Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mechanics Discussion: Luck Points and Skills (again)

Luck Points

I'm thinking about revamping how I do HP for my homebrew: the GLOG.  Here's what I'm thinking:

Level 1: HP = 1/3 of Con.
Level 2: HP = 2/3 of Con.
Level 3+: HP = Con.

And that's it.  It never goes up.  (It's still modified by class, of course.  Barbarians are still going to have a boatload of HP.)

And then after you reach level 4, you start accumulating Luck Points.

Level 4: 1 Luck Point
Level 5: 2 Luck Points
Level 6: 3 Luck Points
Et cetera.

Luck points can be spent to influence a roll by +/- 1 point, after it has been rolled.  This works on both damage rolls and d20 rolls.  This only works on rolls involving you.

You recover lost luck points when you get a good night's sleep or eat a good lunch (1/day).


This is interesting because Luck Points are--at a minimum--an HP increase.  Since you can reduce incoming damage by spending Luck Points, a character with 10 HP and 10 Luck Points can survive taking 19 damage from a dragon's breath.

Except that they're much, much more versatile than that, and actually much more powerful than a mere +1 HP would be.

You can spend them to make your enemies miss (as long as they barely hit), and you can spend them to turn your near-misses into hits.  You can spend them to make your Save vs Death.

And because you can always spend them, they become this little option attached to every die roll that you fail by a couple of points.  "Do I want to spend my 2 luck points to dodge this orc's axe?  Or should I save them for later?"

And because you spend them after the roll, and because nearly all rolls in the GLOG are d20 roll-unders, there's no more dice to roll or tables to consult.  Just the question of "Do I want to spend my precious Luck Points here?"

And like HP, every class benefits from them.  They're like the American dollar.  Like HP, they're a reservoir that the DM must whittle down before killing a PC, but it's such an interesting little reservoir of potential.

That's good, since classes stop getting class abilities after level 3.  This injects a powerful little ability into every character that they'll all benefit from.

And yet I tend to hate hero/action points.  Go figure.

by Jakob Eirich
Skills (v4)

Alright, I've done skills a million times because I'm never happy with them.  Fuck 'em.  Here's my newest draft and it's perfect in every way, and I'm sure I'll never hurl it from the cliffside where it will dash its brains out alongside it's brothers below.


There is no strict list of skills.  You can pick anything you want as long as it's not a social skill (no Persuade), a Perception skill (no Search/Sense Motive), or overly broad (no Magic).  Likewise, the uses of each skill must be interpreted by the DM.

You start with 2 skills: one random one from your background and one random one from your profession. (Or just two random ones.)  You gain these skills at a skill score of 6.

Like everything else in this damn game, you test your skill by rolling a d20 and trying to get equal-or-under to succeed.

At the end of each session, you can attempt to improve a single skill by rolling a d20 under your Intelligence.  If you succeed, the skill score improves by 2 (up to 10) or 1 (when attempting to pass 10).  You cannot raise a skill higher than 10+Level, to a  maximum of 16.

You can gain a new skill the same way.  Mention a thing you did this session "I tried to sail a boat and failed, but I think I might have learned from my experience", and make an Int check.  If you succeed, you gain that skill at a skill score of 2.

If you succeed by 10 points (e.g. rolling a 2 when you had a skill score of 12) it is a critical success and you can apply an adverb to your attempt, such as "instantly" or "reversibly" or "stealthily".

Skills are used to achieve things beyond the ken of a standard adventurer.  Adventurers are already capable climbers, swimmers, jumpers, and combatants.  (For example, Indiana Jones is just an base adventurer with skill in Archaelogy, nothing else.)


This isn't very different from my previous skill systems.  It's very easy to explain, which I like.  And there's no tracking

I've been playtesting this for a little while, and I like the little Int tests at the end of each session.

While I'm calculating XP, the players are all rolling to see if they can improve a skill.  This is good because (a) it gets them talking about what they did during the session, (b) it keeps them out of my hair, (c) it rewards higher Int characters by letting them learn skills faster, but not to a higher degree than low-Int characters, and (d) the only skills that improve are the ones that the players actually use in each session.

If you want to be a master linguist, you need to spend some time wrestling with merfolk morphemes.

The Hand of Dominion

I wrote an adventure.

I'm not going to playtest it, or edit it into infinity.  Whenever I do those things, I end up never posting it.


I'm just going to post it.


It's a linear 7-room dungeon magic sword in the last room.  Whoever has the sword is the rightful ruler of the world (supposedly).  But more immediately, everyone who sees the sword wants to (a) claim it, or (b) serve the wielder, if the first option isn't possible.

