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:

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Palladium/Rifts Character Sheet -- Revised

My take on a Rifts Ley Line Walker. 

Here's a slightly revised version of my Rifts character sheet, usable with all Palladium games. I left the Speed line blank so the sheet is now 100% accurate as opposed to 99%. I tweaked various things here and there, nothing radical, but I feel it's more stream-lined. A spell/psionics page is attached as with the prior version.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Ninjas & Superspies

 What the hell kind of gun did I draw here???

More Palladium love.

No matter what I'm into, there's something about Palladium Books that always lurks in the not-so-back of-my-mind. And the truth is, I've only ever dabbled with the system, mostly with Heroes Unlimited.

It is a toolbox, but one I'm very comfortable with. And to all of my fellow OSR hackers, Palladium Fantasy is just as hack-able as any D&D system (of course, it itself is a hack of D&D.) 

  • In many ways, Palladium Fantasy (especially 1st edition) is better than D&D, but that's a topic for another day.

So, Ninjas & Superspies (written by the late Erick Wujcik.) Want to play G.I.JOE? How about a little James Bond? How about Daredevil vs. The Hand? Cyberpunk? Or perhaps you just want to add more martial arts to your Nightbane game. Or Beyond the Supernatural. Whatever you want, Ninjas & Superspies is such a good martial arts source book.

So I randomly rolled some stats for the lady above, but I'll just provide the basics.....

Her main stats, after all is said and done, are:

  • Intelligence:  10
  • Mental Endurance:  13
  • Affinity:  7  (not very personable, but mechanically meaningless)
  • Physical Strength:  16  (+1 damage)
  • Physical Prowess:  16  (+1 strike/parry)
  • Physical Endurance:  11
  • Beauty:  13
  • Speed:  15

Now, in Palladium, bonuses from high stats don't start until 16. This is an area I've hacked before, starting the bonuses at around 11 or 12 and ultimately achieving a similar value by around 30 where the official chart list ends. So basically, I just stretched it out a bit. I just don't like meaningless stats. I've mentioned before that I give an initiative bonus for Speed according to the Physical Prowess line. Something that I've reflected on my Rifts character sheet (found on the sidebar.)

  • Of all the Palladium games, my Rifts character sheet is tailored the least to Ninjas & Superspies. This is because in this game you know so many combat maneuvers and fighting styles, you're better off listing them under the powers/abilities/equipment section.

She's a Private Eye which gives her decent skill packages but nothing fancy for fighting (just one of the standard combat styles: Basic, Expert, or Agent.) so I took the liberty of randomly rolling a fancy martial arts style for her and got, Hwarang-Do Karate, which is apparently a well-balanced Korean style that prefers spinning moves, jump kicks, and throws, with strikes used for finishing. Skills in Palladium are something that I kind of gloss over because you get SO DAMN MANY OF THEM. So basically, she's good at gathering information. 

She also knows gymnastics which improved some of her stats as Palladium Physical Skills do -- which is why everyone takes as many physical skills as possible. My hack for this would be random skill generation. It's strange, there is so much randomness in Palladium character generation, but not when it comes to skills. I would change that.

She knows a multitude of moves that allow her to enter combat, engage in combat, and leave combat. Yep, it's that detailed. If you're willing to embrace the intricacies of hand-to hand martial arts, it's incredible.

This game also gives her the option of knowing a couple of martial arts "powers," attacks that stun, body-hardening skills (that give you more physical skill type bonuses) vanish like a ninja, and the use of CHI to heal and such.

She has 3 attacks(actions)/round, 39 S.D.C. and 11 Hit Points. When you consider multiple attacks and the fact that guns do 2d6, 3d6, 4d6 +, it's a deadly game.   

  • This game doesn't give you the automatic 2 attacks that modern Palladium systems give. If that was the case she would have 5 attack/actions per round. Of course, you could always add them, but I think the lesser number is better. Likewise, you could always remove them from the current systems. Like I said, hack-able.

Like a lot of Palladium books, Ninjas & Superspies is just as useful as a source/idea/flavor book as it is it's own game. There's not really an established setting; you're supposed to do that on your own. Again: TOOLBOX.

