Sunday, January 17, 2021

D&D Assassins: Best And Worst Mechanics

Is there a reluctance in D&D games to give Assassins the ability to kill? Consider this... 

  • A 1st level Magic-User can slay at will with the spell Sleep -- which offers no saving throw and shuts down multiple foes of 4 hit dice or less. Considering that probably 90+% of all creatures in your fantasy world are 4 hit dice or less, your 1st level magic-user is stunningly powerful. Granted, they can only do this once/day until they gain more levels and/or scrolls.

Let's take a look at different versions of D&D to see how they handle an Assassin's ability to assassinate as well as other abilities like disguise and poison.

In no particular order or importance...

AD&D 1st Edition

  •  A back-stab doing up to quintuple damage depending on your level. That option is for both assassins and thieves and serves as an argument against even having a separate assassin class. In most versions of D&D on this list, not counting 3.5, the back-stab (sneak attack) is merely double damage.)
  • The assassination table (found in the DM's Guide, pg. 75) assumes you have delivered to your DM a detailed plan of your assassination attempt. Probably includes infiltration and disguise rolls. You have a base 50% chance of straight up killing your foe, depending on your level cross-referenced with theirs. If this fails, regular weapon damage is rolled, which might kill in and of itself, and also may require a save vs. poison if you are employing such tactics.
  • As mentioned above, any option you choose can also employ the use of poison as a back-up, but the Player's Handbook discourages PCs using poison as it can be abused and there is mention of a check to see if you nick yourself, but it's unclear what that check is (just dawning on me now, is this a poison save? -- if so that's cool, but assassins should get some kind of bonus.)
  • Also, the poison rules are overly concerned with people spotting the poison on your blade, not something I was ever concerned with.
  • Disguise success is automatic with a increasing chance of being caught per day. 
  • Assassins don't start getting thief skills until 3rd level.
  • The Player's Handbook has a table displaying what you should be paid for your dirty deeds. This is cool. 
  • Verdict: Not bad, but it's largely a flavor class. The 1st level thief is more capable.

D&D 3.5
  • Dungeon Master's Guide, pg. 180 (I consider the 3.5 DM's Guide second only to the much beloved 1st Edition DM's Guide in it's overall usefulness.) Here, the Assassin is a Prestige Class requiring 4 ranks in disguise, and 8 ranks in both hide & move silently
  • The best Assassin drawing I've ever seen in a D&D book (art by Wayne Reynolds.)
  • Mechanics, the death attack -- here you have to make a sneak attack after studying your target for 3 rounds. If it hits, they must save vs. Fort DC:10 + your level + your Intelligence bonus or die instantly or (your choice) be paralyzed for 1d6 + your level rounds. If they make their save, you still do sneak attack damage. I love it all except for the 3 rounds of study. Nobody wants to voluntarily sit out the game for 3 rounds.
  • This version of the Assassin can cast spells.
  • Poison Use -- can use poison without poisoning themselves. Not really that exciting as anyone can use poison with only a 5% chance of poisoning themselves -- lame. And all variations of D&D lack good (or any) black market rules for locating things like poison. However, the Assassin does gain an increasing resistance to poison (bonus to save) as he levels up, so this is good as it displays tangible knowledge of the subject.
  • Verdict: Good, except for the 3 rounds of study thing.

Pathfinder 1st Edition
  • Very similar to the 3.5 Assassin. No spells though, but has variations on the death attack as you gain levels.
  • Verdict: I prefer the 3.5 version.

D&D 5th Edition
  • A sub-class of the Rogue starting at 3rd level.
  • Assassinate -- You have advantage vs. someone who hasn't taken their turn and any attack is a critical hit if your foe is surprised. High level assassins can do a lot of sneak attack damage vs. surprised targets.
  • Your 9th & 13th level abilities are lame as hell, campaign-based, infiltration and imposter abilities. Talk about empty levels.
  • Death Strike at 17th level(!) surprised targets must save or take double the damage inflicted. Could be a massive amount of damage.
  • Verdict: Disappointing. Yes, they can do a shit-ton of damage when they (finally) reach 17th level, but all of the mid-level abilities just focus on disguise type stuff, and poison isn't even mentioned. Everything is measured in damage. This is the Walt Disney Assassin. 

Labyrinth Lord (Advanced)
  • Streamlines the percentage chance from AD&D 1st Edition. Here you don't have to turn in an elaborate plan to your DM, you simply attempt the (modified by levels) percentile roll after a successful back-stab.
  • Disguise rules like in AD&D1st Edition.
  • Can use poison of course, and again like 1st Edition.
  • Verdict: Pretty good streamlined assassinations.

Swords & Wizardry
  • No rules for assassination other than the suggestion to add damage equal to your level to any successful back-stab. This is because S&W is based on the Original Rules which apparently only had "off-screen" assassination mechanics for NPC assassins.
  • Verdict: Disappointing. But, a few simple hacks...

Old School Essentials
  • Assassination -- you must succeed on a back-stab attack, victim then saves vs. death with a penalty based on the assassin's level. Any human/demi-humans can be killed and monstrous humanoids up to 4 hit dice.
  • Usual disguise stuff and victim's of the Assassin's poison (if they use it) suffer -2 to the save.
  • Verdict: Very clean, one of the best. I would add -- a poison save bonus, treat disguise like a thief skill, a few spells. 

Castles & Crusades
  • Death Attack is similar to the one from D&D 3.5 in that it requires 3 rounds of study, a sneak attack, and a save (constitution save.)
  • Has an interesting ability called case target (wisdom check) which allows you to discern things like hit dice and hidden weapons or abilities, but it's all at the CK's (DM) discretion and it takes 1d3 x 10 minutes. This tilts toward being a flavor ability because it takes so much in-game time to do and depends a lot on discretion. I would change it to -- 1 secret discerned per round spent casing, so it can be beneficial right there in combat.
  • Has the usual uninspiring disguise and poison stuff.
  • Verdict: Okay. C&C classes have a lot of flavor abilities that I wish had more of an immediate mechanical impact. Still a nice game. Just tinker a bit.