Of course, that means that the real adventure starts when you leave the dungeon.

I'm honestly super curious about how different parties will react to getting the sword.

Funfact: most of this dungeon is pacifistic.  It will try hard not to kill you.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Active Defense

Normally, D&D is played with active attacks and passive defenses.

The attacker rolls, compares to the target's AC, and then determines if he hits or not.

Alternatively, there's the "players roll all the dice", which I like for defending because:
  • Players feel like they have more agency.
  • It frees up hands and time for the DM.
But active defense is still less fun than attacking.  When you're attacking, you're deciding who you want to attack, how you want to attack them, coordinating with your allies, etc.  Fun.  While active defense still feels very reactive.  

"The ogre tries to split you like a log.  Roll Defense minus 4."

Better than the DM rolling for the ogre and telling you that you're dead, but still just just calculations.

Ideally, you'd want to bring some decision-making into the act of defending* so that it becomes about making interesting choices instead of pulling a lever on a slot machine to see how much damage you take.

<digression>*This is actually debatable.  Do players want to have to make decisions about how to defend from five goblin spears?  Or do they just want to get to their turn quickly so they can open the cage to the dire moles and see how that pans out?  To put it another way, can we make defensive decisions interesting?</digression>

I have one other design criterion: I want the new mechanics to be completely compatible with preexisting OSR systems.

Dodging and Blocking

So here's what I got.  You have two ways to defend:  Dodging and Blocking.

Dodging works exactly the way that AC does.

Armor and Dexterity improve your Dodge; and when you dodge successfully, you take no damage.

When you block, you move into the blow and try to absorb it via your armor/shield.  You take damage from the attack, but you reduce that damage by 1 if you're wearing heavy armor, and you reduce it by another 1 if you are using a shield.

Leather Armor: +2 Dodge
Chain Armor: +4 Dodge, +1 Block 
Plate Armor: +6 Dodge, +2 Block
Shield: +1 Dodge, +1 Block

When an enemy attacks you, you can choose whether to dodge or block.

The Math

I made a spreadsheet; It's actually pretty complicated.

Blocking reduces damage equally regardless of the opponent's attack bonus.  It's just a flat reduction.  Therefor, blocking becomes useful in two situations: against enemies that 1d6 damage, and against enemies that have very high bonuses to hit, who are probably going to hit you anyway.

<digression>I think I'm going to cap the attack bonuses for the GLOG at +10 for this reason, among others.</digression>

Blocking also does another very important thing: it removes the chance that you might get critted.

Since you're reducing the spread of potential damage, you're effectively buying insurance.  You're removing the chance that you'll take maximum damage by removing the chance that you'll take no damage.

(Which makes sense fictionally, too.  Crits happen when you're trying to get fancy, jumping around all nimbly-bimbly, and you slip in the mud and take bit hit to the face.  Whereas blocking, you're just hunkering down and taking the hit on your shoulder.)

If you know you only have to survive on attack from a goblin with a 1d6 sword, and you've got 6 HP, you can play it safe by blocking instead of dodging and risking that 6 damage hit (or a crit).

You also don't want to block if you're at 1 HP.  (Makes sense fictionally: you're an inch from death, too tired to raise your shield, just trying to stagger out of the way.)

HOWEVER, if you do the math, blocking usually sucks.  By the time you have a high blocking value (platemail + shield) you usually already have a high enough AC that blocking is inferior to just defending as normal.  Still, I think the choice is interesting.  (Other people may not.)  So blocking is highly situational; dodging is the better choice nearly all the time.

Can Monsters Block?

No.  Keep it simple, keep it fast.  To do so would go against the design goals.

Metal vs Wood Shields

If you wanted to differentiate the two, you could have:
  • Metal Shield: +1 Defense, +1 Block
  • Wooden Shield: +1 Defense, can be sundered to reduce incoming damage by 1d12.

If you wanted to have a third option, you could have a Parry option, in addition to Dodge and Block.  You'd roll your attack bonus to defend instead of your armor bonus.

Except I don't want level 5 fighters running around naked, getting better defense from their daggers than they would from full plate, so maybe a condition is needed?

You can only parry when you are wielding a weapon and defending against a weapon, wielded by a human- or halfling-sized opponent.


So I just re-read all of stuff I just wrote and I hate all of it.  Normally, I'd delete the draft and go watch Star Trek, but I'm going to leave the post here because it's a good discussion.

I can explain.