It's just plain cool.

Game on.

Oh and, give Palladium some love.

(I'm not affiliated with them in any way, though I do live fairly close to their HQ, and I've never even driven by.....shame.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2020


Say goodbye to green-skinned Khal Drogo.

The following fragments, penned by the Sage, Avidian, were unearthed in the wastelands east of the Orith Mountains...

...pattern has been observed with the first sightings of the swine in any particular region is that they are unarmored and unclothed, in fact devoid of possessions.  A farmer near Turgath noted his pigs behaving in a manner most peculiar, stomping around the sty and snorting nervously.  When next he saw them they all lay deceased and slowly sinking in the mud...cannot be confirmed as the farmer is considered mad by the local Turgathians who claim he spins the same yarn every few years when he murders his own stock...within a fortnight that Turgath reported the first Orc sightings in over ten years... of Orc varies as wildly as does the pig, but initial outbreaks are almost universally of a similar type. It is only after Orc droves meet in the wild that differences are reported...cloven hooves and three "fingers" appear to be a universal trait, with the presence of tusks inconsistent...unable to speak the common tongue or any civilized language, but apparently can understand words not unlike a hound...eyes that never lock directly onto yours which makes their intentions hard to read, but anyone who is still in doubt about said intentions...

...a feast of mud and blood as the Orcs created a sty of the slain Rendrik they rolled excitedly among the dead eating and bathing...nothing remained...never witnessed an Orc handle the delicate operation of donning armor, but the Orcs that stormed Brandelbrook were indeed armed like Rendrik foot soldiers...

...sights more terrifying than a frenzied Orc snorting loudly in one's face...stench is putrid, but not supernaturally so...

...scout reported that as he sat behind the Orcs in the dark cave, concealed under a cloak of elvenkind, the swine, who hitherto sat quietly as if in a calm trance, began snorting and oinking louder and louder as the Sarisian Knights came into view in the gorge below...leadership was for his life when the wind shifted and they could smell him...knights circled the remaining Orc who scraped it's cloven hooves restlessly in the dirt...

...savage undisciplined fighters stronger than the average man and sometimes much stronger...of Orcs riding large, fiendish wort-hogs, witness is now deceased...confirmed by the... that Elves are the group responsible for the Orc scourges throughout the realm...origin is from the land of the fairies...not related to goblins...chapter of the Chronicles of St. Jendimar that Orcs are the spawn of Orcus...questions this as ignorant...not a true scholar of indeed come from the mud, but no definitive link to black magic has yet been proven...

...most peculiar that mere days after the Penidar Orcs lay waste to the once proud city of Naris, the ruined city was abandoned and that particular breed of Orc was never witnessed again...many Narians never accounted for...remains of the nuns slaughtered at the nunnery outside of Vrindel, so atrocious, the site was condemned and razed, left alone to this day...cryptic scrawling on the walls sparked debate of a written Orc language, dismissed as outlandish...rituals in the dungeons below...rise of the Order of the Sisters Militant of Vrindel...swine-like mutations in the royal family of Heinmarc sparked a vicious inquisition in the year...more reports from peasants regarding curious behavior of domestic swine in the Tansula Valley... 

...and on it goes...

Slay them, by order of the King.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Orcs Are Evil.

The basic nature of the universe is kill or be killed, eat or be eaten.  Everything in this universe fights for it's place, from the largest star to the tiniest microbe.  Compromise exists only out of mutual convenience and is often fleeting... 

Orcs will always be evil to me.  I'm not interested in all the nuance, there's already plenty of that in humankind.  Why do orcs raid?  Because they're fucking hungry agents of Chaos and they want nothing more than to destroy the realms of men, elves, and dwarves.  They're not humans, they're not even humanoid.  They're monsters.  The stuff of nightmares.  Do orcs have babies?  HELL NO.  They don't farm and they don't build cities.  They rape and pillage and kill and eat.  If orcs are discovered in the hills near your town, you're in DEEP SHIT -- Achtung! Orcs.   It's like an infestation that has to be dealt with.  "Sire, orcs are raiding up and down the frontier, three villages have been lost!" -- "Muster your knights!!!"

