Monday, 26 March 2018

Warriors V2.0 - Now with Feats!

Bloodborne arts                                                       …

I'm quite a fan of character builds, as are many of my players. The crunch and system bloat that comes with character builds in 3.X, 4e, or 5e, though, is something I, like many in the OSR disdain.

In my system, I feel like I've done a pretty good job keeping the sort of player-facing options that differentiates one person of the same level in a class to another, while not making options that make players more likely to "play their sheet" and not overtly bloat the system. Mystics have their relics and their deities, Sorcerers have their Maleficence, Arcane Tradition Focus, and a unique selection of spells, and the Specialist is a Build-A-Adventurer.

Except for Warriors. Poor Warriors. They get everything at first level and all they do after is check to see if their stats increase and dawdle around waiting to get extra attacks. Of which they have too many. As I currently have them, they get a number of attacks equal to half their level, maxing out at 5 basically, which I'm fine with, and attacks equal to their level against enemies with fewer HD, maxing out at 10, which is too god damn many. But I don't want to take away more options from them, nor their mook killing ability. What am I to do?


Yes, the word is anathema, but hear me out. I present:


Art by Kristafer Anka*  • Blog/Website | (  ★ || CHARACTER DESIGN REFERENCES™ ( & • Love Character Design? Join the #CDChallenge (link→ Share your unique vision of a theme, promote your art in a community of over 50.000 artists! || ★

Warriors can attack recklessly or defensively (attack with advantage, defend with disadvantage; attack with disadvantage, defend with advantage).
At every odd level (excepting 1st), a Warrior gets an extra attack
whenever they make an attack action.
Warriors can sunder shields (break their currently equipped shield instead of taking damage).
Warriors have a number of combat die, which are d8s, equal to their current level. They can use one combat die per turn to use a Feat. Combat die replenish after a Warrior takes a long rest.
Warriors start with these Feats;
  • SMITE - On a successful attack, you may roll a combat die and add it to the damage.
  • GRIT - As a reaction, when taking damage, you may roll a combat die and heal that many hit points.

At every even level, Warriors can learn a new feat from the list below (or devise a feat pending DM approval)

  1. IMPROVED MANOEUVRE - If you successfully hit when making a combat manoeuvre, you may roll a combat die: the manoeuvre automatically succeeds *and* the creature takes damage equal to the number rolled on the combat die (plus any damage bonuses from current weapons.
  2. CLEAVE - Expend a combat die: this turn, whenever you reduce a creature to 0 hit points, or land a critical hit, you may make another attack.
  3. SURGE - Expend a combat die: you may take another action, though this action may not be used to attack.
  4. COMMAND - Roll a combat die: you can forego one of your attacks this turn and allow one of your allies to attack, with a bonus to the attack equal to the number rolled.
  5. POWER - Roll a combat die: this turn, all your attacks receive a penalty to hit equal to the number rolled, and receive a bonus to damage equal to twice the number rolled.
  6.  PRECISION - When making an attack, you may roll a combat die and ignore enemy AC equal to the number rolled.
  7. PROTECTION - As a reaction to an ally that you can being attacked, you may roll a combat die and give the ally a bonus to AC equal to the number rolled for that round.
  8. DESTROYER -Expend a combat die: this turn, all your damage dice explode on a roll of 7 or 8 (or 6, if improvising, and 4, if unarmed.
  9. SENTINEL - Expend a combat die: this round, whenever an enemy enters your combat range, or attacks an ally, you may make an attack of opportunity without using your reaction.
  10. BULWARK - Expend a combat die: this round, all enemy attacks (or any abilities that target one creature) must target you. If they do not, the enemy must Save or lose their attack.
  11. INDOMITABLE - As a reaction upon failing a save, you may roll a combat die and re-roll the save, with a bonus equal to the number rolled.
  12. EVASION - Roll a combat die: this round, while moving, you have a bonus to your AC equal to the number rolled.
  13. ASSESS - When you encounter a creature or the signs of a creature, as an action you may roll a combat die to make an INT or WIS test with a bonus equal to the number rolled on the combat die. You may then ask the DM a number of questions equal to your level about the creature.
  14. SLAYER - Roll a combat die: this turn, your crit range is increased by the number you rolled on the die (e.g. if your STR is 15 and you rolled a 5, you crit on a 10-15).
  15. EXERTION - Roll a combat die: This turn, you may make as many attack rolls as you wish, but each attack roll you make past your normal amount causes damage equal to the number rolled on the combat die (goes past AP directly to HP).
I'm happy with these feats. They seem tactical, but simple, and the limited use of them (1 a turn, up to level per day) should still keep combat brisk and not force a reliance on them, while still giving players who rolled Warriors meaningful choices in play.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Monsters, Once Again