Back when I played 3.5, I had a Power Attack calculator.  Based on the opponent's AC, and my average damage, how many points should I sacrifice for power attack?

I had fun doing that, because I felt clever, but now that's exactly the sort of gameplay that bores me.  It's math, instead of interesting choices.  If you know the numbers, it stops being a challenge and becomes a known solution.

So, although I just wrote them, I dislike the Dodge, Block, Parry mechanics because they're a known solution once the math is figured out.

And it's a boring problem because the two goals are directly comparable.  You're trying to choose the best way to minimize a single variable: the average damage.  Or in the Power Attack example: you're trying to maximize damage.

Fun choices come from choosing between to incomparables.  Like, should I attack with my sword (1d6 damage) or throw a molotov (2d6 damage, but is a single-use resource).  You can't boil that down to a single factor since you don't know how much you're going to need that molotov in the future.

The rule for sundering shields is potentially interesting, because you don't know if you're going to need that shield in the future.

Sundering #1: You can choose to negate all damage from an attack by breaking your shield.

Except that rule isn't that interesting.  In practice, people will keep the shield around, then break it in order to keep themselves from dying, and not a moment before.

Sundering #2: If you have a shield, you can choose to block with it instead of attempting to dodge.  Damage is reduced by 1d6, but if the base damage is 6 or more, the shield breaks.

That's more interesting.  Reminds me of the usage die, a little bit.  And it leads to some useful questions.

A bunch of goblins are attacking you.  Do you want to block the goblins with your shield?  It's numerically advantageous (in terms of minimizing average damage), but you run the risk of your shield breaking, when you might need it more later.

That's my final conclusion, then.  Block/Dodge/Parry is boring because it's a solved equation (that favors the spreadsheet-equipped munchkin) while Sundering Rule #2 is actually pretty interesting.

Need to playtest it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Covenant Trees and the Stylites

The Covenant of Lightning

There once was a great empire named Niv which conquered the entire world and then conspired to invade Heaven.  (This was the Crusade of Worms.)  In the city of Armis they built the first tower, in order to reach Heaven.

For their arrogance, Zulin destroyed Armis with lightning bolts.

<sidebar>Niv would eventually be successful in their attempt to invade Heaven.  Although the Nivians were quickly driven out, the intrusion caused Zulin to move Heaven from the Lower Clouds into the Upper Air, where it was more distant and harder to see (as opposed to the golden domes that could formerly be glimpsed among the clouds).  Since Heaven withdrew, it has been more difficult for people to reach it, requiring more good deeds.</sidebar>

Such was the devastation of Armis that even the faithful were horrified.  Zulin came before them, contrite, and promised that he would never again use lightning to destroy indiscriminately.  (Lightning bolts would continue to be used as the preferred method of slaying apostates.)

To symbolize this covenant with the people of Centerra, and to serve as a reminder of his wrath, Zulin created the Covenant Trees.

It is said that the covenant exists as long as the trees do; when the last covenant tree is felled, Zulin is no longer bound by his promise not to destroy cities with lightning.

Covenant Trees

Most beasts are made from flesh, and most plants are made from wood.  This is common elemental knowledge.

Yet covenant trees, being partially divine in origin, defy this simple dichotomy.  They are composed of both metal and wood.

Covenant trees grow when a lightning bolt strikes a covenant tree seed that is in an area rich which copper.  The seed pulls the copper out of the ground and uses it to grow the tree to it's adult height.  All of this happens in the time it takes a lightning bolt to fully discharge.

Covenant trees are always shaped like the lightning bolt that formed them.  They grow along the lightning the way ivy grows up a trellis.

Because covenant trees function as lightning rods, they usually prevent the growth of any other covenant tree nearby, so most of them are only ever found as solitary trees.  They grow alone, on storm-tossed mountain tops, only occasionally releasing their tiny, winged seeds.

Fangolians farm covenant trees in order to extract copper from the earth, since the purest copper comes from covenant trees.  It is the source of all their copper weapons and armor.  This is why they are all blasphemers who must be destroyed.

In fact, you can make a quick arrowhead simply by folding a covenant leaf a few times.

Lightning trees glow a dull orange before a storm.  It's invisible during the day, but can be quite dramatic at night.

Holy Copper Amulet

These amulets are made from covenant seeds.  The next time you take electrical damage, you instead take no damage and teleport to the source of the damage.

Hesayan Stylites

They are also called Skygazers.

These are Hesayan asthetics who have dedicated themselves to the contemplation of, and communion with, the sky.  They have pledged themselves to live out the rest of their lives on top of a small platform high off the ground.

