical illusionism in game mechanics. 
  3. Recognizable jargon where possible. 
  4. Balanced choices through trade-offs. 
  5. Lack of requirement for or benefit from system mastery. 
  6. Fantasy archetypes, but with flexibility. 
Image from Wikipedia

Character advancement that tapers off, but never halts. Advancement of specific traits is limited, but there are often further traits available that have lesser or more specific impact within a given domain. Thus, character advancement should be logarithmic rather than linear, but there should always be something that a character can improve. Complexity should not be overwhelming, because the more specific traits only become relevant when the general traits have been maxed out, and are slowly introduced throughout play. This design also allows characters to remain at the human scale throughout their entire career, even as they accumulate magic, treasure, and political power.

No numerical inflation or numerical illusionism in game mechanics. (To be expanded upon later.)

Recognizable jargon where possible. Hexagram character sheets should be mostly intelligible without needing to read any word of this rule set. The following is a valid Hexagram character: HD 3+1, AC 12 (leather), melee combat +3, floating AC bonus +3, sword, standard six ability scores, standard five saving throws, some adventuring gear (yes, the real character sheet would explicitly detail the last few things, but you get the idea). If you don’t already know what those things mean, they will be explained, but if you do, you should already feel at home.

Balanced choices through trade-offs. Though roleplaying is about immersing yourself in an imaginary reality and being awed the the wonder therein, it is also about solving problems. Potential solutions, at the mechanical level, should not generally be clearly optimal or suboptimal when divorced from specific situations. Game mechanical choices should always have interesting trade-offs, or they are not worth inclusion.

Lack of requirement for or benefit from system mastery. Options at any given point should never be overwhelming, but ultimate potential should be limitless (in terms of uniqueness if not character power). Choices are facilitated by random determination (dice rolling), but can also be guided by the player if desired. That is, random by default but not requirement. Limiting system mastery also keeps the character sheet small. It is intended to focus the game on problem solving and interaction with the diegetic environment, rather than management of character features.

Fantasy archetypes, but with flexibility. Beginning characters should be easy to create, but able to grow into unique variations on classic archetypes. All types of characters should be interesting to play at all levels. In addition, various character abilities can be gained at different times during a character’s career, depending on what makes sense for the particular campaign. This should allow some aspects of endgame content to be present throughout the entire game, rather than being cloistered in the high levels, since few games last that long. For example, sorcerers may brew potions at first level if they choose to focus on that activity, and some warriors may accumulate loyal follows immediately. In addition, characters are not limited to advancement within their primary archetypal domain, but advancement within that domain is easier and more direct.

Most game information (including potential character backgrounds and abilities) are presented in the form of random tables. There are several reasons behind this. The primary (practical) reason is to allow players to get started quickly. The secondary (theoretical) reason is the creative power of juxtaposition. Seemingly contradictory results can be the beginning of something memorable, and is related to the idea of synthesis out of thesis and antithesis.

It is possible to play Hexagram as a game built around character options (and it should work just fine that way) but it will really shine if you surrender to the dice and allow the character concept to emerge through play, rather than planning beforehand. That is why so much of the game (on both the referee and player sides) is built around guided randomness. A fully actualized Hexagram character should be a complex amalgam of player desires, setting opportunities acted upon, and dumb luck that nobody could ever see coming.

Even if that vision doesn’t do anything for you, there should be plenty of variant rules useable with your favorite class-and-level fantasy RPG.

The name Hexagram was not chosen arbitrarily. It represents several important aspects of this design. The hexagram, as a six-sided figure, embodies a limited number of short term possibilities. As a map division (from wargaming history), the hex also represents the starting point of a limitless and unconstrained journey. The juxtaposition of two triangles shows the reconciliation of opposites through synthesis. The number six has a lot of power and resonance. It is also the number of faces on the most common die, the number of the original set of ability scores, and the number of spell levels in the original game.

This document expects basic familiarity with tabletop roleplaying jargon (PC, NPC, referee, d20, etc) and also traditional fantasy gaming (HD, HP, XP, AC, etc). Here are a few other terms that either may not be in as wide usage or have specific meanings in the Hexagram context.

