Have Fun Storming the Castle

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar:

The party knows they want to get into the keep. They see guards. There are fortifications. They’ve done some reconnaissance. And now they plan and argue over their approach. And you as the GM either sit back and listen. Or, with little warning, you send guards out to capture the party.

Inspired by Dungeon World moves, I made a “move” for players to use for Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. It’s intention is to throw your characters into action. Listen as they plot and scheme, asking questions. As they begin to turn towards each other and argue, shift to the following:

I Love it When a Plan Comes Together

When you spend some time observing a guarded and fortified area and you articulate a plan based on observation and intuition and set the plan in motion, choose someone on the party to make a Luck roll.

  • On a success, the party gets a common Luck pool to use on your assault. There are a number of Luck points in the pool as the result of the die. Anyone that took part in the planning may spend these Luck points; They are only good for the next 5 minutes of real time (Referee…start the clock).
  • On a failure, go through with your plan, but the Judge will surely throw a complication your way.

FLGS Quick Start

I’m on vacation, so I decided to learn a bit of LaTeX and consolidate the quick start rules I’ve been working on into a more print friendly format. Behold the fruits of my labor!

First page of FLGS Quick Start

Download FLGS Quick Start Rules

Free FLGS Quick Start rules!

LaTeX sources referenced and used:

Skeleton of Referee Section for Basic Fantasy RPG

Building on the previous post regarding skeleton rules for RPG, here is additional details.

BEGIN OPEN GAME CONTENT

Additional Equipment

Armor

Armor City Rural Base AC
Leather, Armor 25 sp 50 sp 12
Chain, Armor 100 sp 14
Plate, Armror 1000 sp 16
Helmet 25 sp 50 sp special
Shield 10 sp 25 sp +1

Weapons

Melee Weapons City Rural Notes
Light 10 sp 10 sp
Improvised -1 damage
Medium 20 sp 50 sp
Two-Handed 50 sp
Missile Weapons City Rural Range Notes
Bow 25 sp 25 sp 50/300/450
Crossbow 30 sp 50/200/600
Improvised 10/20/30 -1 damage
Ammunition (20) 5 sp 5 sp

Note: Medium Range -2 to hit; Long Range -4 to hit

Encounters

  1. Establish Encounter Distance (2d6x10 ft) (if applicable)
  2. Check Surprise (2 in 6) (if applicable)
  3. Check Reaction (2d6)
  4. Check for Random Encounter (1 in 6, appears in 1d6 rounds)
  5. Check Morale (2d6)
  6. Declare Intent
    1. Players may declare (+1 to initiative)
    2. Referee declares
    3. Remaining players declare (-1 to initiative)
  7. Roll Initiative (1d6 for each side in the conflict)
  8. Resolve Actions
    1. Magic
    2. Missile
    3. Move
    4. Melee
  9. If a pending random encounter arrives, go to step 4. Otherwise, go to step 5.

Check Reaction

2d6 The encountered creatures are…
2 Hostile
3-5 Unfavorable
6-8 Indifferent
9-11 Favorable / Talkative
12 Helpful

If you have a chance to parlay, you may add your Charisma modifier.

Check Morale

Player characters need never make morale checks. For all other intelligent creatures (including retainers and hirelings), morale checks are made if any of the following occurred in the round:

  • Opposition is first encountered
  • Half of the allies are incapacitated
  • Leader is incapacitated
  • Exposed to powerful fear affects (e.g. dragon fear)

Hirelings

Offering

Add your Charisma modifier to the roll.

3d6 Result
3-4 Refuse with Malice
5-8 Refuse
9-12 Uncertain
13-16 Accepts offer
17-18 Enthusiastic (loyalty roll +3)

Initial Loyalty

Add your Charisma modifier to the roll

3d6 Morale Modifier
3 2
4 3
5 4
6 5
7-8 6
9-12 7
13-14 8
15 9
16 10
17 11
18 12

Over the course of play, a retainers morale score may increase or decrease based on treatment.