I just ran it in a game and it's fucking disastrous
my Warriors became literally unhittable
I've just decided to ditch the Powerful Enemies rule, and do combat the way Whitehack does it, with AC determining the range of numbers you have to roll above, and the stat being the number you have to roll below. You crit when rolling your stat. For rolling saves, you have to roll above monster HD and below your stat. I'm still using the CON = HP rule though, I like that.

Probably the most attention I've received on this blog (which still isn't that much) was for my post about monster design for The Black Hack. TBH still forms the engine on which my home system Places Dark & Deep runs on, and I think the thing that still most stymies me about it creature design and balance, namely the "linear Armour Class" problem +Ben Milton brought up in his review that I was trying to respond to.

In a very Gygaxian foible, I ended up not using my whole HP Assigned/HP Function as/HP Actually has system that I outline there, as it still ended up being too finnicky for me to use on the fly. The best other hack I saw for this problem was assigning different types of die as hit die, so ogres could be 2d20, but assassins would be 8d4, etc. While I like this, I often found myself assigning monsters higher HD because I wanted them to be harder to hit or to simulate their AC from whatever system I had ported them from, and felt I was diluting the power curve a little bit: after all, with a pretty much a range of 11 or 12 HD being the max in TBH, coming across 7 or 8 HD monsters early feels like it just sucks the fear out of it, especially since it's really easy for players to deduce what the monster's HD is from the penalty I'm assigning them (this is a problem that basically cropped up with the start of my Carrion campaign, basically being my first in person game in a year or so; in the online games I ran I just rolled for the players so this wasn't as much of an issue).

After reading Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells and its Addendum though, I feel like enough things coalesced for me to have devised a system that truly feels right for me.

1) For ease of use at the table I've been using the 5e statblocks for standard monsters (ghosts, goblins, and ghouls, etc.) because they have a robust set of actions and abilities, and because 5etools has an excellent and fast bestiary that, with 3rd party content, pretty much includes every standard D&D monster ever published. When you strip away the need to keep track of all the stats 5e monsters become very manageable.

When I convert from 5e to Black Hack/Places Dark & Deep I assign HD based on CR: Anything below CR 1 is 1/2 HD, 1-2 CR is 1 HD, 3-4 is 2 HD, 4-5 is 3 HD, 5-6 is 4 HD, 7-8 is 5 HD, 8-9 is 6 HD, 10-11 is 7 HD, 12-13 is 8 HD, 14-15 is 9 HD, 16-17 is 10 HD, 18-19 is 11 HD, 20-21 is 12 HD, 22-23 is 13 HD, 24-25 is 14 HD, 26-27 is 15 HD, 28-29 is 16 HD, and 30 is 17 HD. Lair actions go before the PC's who won initiative. Having a monster range that goes from 1/2-17 feels like it provides me a lot more granular detail to place monsters on a power curve. I like to think of it as "relative distance from a dragon". If a dragon is 11 HD and I made some swamp thing that's 7 HD that my 2nd level players killed without taking a scratch, that makes dragons feel a lot less impressive. When dragons are hovering around 13 to 15 HD I feel a little bit better. 

Note that because of the way monsters are plotted on a power level, you're sometimes going to have to convert a Basic or AD&D monster to its 5e equivalent, check the CR, and convert back here. Not altogether onerous, but some of the 20-25HD monsters in Veins of the Earth and Frostbitten & Mutilated become mathematically impossible to hit if you take their HD values straight. To keep up with the fact that converting monsters reduces their HP but Warriors in my games tend to output a fairbit more damage than they do in other OSR-type games, I use a d12 for HD, or d20 for huge or larger type creatures.

I'm doing away with the HD to damage table, keeping track of all the variable dice types is too finnicky. Base d8 (d6 for 1/2 HD creatures)+HD for damage now, adjust as needed for different monster/attack types but that's the baseline damage to grade monsters around.