  • Diegetic: within the game world. Something a PC could reason about. 
  • Extradiegetic: often used in film theory for things like music which only the audience can hear. In roleplaying, it means something that is for players to reason about (rather than PCs). 
  • Trait: some character aspect, ranked from 0 to 6. May often be used as a bonus to a die roll. 
  • T: As in, +T or -T. This is a variable intended to refer to a trait value. Use should be clear in context. 
  • Path: a collection of related traits in service of a broad archetype. All characters have a primary path. 
  • Path trait: a learned trait that belongs to a character’s primary path. 
  • Off-path trait: a learned trait that does not belong to a character’s primary path. 
  • Prototype: a small set of traits for starting characters in service of a narrow archetype.

Lead Character Charisma

I was recently browsing my copy of ACKS, and I noticed this passage about the impact of charisma on reaction rolls (page 99):

In cases where the reaction of the monsters to the party is not obvious, a reaction roll may be made. The Judge rolls 2d6, adding the Charisma bonus of the “lead” character (or applying his Charisma penalty) along with any other adjustments he feels are reasonable, and consults the Monster Reaction table below…

This is, of course, just the standard 2d6 D&D reaction roll (the best social mechanic in the history of RPGs). The part that stood out for me was the application of the lead character’s charisma to the check. For games with a Moldvay style ability score modifier, this would lead to an interesting trade-off, as the character with the highest charisma is unlikely to be the best frontline fighter. Do you want to expose a potentially more vulnerable character to frontal assaults in return for a greater chance at indifferent and friendly reactions? Trade-offs like this are what make the game interesting to me.

For comparison, here is how the D&D Rules Cyclopedia handles charisma and encounter reaction rolls (page 93):

After the first round, the DM should modify the 2d6 roll of the character talking for the group by the character’s Charisma bonuses or penalties. For the first reaction roll, the DM shouldn’t take Charisma adjustments into account.

So I think this “lead character charisma” thing is an ACKS innovation (please correct me if you know otherwise). Moldvay does not include any mention of charisma in his section MONSTER ACTIONS (page B24), though his section on charisma (page B7) does mention the applicability of charisma to talking with monsters (implicitly, this seems to agree with the RC version, that the initial reaction should not be modified by charisma):

The adjustment to reactions may help or hinder “first impressions” when talking to an encountered creature or person (see Monster Reactions, page B24, and NPC Reactions, page B21).

It’s interesting how many variations on this there are, even just within the original and basic D&D traditions. OD&D, for example, does not list charisma as something that should affect random actions by monsters. See The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, page 12:

The dice score is to be modified by additions and subtractions for such things as bribes offered, fear, alignment of the parties concerned, etc.

As expected, the OD&D version plays down character attributes in favor of player skill and strategies.

For me, the ACKS passage brings to mind images of monsters slithering in the darkness of the underworld, but still fascinated by the otherworldly beauty or presence of some character like a bard, paladin, or elf. For some reason I find this compelling. It’s an interesting idea, though if followed strictly it might lead to characters with leaders that have 18 charisma (+3 in ACKS) never being attacked immediately by creatures that use the reaction table (some creatures, like undead and mortal enemies, are of course a special matter).

Another Approach to Races

An elf? Image by Sidney Sime

Here is another way to do some classic fantasy races without relying on things like ability score bonuses (which are boring and lead to optimization). Ability scores are rolled using the standard 3d6 in order method, but one or more ability score (depending on race) uses 2d6 instead. This means that the average member of any non-human race will likely take a penalty in those scores, which is intended. Of course, the best approach to maintaining the weirdness of non-human races is to limit them to NPCs, but even I admit it can be fun to play strange races sometimes.

Elf. 2d6 constitution. Time flows differently in Fairy-Land. Elves are ageless, and will live forever unless they are killed by violence, though they must return to Fairy-Land periodically or become mortal (and slowly forget their memories of Fairy-Land). (Note that being ageless can be a real game benefit.) Some elves speek the languages of animals, and may select animal languages in addition to standard languages (if they have extra language slots due to intelligence). Fairy-Land is a dark mirror of the Sunlit Realms, and the two realities connect in many places. When exploring a wilderness hex, elves have a 1 in 6 chance per day of finding a shadowed glade or other location that exists in both realms simultaneously. Elves cannot abide iron, will not use iron weapons or armor, and take +1 damage from iron weapons. Elves begin with elf-metal weapons, and may acquire replacements in Fairy-Land. Elves bleed something strange.