In some places they live on top of a tall pillar, 20' in the air, or even 50'.  They eat, sleep, and pray on a tiny platform about 3' in diameter.  Their chins are always tilted up, away from the base earth and towards the mysteries of the upper air.

However, the tradition platform for a stylite is in a covenant tree, which are tall and very strong.  There is usually a second platform lower down, where petitioners can kneel while they speak to the stylite.  Petitioners who fall off the covenant tree while climbing are assumed to have deserved it.

Stylites are fed by songbirds, who vomit in their mouths.  They drink rainwater, that collects on the trunk.  Although everyone agrees that their primary forms of nutrition are miraculous, stylites are also fed and watered by local villages.  It is both useful and honorable to host a stylite.

Stylites speak with the clouds.  They communicate through yoga, and the clouds communicate by changing shape.  Sometimes stylites hear messages that were carried a long distance on the wind.  Stylites always hear the Silent Bell of Saint Dorbaine, and inform their villages when they are called to secret masses.

It is said that stylites are capable of flight, since they are blessed.  It is also said that stylites choose not to fly, since they are humble.

One of the most famous Stylites is Jerannia the One-Armed, who is a frequent critic of the Pope.  The two of them often write letters to each other.  

The Order of Stylites is opposed by the Order of Precipites, the cliffjumpers.

from Simeon of the Desert by Luis Buñuel

How to Use Them in Your Game

Use them as sages.  They know all sorts of stuff from talking to the clouds, and what they don't know, they can learn.

They're also holy men, so be on your best behavior around them.  They'll probably ask you questions to verify your goodness and/or knowledge of scripture before they help you out.  

Or they'll ask for a sacrifice.  A whole cow, cooked and salted, along with some wineskins is a pretty considerable sacrifice.

Or go traditional; give out a quest.

by Carel Willink

Saturday, February 11, 2017


In the scorned places of the wilds, there are many deadly and puissant beasts.  And then there are boggies.

It is said that boggies represent the innocence of nature, uncorrupted by the heartlessness of human society, and that nature produces boggies so that it can conserve more cruelty for other animals, such as tigers, which makes about as much sense as any other theory involving boggies.  Boggies sometimes carry boggy pox, a disease which infects the spells of wizards.

Boggies can form spontaneously when frogs accidentally fertilize fish eggs during a period of heavy rain.  This explains their features, which are a combination of fish and frog.

I drew this!
(Look out, Zak!)
That still doesn't explain the hands and feet, though.

Their spoken language sounds a lot like "bog boggy bog bog sprog moggy bog" which is why they are called Boggies.  The give each other similar names.  Confusingly, "bog" seems to be the boggy word for literally hundreds of objects.  'Bog' can be translated as 'cat', 'bohemian ear spoon', 'justice', and 'the feeling of jealousy when someone else has a bigger hat than you'.

Boggies are common in the Frogstar Peninsula, although they may arise in any temperate swamp.

Things that boggies often like: hats, polearms, shiny things, kindness, and being hirelings.

Things that boggies often hate: cats, swords, being dirty, cruelty, and waiting.

Boggies usually live in small daub-and-wattle cottages, but some live in little floating towns, anchored in the middle of ponds.  Boggies usually practice aquaculture (cultivating aquatic plants and fish for food) but some grow land crops, especially rice.

Boggies float on the surface of the water like ducks, and paddle using their feet.  When they need to sprint, boggies are capable of lowering their fishbutts into the water and accelerating to tremendous speeds, rocketing across the pond like a jetski.

HD 1  AC leather  Polearm 1d6
Move 12  Swim 9  Int 10?  Mor 5

Small - Like halflings.

Impenetrable Language - All attempts at understanding the boggy language will fail.  This includes magical and non-magical attempts, and applies to both written and spoken Boggy.  (Boggies can usually understand you just fine, though, and will happily communicate by doodling on the ground.)

People living with boggies can sometimes pick up enough spoken Boggy that they can understand the gist of a message, but they cannot explain how they understand, nor can they teach it.  (Scholars theorize that Boggy is a combination of a language and series of psychic context-signifiers embedded in the sounds/symbols, making it the first example of metalinguistics.)  Written boggy looks like lines of circles drawn by a preschooler.

Boggies are immune to language-dependent spells, unless they choose to be affected.  No jedi mind tricks.

Water Breathing? - Boggies cannot breath underwater.  Most boggies do not know this, and require rescuing when they start to drown.  These boggies will forget each time. (Boggies don't normally undertake long dives unless serving as a hireling and being asked to do Stupid Adventurer Shit.)  All boggies can hold breath 5x longer than humans.