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea
  • Assassination requires a successful back-stab as per the usual back-stab type rules, must be hidden, +4 "to-hit", etc. Then a second d20 is rolled according to a chart cross-referencing levels. If this second roll succeeds, the target then saves vs. death (no save is allowed if the "kill" roll was a 19 or 20).
  • The usual poison and disguise stuff, except here disguise has a 1 in 6 chance and the disguise spell is referenced.
  • Verdict: Okay, maybe one too many rolls. Should a death save be required after two rolls? Does sleep offer a save? -- No. Compromise -- Drop the second roll, keep the death save.

Basic Fantasy
  • Assassinate -- Make a successful sneak-attack, victim saves vs. death. DM's discretion -- Victims 2 or more levels lower than you might be denied a save and no penalty for higher level victims -- wow!
  • Can also waylay (knockout) someone using the Assassinate ability.
  • No disguise mentioned, but they can make a dose of contact poison for 500 GP and this has a percentage chance of success like other thief abilities. Pretty cool, comes with a warning not to abuse this.
  • Verdict: Not bad, pretty straight forward. Maybe the most generous one here.

HackMaster (5th Edition)
  • Ok, for an old-school D&D clone, this game is crunchy. 1/3 of your hit points equals your Threshold of Pain (ToP). If you take more damage than your ToP, you need to roll under 1/2 your constitution or collapse, writhing in pain. 1st level Assassins deduct 1 from their target's ToP, and 1 more every two levels thereafter making it easier for them to drop you. If the damage is 5 or more higher than it needs to be, you're not only dropped, but dropped silently. 10 or more than it needs to be, and you fall flat out unconscious allowing for a Coup de Grace in just 2 seconds, where as other classes take 10 seconds. Got that?
  • Poison is not mentioned and disguise is a skill anyone can take (I think.)
  • Verdict: I think it works for this game as there are a lot of realistic aspects to this combat system. But damn, crunchy.

In summation and what would my perfect Assassin look like?
  • My two favorites from the list above are from vastly different versions of D&D -- Old School Essentials and D&D 3.5 (I've always liked the 3.5 Assassin.) 
  • I would like to see poison utilized more. Not just in using poison, but finding it in the black market or cultivating it from the wild. 
  • Disguise should be treated just like a thief skill with instantaneous, on-the-spot results. Example -- the party slays some cultists or orcs or something roughly humanoid. The Assassin gathers up it's equipment and wanders into the next room containing more cultists/orcs, roll your disguise to see if it works. If it does, you gather some intel or pick some pockets. If it doesn't, it's much like failing a stealth check. When you distill it down, disguise is just stealth out in the open.
  • Clean assassination rules. Successful sneak attack, then level-based save.
  • Daggers are iconic assassination weapons and should be more integral to the class. Perhaps limit sneak attack (back-stab) to daggers only. This creates a decent risk. But in doing this, I would make them equal to, or close to, fighters in combat ability, while still limiting armor to leather.
  • Magic use is optional for me, but makes sense. Assassins would definitely dabble in the dark arts to gain an edge.
  • Visually, I like the mysterious, cloaked figure, dodging in and out of shadows, poisoned dagger in hand, striking to kill whenever he can.
  • And here's a final thought -- you could link the death attack directly to poison. If they're out of poison, they can't make a death attack. This promotes the need to find and/or cultivate poison (which should be hard & expensive.) Start counting your doses. With this method, a back-stab isn't required (but you would still have that ability.) And perhaps a poison would only last so long on your blade, so once you apply it, time is of the essence. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Imagine Rifts: Psi-Stalker

Imagine, you're not considered a full human, but a mutant, something of a second class citizen. You're not welcome at the table...and you don't mind. Fuck the table.

Imagine, you never have to eat or drink, but what sustains you is the potential psychic energy and magical strength of those with beyond human capabilities. You can smell them and the smell is good.

Imagine, the thrill of the hunt for such a thing. You live for it. You lust for it. It requires but a drop of blood and every ounce of your will...not to kill.

Imagine, you are but one of many, born of the tribe, the wilderness your home, solitude your temple.

Imagine, you are a Psi-Stalker.

Rifts is cool.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Bursting Into 2021!

The Burster. 

Fire-Starter meets Johnny Storm.

One of the more powerful psychics on Rifts Earth. 

As unpredictable as wildfire. 

If their blood boils, yours will too. 

Welcome to 2021.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Troika! Character Sheet And Thoughts

My vision of a Chaos Champion.

  1. A Russian carriage, wagon, or sleigh drawn by a team of three horses abreast.
  2. Any group of three persons, nations, etc., acting equally in unison to exert influence, control, or the like; a triumvirate. 
In the game, Troika is the name of a city.

Troika! is a game based on the Advanced Fighting Fantasy books of yesteryear, which I swear, I only heard about this year. How is that possible? I don't know. I must have seen them in bookstores way back when, but maybe not, were they even sold here in the states?

It's a little hardback book with cool interior art that reminds me of a deck of cards. The imagery is surreal and abstract which allows you to make of Troika! what you will and as you can see by my art above, I chose to make of it -- Sword & Sorcery, Dungeon-Crawl, Savage  Bad-Assery!

Things I like:
  • 3 main stats (Skill, Stamina, and Luck) randomly rolled that never change. I would keep it that way. Though, I could see adding to stamina a tiny bit here and there over time.
  • The Luck stat is your all-encompassing saving throw that diminishes every time you use it, pass or fail. Awesome. Push your luck and you'll be out of luck. This is like a built in clock that tells the party, "It's time to rest."
  • Provisions that heal when eaten. A tangible reason to pay attention to food.
  • An inventory system that makes you pay attention to where you store that food.
  • As many (Advanced) skills as you want or need.
  • As many flavorful backgrounds (classes) as you can dream up. 36 in the Troika! book. 36 more in Acid Death Fantasy. Many more all over the web. Not created equally, but all full of flavor. This is the old-school way.
  • You can create a monster in seconds.
  • A magic system that cost stamina to use. Cast too many spells, you die. Cast any spell and you risk death no matter who you are do to the OOPS! table (rolling double 6's.) All of the usual tropes are there, but they're powered down, e.g., you can try to put one person to sleep.
  • A roll under and roll over system. Keeps you on your toes. 
  • Opposed roll combat, loser takes damage (I mention below that I would separate this into attack and defend.)
  • Damage charts for weapons. At first glance I was like, eh no, but upon further examination, I approve. Some weapons are more dependable than others (swords), dealing moderate but steady damage. Yet, a clumsy weapon like a heavy maul varies from a little damage to a bruising lot.
  • If you like the sci-fi element to the game, rifles are long barreled "Fusils" and guns are "pistolets." Ammo is a "plasmic core" that can also be huffed by wizards to fuel spells. I kid you not, this is cool stuff. Even if I left out the guns I would keep the plasmic core and rename it in some sorcerous way. Fallen Angel Dust, Essence of Dragon, etc.
  • Deadly combat.
  • Armor matters, but takes up space. This will break down if you ignore the inventory system and then everybody will be wearing heavy armor + shield. In which case, you should apply some sort of attack or damage roll penalty.
  • You can use these rules for any genre.