A dwarf? Image by Arthur Rakham

Dwarf. 2d6 charisma. +4 saving throws versus poison & magic. Despite being creatures of Law, dwarves originate in the Underworld. When exploring a wilderness hex, a dwarf has a 1 in 6 chance per day of locating (or summoning) an entrance to the Underworld. Dwarves are the only race that can forge magical weapons (not sure how this should work, but it requires some other rules). Dwarves may create elf-metal weapons. Dwarves can smell treasure, especially gold and gems (thanks for that one, DCC RPG). Large creatures take -1 penalties when attacking dwarves.

Beastling. 2d6 intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. Servile by nature, beastlings are humans corrupted by sorcerers to serve as slaves and soldiers. Sometimes, beastlings are spontaneously generated by the concentrations of chaos. May not have retainers. Beastlings are ferocious and hard to kill, and gain a +4 bonus to death saving throws. In addition, they are never knocked unconscious, and instead fight on at 1 HP upon a successful death saving throw. They do not, in general, understand the concept of retreat and will not do so unless commanded by others. Free-willed beastlings only come about when their sorcerous creators are slain (or, occasionally, if spontaneously generated). They are not welcome in civilization and must conceal their nature or be driven away (at best). Evan over at In Places Deep has a nice beast-man post too.

Turning Variations

Excerpt from Men & Magic page 22

To the right you can see an excerpt from the original turn undead system from OD&D. This basic idea has filtered down through all TSR editions, though it was finally replaced by the bland damage mechanic of Third Edition. The way this table works is really nice mechanically. As the cleric gets more powerful, more types of undead can be automatically turned or destroyed, but a random roll is still require to see if the more powerful undead are affected. As elegant as the results are, it still requires a table. Maybe we can approximate the table with a simple rule? It’s been done before, but here are some other approaches.

The original system works by having auto-turn (and auto-destroy) values based on cleric level, and then adding a bonus of 1 to 3 from a random roll. The percentages behind that random roll are:

  • 2d6, 7+ = 58.22%
  • 2d6, 9+ = 27.78%
  • 2d6, 11+ = 8.33%
So, considering the max HD of the affected target, rolling 7+ gives you one extra HD, rolling 9+ gives you two extra HD, and rolling 11+ gives you three more HD (corresponding to skeleton, zombie, and ghoul on the first level of the turning table). Yes, the HD equivalent is not perfect, but these monsters also have some special abilities and immunities, so the equivalency is good enough for government work. Quantifying undead by HD is pretty much what all the clones do, also.
The traditional turing table works out to this:
  • Max HD of undead turned = (level – 1) + bonus
  • Max HD of enemy destroyed or banished = (level – 3) + bonus
There are several different ways to calculate the bonus. The most obvious and traditional method would be to use 2d6 as described above and remember that 7, 9, and 11 are the magic numbers (corresponding to +1, +2, and +3). One could also translate the equivalent percentages into d20 terms, as Swords & Wizardry and Second Edition did. The idea I’m considering is making it a single d6 roll such that:

  • 4 grants +1 HD
  • 5 grants +2 HD
  • 6 grants +3 HD

This dovetails nicely with some other mechanics that I am considering, but it does still require remembering 3 arbitrary numbers.

The level – 1 is also a bit inelegant (and an extra, if simple, math step in the common case). What if we allowed anyone (non-chaotic) to attempt turning undead, assuming they had a cross? That would be “zero level” turning, whereas classed characters would add their turning level to the roll. It would fit the literature (after all, characters other than Van Helsing can use holy symbols in Dracula, if I recall correctly). I’m not sure if that steps on the clerics toes too much or not. Given my general approach to thief abilities (anyone can try, thieves are just better), it seems reasonable. It would mean that “first level” turning ability would start at the Adept level. Just an idea. Or maybe (level – 1) is not that bad.
Also, the number of hit dice affected can just be Nd6 where N is the cleric level. I think that probably works better than any other way of counting how many undead are affected. In fact, if we wanted to go really simple, and still preserve the basic idea, we could replace the whole system with rolling for the number of HD affected, but also assume that the max HD of any creature turned is N + 2, and that undead of N – 3 HD are destroyed outright. That would mean a character with first level turning ability would be able to turn away 1d6 HD worth of undead, of up to 3 HD each. This could still easily lead to failures at first level even though you always successfully turn at least 1 HD. For example, you could roll a 1 or 2 against a group of multiple single-HD undead.

