Monthly Archives: April 2014

Cleric boons

Roerich - Blessed soul (source)

Roerich – Blessed soul (source)

Hey look, it’s another system for cleric magic. You need another one of those, right?

In addition to turning undead, clerics have the ability to call upon boons from patron immortals. All boons require an action and the brandishing of a holy symbol. Any target must be touched. A cleric may use a number of boons per adventure equal to class level. Thus, a third level cleric may use three boons. Boons need not be prepared in the manner of magician spells. The following eight effects are available.

  • Bless: grant +1d6 towards a single specific action (use prior to roll).
  • Cure: restore 1d6 HP.
  • Dispel: suppress a major enchantment or destroy a minor enchantment.
  • Exorcise: drive out a possessing spirit, which may not return to the same host.
  • Know: determine whether an object or creature is unholy or possessed.
  • Light: holy symbol shines; duration and illumination as torch.
  • Purify: remove corruption, including from contaminated food or drink.
  • Resist: 1d6 DR versus one of acid, fire, lightning, or cold for one exploration turn.

That is a simple version of the system. A more complicated version might have clerics only start with access to a few boons (say, 1 to 3) and gain one more per level attained. In that case, eight boons are probably not enough. Here are several more (with the original entries repeated, so that this list can be used as a random table if desired).

  1. Antidote: negate the effects of poison if used within one exploration turn.
  2. Awe: impose penalty to enemy morale checks.
  3. Bless: grant +1d6 towards a single specific action (use prior to roll).
  4. Clear: counteract a magical mental effect such as confusion or charm.
  5. Cure: restore 1d6 HP.
  6. Courage: counteract magical fear.
  7. Dispel: suppress a major enchantment or destroy a minor enchantment.
  8. Exorcise: drive out a possessing spirit, which may not return to the same host.
  9. Inspire: grant bonus to morale checks for all allied retainers for one exploration turn.
  10. Know: determine whether an object or person is unholy, enchanted, or possessed.
  11. Light: holy symbol shines; duration and illumination as torch.
  12. Protect: grant a defensive bonus of +1d6 for one exploration turn.
  13. Purify: remove corruption, including contamination from food or drink.
  14. Question: know if the answer to one question is a lie.
  15. Remedy: cure a non-magical disease.
  16. Resist: 1d6 DR versus one of acid, fire, lightning, or cold for one exploration turn.
  17. Seal: closure may not be opened by unholy creatures while holy symbol remains.
  18. Silence: prevents speaking or the casting of spells for 1d6 turns.
  19. Smite: a weapon’s next successful strike deals +1d6 damage to an unholy creature.
  20. Ward: protection from unholy creatures for 1d6 turns or until recipient attacks.

In praise of aborted projects

This blog has featured a succession of various rule sets and enterprises. Hexagram, Gravity Sinister (the “JRPG Basic” rules), and Wonder & Wickedness. There have also been others which I have not talked about publicly. Many of these will likely never see publication. Wonder & Wickedness is a 95% done thing with some commissioned art and publication arrangements, and though some details have not been finalized, baring unforeseen calamity, it will certainly be finished and released. I will have more to say about that in the future. Compiled house rules for my OD&D Vaults of Pahvelorn setting will definitely be a free PDF download at some point too, once I get the motivation to get back to working on those dungeons again.

The great thing about doing things this way is that one develops a basket of interesting and more or less complete subsystems, setting ideas, and frameworks that can be mined at will. I started working on something else recently, and found such a backlog to be extremely useful. Each time you roll the boulder a bit farther up the hill, and sooner or later something comes to fruition. At least that has been my experience. Expecting quick results is just asking for demotivation.

Obviously, if you make a commitment to others, you are obligated to deliver, but if you are working just for yourself, I do not think it is a bad thing to dart here and there, following the muse’s call and alighting on whatever takes your fancy, especially if that decreases the friction of getting started on something at all. I guess this is another way of saying, do not worry too much about throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks, especially in the context of hobby play/work, and that expecting everything to develop into some fully realized thing is both unrealistic and counterproductive.

Some new ideas for turn undead

The main new ideas here are 1) clerics take damage on turn attempts that fail and 2) holy symbols serve as spiritual armor to reduce that backlash damage. Holy symbols also become damaged on bad turn rolls just like I have been having mundane gear degrade on bad combat rolls. The consequences of a failed turn roll are intended to provide a cost to using turn undead continuously without resorting to spell slots or some separate resource (as Pathfinder does with “channel energy” rules).

I have this vision of a cleric’s silver holy symbol melting in the face of a horde of wraiths.

The text below is an excerpt from a longer house rules document that I put together for an in-person game, and as such some terms are referenced without being defined. Overkill, for example, means combat roll success margin of 4 or better (or a natural 20).

Image by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (source)

Image by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (source)

By brandishing a holy symbol, clerics may attempt to overawe the undead. Turning undead affects a number of monster levels equal to 1d6 plus cleric level (the player may select which monsters are affected). It is resolved by a combat roll using cleric level rather than combat rating. Overkill results on a turn roll additionally deal 1d6 damage.