Things I would alter or add:
  • Initiative. It's cute, I get what they're going for: Chaos! But, collecting and drawing tokens (potentially lots of them) every time there's a fight, is way to fidgety for my taste. I would keep it more traditional, players roll a d6, monsters roll a d6 and add their initiative score. This way initiative still favors monsters. Perhaps a monster can attack after every PC goes. Perhaps you could roll a chaos die after every one goes, on a 6 the round ends and if you didn't get to act, too bad. Anyway, I would do something different.
  • I would add an XP system. I'm not a fan of "getting better" whenever the GM says so. I like something a bit more concrete. I would keep the numbers low, hundreds not thousands. You would get it for the usual reasons, killing things (XP = their stamina) finding things, etc. And when you have enough to "level up" you would get 3 improvement rolls wherever you want them (or use the tick system and only improve skills used successfully as in the rules) of course they're not guaranteed to succeed. Perhaps every few "levels" you add 1 stamina. And every so many few levels, you can add a new skill or spell -- randomly(?). Something like that. You could maybe even create specific advancement skill/spell roll charts based on specific backgrounds.
  • Prices. There are no prices (some baubles are priced in the intro adventure, listed in P (Pence) and SP (Silver Pence). No conversion is mentioned. This is no biggy, make up your own system. Of the top of my head, a weapon would cost in SP a number equal to its damage column 7+ (plus or minus 1d6 due to market prices.) Armor could cost it's bonus x 10. Any "item" might cost 2d6, 3d6 or 4d6 depending on the market (multiply by 5 or 10 for homebrew magic items.) Perhaps it takes a skill roll to find something. Perhaps create a black market skill for shady types. A Barter skill could be cool. To keep things simple, I would probably ignore the P and just use SP. Anything listed as P would be 1 SP. Or maybe gold with a silver standard.
  • Magic items. Have to be careful here, a +1 to hit or to damage roll, that's it. If an item granted a +2 there should be a serious price to pay. Many items would simply grant spell-like powers. I would give magic items an unknown finite number of uses, a "depletion" score like in Numenera (an idea I like for any game.)
  • Scrolls and a Use Scroll skill. Pretty straight forward here. Perhaps they don't drain you, but you can still roll OOPS! Or perhaps they drain you unless you roll doubles. And they would be expensive, 100 SP per casting cost. Or maybe just 50.
  • Separate combat into attack and defense rolls. You might live a little longer. Combat seems more like a duel. More interesting. You defend as many times as you are attacked.
  • The Strength skill could add +1 to damage rolls or perhaps let you carry more. Just a thought.
  • Mighty Blows damage armor (as well as ((or instead of)) doing double damage) so that heavy becomes modest and modest becomes light and light becomes nothing. Likewise, a mighty blow could destroy a shield.
  • Rolling doubles. Double 1's & 6's are both good and bad in this game, but you could make any doubles interesting to add a little spice to combat. You hit on a double, you get a free attack or action. Or you add +1 to your damage roll. Or maybe your spell cost 1 point less. Roll doubles on defense, get a free riposte, etc. Snake-Eyes and your weapon breaks or your foe gets a free attack. Also could add effects for magic weapons (1d6 extra armor-ignoring shock damage, or some such thing.) Roll doubles on a successful spell casting and it costs 1 point less, doubles on a failure and it costs 1 point more.
  • Mutants. You could always add a random list of mutations for weird magic or mutant backgrounds, claws, wings, acid spit, chitinous skin, etc. But, for every beneficial mutation there should also be a negative one.

Once again, another cool game, not unlike the magnificent Mörk Borg. This game's mechanics hit a lot of the right buttons for me. And to think most of these rules have been around for decades.

So here's the character sheet I came up with. At first, I thought the rules were too simple for a full page sheet, but that's when you can make it interesting. I'm pretty pleased with this one.

Here's the sheet in action with the Chaos Champion I drew at the top of the post...

And as a bonus, here are stats I made for a Morning Star (flail.) It's not quite as good as a Mace, but it ignores shields. So, if you're fighting someone protected only by a shield, rolling a 2, 4, or 6 will result in 1 more point of damage than a mace would. It's also 1 point better than the mace in the 7+ column to account for the extra momentum gained from that perfect strike. Still, the more armor involved, the mace becomes a better choice. (And for God's sake when wielding a Morning Star, wear gauntlets!)

Until 2021...

Sunday, December 6, 2020

What Happened In That Town?

What Happened In That Town? 

Roll 1d20...

1. Food Poisoning
: Some inn/tavern served you rotten/tainted food. Save vs poison or be bed-ridden for 1d4 days and lose 1 point of constitution. If you make your save, roll another save, if you make the second save as well, gain 1 point of constitution.

2. Purse Cut: You were robbed of 1d4 x 100 GP worth of treasure (or all of your coins if you didn't have that much) unless, you make a successful attack roll vs leather armor, which means you gut the bastard gaining 2d6 x 10 XP.

3.Charmed: You met a new friend. You liked them so much that you loaned them all of your cash, i.e., unless you saved vs spells and broke the asshole's nose gaining a +2 bonus vs all Charm spells from now on.

4. Royal Hunt: Somehow, you found yourself a guest at a Royal Hunt just outside of town. Make 3 ranged attack rolls vs leather +1 armor. Make all 3 and gain 1 point of charisma as word of your prowess spreads and people are pleased to meet you. Make 2 of 3 and you've impressed a nobleman who might sponsor your next expedition or spring you from jail, either way, you've got a royal favor in your back pocket. Make 1 of 3 and nothing changes for your forgettable ass. Miss all 3 and word spreads of your incompetence, lose 1 point of charisma as folks chuckle when they hear your name.