Assuming you wanted to get rid of the lookup table, which approach would you prefer? Or do you have an even better idea? Or am I a heretic for considering doing away with the table?

It’s notable that most of the clones have decreased the power of turn undead, requiring clerics to roll for weak undead, even as level increases (though with lower target numbers). For comparison, here are excerpts from the Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox and Labyrinth Lord turning tables, which don’t give any automatic results until 4th level:
Labyrinth Lord page 9

Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox page 34

Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing (Grognardia)

Weapons & parrying draft

Dacian Draco weapons from Wikipedia

Dacian Draco weapons from Wikipedia

This is for a more complete alternate system that is in progress, but should also work with traditional D&D, clones, and simulacra. I know some people don’t like any kind of “roll for defense” mechanics, but these weapon abilities should still work minus the parry (which only comes up occasionally in any case). I’m still not totally sold on the parry mechanic myself; I believe it needs more play testing (but I am optimistic).


All weapons do 1d6 damage. Some weapons have additional benefits, as described below. The anti-plate weapons should obviate the need for a weapon versus AC table.

Melee Weapons

  • Spear: can be thrown, hold at bay, attack from second rank
  • War hammer, military pick, mace: +2 against plate
  • Dagger: can be thrown up to 50’, concealable, auto-hit grapple
  • Axe: re-roll damage of 1, may attack shields directly (and destroy them)
  • Sword: draw and use in same round, allows one riposte
  • Two-handed sword: 2DTH
  • Javelin, can be used as a melee weapon, longer range than dagger or spear
  • Pole arm: hold at bay, 2DTH, -2 when not attacking from the second rank
  • Quarterstaff: one free parry vs. melee weapons
  • Lance: 2d6 damage when mounted and charging

Missile Weapons

  • Bow: one shot per round, better range than anything thrown
  • Crossbow: +2 vs plate, one round to reload
  • Sling: light, cheap ammo


  • 2DTH: roll two dice and take the highest for damage.
  • Riposte: if an enemy misses you with a melee strike and rolls 5 or less on the attack roll, you get a free counterattack.
  • Parry: make a saving throw versus paralyzation to deflect an attack that hits.
  • Hold at bay: attacker must make a save to attack you, upon failure you get a free counterattack.
Or, in more detail:


Rather than make an attack, characters may choose to focus on defense. This is called “parrying” but should not be thought of as a single block or deflection (any more than a sword attack is a single cut or thrust). Any character may parry, but must be wielding a weapon or holding a shield in order to do so. Parrying allows you to make one saving throw versus paralyzation to avoid what would otherwise be a successful melee attack. Characters trained in unarmed combat may elect to parry even if not using a weapon or shield. Using a shield also grants you one free parry per turn (this may be used any time before the beginning of your next turn), and unlike standard parrying, shields may also be used to parry missile attacks. Quarterstaffs also allow one melee parry per round in addition to an attack (though note that a quarterstaff requires two hands to wield). No more than one parry may be attempted per turn.


Usable in place of a standard attack, must target one enemy, no attack roll, usable with spears, tridents, and similar weapons. If enemy attacks the spear wielder, enemy must save versus paralyzation or fail in the attack and be subject to a free attack from the spear wielder. Creatures bigger than large size require multiple spear wielders to be kept at bay.

Thanks to the people on G+ who contributed to the discussion that led to these rules, first here back in May and then here yesterday. Also see The Dragon’s Flagon regarding a similar (but slightly more complex) system for holding enemies at bay with pole arms. The flail is intentionally omitted, though if I did include it I would have it bypass shields and have a bonus to disarm.