I don't use alignments, but if I did, boggies would be Good.  Shame on the person that kicks a boggy.

What Polearm Does This Boggy Have?
  1. Partisan
  2. Glaive
  3. Fauchard
  4. Voulge
  5. Halberd
  6. Ranseur
  7. Poleaxe
  8. Bardiche
  9. Bohemian Ear Spoon
  10. Bec de Corbin
  11. Military Fork
  12. Big Pointy Stick
Six Boggy Villages
  1. Round huts arranged around the chieftain's hut.  The chieftain is whichever boggy is heaviest, and they have a see-saw contraption designed to measure exactly that.  They want medicine; the current chieftain is sick from all the metal balls he has eaten (in an attempt to get heavier).  They can reward you with a swarm of trained fireflies (normally live in a glass lantern-staff, but can fly out an illuminate a whole room, or whatever you point at) and a loyal boggy hireling.
  2. Floating village ruled by a strange blue boggy capable of casting illusion. They want someone to kill the local froghemoth.  They can reward you with a pair of giant gecko mounts (Climb 9) and a loyal boggy hireling.
  3. Round huts clustered under an enormous mangrove.  They are ruled by a boggy with a truly enormous hat.  There are wild chickens in the area has swallowed the royal pebble, but they don't know which one (as all wild chickens looks similar).  They want you to retrieve the royal pebble.  They can reward you with a magic stick (everyone who sees it must save vs charm or desire to possess it) and a loyal boggy hireling.
  4. Village of former magic users, victims of boggy pox.  They are ruled by a boggy in a wizard robe, wielding an imitation staff of the magi (non-magical).  They want you to carry a bunch of letters to their loved ones in a nearby town/academy.  (The letters are full of boggy script, incomprehensible to anyone but a boggy, but are helpfully accompanied by many pages of illustrations.)  They can reward you with 3 potions of water breathing and a loyal boggy hireling.
  5. Village of boggies built half on land, half on a pond.  They're led by a tiny boggy who rides an enormous arapaima.  They have captured an evil wizard who attempted to enslave them.  They burnt his spellbook, broke his staff, and are now holding him prisoner in the center of the village.  At least 8 boggies are sitting on him at each time (they use him like a bench) and constant surveillance (since he is in the center of the village).  If you agree to take him to the local city to be tried for his crimes (which he foolishly bragged about to the boggies), the boggies with compensate you with a trained dancing frog and a loyal boggy hireling.  There is a 500gp reward for the capture of the wizard (whose name is Victorion), but be careful!--he is a tricksy one!
  6. Village of boggies suffering a curse of lethargy.  They just lie around the untended fire pit, sighing heavily and eating bugs that wander too close.  Occasionally one of them is eaten by a panther.  Anyone who spends more than an hour here must save vs magic or be affected by the same curse.  The source is a totem dedicated to an ancient demon of sloth, which the boggies unearthed some days ago and brought to their village.  The mud-covered totem sits in the chieftain's hut (the largest in the village) and appears as an fat, sleeping man holding a pillow over his head.  Messing with the totem will cause the totem's protectors to manifest: 1d6 mudmen appearing each turn for 2 turns.  Destroying the totem will save the village's eternal gratitude, a victory feast, and the amulet of sleep from inside the totem anyone who wears it falls asleep and sleeps twice as hard, regaining double the normal HP from sleeping but not waking up until the amulet is removed).  One PC will also be married during the festivity dance, earning a loyal boggy spouse (who functions pretty much like a retainer, except for the good night kisses).
Boggy Boredom

Roll on this table whenever there's a boggy hireling and the party is standing around talking about bullshit instead of doing something interesting.
  1. The boggy finds a gross, useless bug and puts it in your pocket.  It is not sneaky.
  2. The boggy finds a helpful, magic bug and puts it in your pocket.  It is not sneaky.
  3. The boggy eats some food.  If food is not available, will try to get some out of your backpack.  If you refuse to give it food, it will start yelling (and you should roll for a random encounter).
  4. The boggy does something incredibly insightful.  If there is a secret door nearby, the boggy will find it, usually by taking you by the hand and pointing at the door while hopping up and down.
  5. The boggy falls asleep under a table or something.
  6. The boggy hides itself nearby, sneakily.  If the party is ambushed, it will be able to get a surprise round in.  It will come out of hiding if called by name.
Note: I rewrote the old post about frog pox.  It's boggy pox now.