5. Stolen Steed: If you had a horse stabled at the Inn, it's gone. (Stable boy sold it.)

6. Old Friend: Old friend (of the same class and level as you) is now: (1d8) 1. A useless drunk lying in a ditch. 2. Captain of the guard. 3. A cultist selling flowers. 4. The owner of a brothel. 5. About to be hanged. 6. Leaving on a dragon quest. 7. Bootlegging magic potions. 8. Tells you that you've got a lot of nerve coming here...

7. Beggars: "Alms for the poor," she said as you walked through the Alley of Sadness. Did you give? What kind of coin? Copper--she nods and blesses you. Silver--her eyes light up as she thanks you and quickly hides the coin, others take notice. Gold--she's speechless, yet can't hide her hunger for the treasure, another tries to take it from her, but she fends him off. Platinum--she didn't even have a chance to react as she is buried beneath a mob of jealous beggars. Her fate was grim, but you meant well and the Gods that matter grant you a boon: You can reroll your next 1d4 failed rolls. 

8. Witch Burning: She sure as hell didn't look like no witch, but you watched her burn just the same. And before the flames really started licking, she caught your eye and stared. And stared. And stared. And if you don't make 2 out of 3 saves vs spells you are now cursed with a -3 to all rolls until you can find and convince a member of her coven to set you straight. It won't be easy. It won't be cheap.

9. Assassin Strikes!: Only you know why that assassin tried to kill you. It was a tedious dual, but you fought him off.....or did you? Make 3 attack rolls vs leather +2 armor, succeed on 3 of 3 and you gain +1 to-hit. Succeed on 2 of 3 and you gain 1 hit point. Succeed on 1 of 3 and the assassin's poison saps you permanently of 1 point from a randomly rolled ability. Fail all 3...nice knowing you pal.

10. Tavern Brawl: You don't no whether he bumped you or you bumped him, or maybe you just hit on his girl, either way, it's on! Start making unarmed attack rolls vs unarmored. Make 3 in a row, you win and gain +2 to all reaction rolls in this town forever. Miss 2 in a row, you lose, spend the next 1d4 days in the stockades for unlawful behavior and suffer -2 to all reaction rolls in this town forever.

11. Fire!: There is no more town. This really sucks, but, anything that you weren't carrying on you was lost when the inn went up in flames. Sorry bud.

12. Plague: This is not the place you want to be right now! Sores and boils, bleeding eyes and cracked skin, vomit and shit. Turn around! Too late. Save vs paralysis until you have 3 consecutive successes or 3 consecutive failures. Pass and you're good, gain 1 point of constitution and immunity to this plague. Fail and you lose 1d4 hit points permanently and also lose 1 point of charisma due to plague scars.

13. Peasant Unrest: Chaos reigns. The taxes were too high, the royal abuses too many, and the food too scarce. Now, there's a Guillotine around every corner, buildings burn, neighbors pillage neighbors, and bodies hang from the bridge. You, my friend, were caught right in the middle of it. Make an attack vs leather to fend off the mob. Save vs breath to avoid the flames. Make another attack vs chain to beat back the guards. Save vs paralysis to avoid hunger. And save vs spells to forget the disturbing scenes of urban madness. Gain 100 XP for each successful roll you made, but, if you failed all 5 rolls you lose 1 point of wisdom as your mind is just a little more numb than it used to be.

14. Succubus: You are haunted by a Succubus every night until you make 2 consecutive saves vs Paralysis (1 save per night.) Every save you fail costs you 1d4 non-heal-able hit points, which ultimately return at a rate of 1d4 per week. If you made the first 2 saves in a row, she flees and you gain 2 points of Charisma...there's just something about you now.

15. Taxation: Property, trade, land, boarding, services, etc. Everything was taxed at ridiculous levels. How else was the king supposed to pay for his latest crusade? You're out an additional 3d4 x 10 GP. And if you don't pay, don't come here again, the guards know your face.

16. Strange Customs: Man, this fucking town. They made you eat something alive and squirming from the river, save vs poison. They don't bathe here, and neither did you, save vs disease. And why did it have to be snakes that they revered so much and allowed to squirm all over you no matter what you were doing? -save vs petrification. Also, if you wanted milk you had to drink it directly from the cow, because, that's how they did it, save vs poison, again. Curious how everything in town was painted in a dizzying, black and white checkered pattern, including these long winding streets and circular your head, save vs spells. If you make 3 of these 5 saves, gain 1 point of wisdom as you are now just a bit more worldly. But yeah, fuck this place.

17. Stalker: Someone is stalking you but they always manage to disappear before you can reach them and you're the only one who notices: (1d8) 1. Street urchin. 2. Cloaked figure. 3. Beautiful woman. 4. Handsome man. 5. Corpse. 6. Ghost. 7. Raven. 8. What is that thing...?  How are they moving? (1d6) 1. Walking 2. Gliding 3. Sideways on walls 4. Tentacles 5. Crawling 6. Phasing in and out.

18. Festival of... (1d10) 1. Lights. 2. Saint So-and-So. 3. Beer! 4. Solstice. 5. Music. 6. Tournaments 7. Theatre. 8. Harvest. 9. The Dead. 10. You have no idea, but it was fun! Your wallet's a wee bit lighter now, 2d6 x 10 GP lighter to be exact, but, you gain half as much in XP for all the strange games and ceremonies you participated in. Good times.

19. False Accusation: "It was that one!" Screams the dirt-covered peasant surrounded by guards. Make a Reaction Roll as you plead your innocence: (2d6) 2-3. You're placed under arrest, hiring an advocate to plead your case costs you 3d6 x 10 GP and 2d4 days of time. 4-6. They're not buying it, roll again with -4 to your roll. 7-9. You're kind of convincing, roll again. 10-11. They believe you, but you suffer -2 to reaction rolls in this town for the duration of your stay. 12. They arrest the accuser for bearing false witness!

20. Siege: That's right, hero, you're stuck here for the next 1d6+6 months. Save vs poison to avoid starvation and rotting food supplies. Save vs wands to avoid artillery. Save vs paralysis to avoid the elements. Save vs breath to avoid their dragon. Save vs magic to avoid their wizards. Pass all 5 saves, congratulations you survived the siege and gain a level. Fail all 5 and lose 1 point from 3 random abilities due to stress and malnutrition. Otherwise, just be thankful you're alive.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Knock! Issue One Kickstarter is live!