Big scary monsters might need multiple attacks and multiple action types, or lots of adds to be a credible threat, since action economy basically works against monsters so that what was meant to be a threat becomes a toothless joke (see my 7 HD swamp thing above). However that's also another way to add granularity in the power curve: more powerful monsters have more powerful abilities.

2) Armour now functions as both Armour Points and a bonus to your defense, equal to half your current armour points (so a PC with plate + small shield gets a +5 bonus to their STR or DEX tests to defend against monsters). This means I can actually emulate monster AC from other systems by converting it to the relevant armour types (i.e. AC 20 = plate + small shield) and also means that monsters having armour points actually means something rather than just extra hit points, since getting through it's armour points will progressively make the monster easier to hit (and consequently, PCs get easier to hit as they take damage as well). For monsters this is cumulative with the Powerful Opponents rule, so high HD opponents are truly intimidating and difficult to hit, whereas even low level opponents never become guaranteed hits.

3) I took the Blood rule form the SS&SS Addendum, which makes it so that a character's HP is equal to their Constitution score. This felt like the final piece of the puzzle for monster design for me. No, it doesn't directly relate to monster design, but the corollary of monster design is always PC design and PC capabilities, and the two need to scale and balance to each other. This hits the exact sweet spot of how I want the PCs to feel, very much like glass cannons; with the expanded abilities I had given classes and traditional HP they felt overtuned, but this way a few good hits will put them down. It makes them a bit more resilient at first level, but increasingly more vulnerable as they face more powerful threats, which is exactly how I like it. Now instead of high HD monsters having to get a crazy number of attacks and abilities in order to keep up with PCs with bloated HP totals (as I was talking about at the end of point 1), now just a breath attack from a dragon (again, always my baseline) will do in even a cadre of high level players. Looking from the other end, a single goblin probably won't kill all but the flimsiest of PCs in one hit, but will do significant damage, and a group of them becomes a real threat.

Also, when you only have maybe 12 or 13 HP total, suddenly even the 2 Armour Points from a Gambeson seems very appealing, whereas before Armour was more of an afterthought at real levels, here it's the difference between life and death.

Also also actually makes Constitution modify Hit Point total, which was something lost in the transition from ability scores-as-modifiers to ability scores-as-target numbers that this new wave of roll under OSR games made.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Downtime Activities

Thinking about +Joseph Manola's post on time and distance, I'm going to give my PCs 1-3 months downtime between every adventure. A few loose rules for downtime actions.

1. Level up, if you have enough experience
2. Collect rent or income. For income; declare a job, Referee determines relevant attribute, and roll a test under attribute. Difference between roll and attribute multiplied by level is income per month.
3. Pay lifestyle expenses: base 30 gp a month (assuming 1 gp a day as average spending), going up or down by factors of 2 (so for living richer, 60, 120, etc, and living poorer 15, 7, etc.)
4. Manage estate: Pay rent or upkeep costs, pay wages, etc.
5. Any other downtime actions (usually 1-3 per month, though things like crafting and ritual magic should have time determined manually), including
  • Commission a building or a stronghold/tower/castle etc; must own land
  • Invest in property or business
  • Hire retainers: CHA test if they accept the job, modified by wages, living quarters, etc. Morale is CHA/2
  • Carousing: CHA test, on a fail roll on Carousing Mishaps table. 
  • Get involved in local politics; must own significant share of land
  • Ritual Magic (based on this and this). Attempt powerful magic effects. Requires base spell(s) or miracles, and any of the following: material components (treasures, jewels, statues, ancient artefacts, blood pledges, etc.), sacrifices, additional casters, energy from non-casters, summoning or invoking a demon, patron, or deity etc.
  • Busking or performing: CHA test, on a fail roll with disadvantage on the table.
  • Craft items.
  • Enchant items.
  • Try to broker a deal; selling your own items, moving goods, making a special purchase (a rare painting, something one of a kind, etc)
  • Gathering rumours or information; paying for services; talking to bards
  • Going on dates, making friends, establishing contacts
  • Training: a skill, a profession, a language, a field of education, a technique
  • Anything else you can think of

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Ugly Class Reference Sheets

I was bored at work and wanted to help my players, particularly Mystics and Sorcerers, have an easy way of remembering their character abilities so I whipped these out. Honestly I'm not happy with the way the text is laid out right now so I'll probably re-do them later, but they'll serve for now.

Obviously requires the full system document in order to make sense, which can be found here.

