portcullis

Poking away at some stuff in Affinity, as one does on an otherwise dull weekend. Squishing together some ideas I’ve been thinking about, reading about, or tinkering with in my spare time. The thing here is that it’s designed to get up and get going- you roll stats, then you pick a skills bundle (origin), and a class which gives you starting gear and

In combat, it’s standard 1d20+attack versus defense attribute. Damage is usually a d6. Warriors have d8 hit dice, wizards have d4. Armor gives you bonus HP.

Skills are just written down, and you add your proficiency bonus to them. Proficiency bonus is 2 at 1st level, and +1 at 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th levels.

There’s more left to write and a lot more work to do before this is even halfway decent, but still! working title ‘portcullis’ is just a working title based on some clip art i was looking at

my plan is to have something up on itch at some point, since it’s been years and years since i’ve even self-published a pdf

Iris and the giant // armor and damage

Iris and the giant is an artistic, thoughtful entry into the deckbuilder genre with strong movement puzzle and good out-of-game progression based around optional challenges you can complete as you attempt to progress through the main gauntlet. You burn most cards as you play them, and running out of cards loses you the game. Your main obstacles are various mythological demons, who represent the inner struggles of the main character. They will attack you if they’re in the right position and you don’t kill them first. They tend to deal one or two points of damage, with larger damage totals tending to come from the ‘big demons,’ who also drop new powers and interesting abilities. Sometimes they wear armor, which blocks a point or two of damage. Sometimes your attacks deal multiple points of damage- usually from a power or other modifier. Speaking of your attacks, they are a big part of what makes the game feel so ‘puzzl-y’- they are highly directional and highly situational, but the decision of which cards to take was made many, many rounds ago. You must constantly balance the cards you take against the cards you spend, while the constant damage of the monsters pushes you forwards.

Its tight design and clear visual style means that everything is as clear as possible. Every card has mouseover hints, and every time you play the game it unobtrusively asks if you remember the rules. Every monster has a clear silhouette and a role. Every item has a purpose. Every twist to the game feels intentional and interesting and fair. My deaths have all been my fault. It’s brilliant!

So naturally I was thinking about dnd. In Iris, enemies sometimes have armor that blocks a point of damage. Sometimes they even are wearing helmets or something and absorb two damage. A few rare enemies block three damage.

It works well in the game. If we did something similar in DnD, it might look like this:

Light armor gives you 3 Armor Points.

Heavy armor gives you 6 Armor Points. (optional: gives you disadvantage on swim/climb/sneak/hide)

Magical armor gives +3 Armor Points.

Shields do not provide Armor Points- instead, they provide +2 AC/Defense. [1] Of course, shields shall be splintered.

When you take damage, you can choose to take the damage to your armor points first. Your Armor Points recover when your hit points recover. If your Armor is reduced to zero Armor Points, mark 1 Wear on that armor. Wear reduces the maximum armor point value of armor until it is repaired, patched, and/or maintained during a rest period, at a rate of -1 Wear per rest. [2]

[1] In my ideal world, attack bonus would be checked against Defense, and we would all agree that Armor Class deserves the same fate as THAC0. This is assuming that you like static armor class, of course.

[2] Even for a short rest, maybe you can just knock some dents out, adjust some straps, improvise a repair, whatever. The idea is that armor points are a pseudo-temporary hp and that you need to rest to get them back. But not immediately.


Some snippets of abandoned houserules:

Armor Points Value:

Light Armor is worth 1d6 armor points. Medium Armor is worth 2d6 armor points. Magical armor is +1d6 to whatever the base was. You roll your Armor Points at the beginning of each battle.

Taking Damage:

When you take damage, you can choose to take the damage to your armor points first.

When you take damage, your armor is damaged first.

Armor Point Recovery:

Your Armor Points recover during a rest, at the same rate your hit points do.

When your armor is reduced to zero Armor Points, mark 1 Broken on the armor. When there are as many Broken marks as the armor’s maximum armor point value, it gains the Broken status and provides no benefit until it is repaired.

When your armor is reduced to zero Armor Points, mark 1 Wear on the armor. Wear reduces the maximum armor point value of armor until it is repaired, patched, and maintained during a rest period.

Your Armor Points recover at the beginning of any given combat.

Armored:

As long as you are wearing Heavy Armor, you have disadvantage on swimming/hiding/climbing/sneaking rolls.

As long as you have at least 1 AP, you are considered Armored. As long as you have at least 4 AP, you are considered Heavily Armored. As long as you are Heavily Armored you have disad…

As long as you are Armored, you reduce incoming damage by 1. As long as you have at least 4 AP, you reduce incoming damage by 2.