Imagine seeing the remnants of an orc raid where it's clear the villagers were cooked and eaten.  And God knows what's happening to any that were taken alive...  The stakes are so much higher now aren't they?

Realm, The (Vol. 1) #9 VF ; Arrow comic book
Comic series from the 80's when orcs were like giant hogs.  Their image has since humanized and become more ethnic over time, which is partly why we are where we are.
   The Realm was classic D&D.

And then there are the subterranean, spider-demon worshiping, human sacrificing, slavers.  No, that's not evil.....  What if they were albinos?

Anyway, it's your game play it your way, whatever way that is.

The rest is noise.

Game on.

Friday, June 5, 2020

20 Minute Friday Night Ink Sketch And Conan.

Quick post.  I'm becoming addicted to drawing in ink only.  Dangerous.  Risky.  And sometimes better looking than something I took great care on.  Never know what it's going to be before, just make it up as I go.  Maybe save it for a project and add a story to it later.  This one just gets posted here.  It took me 20 minutes while I listened to a couple of techno songs by Suntree and Lyctum.

Reminds of Conan, which I've been reading lately.

I've been a Conan fan forever, yet I've still only read about half of Howard's stories.  Which is kinda cool because I still get to experience new original tales.  I used to absolutely love The Savage Sword of Conan magazine and I've read a few of the Tor books as well as some other Howard stuff.  I Just read Red Nails and The Vale of Lost Women.  As much as I love Howard, he can lose me sometimes because I don't find any other characters in a Conan story interesting.  I hate the scenes where villains are up to stuff.

The Vale of Lost Women is mercifully short.  Told from the perspective of some scientist brat enslaved in a savage land who just watched her brother get utterly mutilated (just seeing the word scientist in a Conan story almost breaks immersion.)  Conan's hardly in it.  I hate this character but powered through the tale by force of will.  My reading patience has all but disappeared.  If you don't get me in chapter one, I won't keep reading.  I find role-playing books easier to read than fiction these days.  Vale is definitely an odd little tale.

Red Nails was good and I can see why some call it the most D&D-like of the Conan tales.  But once again, I don't care about anyone else here except Conan.  Even Valeria wasn't as cool as I was hoping.  One scene though, was awesome:

"From wall to wall, from door to door rolled the waves of combat, spilling over into adjoining chambers.  And presently only Tecuhltli and their white-skinned allies stood upright in the great throneroom.  The survivors stared bleakly and blankly at each other, like survivors after Judgement Day or the destruction of the world.  On legs wide-braced, hands gripping notched and dripping swords, blood trickling down their arms, they stared at one another across the mangled corpses of friends and foes.  They had no breath left to shout, but a bestial mad howling rose from their lips.  It was not a human cry of triumph.  It was the howling of a rabid wolf-pack stalking among the bodies of its victims."
--Red Nails.

Every now and then Howard wrote a moment for the ages.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Dungeons of Grandeur.

I'm surprised I haven't shown these before now.  They're from my mid-teen years; late 80's.  Somewhere I came across poster-board sized graph paper and about a week later this dungeon was done.  I then glued it onto an actual poster-board.  Surprisingly, 30 years on and it's still in pretty good shape.

I never wrote it up as a dungeon.  Making 169 rooms interesting is a challenge now, let alone then -- I've never been a huge fan of empty rooms.  One curious thing, you can go from room 2 all the way to room 154 and only pass through 3 other rooms.  An unplanned feature for sure.

And then of course there's this bad-lad, four times the size.  Too bad I burned out.  It's much more dense than the one above and would have clocked in at around 800 rooms.  These sheets are in surprisingly good shape too.

They're now artifacts that make me want to put aside what I'm working on and attempt to draw the largest, most complex dungeon of all time.  Probably not gonna do that.  Besides, how would you scan such a thing?

I loved the concept of the Dungeon.  Still do.  Always will.  

Just saying.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Combat Mechanics

The years I spent searching for the perfect system that doesn't exist.  And by system, I generally mean, combat system.

Only to discover the OSR and the notion that the older systems are all you really need, i.e, tweaked of course, but a solid foundation.  There's lots of cool little ideas and dice tricks in the OSR universe to spice up your games.  If you care about mechanics.  And I do.