An Adventure Gaming Bric-a Brac. Being A Compilation of Miscellanea for Old School RPGs. For us OSR weirdos and curious D&D heads alike.

Click the Image Below!!!

Boost the Signal!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

How About A Little Dungeon-Crawl Fiction.....

The Henchmen Part I

by Graphite Prime

"If you do not find yourself drawn to newly discovered dark places, then you and I are not of the same."

   Naruj of Dussk,

The Passage of Avidian

There is a time when war subsides. 

Yet war never truly ends, but follows a rhythm, not unlike the tide or a brief respite in between the pulsing of pain. Such is the nature of that God. This is the time of exploits. Territories change hands. Aside from obvious resources, one kingdom sees value where another did not. The vanquished often let slip treasures that existed in the shadows of their ignorance. Sometimes this was the very reason for the war, along with of course, the usual suspects of hunger, land, and hate.  

And with the conclusion of one such war, a vast expanse of wilderness, not settled since ancient times, was now once again in civilized hands. Scouting missions unearthed evidence of places forgotten to all but the eldest sage, and soon, rumors spread of gold. Maps were made, bought and sold. Many were fake, but a few.....

Keeps along the borderlands saw growing activity from traders, trappers, and adventurers for hire. Numerous expeditions set forth to explore a land once considered the pinnacle of civilization. One such expedition was thirteen strong. They ventured long and far before they found their mark and after resting for several days, seven of them, including the expedition leaders, descended in what was supposed to be a preliminary probe. Two days later, four of the remaining six, decided to follow.....

They were: Ohn, Pettr, Talin, and Chade, all veterans of the Duke's last war. All with just enough honor to seek the fate of their companions. All eager to get paid.

Ohn and Pettr were brawny men with Pettr the larger of the two. Ohn, would lead with shield and torch, both long and short swords on his belt. He was clad in a brown, brigandine cuirass over mail, complete with coif. Pettr, wore a mixture of plate and mail, also with coif, a poleaxe his weapon of choice. 

Pointy-eared Talin, was also clad in chain mail, but a much finer weave than his companions. He was cloaked in green and ready with his short-bow and tomahawk, among other things..... He had thirty arrows to lose. Chade, a scout and sapper, wore a gambeson modified with boiled leather, lined with various belts and pouches containing the secrets of his trade. He was quick and would fight with a short blade if necessary. 

All, but Pettr, wore backpacks and were well equipped with things like crowbars, daggers, rope, hooks, spikes, oil, torches, chalk, rations, and water for two days. Pettr carried his own rations, but not much else. They had very little room for loot.

The entrance to the underworld lay at the bottom of a rugged ravine. The area was thick with woods and the scattered remains of glories long past. There were megaliths bearing grimaced faces, fragments of wild chimeras, rows of broken columns, stairs ascending to nowhere, and monuments to things unknown. Given the treacherous slope, it was hard to imagine how it all once looked, but presently, the four veterans were more concerned with not breaking their necks. If this expedition did manage to find any treasure, extracting it would be a pain.

Rain pelted the vegetation as the four stood before the hole -- a doorway carved from rock, lined with faded hieroglyphs that days earlier, even their mage couldn't read. Beyond, rough-hewn steps descended into foreboding darkness.  

There was a final consideration, an inventory of supplies, the lighting of a torch, a collective breath, and a lead taken by the scarred warrior named Ohn.

They entered a realm of torch light, trickling water, echoes, and stone. Soon, the sounds of rain faded along with the surface light as the steps wound this way and that. They moved slowly, ever vigilant for messages from the first party in the form of chalk. For close to twenty minutes they descended the damp stairs before coming to their first scene of interest. Here, the stairs split in two directions. Here also, was the first sign of their companions: A simple "x" on the right and an arrow pointing back up to the surface. The four paused and agreed to scout the left passage first, just to see what the others didn't choose.

Another while they descended until Ohn halted their progress. They had come to a chasm. It stretched in all directions as if the rock had simply been pried apart like a block of cheese. The stairs continued about a eight feet away, a bit lower, on the other side. A faint amount of water, coming all the way down the steps from the surface, trickled down the face of the rock and out of range of their light. No sounds could be heard but their own shuffling as they took turns examining the situation.

Chade dislodged a loose bit of stone and dropped it in the gorge as straight as he could and counted silently. After four or five seconds he heard it bounce several times off solid rock before it's echoes fell silent. They discussed their options. Chade wanted to explore.

The sapper was confident he could make the jump across, but not necessarily back. He took off his backpack and tied knotted rope around his waist. They had plenty of length, 50 feet to be precise. Pettr would serve as an anchor by tying the other end around himself while Ohn and Talin held firm in front. Chade spent a few moments gaging the jump and how much of a running start he could get, and then with a nod, he was off.

The jump was true. He even managed to stay on his feet when he landed. After untying his rope and catching a fresh torch from Ohn, the sapper disappeared from their view.

It wasn't long before the steps terminated at an old door. It was constructed of wood, heavily reinforced with rusted iron. Chade gave it a thorough examination. It didn't seem locked, but stuck, or perhaps, well braced on the other side. There were no signs of recent activity or tampering. He was confident the others didn't cross the chasm. But before he left, something curious. His heel clipped a loose stone near the wall. 

Not every loose stone contains a secret, but this one did. Underneath, Chade found a piece of leather folded over several times and within the leather, a necklace. Silver. A chain of silver, the charm of which was a marble-sized crystal ball caged in delicate gold. At first he thought it was glowing, but dismissed it as light reflecting from the torch. It was definitely worth something. He stored it in one of his pouches. 

"No go," said Chade, when he returned to the chasm. He tossed back the torch and retied the rope. They held firm as he let himself drop and swing to the their side. With his climbing skills, pulling him up was a breeze. They extinguished the second torch to conserve their lumens as Chade filled them in on the details of the door.

"And I found this," he said, taking out the necklace. "Under a rock."

"Eh," smiled Pettr. "That should fetch us some gold. Don't tell the others, if we find them I mean, this is our treasure."

Talin took the necklace and studied it in the torchlight. He always seemed to know things. The elf looked at Chade and carefully handed it back.

"Alright then," said Ohn.