Undead that are affected by a turn shrink back in terror, and keep well away from the cleric as long as the turn is maintained. Such overawed creatures may not attack by any means. A turn may be maintained as long as the cleric does not engage in any activities other than concentration and slow movement. Attacking turned undead frees them from the effect.

Attempting to turn undead pits a cleric’s soul against the undead’s power. If the turn fails, the cleric takes 1d6 damage. This damage is spiritual, and so is not reduced by armor. Clerics reduced to zero HP from such spiritual damage are not slain, but rather knocked unconscious, retaining a single hit point.

Holy symbols become damaged in the case of low combat rolls just like weapons. Particularly fine holy symbols also serve as spiritual armor. Silver provides DR 1, gold DR 2, and platinum DR 3. This DR only applies to damage from failed turn attempts.

Characters of any class may assist with turning undead by brandishing a holy symbol. An assistant adds 1d6 to the effect coverage but no bonus to the combat roll. Assistants also take damage from failed turn attempts and must similarly concentrate to maintain a turn effect.

See also:

Replacing intelligence and wisdom

A replacement ability score system.

Strength, dexterity, constitution, magic, perception, charisma.

Why this substitution? Because these six scores fit into the tasks that adventurers perform regularly in the game, are useful to all classes, and are less ambiguous. For example, should INT or WIS modify the save versus magic? Why? With this spread, the relevant stat is obviously “magic.” Similarly, d6 search and listen checks are the common traditional perception system, and are used frequently. Having a stat associated with them highlights the centrality of these mechanisms to a certain play style.

3d6 each. Modifiers abbreviated as STR, DEX, CON, MAG, PER, CHA.

Ability Modifier
3 -3
4, 5 -2
6, 7, 8 -1
9, 10, 11, 12 nil
13, 14, 15 +1
16, 17 +2
18 +3
Modifier Effects
STR modifies melee damage and force tests.
DEX modifies combat rating and sneak tests.
CON is added to HP (total, not per die).
MAG modifies magic tests.
PER modifies search and listen tests.
CHA modifies reaction tests.

Force, listen, search, sneak, etc tests are performed with a d6 and succeed on 6 or higher. A natural 1 is always a failure. Listening and searching take an exploration turn and forcing something makes noise.

Magic tests are used both to resist enemy magic (basically, a replacement for saving throws versus spells) and for the difficulty of resisting the spells a particular magic-user casts.

And to replicate traditional race abilities:

  • Dwarves: +1 to search tests involving architecture or mechanisms.
  • Elves: +1 to search tests involving secret doors.
  • Halflings: +1 to sneak tests and thrown missiles.

An aside: it is interesting that “advanced” games modify ability scores directly by race, whereas the “basic” games give demi-humans bonuses only to specific tasks.

See also:

Equipment deterioration simplified

The equipment deterioration rules (originally inspired by Logan) that I posted before have seen around 10 sessions of online play testing. In general, I like the idea, but in practice I found that the large number of notches tended to prevent the effects from ever showing up on-screen. Rolling another die on every notch to test for immediate breakage is also too much work (and easy to forget, being outside the standard D&D workflow). The replacement costs I made up were a bit too complicated.

This new version of the rules (included below) feels “finished” to me, though I have only used them for two sessions so far. The complexity overhead and game impact are about where I want them. The new version does away with “null result” notch accumulation while also giving players some warning before their weapon or armor is totally gone.

There are three different gear states: sound, damaged, and ruined. On rolls less than or equal to an item’s quality rating, the item drops a category, which decreases its effectiveness in the case of “damaged.” Repairing a damaged weapon costs 1/2 new price. Some actions may cause an automatic downgrade, such as hitting a statue with an axe. Damaged weapons deal less damage and damaged armor loses one point of protection.

Monological save versus magic

Canto de amor (source)

Canto de amor (source)

In the example of monological combat I posted, I was not quite sure how to handle saving throws versus magic. The traditional approach (of the referee rolling saving throws for each monster) seems to break the design. Though I do not think that having a universal core mechanic is always desirable, I would still like to see if I can get magic to fit within this framework more naturally.

A first sketch of how this might look. Player rolls 1d20, and adds some bonus reflective of magic skill or spell power. This number is then compared to some sort of magic defense target number for each potential target. One simple instantiation of this structure would be 1d20 + magic-user level versus 10 + enemy combat rating. That is, the magic target number would be the same as the combat target rating. Given that many spells have non-damage effects, this would not entirely homogenize action types from different classes (something that I would like to avoid), though for damage dealing spells it does have that effect to some degree.

For example, a monster of level 5 has a target number of 10 (base) + 5 (level) = 15. Hitting it with a sword thus requires rolling 1d20 + combat bonus and achieving 15 or higher. Affecting it with a fireball (say) would also require rolling 1d20 + magic bonus (whatever that is) and achieving 15 or higher (with full damage being inflicted on success and half damage on failure). That seems usable, and has the added benefit of allowing compatibility with most published monsters that have traditional stats (just let level = HD, making the general target number 10 + HD). Exactly what the magic bonus is would probably depend on exactly what base system I was bolting this onto, but in addition to magic-user level, one could also use the max level of spell that could be cast (which is usually approximately class level divided by two).