D&D combat is illogical.  That's not exactly news.  It's always been an abstraction, one originally designed to simulate armies against armies, not necessarily man against man.

Two 1st level fighters should fight to a stand still.  Yes, maybe one's a little stronger or one's a little quicker, but they're basically evenly matched.  Their level is their fighting skill.  Two 5th level fighters should also fight to a stand still as should two 10th level fighters, and so on.  A 5th level fighter should whoop a 1st level fighter -- here the rules accurately account, if only because of hit points.

The main difference in these duels is that the 1st level fighters, though evenly matched, will see one of the fighters fall quickly do to a lack of hit points, were as the 5th & 10th level fighters toil on and on.  Two evenly matched fighters of any level should toil on and on.  So logically, should hit points change depending on your opponent?  That's not gonna happen.  If anything damage should change, which does happen somewhat.

My chances of defeating my opponent rest mainly on how good my fighting skills are compared to his.  Yes armor plays a roll, but it only delays my pummeling of a lesser opponent.  This dovetails directly into the notion of armor as damage reduction.

Armor Class.  It makes perfect sense for ranged combat.  Most people can't dodge arrows even if they know they're coming, so basically, distance and what armor your target wears are your primary obstacles to a successful hit.  Shields should factor more.  In fact, shields in general are way undervalued.  If entering combat and I had to choose sword or shield, I would strongly consider choosing shield.

One of my favorite representation of man to man combat was in the DC Heroes RPG by Mayfair Games.  A system referred to by some as, MEGS.  The system is 2d10.  On the Action table, cross reference your score vs. your opponent's score (usually Dex vs. Dex) to find the number you need to meet or beat.  If you roll doubles you get to roll another 2d10 (I would consider changing this to simply rolling another 1d10 to avoid ridiculous, if not rare, outcomes.)  Notice on the Action table that evenly matched foes of any power level have to roll an 11 to hit.

Then you cross reference your effect value (usually Strength) against your opponent's Body score (modified by armor) on the Result table, including any column shifts from your success to see the damage inflicted.  But once again, a fight between evenly matched "regular folk" won't last long because of low health values.  Still, it's elegant.  Buuutttt...CHARTS.  They slow the game down, or do they really?  We never had problems with charts when we used them. 

Charts were a thing in the 80's.  By the 90's they were pretty much obsolete.  The thing with charts though, is that they can provide fairly logical results for a system.  Marvel's FASERIP system used charts well.  The huge flaw in FASERIP though, is that your foe's fighting skill had no bearing on whether or not you could hit them.  The chart simply existed to determine how well you hit them.  Your average person, with Typical rank Fighting, has a 50% chance of hitting anyone.

Then there's Palladium.  Strike, Parry, Dodge, Roll with Punch....!  A very granular, opposed roll, chart-less system, love it or hate it.  I love it.  Ideal for one man vs. another.  Five on five?... good luck with that.  Palladium Fantasy uses the same system, but this type of combat takes far to long for a dungeon crawl (and ultimately, it's all about accommodating a dungeon crawl!)  This type of system almost requires a comic book (cinematic) style of action narration.

Notice how in comics and movies, when groups fight each other, they focus on one or two characters at a time.  You'll see a series of actions, strikes, and parries before switching to another character.  Often, the results of the first little scene will lead directly to the next, for example, the next two combatants will move into the background of someone else's scene before becoming the focus themselves.  This brings up a whole 'nother aspect -- initiative and turn order.

One of the reasons that D&D combat can be tedious and not dynamic, is that it's essentially a frame by frame narration, going from fastest to slowest.  You go first, swing and miss.  The scene immediately switches to the other side of the room where someone else acts.  Then the focus switches again.  You rarely get to see an immediate rebuttal from your foe.  Not very exciting.

What if, you focused on whoever acted first for a couple of rounds of give and take, and then switched to the next person for a couple of rounds.  Does everyone declare their intentions first and have to stick with them?  Or do you keep it fluid and let people choose their actions depending on the events of those that went before?  It gives everyone a bit of a spotlight for a few moments instead of the regular slow-motion chess game.  Of course it causes problems for spell durations and stun durations and rules-lawyers would absolutely lose their minds!  It would take a strong DM.