Skill Passives

houserules for D&D 5 and probably other games too

Ok so instead of rolling 1d20 and adding attribute + proficiency for every skill every time, we are going to do three things.

  1. We give every skill a ‘passive’ score. A skill’s ‘passive’ score is you character’s attribute bonus +5, plus your proficiency bonus (if proficient, of course). For a first level character, you will generate passive scores from 5 to 11.
  2. Any time you would be asked to roll a skill check where the DC is less than your skill’s passive rating, you simply succeed. You’re skilled enough that such a task is routine, or the knowledge is obvious to you.
  3. Any time the DC is higher than your passive, you roll 1d10 and add your skill’s passive rating. If that roll is higher than the check’s DC, you pass.

This system evens out some of the peaks and valleys of the traditional 1d20+proficiency+attribute scheme and makes characters more reliable. It probably fits the fiction better but you lose a lot of the wildness. I think I’d like to run a session or two with these houserules (and a couple others) and see what happens.

Grunghack

Named after one of my old internet pseudonyms, this is my collection of houserules to turn 5e into something I enjoy running games with.

It’s pretty plug and play, and really just changes a couple of things in character creation. It’s very customizable to home settings, and, simultaneously, invites you to create your own world at the table with your players. The big change is that it axes Race and Background in favor of an Origin

It also changes the way skills work to reduce the number of boring failures that 5e as written has in spades.

Want to check it out? Here’s the link. It’s still very much a work in progress!

Arcane Secrets

Imagine that the world as we know it is a book. On it are written the tales of heroes and triumphs and disasters and bloodshed. Just as that book is made of sentences, so too is the world made of things. And just as a sentence is made of words, so too are things made of something else.

Now imagine that we’re talking about the ink on that book. Now we’re talking about magic.

Or so it has been explained to me.

If you’re playing a Wizard, you know some Secrets. You can make your own list, or you can use mine, which I ripped from an OSR source and remixed and mangled.

The basic idea is that you roll on the chart to see what Secrets (spell fragments) you have at hand. You pick two of them, decide what it does, and then go for it.

Here’s the list of everything I’ve got. I’ve been thinking of dividing them into discrete themed lists, but this is your general purpose all-rounder Wizard.

Wizard Draft 1

Ok so here’s the gist- this wizard has a bunch of spell fragments, if you will, called Secrets. I actually went through an OSR game’s fixed spell list and took all the adjectives and nouns that I thought would be fun and put them in a big list.

When you create a wizard (or level up) you get a couple Secrets. And when you rest, you have a couple of those Secrets ready. You can take any two Ready Secrets and decide that’s a spell. You pay for the spell with your Magic Dice, which give you pseudo-hit points you can spend to fuel the spell. Or you can use your hit points, too, if you want.

So as an example, imagine you’re a Wizard and you have the following secrets: Animating, Cone, Greasing, Pushing.

From those Secrets, you could try and cast:

  • Animating Grease (Maybe a little grease monster?)
  • Pushing Cone (A cone-shaped blast that knocks stuff around?)
  • Greasing Cone (Grease spray, I think that’s an actual spell)
  • Animating Cone (Maybe a bunch of little stuff in a cone comes alive?)
  • Greasing Push (You push on something and it moves as if greased?)

Anyways, I really don’t like writing spell lists, or choosing from discrete spell lists either. Let me just make something up. I’m a wizard, damn it!

To make it a little less random, you always get to choose one Secret to learn and one Secret to make Ready, so that you’re never entirely at the whims of fate. Just mostly. Hey, magic is weird sometimes!

Check out the PNG of the class, soon to be turned into a PDF whenever I get around to it:

How to Sandbox

All I ever run (and have ever run) are homebrewed sandbox campaigns. I have run starter adventures a handful of times, and I have run like, two modules in my life. [1]

Running sandboxes just feels natural. After the starter adventures, what’s next? What’s in the town over there? Another dungeon? Something to steal? Evil cultists?

A blonde-haired adventurer with a sword and a green cape stands with their back turned to the viewer and stares into the distance. In the background, a blue sky and fluffy white clouds obscure the adventurer’s destination.

