Monthly Archives: November 2013

A method of preparation

Part 1 of a threefold “approach to play” series. Part 2 was already published (A Method of Play).

The random stocking table included below replicates the chances from Moldvay, but only requires a second die roll one third of the time. The idea to improve the stocking table by reducing the number of die rolls came from this post. The result labels have also be rephrased in more general terms.

Before a campaign begins, do these things.

Draw a campaign map. This sounds grand, but need not be. It should usually include a place of safety (such as a town) and 3 to 6 dangerous locations that also promise great reward. Create at least one hook per location so that players can find adventure. Example hooks include rumors, available missions, or the premonitions of seers. Hidden locations may also be created later, but are not needed before the campaign begins. Less constrained situations, such as a river spirit that has been driven insane by the refuse being generated by a new mill, may also be used instead of a physical location. It is worth creating both dangerous places and abstract situations, so that players can pursue either kind of adventure.

Sites to be explored should probably have maps, because predetermined spatial relationships make exploration more engaging and easier to run impartially. Draw these maps (or repurpose maps acquired from elsewhere). Note any important NPCs, adding no more than one or two words of description and one or two special abilities if relevant. Then decide what is in every room or zone, either using dice as a guide or based on the necessity of the area and its relationships.

Finally, and most importantly, for each site create a list of complications that might occur. This is most important because, other than interacting with the site itself, these complications are what will end up constituting play. Complications can be as simple or complex as desired. A list of monsters that might be encountered wandering around the area is often sufficient.

Determining Occupants & Contents Randomly
  1. Mundane contents
  2. Mundane contents (2 in 6 chance hidden treasure)
  3. Monster or occupant
  4. Monster or occupant with treasure
  5. Hazard or trap (2 in 6 chance hidden treasure)
  6. Strange phenomenon or incomprehensible object

Weapons Quick Reference

Here is a weapons quick reference PDF (see downloads page). Some properties are also keyed to training and mastery (as described in the recently posted warrior class). When I used these rules in person, I found it invaluable to have everything on a single, easy to reference piece of paper.

For ease of reference, I have also included the rules contained in the PDF below.

The properties here are simplified from my previous effort.

Mace (source)
Mace (source)


Clubbludgeon stun
Dagger throwableauto-hit after grapple
Stafftwo-handed, bludgeon+1 ACparry (melee)
Short sword +2 attack in formation
Short bow +2 attack with aim
Slingunencumbering, versatile ammoN/A
Axeminimum damage 2hits destroy an item
Mace, war hammerbludgeon, +2 vs. armor+4 vs. heavy armor
Long sword riposte
Pole armtwo-handed, reach, 2DTHinterposing
Two-handed swordtwo-handed, 2DTHriposte
Long bow volley

All weapons deal one die of damage. Attack rolls are penalized by four with untrained weapons. Mastered weapons deal an extra point of damage. Some weapon options only become available with training or mastery.

Weapon Properties


Roll two dice for damage and take the highest result (2DTH stands for “2 Dice, Take Highest”).


Opponents must make a saving throw to get past the weapon and make an attack. If this saving throw is failed, a die of damage is sustained.


Enemies that miss the wielder with a melee strike and roll a natural five or less on the attack roll take a die of damage.


A successful hit requires the enemy to make a saving throw in addition to the standard damage inflicted. If that saving throw is failed, the enemy may not take an action during the next turn. Stuns are only effective against enemies of the same size or smaller than the weapon wielder.


Up to six shots (roll a die) may be taken in a single round, though the targets are determined randomly.


There are no penalties for using a crossbow without training. There are also no benefits gained from training or mastery. Given this ease of use, the crossbow is a weapon for the masses, and is renowned for its value against heavily armored troops. As such, crossbows are often controlled munitions, and will usually be forbidden to all other than those in official uniforms.

Crossbow+2 vs. armor, +4 vs. heavy armor, requires a round to reload


Ryuutama is a Japanese tabletop RPG that is being translated into english. It looks somewhat like what you might get if the Miyazaki of My Neighbor Totoro or Spirited Away created a fantasy RPG.

The full-color Japanese PDF can already be downloaded for free (this is legit; the author made it available). Check out that PDF for a sense of the scope and aesthetic. I have also included some art that I extracted via screen shots from this PDF at the bottom of this post that I think showcases the style.