Another game system that had wild potential in my book is Iron Kingdoms.  Love its use of derived stats and the 2d6/3d6 resolution mechanic has all kinds of potential for cool little dice tricks.  But it's basically a glorified miniatures game, practically requires them.  I would do away with the FEAT point system entirely.  And magic would need modification as every spell is simply a different version of magic missile.  Man, this game could have been it.....

Where have I gone with this ramble???

Back to mano-a-mano and D&D.  Without rewriting the rules all together, the simplest solution for me has been to add a parry option.  An active parry option, not a +2 or +4 bonus to AC for fighting defensively -- far too passive for my taste.  You don't want to bog the game down with parries, so it's just an option.  If you haven't already acted, you can try to parry an incoming attack.  Meet or beat the attack roll with one of your own.  Perhaps a bonus if using a shield (or advantage.)  Then you can't attack that round.  If you're playing your character realistically, they would always choose to parry if they could (unless you really embrace hit points as endurance and fate, which they kind of are.)  Perhaps Barbarians (berserkers) don't ever get the option.  It slows combat down a bit because there will be successful parries, but that combat is more exciting, a touch more real.

Just some stuff I always think about.

And then there's the quest for the perfect, non-Vancian magic system...

Sunday, April 26, 2020

4th & Sewers.

So, here we have the only dungeon I ever made for 4th Edition.  It was designed for a single player running a couple of low-level characters.  Don't remember too much about it other than it involved the Shadar-Kai and sewers.  Its fairly linear in that it ultimately goes in one direction, but there are multiple choices on the way there -- wherever "there" is, as you see, I never finished it and I believe we only got as far as the second page.

Once upon a time, some friends and I explored the sewers under a Detroit suburb.  Some of the architecture I saw down there, I included on these maps (drawn some 15 years later.)*  Being the main drainage lines and the height of summer, we were basically walking through large concrete pipes with a bit of surprisingly clear water.  Summer was really the only time you could safely explore.  We never once saw, "sewage," or much debris of any kind other than the occasional planks of wood.  One night, we actually came out through a manhole cover on someone's front lawn.  Our individual exits had to be timed perfectly due to steady traffic.  We were miles away from the entrance.....and the car.  The walk back on the streets is a whole 'nother story.....

*The entrance room on page 1 has a passage that starts 12 ft. up a slippery wall.  We experienced a chamber that had something like this.  The wall was slightly sloped and slick with a trickle of water.  Our first time down, we couldn't climb it.  The next time, thanks to a home-made grappling hook, we made it up (I believe it only took us 2 throws.)   And after all that effort, that higher passage didn't amount to much (obviously we missed the secret door!)  The main double-passage that links page 1 to page 2, is modeled directly after the main double-passage we followed for about a mile before branching off and exploring miles of smaller side passages that we often had to duck-walk through.  I'm still in pretty good shape, but no way could I do that now.

We wore rubber boots & gloves.  Flashlights were essential, with spare batteries just in case.  The darkness was oppressive.  Had something happened to our light sources, we'd have been far beyond screwed.....

Been busy working on my next module, spent most of March just working on the map.  It is ....different.

Game on.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Castles & Crusades Character Sheet

First let me say, I am working on something.  Since, Sision Tower, I've had several ideas.  Drawn lots of cool pictures -- art I WANT to use, but nothing really stuck.  Until recently, that is.  I'd put up a preview, but it's too soon.   Anyhow, I paused my current project because I haven't posted in a while.  So, on to the topic at hand, a game that's been on my mind more and more lately.....

I've owned the 3 Core Rule-Books for awhile now and recently purchased 8 more.  These books are beautiful to my eyes.  I love the art -- something I always pay attention to.  For me, art is integral to gaming.  It sets the mood, it inspires and feeds the imagination (and it doesn't have to be traditional.)  The art in Castles & Crusades (mainly by Peter Bradley) screams D&D, it screams Sword & Sorcery.  It's sexy.  It's BAD-ASS!