Checking Morale

Roll 2d6 and compare to loyalty of the retainer; If it is higher, then the retainer leaves.

When to roll:

  • Returning from perilous environs to relative safety of civilization
  • Exposure to a perilous situation
  • When the hiring character is incapacitated
  • When orders are given from the non-hiring character
END OPEN GAME CONTENT

Skeleton of Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game

I’m preparing to run an RPG at my Friendly Local Game Store – Better World Books of Goshen. I’ve been vacillating between Sword & Wizardry (Complete, or White Box), Labyrinth Lord, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and the Heroes Journey.

Instead of picking one, I opted to create just what will be needed for that first session. This is by no means a complete game, but provides much of the player facing information to proceed. It is something I can print out and put in front of the players.

For more details concerning Old School Gaming, go grab Matt Finch’s free Quick Primer for Old School Games (PDF). See the following post for further Referee details.

BEGIN OPEN GAME CONTENT

Ability Scores

Ability Score Modifier
3-4 -2
5-7 -1
8-13 0
14-15 +1
17-18 +2

Modifier

  • Strength: to hit and damage in melee; feats of strength
  • Intelligence: to save vs. spell; For wizards, subtract from saving throws of spells you cast
  • Wisdom: to save vs. non-spells
  • Constitution: adjusts all HD rolls
  • Dexterity: to hit in missile; to AC
  • Charisma: to hiring; to loyalty; to parlay

Classes

Level 1

Features Cleric Dwarf Fighter Thief Wizard
Armor any any any leather none
Backstab +4/x2
Base to Hit Bonus +0 +0 +0 +0 +0
Base MV 12 9 12 12 12
Cleave No No Yes No No
Climbing 1 in 6 1 in 6 1 in 6 5 in 6 1 in 6
Detect secret doors 1 in 6 4 in 6 1 in 6 2 in 6 1 in 6
Hit Dice (HD) 1 (1d6) 1+2 (1d6+2) 1+1 (1d6+1) 1 (1d6) 1 (1d6)
Listen 1 in 6 2 in 6 1 in 6 3 in 6 1 in 6
Read Unknown Languages no no no 4 in 6 3 in 6
Saving Throw 14 13 15 15 15
Saving Throw Bonus +2 vs. death/poison +2 vs. poison/spells +2 vs. death/poison +2 vs. traps +2 vs. spells
Shield any any any none none
Spells 1 1st
Thievery 1 in 6
Turn Undead Yes No No No No
Weapon Damage, Medium 1d6 1d6 1d6 1d6 2W6
Weapon Damage, Light 2W6 1d6 1d6 1d6 2W6
Weapon Damage, Ranged 2W6 1d6 1d6 1d6 2W6
Weapon Damage, Two-Handed 1d6 2B6 2B6 1d6 1d6
XP to level 2 1500 2250 2000 1250 2500

Dice Notation

  • 1d6 – Roll 1 six-sided die
  • 2W6 – Roll 2 six-sided die, keep worse result
  • 2B6 – Roll 2 six-sided die, keep better result

Class Features

Wizard Spells

Charm Person Range: 30 ft, Duration: until dispelled, Save: negates, Affects: 1 living humanoid of human-size or smaller ; Caster is treated as trusted friend.

Detect Magic Range: 60 ft, Duration: 30 minutes; Caster senses location of magic within range

Hold Portal Range: 30 ft, Duration: 1 hour; Magically holds a door or gate for the duration.

Light Range: 60 ft, Duration: 1 hour; Target produces light as a torch (30 ft radius)

Magic Missile Range: 150 ft; A magic dart hits the target for 1d6 points of damage, no save.

Sleep Range: 240 ft, Affects: 2d6+3 HD of creatures, Duration: Referee’s discretion; Affected creatures enter an enchanted slumber

Turn Undead

Brandish your holy symbol and roll 3d6. Consult the following table. If the roll is successful, those creatures within 60 ft are turned – fleeing or cowering for 3d6 combat rounds.