Back they went, up the winding stairs to the fork. They took a moment to adjust their gear into more comfortable configurations. Once set, Ohn led the way down the x-marked steps, torch and shield. Chade followed, then Talin, with Pettr last. The stairs wound less on this side and eventually widened, ultimately coming to a dead end. A single stone on the right wall was circled in chalk. Chade gave it a look, then pressed, and with a low rumble, the dead end wall slid sideways.....

To say they got into battle formation is an understatement. 

A rush of air swept down from the surface behind, otherwise....silence. Peering in, they discerned a mostly circular chamber extending to their right, maybe twelve feet across with a wide well in the center; no other exits. The ceiling came to a dome and four empty sconces the only décor.

They entered. Pettr, an iron spike already in hand, skeptically eyed the door. It stayed open. It was well engineered with nowhere to wedge, so he placed the spike long ways on the ground, hopefully creating a six inch gap if the door slid shut. The elf signaled, there was evidence of chalk smeared on the wall to the left. He found another loose stone and pushed. The door closed, stopping at the spike. He pressed again and the door slid back open. 

They pondered their options, wondering what the first party had done, then turned to the room. More chalk, smeared on the side of the well and next to the far sconce. Instructions, obviously tampered with. This didn't bode well. Not necessarily that the first party was doomed, but that someone else had been here since. Chade and Talin took a moment to examine the marked sconce determining only that it was loose. Everyone turned to the well.

About five feet across, the well was filled with water to about a foot from the rim. The liquid was still and in the torchlight looked more like a mirror. They gazed down at themselves. Chade wandered back to the loose sconce, and then the other sconces, and then circled the entire room. The others studied the well. Ohn set down his shield, pulled out a copper coin and flicked it in. The coin disappeared in a small splash of dark water, but the splash was silent. Pettr dipped the bottom of his poleaxe in and showed everyone -- dry.

"An illusion," spoke the elf. He took the torch from Ohn and dipped it in. It still burned. He pressed it lower, revealing iron rungs hammered into the rock, descending much farther than even he could see. 

Pettr knelt by the well and considered the smeared chalk. What had they written? It was impossible to tell. Chade wandered back, "Give me the torch," he said. The elf complied and the sapper placed the now waning torch into the loose sconce. Nothing. He shrugged. Decision time. 

"Talin?" Ohn said more than asked.

"Of course," said the elf. He would descend, for his vision was the best and they weren't about to drop a torch. Ohn now regretted throwing the coin.

If the elf knew fear, you would never know. When Talin passed through the surface, the water rippled as it should. It was skillful sorcery, but for the lack of sound. Ohn lit a new torch with the flame from the old. Chade paced the room. Pettr considered the open door.

"Leave it," said Ohn.

Shortly, the fair-haired elf resurfaced with a signal to follow. So down they went, one by one, experiencing the strangeness of submerging in dry water, and to a man, they held their breath as they went under, but once there, they were simply in a dry well with the illusion of liquid only a ripple above, reflecting the fading light of a dying torch.

Down they climbed for close to a hundred feet to an archway that opened onto a stone bridge. The expanse was some fifty feet, crossing a chasm that oppressed in all directions. Amazingly, the black wasn't pitch, but an eerie blue that threatened to play tricks on their eyes. Off in the distance was the sound of falling water and on the opposite landing stood a pair of double wooden doors. 

The elf handed Ohn his copper.

Chade scouted the structure. Not natural, but built. When he gave the go ahead, they skeptically crossed.

The double doors were sturdy, reinforced with iron. A tiny, twisted pick was barely sticking out of a keyhole center-right. Ohn looked at the sapper...

"Boze," said Chade, "An old trick of his to ensure it can't be locked from either side. At least we know they didn't fall to their deaths."

"If anyone deserves to fall to his death, it's Boze," piped Pettr. Ohn gave him a look. Pettr shrugged.

Talin had been scanning the chasm, bow ready. When he turned to the others, his eyes locked above.

"There is an opening above us," he informed in his strange accent.

Stepping back, the others could hardly make it out, but indeed, some forty feet up there was a sizable hole in the rock. After a brief discussion they agreed that the first party would have seen the hole, but there was no chalk here, not even smeared. They would focus on the doors.

Chade knelt and put his ear to the keyhole. The others knew to be still. Shaking his head, "Nothi..." 

Suddenly, a loud buzzing from above pierced their ears! Something big swooped close, causing them all to duck. Their eyes widened as they watched a wasp-like thing, the size of a hound, land on the far side of the bridge. They were all transfixed by the enormous insect and it triggered in them a sort of primal fear. It was grotesque. The elf trained his bow and the lot of them kept glancing up at the hole in case there were more. And there were. Three more buzzed out and landed on the bridge, this time much closer.

"Shit," said Pettr.

"Chade, open the door," said Ohn, and the sapper complied by shoving both doors forward and fading beyond. The others backed in quickly, with all caution focused on the bridge. They slammed the doors shut and pressed against them while Chade went to work. It took longer than they liked, but he was able to undue the work of Boze and reset the the lock.

There was a collective sigh followed by the sober realization that they were now stuck. 

They found themselves in a long corridor constructed of various sized stones. Light emanated faintly from a pair of braziers set on either side of a door at the far end. Every few feet on both walls, were carved reliefs depicting astrological phenomenon and odd looking life-forms. There were scenes of enslaved masses and human sacrifice along with the construction of bizarre things like upside-down pyramids and side-ways towers. 

As the four proceeded, they became less of a tight unit, each stopping to examine this or that. Ohn had progressed the farthest when he turned to the others, "Do you smell that? Something's rotten."

They nodded.

"A hidden chamber or hallway, most likely below us," said Chade. "Watch your step." 

"Right," said Ohn just as he stepped on a stone that gave a little.....

The floor fell beneath Pettr and the big man went down. He caught the corner of the open square with his arms, but struggled to hold on and would have plunged if not for quick help from the others. Just as they pulled him out, the floor closed.

"I'm okay," he said bending over.

Eager to see what was inside, they re-triggered the trap and braced it open with a crowbar. The stench was almost unbearable and they couldn't quite make out the contents, but the elf insisted he could see a body. They rigged the torch to hang horizontally in a grappling hook and lowered it in. The pit dropped some thirty feet onto jagged rocks and there was indeed the remains of a man mostly covered now by some kind of dark mold. Enough of him was left for recognition.