The downside is that the differentiation between defense modes is minimal. The main difference is that armor (as damage reduction) would not come into play most of the time for resisting spells. Another thought I had is that monsters could be divided between supernatural and mundane, with only supernatural monsters adding their level to the magic defense target number. In this case, a bear, despite having a level of around 4 when considering physical combat, would have a magic target number of only 10, whereas something like a wraith would add level. This would make some monsters more susceptible to magic than others, which could lead to some interesting tactics. There is maybe space for a midpoint quasi-magic type of creature as well (that would add half level to the target number, or something along those lines). I am not sure if this would be too fiddly in practice, but it seems reasonable on paper here. Defaulting to 10 + level is probably easier though.

What about the equivalent of PCs making saves versus enemy spells? That is handled the same way, just with failure meaning the PC is affected and success meaning the effect is avoided (or mitigated). Sorcerous classes should probably add some bonus to this roll, while other classes would be more vulnerable to the effects of spells. Ability score modifiers could also be brought into play if desired without dramatically affecting the system.

See also:

Marking the dead

Sunday afternoon I spent running Barrowmaze in person, using my standard inchoate, experimental mix of new house rules. The PCs cleared out a good number of barrow mounds, but didn’t venture that far into the dungeon proper after a TPK (eaten by shadows). Both players ended up with halfling goblin PCs by the end of the session, after losing a magician, fighter, and cleric to the dungeon, along with a rather large number of retainers. What’s the point of all this. The deceased stamp! That is all.

IMG_7050 odd barrowmaze 600w IMG_7049 odd barrowmaze 600w IMG_7048 odd barrowmaze 600w

Lusus Naturae

Monstruct color draft

Lusus Naturae’s monstruct

My favorite new RPG book that came out in 2013 was perhaps Rafael Chandler’s Teratic Tome. I do not know why I have not written more about it before, but I should. It is fantastically creative and professionally done. In addition to being probably my favorite new RPG book of 2013, it is also one of my favorite bestiaries in general, up there with the Fiend Folio and the Bard Games Atlantis Bestiary. For me, it has only one real flaw, which is that the physical production (being a print on demand “casebound” hardcover) is only middle tier. Would it not be fantastic if Rafael were able to produce a monster book to a higher physical production standard? Well, Lusus Naturae will be that.

The name means “freaks of nature,” and it is intended to be a collection of 100 horror-themed monsters for Lamentations of the Flame Princess (and thus compatible with most traditional fantasy RPGs). This thing has already funded, so there is very little doubt that it will exist later this year (and Rafael has been one of the most reliable producers of small press RPG material recently, so risks on that front, even of mere delays, seem minimal). Needless to say, I have backed it. There are several more days to go, and if it hits $16660 before then, all the images will be done in color (this is the only stretch goal, though Rafael was recently wondering if he should maybe do something else special if the project reaches 666 backers).

I should also probably mention that the Teratic Tome is now pay what you want in PDF. So if you are not familiar yet with Rafael’s work and want to see what you might be in for with Lusus Naturae, you can check that out. Not directly related, but if you are interested in the above mentioned Bard Games Atlantis Bestiary, the Sorcerer’s Skull has a post about that.


St. Sebastian with lantern (source)

St. Sebastian with lantern (source)

Torchbearer has many rules that I think could profitably be spliced into more traditional dungeon crawling games. Of these, light coverage is perhaps one of the easiest to apply. Light coverage is the idea that the amount of illumination provided by a given light source is limited. Rather than trying to measure this using a literal approach of light radii as is commonly done in D&D, Torchbearer measures illumination by the number of characters that can benefit from a given light source (1 for candles, 2 for torches, and 3 for lanterns).

In addition to the number of characters fully covered by a source of illumination, a similar number of characters are in dim light. For example, a party of seven adventurers with one torch would have three characters in full light, three characters in dim light, and one character in darkness. Both dim light and darkness are factors in Torchbearer tests, which could easily be modeled as situational penalties in other games. The exact numbers here do not really matter, and could be adjusted to reflect however various light sources are conceptualized.

While considering how to handle grenades or other area affect attacks within a monologic combat framework*, Gus suggested that perhaps various area affect attacks, such as grenades or fireballs, could have an explosion rating indicating the maximum number of enemies that could be affected. I immediately thought of light coverage. Splash or blast damage, like movement distances, are hard to resolve satisfactorily and without handwaving when using fictional positioning. In the past, I have thought of area affect

The coverage rating would reflect the most targets that could potentially be affected by a given effect or item. The referee would still need to make a ruling about whether or not this coverage capacity was “filled up,” but the coverage rating would provide convenient and easy to understand guidelines, along with an upper bound. A second tier of effects, similar to how Torchbearer handles dim light, could be used to model something like secondary splash damage from a molotov cocktail. Coverage ratings could also be used for weapons such as nets, or even potentially special attacks using more conventional weapons (two-handed sword sweeps and missile volleys come to mind).

I suspect this general coverage approach could also be applied to abstracting other rules that are difficult to get a clear shared geometric understanding about.

* See: monologic combat.