HD Example 3d6
1 Skeleton 10+
2 Zombie 13+
3 Wight 15+
4 Wraith 17+

Equipment

Starting Equipment

You get both your class specific gear and an adventuring pack of your choice.

Class Specific Gear

Cleric: Mace with Chain Armor and Shield (AC 15)

Dwarf: One-handed weapon, crossbow, chain armor, and shield (AC 15) orTwo-handed weapon, crossbow, chain armor (AC 14)

Fighter: One-handed weapon, bow, chain armor, and shield (AC 15) orTwo-handed weapon, bow, chain armor (AC 14)

Thief: One-handed weapon, leather armor (AC 12)

Wizard: Spellbook (choose 1 spell, one at random), staff

Adventure Packs

Choose one of the following:

Pack 1: Backpack, bedroll, flint & steel, 6 torches (burn 1 hour, 30 ft radius light), 50 ft rope, crowbar, 7 days rations, and a water skin

Pack 2: Backpack, bedroll, flint & steel, hooded lantern with 2 pints lantern oil (burn 4 hours, 30 ft radius light), hammer, 12 iron spikes, 10 ft pole, 7 days rations, and a water skin

Pack 3: Backpack, bedroll, flint & steel, 6 torches (burn 1 hour, 30 ft radius light), a torchbearer (HP 2, AC 10, Move 12, Attack none, Carry torch, Loyalty 7+Charisma modifier), 7 days rations, and a water skin

Movement and Encumbrance

Encumbrance Modifier
Chain mail or greater -3 MV
Each 25 + (Strengh modifier x 10) pounds of treasure -3 MV
Excessive amounts of gear (Referee’s discretion) -3 MV

Note: Coins, gems, and jewelry each weigh 0.1 pounds. Note: Dwarves ignore the first two penalties to movement.

Description Speed Results
Sneaking MV x 10′ per turn As walking but able to move with stealth.
Walking MV x 20′ per turn Mapping and careful observation of the surroundings are possible.
Running MV x 40′ per turn No mapping permitted. Characters are automatically surprised and have no chance to surprise others. The sound of running may attract the attention of enemies.
Combat MV / 3 x 10′ per round Dashing around, battling foes, or fleeing.

Exploration

I encourage players to draw a map of the dungeon as it is explored (graph paper will be provided). Some things may only be discovered by reviewing the map.

Each turn of exploration (10 minutes), each character may:

  • Search a 10’x10′ area
  • Bind another character’s wounds (only in the turn after a combat); restoring 1d6-3 HP
  • Disable a trap
  • Move
  • Resolve an encounter

Every 3 turns, there is a 1 in 6 chance of a random encounter. Every 6th turn, the characters must rest.

Death and Recovery

When a character is reduced to below 0 HP, they must make a saving throw vs. death. Success means they are incapacitated, though any further damage they are killed outright. Failure means they are dead.

Characters recover 1 HP per day; 2 HP per day of bed rest.

Experience

While the current state of the rules does not deal with character advancement, it is something that bears discussion.

For each silver piece of treasure spent in town, the character gains 1 XP. Characters also gain XP for defeating monsters. However, the distribution of treasure XP to monster XP is about 4 to 1.

In other words, the vast majority of XP comes from treasure; plan accordingly.

Unlike many other systems, this uses the silver standard.

Checking Hireling Loyalty and Morale

Roll 2d6 and compare to loyalty of the retainer; If it is higher, then the retainer leaves.

When to roll:

  • Returning from perilous environs to relative safety of civilization
  • Exposure to a perilous situation
  • When the hiring character is incapacitated
  • When orders are given from the non-hiring character
END OPEN GAME CONTENT

Exhuming My Dungeons & Dragons

Building on my previous post for “Adding More Mortar to the Three Pillars”, I’m in the process of compiling my preferred house rules for my “Dungeons and Dragons” game. I’ve spent years playing 2E, 3E, 4E, and 5E.