All images taken from Conner Fawcett @badbucket on Instagram.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018


Carrion is the endless city. Time began in
Carrion, and in Carrion shall it end.
When the world was new, the Hornèd
Mother's child, the demiurge Cannibal God,
bit her in half. She fell into the hole he had
created, for her body itself was the world.
There she crawled across the bottom of a
still and silent sea, till she beheld foggy
lights ahead. Crawling onto the oil-soaked
shale shore, she beheld a great city. Alas,
this city was Carrion. The people of the
town emerged, pale and mute, illuminated
by torch and lamplight. They carried with
them scalpels and saws.
Bit by bit they cut her to pieces. Little by
little they tore her apart. As her wails
pierced the air, none of the people made a
sound. They each carried a small piece of
the Hornèd Mother home, and left her body

there on the beach to be picked clean by the
crows, and scoured by the surf and shale.
By the Still Sea, beneath the Iron Moon,
one can still hear her weep.

This blog is only posted to fitfully because I'm still dealing with working and going to school full time, and the neurotic soup of my brain sometimes makes it hard for me to keep up with OSR stuff, but I have a backlog of adventures I'm hoping to write up here, and am running a new campaign again.

The premise is that it's more or less a standard crapsack Gaslamp fantasy Victorian London knock-off like we've seen in Bloodborne or Sunless Sea, except it's literally endless. Apart from the sea, everything else is just urban sprawl. So wilderness is just derelict, condemned ghost towns, villages and towns are more like isolated suburbs, things that were mountains now become towers, and there's a whole lot of mansion-dungeons.

Here's a link to all my campaign material so far, which includes the handbooks for Mystics (modified from Logan Knight's rules), flowchart maps of the districts in the main, standard part of Carrion (which I generated with Logan Knight's Corpathium system, yeah at this point he basically co-wrote the campaign).

Monday, 11 December 2017

It's 4 am and I'm supposed to be writing a paper but I'm thinking about gorillas instead

I saw something stupid on Facebook.

To be clear, not my own Facebook wall, just something shared to a group. And that sent me spiralling down a fucking hole of trying to determine how strong a gorilla actually is. The answer is, obviously,  really fucking strong.

"The strength of a silverback gorilla has never been measured, but it should be sufficient to say that anecdotal evidence of animals observed almost casually bending and snapping objects such as tempered steel bars (2 inches thick) and giant bamboo stalks, suggest that the gorilla has the muscle power of between 8-15 men and possibly more. Jersey Zoos Jambo was observed to hang from one arm (he was over 400 lbs) while methodically ripping over 200 ft of inner ceiling planks from the roof of the new gorilla house with his other arm (the planks were securely screwed and nailed), simply because he didn't like them. No other animal outside of the great apes has such a combination of strength and dexterity. The fact that gorillas don't use their strength to attack other animals in the manner of chimpanzees or baboons means very little as they are by their very nature, peaceful animals. Gorillas also have one of the most powerful jaws of any animal, which they use to get to the piths of various trees and plants. They can also use them in defense, and can inflict serious wounds with their bites if they so wish. Stories of their ferocity are largely unfounded, and when left alone, gorillas will never attack humans."

Of course you couldn't beat a gorilla bare handed. You couldn't even beat a chimp bare handed. 

But I don't think you could beat a gorilla one on one with weaponry either. Look at how thick that skull is. Even a gun, you'd need something really high caliber and a few good precise shots. And that's assuming it's not angry and charging you, which I mean they're gorillas so probably not but if they were in this situation (i.e. a fight) then yeah you probably wouldn't take it down before it reached you.

A dude with a sword in some armour would just get absolutely demolished. Just one swing would dent platemail which is enough to pretty much kill someone. Even if you got some swings off, it would probably only just annoy the gorilla. There was that chimp, Travis, who mauled a woman's face a few years ago and he was stabbed a bunch of times to pretty much no effect. If you had a spear you could maybe get it through the face, but then the forward momentum would probably get the animal right to you and crush you in its death throes.

A wild animal will literally throw 100% of its resources into a fight, it's just instinct. A human being would never reach the same phase unless they were literally in a state of severe psychosis.

