Yearly Archives: 2013

Equipment deterioration

I love the idea of (Diablo style) finding things like a rusty axe and (not Diablo style) having that actually be useful. So that’s the motivation behind this system. I would probably pair it with a silver standard for XP while leaving weapon costs in GP. So a long sword might cost 150 SP (15 GP, looking at the Swords & Wizardry Complete price list), but expected treasure found per level would be much less.

This is totally a knockoff of Logan’s notch idea. I’m just posting my formulation here so that I can reference it. I think Brush of Fumbling came up with rolling under the quality number. See also Goblin Punch, which reminded me about this whole thing not too long ago (I think there was another relevant post on Arnold’s blog, but I can’t find it right now).

Note: an updated, simplified version of this system is here:

Weapon quality ranges from 1 to 5, with 1 being best and 3 being default. Attack rolls less than or equal to the quality number result in a point of wear. Make a mark next to the item on the character sheet to track this.

Armor quality ranges from 20 to 16, with 20 being best and 18 being default. Wear accrues to armor as described for weapons above, but the relevant roll is the enemy attack (so when an enemy rolls high to hit you, your armor will take wear).

After three points of wear, an item becomes damaged, and becomes less effective (one less point of AC protection for armor, and -1 to attack rolls for weapons). Additionally, every time a damaged item takes wear, there is a quality in 6 chance that it is ruined outright (jumps immediately to six points of wear).

Six points of wear indicate that an item is ruined (falls apart, snaps in half, etc).

Repair costs are 1/6 of new cost per point of wear.

Item costs double per quality rank (round any fractions up). For example, a item that costs 10 GP (100 SP) on the rulebook price list (representing the default quality of 3), would result in the following price chart by quality:

  1. 400 SP
  2. 200 SP
  3. 100 SP
  4. 50 SP
  5. 25 SP

Items other than weapons and armor (such as grappling hooks) may accrue wear as well.

2013-11-27 edit: damaged items have a quality in 6 chance of being ruined when taking a point of wear rather than 50%.

Improved turn undead spell

Mount, Saul and the Witch of Endor (source)

Mount, Saul and the Witch of Endor (source)

As many probably are already aware, Lamentations of the Flame Princess makes turn undead a spell rather than a cleric per-encounter class ability. In general, I think this is an attractive change, as turn undead can totally obviate certain challenges in a way that is not so engaging (especially at higher level). However, I think there are some problems with the LotFP implementation.

Specifically, though a spell slot must be dedicated to turn undead, the player must still resort to rolling on a traditional turning table. This is both mechanically awkward (as it requires a table lookup or extra data copied to the character sheet) and somewhat against the spirit of spell slots. Though it is true that some “slotted” spells can also be avoided based on a target saving throw, in general I prefer when players deciding to dedicate some resources results in at least some effect. As written, the LotFP turn undead spell occupies a spell slot and may still prove useless if the 2d6 roll is unlucky.

I still like the basic idea though, and I can think of two ways to adjust the spell. In the first method, you keep the turning table, but allow as many turn attempts as desired (though no more than one per encounter) for the duration of the spell (which is given as 1d4+2 turns; see Rules & Magic, page 146), rather than being terminated by failing a turning roll. I might also prefer to base the duration on cleric level, perhaps 1d6+level exploration turns rather that 1d4+2. The second method, presented below, bases the strength of the spell on the level of spell slot used (or the level of the cleric divided by two, rounded up if not using spell levels).

Turn Undead

Cleric spell of any level, range is 30′ or as light source, whichever is less.

This spell may be prepared in any available spell slot. The power of the spell is proportional to the level of slot used. Undead of HD less than or equal to the level of the slot are automatically turned, and those with HD equal to half that level (rounded down) are destroyed (reduced to ash and blown away as by a strong wind). While turned, undead will not enter the light, but instead creep around its edges. All undead within the range are affected. Turned undead may be kept at bay indefinitely with concentration. Attacking turned undead or pressing them aggressively (such as into a corner or over a precipice) ends the effect.

Dodging & movement

Talysman has been discussing house rules for dodging. This was one of his proposals:

A character can try to dodge an attack from a single opponent per round if the character’s Move rating is higher than the opponent’s Move rating. The character takes damage only if the damage is greater than a 1d6 roll.

The essence of this rule is a form of variable damage reduction. Assuming d6 damage, since this is OD&D, this means that characters with higher movement scores (compared to an attacker) will dodge 21 out of every 36 attacks (this is based on enumerating all 36 possibilities), and damage taken has an expected value of approximately 1.94 (compared to the expected value of 3.5 damage in the case with no dodging).