But I realize not everybody’s like me. So here’s how I do it:

  1. Gather some players and decide on a system. I usually pick the system first and then seek players, but you do it how you like.
  2. Pick a theme. I keep it vague- romantic high medieval, gritty sword and sandal, gonzo post-apocalypse, dark fantasy, whatever.
  3. Write up five or so cultures. I am a big history nerd so I usually just think about the last handful of cultures I was reading about. If I had to do it now I’d probably go with Greco-Bactrian colonists, Babylonian city states, Mongolian steppe confederations, Russian merchant-princedoms, and, why not, let’s do a Malian Empire.
  4. Then I decide vaguely where they are next to each other. Let’s put the Malian Empire in the South, the Russians in the West, the steppe nomads in the East. Babylonians go North, and the G-Bs are in the Northeast. Why not. [2]
  5. Then the boundaries and features of the region. There’s a big sea in the Southeast, and an ocean to the North. There’s a vast desert in the south, and sparse shrubland in the east (where the horse lords are, naturally). The West is hilly and forested. There are a lot of mountains in the Northeast. The North has lots of rivers and deltas and floodlands and swamps.
  6. Then decide on how the cultures relate to one another. The M. nomads raid the R. merchant-princedoms regularly. The M. Empire and the B. City States have a Silk Road deal going on, with the Rs always trying to move in on it. The G.B.s constantly clash with the M nomads, whose lands they are encroaching on. The G.Bs and the Bs have constant border skirmishes, usually instigated by the colonists.
  7. Write down what the people in that culture are like. Keep it short. The Imperials are clean, tall, dark-skinned, and wear keffiyehs and robes. The Merchant Princes tend to be stocky and bearded, fond of drink, prone to riots. The steppe nomads wear furry hats, have facial hair, are excellent hunters and trappers, and tend to be athletic. Short and sweet. [3]
  8. Then, pick somewhere and decide on an inciting incident, something to get the party together and invested. I usually pick what I think is the most interesting area, personally. Think of a handful of nearby settlements, and write two or three words about them. “Militaristic port city” is a good one. “Secretive Forest Druids” is also good. Keep it short and sweet. You can make it up later, if it ever matters (and it might not!)
  9. Let’s say that I start the game by having the players try to survive a raid. I’ll tell them “The game starts in the trading town of Soralsk in the summer, so make sure your characters have a reason to be there. Soralsk is a bustling seaport by the steppe, known for its timber.”
  10. Watch what your players come up with, and use some of those ideas. Your players will tell you what aspects of your shared world they’re interested in exploring, so take the hint! [4]
  11. For the starting area, think of three organizations that are in ‘dynamic tension’ with one another. For Soralsk, let’s do Guildsfolk versus the Nobility versus, eh, let’s do Shamans. Currently, the Guildfolk have the upper hand, but that can (and should) change as the campaign goes on. [5]
  12. Off you go! Start the session- the players happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The raid proceeds, and the players react.

The reactions of the players is extremely important. Always have the players’ actions affect the world. For every action they undertake, there should be a reaction. Somebody shows up to stop them, or to help them, or to warn them, or to ask them for help. The city they save starts to expand, and in the process, defiles a sacred river and now the river spirit is pissed off and causing problems. If the city is devastated? The refugees flee the city and the raiders continue onwards, greedy for more. And so on and so forth.

But that’s really more about running a sandbox, which I find to be fairly easy if you follow the steps above.

[1] Don’t get me wrong, I’ll read modules, but I am a tinkerer at heart and I am only reading them to steal their ideas and pass them off as my own.

[2] I don’t draw a map unless my players ask for one, or if they buy one from somebody somewhere. Sometimes they’ll make one themselves, which can be fun. Either way, distance to and from landmarks is more important than a map.

[3] I find that a physical trait, an interesting bit of clothing, and one cultural attitude is enough to get the juices flowing. Short people wearing floppy hats who enjoy dancing? That’ll work. Moustache-wearing people who wear colored tights and are famous sailors? One can work with that.

[4] If your player is playing a cleric, let them tell you about their pantheon. If they’re an elf, let them tell you a little bit about their homeland. I always use the old improv trope where you can build on what others have said but never negate. “Most elves are from tree-cities but there are also sea elves with gills and fins on their heads and I am one.” “Actually most dwarves aren’t colorblind, it’s just the royal family and their many, many cousin branches.” etc etc

[5] Three factions is a nice, stable situation and you can always zoom in or out if you need more or less. All the factions of the city in the example fight and squabble, but they close ranks against their rival cities. Or the Nobles come from the same lineage and are all cousins, so they work together quite well against the merchant guilds in the cities they share. And so on.

The Black Hack

I honestly didn’t know that you could just play the Black Hack for free by looking at a website. Did you know this? How long have people been keeping this a secret from me? And to what end?

Anyways, regardless, here’s a link. https://the-black-hack.jehaisleprintemps.net/

From the drivethru page:

The Black Hack is a super-streamlined roleplaying game that uses the Original 1970s Fantasy Roleplaying Game as a base, and could well be the most straightforward modern OSR compatible clone available. If speed of play and character creation, compatibility, and simple – yet elegant rules are what you yearn for. Look no further!