"Sweet Mercy.....Rinder," stated Pettr as he made the Sign of Redemption. Rinder, who was called, the mule, was a short, stocky youth whose sole duty was to carry supplies. A good, loyal soul that didn't deserve this, but the universe didn't care.

"He still has his gear, the others will be short," stated Talin.

"Why not retrieve it?" asked Ohn.

"That mold is alive," replied the elf.

"Should we burn it?" asked Pettr.

"No, you'll smoke us out and alert everything down here. We have to leave poor Rinder as he is," said Chade. 

"Hmm," wondered Pettr looking back at the double doors. "We could smoke out those wasps."

"Maybe," said Chade.

Ohn pondered aloud as they moved on, "Why didn't they mark it? Do you see chalk, anywhere?" None of them did, but for their own purposes, they used their own chalk to mark the triggering stone and pit. 

They proceeded to the door, the images on the walls almost forgotten. As Chade examined the portal, Ohn motioned to the elf, "Do you understand any of that?"

Talin shook his head in the negative as he examined the braziers. "Ordinary and well maintained," he said. They knew now that they were infiltrators as opposed to explorers. 

The door turned out to be locked, another bad sign, and a frustrated Chade couldn't pick it. It would have to be forced. So out came the crowbars and shoulder thrusts and kicks, and after all too much ruckus, the door flew open, splintering wood beyond. This passage was now irreversibly, unlock-able.

"So much for stealth," said Pettr.

The door opened to a landing amidst a spiral staircase. They now had a choice: up or down. Once again, a disturbing lack of chalk.  

They chose down.

The stairs descended just one flight directly into a small, square room with a single plain door to the right. In the room's center sat an open sarcophagus, the lid of which lay in pieces on the floor. Such a sight instantly raised the hairs on the back of their necks..... they had all heard of things. Needless to say, they walked on eggshells. Chade, however was curious. He took a careful glance inside the grave but saw only tattered scraps of ancient rags. He felt compelled to poke further.....

"Chade," said Ohn, shaking his head no. "Check out the door."

The sapper blinked as if coming out of a trance, "Right," he said.

It was locked, but Chade made short work of this one. The other side was a well constructed, yet tight corridor lined with empty sconces. Halfway down, the corridor widened briefly featuring a dry fountain built into the wall on the left. Farther down, the hallway turned ninety degrees to the right. 

The fountainhead was that of a serpent, its length coiled around an orb of red marble. Chade examined the hell out of it, convinced something wasn't right. On a whim, Talin uncorked his water-skin and poured some water into the basin. The liquid never landed but instead flowed up into the serpent's mouth. They all quickly stepped back and waited for something to happen. Nothing. He poured a little more. Again it flowed up.

"Stop wasting your water," said Ohn.

"It's magic," said Pettr.

"Clearly," said Talin.

"Well, can you find out why it does that?" asked Pettr.

"I'm not wasting a spell on this," replied the elf. "Remember, upside-down pyramids and side-ways towers. Reality is warped here."

"Forget it," said Ohn. "Let's take a quick break."  

Setting their torch into a sconce, they unpacked rations and sat strategically with eyes on both directions. They were mostly silent as they fueled. Chade was the first ready to go. He lit a fresh torch and said, "I'm going to scout ahead."

"Not too far," said Ohn. Chade nodded, covered his face with cloth, and disappeared quietly around the far corner.

Several moments passed when Pettr looked at Ohn, "Do you think they're still alive?"

"No," said Talin.

Ohn glanced at the elf then addressed them both. "It certainly doesn't look good."

"How much longer do you want to stay down here?" Pettr asked him.

"I don't know," said Ohn. "But we may need to find a different way back to the surf....."

"Orcs!" shot Chade, as he flew back around the corner.

The others jumped to their feet and grabbed their weapons. Chade swiftly sconced the torch before he and Talin took positions behind the two bigger men. Within seconds orcs poured into the corridor. The pale, pig-faced abominations were covered in scavenged scraps, a mixture of leathers, plate, and chain. Mostly armed with spears and axes, the orcs came close, but paused to assess the invaders. They let out viscous squeals and snorts in an attempt to taunt. Then more arrived, pressing upon the others, pushing the line forward dangerously close.

"Swine!" spat Pettr.

A crossbow appeared between two orcs and fired it's bolt directly into Pettr's breast-plate, knocking him to the ground. Talin immediately fed one of the orcs an arrow through the face.

Time froze for a micro-second.....

"Fucking orcs with crossbows!" Pettr exhaled incredulously as he snapped the bolt and bounced to his feet. He lurched forward, taking such a wide swing with his poleaxe that, Ohn, had to throw up his shield and fall back against the wall. Just as the orcs rushed, Pettr crushed one their skulls.

And then it was on.

Both sides clashed. Talin loosed another arrow. Ohn pressed forward with his shield while thrusting repeatedly with his sword. With no room to swing, Pettr pushed against the orcs with his poleaxe, stabbing with it's point and punching when he could. An orc grabbed hold of his weapon while spears probed his armor and face. They spat at him. He spat at them. He threw his shoulder into the mob and regained control of his weapon while something clobbered him upside the head.

Chade pressed against his two companions stabbing through and grabbing at spears. Talin continued to fire anytime he found a gap. It was his arrows that were doing the most damage, but spears, axes and rancid orc breath began to push them back beyond the light. The cramped hallway was a barrage of cursing, snorts, and steel. 

On they battled. The orcs outnumbered them at least three to one. The four were being overwhelmed by a mob filled with a blood-lust that smelled, not only victory, but dinner. Several orcs had fallen, yet the swine pushed on, crushing their fallen brethren under their cloven feet. Ohn had taken a wound to his leg and Pettr had blood blinding his vision. They had been shoved far past their gear and their collective strength was waning fast in the growing darkness.

Talin knew they would lose. He threw back his bow and began chanting. Bright gold dust swirled through his fingers and all around his arms. Cupping his hands he blew forward and sent a cloud of glittering particles over the entirety of the skirmish. Both friend and foe alike collapsed into a deep magical slumber, lost in a place where normal dreams were not allowed.  

To be continued.....