What are the D&D stats for this thing? Taking 5e as an example:

Ape (Monster)
Medium beast, unaligned
Armor ClassHit PointsSpeed
1219 (3d8 + 6)30 ft., Climb 30ft.
16 (+3)14 (+2)14 (+2)6 (-2)12 (+1)7 (-2)

Athletics +5, Perception +3
Senses: passive Perception 13
Languages: -
Challenge: 1/2 (100 XP)


Multiattack. The ape makes two fist attacks.
Fist. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6 + 3) bludgeoning damage.
Rock. Ranged Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, range 25/50 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6 + 3) bludgeoning damage.

Strength 16? CR 1/2? Really?

Honestly how the fuck could you even kill a dragon.

I mean obviously D&D stats aren't proportional but I feel like "how does your campaign handle gorillas" could be a benchmark for the way combat is run.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

What We Talk About When We Talk About Monsters

So in +Ben Milton's review of The Black Hack he voices the concern that TBH's Powerful Opponents mechanic doesn't account for things like tough monsters which are slow but easy to hit, or monsters with few hit points that are hard to hit, and other such edge cases; how hard a thing is to hit scales linearly with its hit die: the system lacks nuance.

As a cursory rebuttal, I'm a fan of the system as is. I think of it as not an actual physical representation of how hard a thing is to hit but a mechanical abstraction of what +Pearce Shea is talking about when he talks about monsters: just being around them makes your life worse. That something so much more than you is trying to kill you just makes everything you do demonstrably harder.

However, if what Ben raises is an issue for you, never fear, I am here to dispense ludomantic wisdom. Or rather, just take it from somewhere else and tweak it slightly.

Anyway, it's pretty simple:
For certain monsters, don't roll hit die. Just assign health.

This idea is taken from how S&W Whitebox deals with dragon: you don't roll their hit die, you just assign hp per hit die based on their age (young dragons have 1 hp/hd, ancient have 8, etc).

So for tough but easy-to-hit monsters give them 8 hp/hd or something, but lower their total amount of HD, and vice-versa.

So ogres might be 2 or 3 HD creatures: overwhelming for a rookie adventurer, but not so for one with a few adventures under their belt. But give it 8hp/hd and its still a big beefy threat.

Similarly a wyrmling might still have 9 HD, but only 1 or 2 HP/HD. It may be young, but it's still a dragon: it'll always be terrifying and primordial. To bring up Pearce again, monsters may not be all that terrible mechanically, but it's the things around them that affect you. It really gives the PCs an oh-shit moment when I tell them to roll at a -8 or 6 or whatever and they do the math and they realise this thing has nine fucking hit die how will we kill it holy shit, etc.

Plus it allows for one lucky strike to kill one, giving you that really folkloric dragon slayer feel like St. George or Wiglaf.

EDIT: I had a game involving Players vs Monsters vs Monsters (or rather, a group of NPC adventurers vs Monsters. My casual work-around is to make the Monster "stat" 10+HD. If you feel like the monster is particularly good or bad at a particular stat, make it 10+HD+/-(1-3/d4-1). This can make things wonky if you're using this little HD as AC conversion thing I've got going on, but I've found a work-around that still keeps the stat-block to 3 pretty easy numbers. There's the HP/HD value, the number of HD, and the HD it damages/tests as. If you make a low-level monster have "high AC" by giving them higher HD, don't use the regular TBH HD/damage scaling. Just give them appropriate damage. And vice versa for strong monsters with "low AC".

Let's put this into practice with the notation system I use to show a few example stat blocks.

OGRE: 6/4/3HD, TN 13(+2 STR/CON, -2 DEX). Can INSULT for D6 damage, CHA save. Can eat anything given enough time and ketchup.
To explain what all those numbers mean, the first number before the slash is how many HP/HD to assign, the second number is the HD it deals damage as (i.e. Ogres deal damage as 4HD creatures, doing D12), and the third number is how many HD it actually has. The TN is what it needs to roll below if it ever comes up, plus relevant stat modifiers. As you can see, the TN is calculated using its "test" HD value. Everything else is it's special abilities, so really the actual stat block is still quite small.

So that's a tough but easy to hit monster. The other end of the spectrum is:

ARMOURED GUARD: 1/2/6HD, TN 12. Can use Spear 1H or 2H.

So this guy is hard to hit because he has high AC, but he's squishy underneath that armour and not that capable if he ever has to test himself. He also gets the relevant Armour Points from his HD (5) which adequately represents his AC along two vectors: damage avoidance and damage reduction. Ever seen another RPG represent both aspects of armour that neatly?