The Siege Engine.  If you're not familiar, this is the saving throw and non-combat task resolution system that I think intimidates some people.  It's kind of like THAC0, in that you can make it sound more complicated than it actually is.  To sum it up:  Saving Throws are based on ability scores.  You will have 2 or 3 (Humans) Primary stats and the others will be Secondary stats.  Primary stat saves start at 12, Secondary stat saves start at 18.  Subtract your level.  Subtract a positive ability bonus (or a add a negative one.)  And maybe, subtract a bonus gained from your class.  That's your save.  Add the challenge level of any particular challenge to get your target number on a D20.  Challenge level is usually based on the level or hit dice of a monster, spell-caster, trap-setter, etc.

(The books go into complex examples of running Siege in a way that assumes you are hiding the challenge level from the player, kind of like hiding armor class in a THAC0 system.  I find it so much easier to have the math done on your character sheet beforehand and simply tell the players the challenge level.)

Here's an example.  A 3rd level Cleric with a 14 wisdom (which gives a +1 bonus.)  Wisdom is the primary stat for clerics, so the base number will be 12.  12 minus 3 (for 3rd level), and -1 ( for a +1 wisdom bonus) = 8.  All of this cleric's wisdom rolls are 8+, including Turn Undead (which would then be further modified by the Undead's hit dice, so turning a 5 HD undead would up this cleric's roll from 8 to 13.)  That's it, that's Siege.

Below is a sample of how to record this to speed up play.  This is a 1st level Illusionist.  Instead of just writing 12s and 18s for the saves and doing the calculations during play, I've recorded the final numbers below.  The reason for the 10/9 split for Intelligence is that Illusionists get a bonus vs. illusions that improves as they level up.  So, this Illusionist's save vs illusions is 9+.  If they were saving vs an illusion spell cast by a 4th level spell-caster, the save would jump to 13+.

It breaks down like this:

  • Str (secondary) 18 (-1 for 1st level) (+1 for a -1 Str mod) = 18
  • Dex (secondary) 18 (-1 for 1st level) (+1 for a -1 Dex mod) = 18
  • Con (secondary) 18 (-1 for 1st level) = 17
  • Int (primary) 12 (-1 for 1st level) (-1 for a +1 Int mod) = 10 (9 vs Illusions for an Illusionist)
  • Wis (primary) 12 (-1 for 1st level) (-1 for a +1 Wis mod) = 10 
  • Cha (primary) 12 (-1 for 1st level)  = 11

Those stats were rolled randomly, in order, switching Dex and Int.  Illusionists have Int as the primary stat and Humans get two more, where as the other races only get one.  I think it would be interesting if your other primary stat(s) had to be determined randomly.  Here, I chose them to be wisdom and charisma.

Anyhow, if this Illusionist was 15th level, the saves would read: 4,4,3,-4,-4,-3.  Seems crazy, but remember there will almost always be a challenge level added and a 15th level Illusionist will be dealing with 12, 15, 20+ level challenges.  So this 15th level Illusionist, with a Dex save of 4, springing a trap set by a 12th level Rogue, would have to roll 16+ (4 + 12.)

Also, Illusionists are cool in this game.  There are 13 core classes and 14 more in The Adventurers Backpack, not to mention the additional classes found in the various well researched historical Codexes.  All hack-able in true OSR fashion, in fact, some require hacking such as the Nekuomantis (Greek Necromancer) in the Codex Classicum.  A class where some class abilities are written in a mechanically vague way, encouraging you to interpret them as you will.  I know what I would do.....

The Codex Classicum also has an Oracle (Seer) class that is very heavy on the role-play side, recommending that it be played by experienced players.  It's cool, but I prefer mechanics and plan to share some ideas for a hack in the future.

Castles & Crusades also has one of the more user-friendly, yet realistic, encumbrance systems out there.

GREAT game that is capturing more and more of my attention, so naturally, here's a character sheet.  I borrowed thematically from my 5th Edition sheets and took away the Pathfinder-like math on the C&C official sheets.

You Can't Play As Conan, But... can play as one of his companions. Conan has plot armor. He can't die. He won't die. Ever. Unless Howard willed it, in which ...