I don’t love the necessity of another die roll for the dodge, but I am intrigued by the idea of basing some form of damage avoidance or dodging on comparative movement scores, as that fits thematically and potentially makes encumbrance that much more important. Yes, mathematically it is always possible to model any kind of defense as a bonus to AC, but that also feels somehow unsatisfactory in this domain (and tends toward systems with constructs like “flat-footed” to account for those cases where agility would not come into play).

Rather than rolling a die for the dodge, why not give an explicit damage reduction based on the difference between the two movement scores? That is, a character with move 12 would have a DR of 3 when attacked by an enemy with move 9. No extra dice rolls required, and the expected end result is somewhat similar. Any damage result less than this threshold would indicate a successful dodge. This DR would only apply to melee combat (though I could see a class special ability extending it to missile attacks as well, perhaps for a martial arts class like the monk). This also has the added benefit of distinguishing between an attacker with move 9 and move 6 (which would be handled identically in Talysman’s system, assuming the defender had a movement higher than 9). This also means that characters with very high movement rates would be virtually immune to the attacks from slow creatures. This is not necessarily a problem, though it would be reasonable to cap the dodge-based DR (perhaps at 4 or 5) to maintain a higher level of risk.

I’m not sure I would actually use a rule like this in play, as I’ve found such added defense rules to be particularly easy to overlook in the heat of combat, but that said this form of comparative damage reduction seems rather attractive.

Undle Nine-Fingers’ Life Hook

Nifft the Lean, by Michael Shea, is one of the more enjoyable fantasy books that I’ve read in a while. I first saw it mentioned by Chris K., and then came across a copy in a used book store. I suspect I will have more to say about the book in the future, but for now have rules for a spell taken from its pages.

The spell was the great bibliophile’s only original creation in thaumaturgy–he used it to secure the loyalty of the slaves who worked in his vast archives. It puts your life in the spellcaster’s hand, and until it’s removed he can jerk the heart out of you at any time. It also lets him visualize where you are–quite vaguely, but enough to distinguish between sunlight and the subworld’s lurid sky. (Nifft the Lean, page 123.)

Undle Nine-Fingers’ Life Hook

Magic-user spell, level 2.

Properties: psychic, sustain, touch.

Nifft the Lean

Nifft the Lean

The caster may at any time end the life of the enchanted person. Casting the life hook requires a complicated purification ritual only possible if the target is either willing or restrained. The ritual takes one hour. The spell does come with some minor degree of risk to the magician for as long as it is maintained, because it requires the existence of a spiritual tether. Another skilled sorcerer, if aware of this tether, can make use of it (for example, as a vector for an ESP spell).

This I experienced as a little sore spot in my heart, the kind of pang a large, old scar sometimes gives you–a flesh-memory of pain. (Nifft the Lean, page 129.)

Contest submissions

Here is a list of the submissions that I received for this contest thing:

  • Christopher P. – The Tongue Eating Louse
  • Evan W. – Black Tears
  • Jack M. – Black Coffee
  • Jack S. – The Caatinga
  • James Y. – The Becoming
  • John M. – The Millennial Worm
  • Mark S. – Black Ziggurat

If you sent me something, and it’s not on that list, get in touch.

I haven’t looked at all of these in detail yet, but what I have seen is great. To decide on the winner, I will be rating each from 1 to 5 on the following three dimensions: vibrant otherness, realizing the theme of metamorphosis, and interesting game elements. The highest sum of those three numbers will take the prize. I do not plan on revealing the numbers, or any ranking other than the winner, but I will be doing it systematically.

Maybe I’ll have a result by the end of november? No promises though.

Valère Bernard, Guerro: cul-de-lampe (source)

Valère Bernard, Guerro: cul-de-lampe (source)

Elves of Pahvelorn

Once elves have been discovered, players may opt to create elf characters.


  • Class: magic-user/fighter or magic-user/thief
  • HD as best of either class, but max HD = 6
  • Saves and attack numbers as most favorable of either class
  • Trained in use of medium armor
  • May not use iron or iron-alloy equipment
  • Take an extra point of damage from iron weapons
  • Begin with elf-metal equipment (use standard prices)
  • One fey characteristic
  • Detect magic by taste
  • 2 in 6 search
  • 1 in 6 chance per day of finding an entrance to Faerie in the wilderness
Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Bacchante (source)

Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Bacchante (source)

Elves are inherently magical. As such, they advance as magic-user and another class, either fighter or thief (decide at character creation). XP earned is divided evenly between the two classes. Effective HD is that of the greater of either class, but never rises above 6. Thus, elves progress more slowly, but also accumulate the benefits of two classes. Whatever power it is that grants clerics their spells refuses to treat with elves, and so elves may not be clerics. Elves are hindered by protection from evil effects, and detect as magical and chaotic.