  • Ohn -- sounds like "own"
  • Pettr -- rhymes with "setter"
  • Talin -- similar to "talon"
  • Chade -- the "ch" like Chad, but rhymes with "shade"

There is a serious dearth of fiction (including official D&D fiction) that actually resembles the dungeon crawl experience. This has always bothered me. What I've written here is merely an attempt to create something that I wish already existed. 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Haven't Thought About Symbaroum In A While.....

Sometimes I miss graphite sketches, but ink has seduced me.

Lately my mind has been going through different fantasy systems like a crazed pinball. I do this from time to time, consider different systems, what I like, what I don't. It's all a part of that impossible quest to find the perfect game. 

Symbaroum: A game with a shit-ton of potential:

  • Serious contender for best art in a fantasy game.....or, any game for that matter. 
  • Nice fluff, tons of flavor -- great flavor in fact.....but, I care as much about system mechanics as flavor (probably more) because I always look at a game with eyes on doing my own thing with it. Basically, I wish every game was generic enough for me to use in my own way (well, almost every game, with something like Warhammer 40K, you need to be all in, and who wouldn't want to be?) Which leads to.....
  • Magic corrupts. Which is cool. Not sure I like how it's handled mechanically, meaning, once you're through a scene you can usually manage to recover from any corruption gained and be fully recharged by the next encounter, and, the stigmata gained is just descriptive -- who cares if your breath stinks -- Brimstone Cascade!  Characters will mutate back and forth on a daily basis, not just the sorcerers, everyone. This game needs a d100 effects of corruption table with actual mechanical banes, think Dark Heresy and it's Perils of the Warp, something that actually makes you think twice about pushing magic too far, instead of smelly breath that'll go away in an hour. I know there is the risk of too much corruption and you become a blight-crazed NPC, but I'm talking about interesting middle ground. Having said this, the spells/powers are all cool as are the rituals.
  • Player-Facing rolls (players make all the rolls.) I've mentioned before, it's a trend I'm not a fan of. Numenera does it -- irreversibly. Symbaroum is reversible. Seriously, you could just make every combat roll a contested one like BRP does (easily done in a d20 roll under system) and even have fun with critical hits and failure combinations. Not a big deal.
  • Seriously cool abilities, powers, and sorcerous traditions. For real, there are a ton of options from which to build characters and so many of them are cool as fuck. You can even take monster traits. Makes you want to play every type of character. This is a serious plus for the game. It's actually a rare quality (think feats and how many suck.) But.....
  • You can max out your character way to soon. It takes a while to build up XP to buy new abilities, but you'll only have to save up about 50 XP for two improvements, and boom, your main ability is maxed out. This ability will be so good, it's all you'll want to use (Brimstone Cascade, ok, you'll have some corruption to manage, but you're still beyond bad-ass.) Everything after is just dabbling in other things. It's like hitting 20th level in D&D after only a few sessions and being forced to take levels in other classes. My solution might be something like not allowing characters to take Adept levels without having X amount of Novice level abilities (abilities improve in ranks from Novice to Adept to Master.) And no Master levels until you have so many Adept levels. This forces you to focus on several ideas (like building a spell-book) instead of simply rocketing straight into orbit. Visually, it would look something like a pyramid. Or, somehow make the process random, at least parts of it. Little trickier. Another idea: Require X amount of total XP to have been earned before you can start spending to improve abilities to Adept level and a further barrier for Master level. I would exempt core stat advances from these barriers. The idea is to play a character for a long time before you can enjoy something like Master level Brimstone Cascade. You could also rewrite some abilities as some gamers have done.
  • The published adventures are so linear. They should just be novels. 
  • Dungeon crawls are more like excavations. Now this, is actually kinda cool. I've been toying around with this notion for D&D. Symbaroum is fairly deadly, attempting an actual D&D style dungeon crawl would be fascinating and almost certainly short lived. But, you never know.
  • Character generation is a standard array with an option of randomly rolling 2d6+3. I totally prefer the random option as it helps prevent maxing-out characters way too soon. And the OSR in me says, you get what you roll.
  • There are abilities that allow you to fight using non-melee type stats. So, your thief is so quick, he's the equal of the fighter, he gets to fight using Dexterity. Your bard gets to fight using Charisma. The cleric gets to fight using Wisdom. It all becomes the same thing with different names. Symbaroum's action stat -- Accurate -- becomes a dump stat. THIS TYPE OF GAME BALANCE CAN TAKE A HIKE. Another reason I prefer random stat generation.
  • Magic items (artifacts) minor and major are very cool. No boring "sword+1" and many come with a price -- I love this. Almost every item is unique.
  • A D&D 5th Edition version is coming out.....sigh. What will be lost in this translation? Much I think. (Iron Kingdoms is doing the same thing, and that was another game with massive potential. Shouldn't have tied it so closely to minis.) When every game tastes the same..... However, looking through the playtest document, this could be cool. At the very least, you'll get a darker D&D 5e with some rule tweaks and MUCH BETTER ART. On the radar.

The beauty of Symbaroum makes you want to play it. It reminds me of Fall, the books, the colors, the feel, even the elves are ranked by seasons. Ultimately, it's a nice system and the tweaks I'd make aren't that many. Perhaps, that's the measure of a game.....

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Mörk Borg.....

Color looks like a match, more below.....

Mörk Borg, Swedish for Dark Fort.


To bad official D&D doesn't look even remotely this cool.

Mörk Borg and Mörk Borg: Cult Feretory arrived a couple of weeks ago. There are two types of OSR, the direct clone type and the arthouse type. This is definitely the arthouse type. I'm a fan of both. Mörk Borg is the type of game, that even if you never play it, you'll certainly be inspired by it. Plenty of soul,  dripping with flavor, lots of cool little dice mechanics, fun character creation, fun classes, a world literally on the precipice of DOOM. It's a more rules-light type of system, but one that has plenty of room to breathe. Mörk Borg is a game that is just begging for creative OSR types to tinker with it. Perhaps I will.

In the mean time, here's a sample character I rolled up using the no-class system. A pleasure drawing this one, no pencils, just ink. Drawing time -- about an hour. A pure ink sketch that turns out well is pretty damn satisfying. And, I learned some tricks with transparency during layout. 

Mörk Borg -- Very cool Game.


Music that reminds me of Mörk Borg -- :wumpscut:

D&D Assassins: Best And Worst Mechanics

Is there a reluctance in D&D games to give Assassins the ability to kill? Consider this...  A 1st level Magic-User can slay at will  wit...