The Current Incarnation

I’ve played a few games of D&D 5E, and find it an improvement over 4E and 3.x. However it does not sit well with me. My concerns are:

  • Stat bonuses are too large
  • Massive per round combat efficacy
  • Saving throw system that leaves you very vulnerable at higher levels
  • Good combat procedures, but lacking in other procedures
  • Resource management in relation to time is arbitrary
  • Lack of non-combat procedures

These concerns are evident in 3E and 4E as well.

Rudimentary System Checklist

I’m taking these “grievances” and attempting to find and compose my preferred system.

  • Random ability scores
  • Smaller distribution of attribute bonuses (-2 to +2 or even -1 to +1)
  • Procedures for exploration, encounters, and combat
  • Improving saving throws
  • Acknowledging that balance is a questing beast; The game is a group effort
  • Combat is dangerous and lethal
  • Hirelings and retainers are a natural part of the game ecosystem
  • Reward risk taking
  • Not everything is a fight to the death
  • Scripted combat would be nice to have
  • Resource management is a downplayed element
  • Randomization is an important tool for a referee
  • Shift XP to a more “Treasure for XP” model in which monster XP is about 20% or less of the expected experience
  • Skill systems are not required; Focus on player skills and engagement

The Archaeological Map

I’ve been digging through various OSR clones, simulacra, adaptations, and hacks. Reading for differences, of which there are many. They are themselves a reflection of the differences in the original materials.

Beyond the Rules

I’m also looking at how to best setup a regular game; Accept that people will come and go from session to session. Also acknowledge that character death should not end the player’s participation for that session (e.g. just grab one of the hirelings and take over).

So I’m thinking of leveraging a mega-dungeon as the primary focus of the first sessions. Provide a location for the characters to explore and plunder. And with their plunder, they engage and shape the larger world.

The megadungeon is a shift for me. Most of my games have been political and social games with human adversaries with little use of modules and random content.

I ran Out of the Abyss and found the procedures of the evading pursuit, travel, and random encounters to be my favorite aspect. But those procedures were leveraged in a prison escape scenario with minimal player character guidance. They were adrift in an opaque setting, not exploring the world, but traveling blind to various set pieces.

Proposal

The current front runner is Labyrinth Lord; Though Sword & Wizardry’s unified saving throw is appealing. In part because there are free options for both.

Ability Scores

Ability Score Modifier
3 -2
4-8 -1
9-12 0
13-17 +1
18 +2

Initiative System

I’m also considering a scripted initiative system:

  1. Declare Actions
    1. Players may declare actions; Gain +1 bonus to initiative
    2. Referee declares actions
    3. Remaining players declare actions, Take -1 penalty to initiative
  2. Each Player Rolls Initiative (1d6)

Or leverage a modified version of Philotomy’s Musings for initiative; Group initiative one side acts then another.

Additional House Rules

Lift a few ideas from Bill Webb’s “Book of Dirty Tricks”. In particular consider using:

  • Static to hit bonus (e.g. Fighters & Monsters need 17+ to hit AC 0; All others need 18+)
  • Simplified weapon damage
  • Critical hits do +1 damage

Adding More Mortar to the Three Pillars

The Three Pillars of Adventure

Adventurers can try to do anything their players can imagine, but it can be helpful to talk about their activities in three broad categories: exploration, social interaction, and combat.

From the “D&D Basic Rules: Player’s Basic Rules”

I want to look at a few subsystems of previous versions that are not part of the core rules of 5E. Rules and guidance for these subsystems can be found in the current Dungeon Master’s Guide. But they are not a first class citizen in the rules.

These systems are:

  • Hirelings, retainers, and specialists – additional hired support that can bolster the parties ranks or provide specialized services
  • Random encounters – a procedure to determine if the party encounters random creatures/events outside of the set pieces of the adventure
  • Reaction checks – a procedure to determine non-player characters initial reaction (friendly, indifferent, hostile, etc.) to the party
  • Morale checks – a procedure for seeing if non-player characters and creatures surrender, flee, or fight on

Exploration

Hirelings provide additional options for exploration: a translator, a torchbearer, a rear guard, a camp guard, etc.