The Black Hack is a fast playing game and the rules can be picked up in minutes. The full rules fit in a single 20 page A5 book!

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/178359/The-Black-Hack

Neat!

Oops! All Attacks

source

In your typical dungeon fantasy game, your attacks have both an attack roll and a damage roll. Why don’t other abilities have this feature?

A quick experiment: All your abilities have a ‘skill’ roll and an ‘effectiveness’ roll. Skill determines breadth of ability, the character’s capacity to take what they know and apply it to the situation at hand. And ‘effectiveness’ is how well that works.

When you roll to test an ability, roll 1d20+ that ability’s skill rating. Target difficulty is 10+the defender’s skill rating. If you succeed, you roll effectiveness and apply that ‘damage’ to the defender’s ‘stress.’

Stress takes the place of ‘hit points.’ When you take enough stress, you gain a condition reflecting what happened to you. When you gain a condition, mark a couple* of your skills. Those skills are at -1 per mark until the condition is removed. [1]

Difficulty, in general, is abstracted much like hit points for monsters would be in standard dungeon fantasy. A cliff that resists the efforts of the party might have 10 ‘stress’ that must be overcome by applying climbing skills, or engineering, or athletics until the party’s gotten on top. Meanwhile, slipping stones cause abrasions or concussions, falling causes scrapes and bruises and broken bones, etc. A monster, obviously, needs to be defeated- but by the sword, or by demoralization? Or can it simply be fed? You can give the world around the players various ‘skills’ that reflect how approaches might be taken. A hungry owlbear might have Ravenous +3, Ferocious +2, and Massive +1, so it’s really good at eating, fighting, and being hard to move (in that order). You might have a hard time in a battle, but it’s not too hard to trick. A stuck door might have Rusted +2 and Jammed +1. Picking the lock is a pain, but it’s not especially durable do you can probably shatter it if you have an axe or something.

As a rule of thumb, you can probably give non-players an amount of stress equal to their skill totals times their durability, where durability is explicitly there to make the challenge last longer (and therefore have more opportunities for the environment to make its own actions).

Probably there needs to be an explicit rule that if the players fail, then the challenge gets an opportunity to react using its own skills and rolls, with its own chance to cause stress and inflict conditions.

Items exist in this ruleset to tell you things about the fiction- a sword lets you cut, but you can fight without it. Ropes let you climb back up from places. Poles let you poke. An axe lets you cleave. A helmet might protect you from head trauma. Probably it’d be cool to let appropriate gear give you a +1 to your skill- after all, you gotta bring the right tools for the job.

[1] I don’t think it’s probably necessary to note which stress condition caused which penalty- if you gain a condition that affects your fighting and one that affects your climbing, it’s probably ok for the condition you gained in a fight to recover and remove the penalty to your climbing. The “human” body/psyche/spirit recovers in a variety of interesting ways, after all. Not that this ruleset specifies that you must play a human, of course. Play a cyber-shark vigilante in a post-human Mars colony for all I care.

Warriors: Valor

source

Warriors have an additional attribute: Valor. They gain Valor when they defeat a worthy foe (or cause them to admit defeat, or submit). You lose Valor when you are forced to stand down, admit defeat, or retreat.

A being is considered a worthy foe when they have at least as much valor as you (or, if they are a monster, if they have an equal or higher Rank than your Renown.)

When you’re in combat, you gain the twice the difference between your Valor and your enemy’s as a bonus to your attack and damage rolls.

Two examples:

If you have 3 Valor and your enemy has 1, you get a +2 bonus to attack and damage.

If you have 3 Valor and you are fighting a mixed group of enemy warriors (two at 1 Valor, and one at 4 Valor) you get a +4 bonus against the 1 Valor enemies and no bonus against the 4 Valor enemy (who will themselves get a +2 bonus against you).

As you can see, the only way forwards for a Warrior is to find victory, to never back down, and to continue to challenge themselves in battle.

Note: This can lead to fun scenarios where player characters pick on an old man only for the warrior in the group to realize that this seemingly frail old man is actually a retired weapon master, and also for the warrior to recognize that the big blustering barbarian is actually a big wimp and will fold after a little pushing. It also encourages Warriors to realize that some fights are just not worth their time, which is fun in a very particular way to me.

Note 2: This is intended to work alongside the Dungeon Core rules I was writing, where Warriors inherently get a larger damage die than other classes, better hit points, and an additional ‘feat’ that makes them a little different. DC also doesn’t use attributes, so a Warrior in this scheme has hit points, gear, a Valor score, and some skills.