This is being Kickstarted by Andy Kitkowski, who ran the Tenra Bansho Zero translation project and Kickstater. He has a good record delivering on his promises and creating quality products. I also have personal experience with his integrity. Though I was not aware of the TBZ Kickstarter when it was active, I later bought a copy of the hardcover TBZ set. It arrived damaged, but Andy sent me another copy without any hassles and free of charge, despite the fact that this is not a cheap set of books and sending a replacement required sending another package to Canada.

Ryuutama Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 1.25.51 PMRyuutama Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 1.24.51 PMRyuutama Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 1.27.56 PMRyuutama Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 1.29.06 PMRyuutama Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 1.29.26 PM


Spell dice

A magic resource and resolution system:

  • Magic-users get 2 + level six-sided spell dice.
  • Any number of spell dice may be used to cast a spell.
  • Casting a spell successfully requires rolling 7 + spell level or higher.
  • Any die that comes up 1 or 2 is removed from the pool.
  • All spell dice are recovered following a restful night of sleep.

This method is separate from the approach used for deciding which spells are available for casting and could be used with any spell preparation scheme, including the traditional complicated collection of level-based slots, or something simpler.

For example, a third level magic-user has 2 + 3 = 5 total spell dice. This magic user attempts to cast a second level spell, which has target number 7 + 2 = 9. Three spell dice are committed and rolled, yielding 2, 4, and 5, with a total result of 2 + 4 + 5 = 11, which is enough to cast the spell. One of the dice came up 2, however, and so is removed from the pool, leaving the magic-user with only four dice for future spells.

IMG_3751 2d6This would work with level-agnostic spells. Just treat every spell as level 1 (meaning the target number is a flat 8).

The scarcity of magic can easily be adjusted by changing the number range which removes dice from the pool (specified above as die results of 1 or 2).

Any number of other bonuses could be factored into the spell roll, but any math beyond the calculation of the initial target number (7 + spell level) will make the procedure for casting spells feel more cumbersome in terms of game mechanics.

The above rules are the minimum required to make the basic system work, but there are several other details which would add to the system.

Catastrophe & Empowerment

If the spell fails with a result that includes snake eyes (two or more 1s), the outcome is a magical catastrophe (with effect appropriate to the spell in question). If the spell succeeds with a result that includes boxcars (two or more 6s), the spell is cast with greater effect than normal (increased range, more enemies affected, extra damage, or something similar).

As the number of dice recruited rises, so does the chance of rolling either snake eyes or boxcars. This is thematically appropriate, given the idea of drawing on more unstable power at once. The chance of either extreme result is 1 in 36 (approximately 2.7%) for two dice, 16 in 216 (approximately 7.4%) for three dice, 171 in 1296 (approximately 13%) for four dice, and chances continue to increase. ★

Using Life Energy

When spell dice resources are depleted, magic-users can also draw on their own life essence to fuel spells. Life energy dice may be used, but they deal damage to the magic-user whether or not the spell is successful. The number of life energy dice usable at one time may not exceed the magic-user level. Care should be taken with this option based on the availability of healing, as any effect that can restore HP can also be used to power spells, and healers may become spell batteries. Life energy dice are always expended when used.


It would be reasonable to apply armor penalties to any spell roll total if armor is not restricted by class. Similarly with encumbrance penalties if encumbrance is tracked.

This is a mutation of a system described by Courtney. The major changes are that there is no fivefold results table (allowing the system to be used without any lookups) and here higher spell level makes spells harder to cast successfully whereas Courtney’s system makes casting high level spells more likely to exhaust dice. I have also been informed that Courtney has simplified the results from fivefold to threefold:

  • 1-5: spell goes off at the end of the round, lose the spell.
  • 6-8: spell goes off at the end of the round.
  • 9-12: spell goes off instantly.

It is also an example of concentric game design (the first five points are necessary while everything else is supplementary).

★ This is a binomial distribution. Probabilities can be found in the rightmost column of this spreadsheet. Thanks to Joshua M. for assistance.

2013-11-02 Edit

Corrected paragraph comparing this to Courtney’s system, as I misread how he applied modifiers, and added info about how he changed the results table after seeing it in play.

Based on discussion here and here, I am concerned that an unlucky first-level magic-user might not be able to get off any spells successfully before exhausting all the dice (this would happen about 15% of the time, assuming that life energy is not used, according to Ian B.’s numbers, if any die that comes up 1 or 2 is always removed from the pool). That’s no good. This could be somewhat mitigated by starting off beginning magic-users with more than 2d6 base spell dice. However, I think a better solution would be to only exhaust dice on either successfully casting a spell or failing with a catastrophe. That way, any given spell casting would not be guaranteed, but magic-users would not expend dice without also producing some sort of effect (either good or bad).