Willpower in Traveller

Advancement as happens in most other RPGs is very limited in classic Traveller. Improving abilities and skills happens during downtime in much the same way as during character creation: in blocks of 4 years. From Book 2, pages 42 and 43:

Limited personal development and experience is possible in the sense of increasing abilities and skills. Such potential for increases is possible in four specific areas, only one of which may be attempted at one time: education, weapon expertise, other skills, and physical fitness.

In each field, the character selects a four-year program of self-improvement, dedicating his or her endeavors in something like obsession, with the general goal of self-improvement. Because individuals do not always have the will to continue with such a program, there is the chance that the program will be planned, but never actually carried out. After the general field has been chosen, the character must make a dedication die roll.

A low intelligence actually aids characters seeking physical fitness improvement:

Physical Fitness: Because many individuals find a regimen of physical conditioning unrewarding intellectually, a dedication throw of 8+ is required (DMs of +2 if intelligence is 8-, and 4 if intelligence is 5-). If the throw is achieved, the character increases his three physical characteristics (strength, endurance, and dexterity) each by 1.

8+ is a 41.67 percent chance of success. I find this particularly amusing given my recently mentioned desire to start a fitness blog. (For the Traveller-uninitiated, DM stands for dice modifier.)

OD&D loyalty & morale

In OD&D, when a retainer is hired, the referee secretly rolls 3d6 (adjusting for employer charisma) for the loyalty of that specific retainer, and records the result (this is in Men & Magic, page 13). Morale bonuses are then derived from this loyalty score, as follows:

Effects of Loyalty on Morale (OD&D)
Loyalty Morale
3 or less
Will desert at first opportunity
-2 on morale dice
-1 on morale dice
Average morale dice
+1 on morale dice
+2 on morale dice
19 and above
Need never check morale

This mechanic is, in terms of D&D at least, unique to the 3 LBBs as far as I know. Holmes does not seem to include rules for loyalty or morale, though the paragraph on charisma notes that it should affect retainers (just not how). Moldvay breaks this indirect relationship and just derives retainer morale directly from employer charisma.

What advantage might be gained by doing it the OD&D way? Well, being a 3d6 score gives loyalty a nice bell curve distribution. Most retainers are going to have average loyalty most of the time (adjusted for charisma, of course), but all retainers are going to have poor loyalty every once in a while. This doesn’t guarantee that they will seek other work, but it does affect the morale checks that happen until the next loyalty check. Speaking of which, when should loyalty be re-rolled?

Periodic re-checks of loyalty should be made. Length of service, rewards, etc. will bring additional plusses. Poor treatment will bring minuses.

Per adventure seems like a good starting point, but per session might be a bit too frequent. For the kind of game that I am running right now (G+ hangout, 3 hours per session, explore whatever you like), a re-roll per significant event might be more reasonable. Or maybe I’ll just leave the loyalty score as a constant once it is rolled, a sort of reliability and trustworthiness measure for the retainer in question. The actual morale system is also not clearly defined in the 3 LBBs. They suggest either using the negotiation reaction table on page 12 or the morale rules from Chainmail.

The rules in Chainmail don’t look very well suited for use with retainers. For one thing, they are based on the type of unit (heavy horse having the best morale and peasants having the worst). Also, morale checks are triggered by percentages of casualties taken. The 2d6 reaction/negotiation table from Men & Magic looks much more usable (something like: 3-5, flees/refuses; 6-8 follows orders; 9-12 obeys enthusiastically).

To compare, in Moldvay Basic retainer morale is derived directly from the employers charisma score. This would work out to be 7 + charisma modifier (which has a nice elegance to it, given that the expected value of 2d6 is 7), but this nice symmetry is ruined by the fact that the Moldvay charisma modifier only goes up to 2 in either direction! I never noticed that before.

Morale of Retainers (Moldvay)
Charisma Morale of Retainers


According to Moldvay, retainers only need to check morale between adventures “unless the danger is greater than might reasonably be expected” (page B27). The check is done with 2d6, just like monster morale, against the number from that table above, though modified for good or bad treatment. In this system, all retainers have the same inherent loyalty for any given employer.

I’m leaning towards using a system based only on material in Men & Magic. That would be the 3d6 loyalty score as described above, along with a negotiation roll using the morale bonus for situations that require a morale check. I kind of like the individualization the loyalty score gives to NPCs.