Unlike humans, all elves are magic-users, though they cast spells intuitively rather than following long study. Human magical texts, be they grimoires, spell books, or scrolls, are incomprehensible to elves. Elf spells are determined randomly using the druid spell list on page 17 of Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry whenever an elf gains another spell slot. For example, an elf that can cast three first level spells will have three first level spells to choose from and can cast them in any combination that adds up to three uses. Faerie fire is replaced by elf-light, which all elves get as a bonus spell at first level. Further bonus spells are gained at third magic-user level (levitation) and fifth magic-user level (invisibility). Elves that have cast all their spells are out of magic and must return to Faerie before any more spells may be cast.

Elves that stay too long in the mortal realm slowly lose their ties to Faerie, forget their enchantments, and become human. At the end of every month spent in the mortal realm without returning to Faerie, elves must save versus mortality. A failure means they lose a magic-user level. Elves that reach level zero in the magic-user class lose their enchantment and become mortal. It is assumed that elves can find a way back to Faerie as a downtime action in most areas. 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.

Though elves seemingly live forever unless killed in the mortal realm, their memories become strange and disjointed over time. Elves only gain experience points for treasure spent on artistic works, which is a form of memory creation.

Humans, especially magic-users, hunt elves for their essence, which is sorcery fuel, intoxicant, and the rarest of spices. Elves visiting mortal lands usually disguise themselves to avoid this danger. Legend also holds that elves kidnap human children. This is true, though more commonly practiced by elves of the Unseelie Court, who believe that the mortal realms sap the magic of Faerie and thus seek to annex the mortal realms to Faerie. The Unseelie also sometimes plant changelings as sleeper agents.


Level 1 elf spell. As per standard light spell, though the illumination is strange and lurid. Hidden elf signs are revealed with elf-light, and the power of elf-metal equipment is enhanced. Elf-light is dispelled by sunlight and painful to undead.

Fey Characteristics

Most elves have a distinguishing feature. During character creation, roll or pick.

  1. Devil horns
  2. Pointed ears
  3. Solid black eyes
  4. Skin iridescent under moonlight
  5. Genderless
  6. Antennas
  7. Snake tongue
  8. Antelope horns
  9. Tiger striped skin
  10. Casts no shadow
  11. Fangs
  12. Cat ears
  13. Culture small, blooming plants by touch
  14. Antlers
  15. Small mouths in palms which can sense extra tastes
  16. Skin transparent under moonlight
  17. Deer ears
  18. Multiple pupils, clustered together within the iris
  19. Culture dimly glowing fungi by touch
  20. Cloven hoofs

Elf Metal Equipment

Elf-metal rots in daylight. Items of this strange metal gain a notch at the end of any day during which they were exposed to sunlight. In moonlight or elf-light, elf-metal weapons are +1 to attack and inflict magical damage. Elf-metal weapons can only rarely be found outside of Faerie.


A weapon with 6 notches is ruined. System based on this thing from Logan. Elf-metal equipment may be repaired, but only in Faerie.

Some of this material is adapted from a previous post of mine on my old blog: Another Approach to Races.

Final Fantasy IV iOS

Final Fantasy IV (originally released as FF II in the west) just recently became available (iTunes store link) for iOS. It’s on sale right now at $8 for I’m not sure how long (which is 50% off, I think). The sequel Final Fantasy IV: The After Years is also coming to iOS sometime this november, which means I don’t have to pick up a PS Vita at some point to play it. Final Fantasy IV was #5 in my Appendix NES list.

This is a remake with new graphics, not just a port, which has both upsides and downsides. I haven’t played that much of it yet, but the controls are excellent. The old sprites left more to the imagination than the new 3D character models, which detract from the mood somewhat, but that is just a minor complaint.

This is probably my second favorite Final Fantasy game (VI being the best), and IV might have an even more inspirational setting for tabletop RPGs. Something about the setting of VI seems more appropriate for the telling of an epic story, whereas I can more easily see adventurers exploring the lands of IV. Also, IV has underworld tank dwarves (Google image search pointed me to Papers & Pencils, hah).

VI will also supposedly be coming as an iOS remake (finally!), if the IV games do well.

Final Fantasy IV iOS remake (personal iPad screen captures):

IMG_0438 Final Fantasy IV iOS

IMG_0439 Final Fantasy IV iOS

IMG_0440 Final Fantasy IV iOS

IMG_0441 Final Fantasy IV iOS

IMG_0446 Final Fantasy IV iOS

IMG_0449 Final Fantasy IV iOS

IMG_0451 Final Fantasy IV iOS

IMG_0452 Final Fantasy IV iOS

Original SNES presentation, for comparison:

SNES Final Fantasy IV (source)

SNES Final Fantasy IV (source)

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