Random encounters breath life into a location; Instead of a series of disparate locations the random encounters highlight that the location is dangerous and dynamic.

In editions prior to 3E, random encounters put pressure on the characters to not delay. The majority of experience was from treasure and not combat and a random encounter was a high risk, low reward ordeal.

Reaction checks codify that not every encounter will escalate into combat. It provides a chance for factions and agendas to be discovered and exploited.

Morale checks primary purpose is to ensure that not everything is a fight to the death. In exploration, this means that players may be aware that any opposition is falling back to bolster defenses.

Combat

In older editions, one role of hirelings was to diffuse the lethality of combat. They are both support and built in back-up player characters. They also provide a logical means to for a guest player to join for a single session or so.

Random encounters provide a steady source of potential combat. In older editions, its ill-advised to escalate every encounter (i.e. high risk, low reward). However, for players seeking combat, random encounters are sure to please.

Reaction checks are there to make sure that not everything needs to be combat. It can steer an encounter into a social interaction instead. It adds a bit of unpredictability.

Morale provides a clear mechanism so that not every combat is fought to the bloody end. This is something that a GM could adjudicate on their own, but having procedures in place allows the GM to fall back on the beauty of randomization. No one knows when a combat starts if it will be to the death; But the rules can be leveraged to provide an unbiased decision.

Since morale checks also apply to all non-player characters, it raises the stakes of combat; Will your still loyal torchbearer turn tail at the sight of skeletons? Will your seasoned veteran continue to fight even if their employer has fallen? A story emerges from the dice rolls.

Social Interaction

And this is where the four subsystems shine.

Hirelings may have their own agenda. They may leave on good terms and help the party in the future. Or a mistreated hireling might betray or openly oppose the future endeavors of the party. They provide another known social interaction point in the campaign; No need to create something new, reuse a hireling.

By leveraging reaction checks, it is not immediately obvious if each encounter is meant for combat or social interaction. This ambiguity provides a crease in the game that allows players to flex their ambitions.

And then there is morale; Does the hireling turns tail and runs at a critical moment? Or do they double down with steely resolve? How do the players respond? Do they dismiss them outright? Do they seek to rally, comfort, or console? At a minimum, there is now an in game moment with one of the hirelings that changed the state of the fiction.

And morale for possible opposition enforces that not everything is a fight to the death. Will the players spare the creature? Will they gain an ally? Or will they be betrayed? Can they hire their opponent? It keeps the questions open.

And in all of this, the random encounter is yet another source of fuel for social interactions and combat.

Conclusion

In my survey of numerous OSR games and D&D editions, I have found several implementations of these subsystems.

For Hirelings I’m fond of:

For Morale my preference is:

For Reaction checks:

For Random Encounters:

There are differences between each, but the key components that I look for are as follows:

  • Randomize the hiring process; Some should slander would be employers
  • Codify when morale checks should be made
  • Codify what random encounters are possible and how often
  • Reaction checks should happen at the beginning of the encounter (I prefer that Charisma not come into play unless the characters interact with the creatures)

House Rules for upcoming D&D 5E campaign

Following up on my post on building a set of D&D house rules, here are the current rules that I want to use, along with their intended purpose. The overall guiding principle is that I want players to consider combat as a dangerous, unpredictable, and costly option.

Table of Contents

  • Ability Checks
  • Aftermath of Combat
  • Conversation Reaction
  • Exploding Criticals
  • Firing into Melee
  • Hazard System (Time Management)
  • Healing and Recovery – pending; Slowed recovery times
  • Life Drain – pending; Based on 5E but slower recovery
  • Loyalty – pending; Based on 5E DMG
  • Massive Damage
  • Morale
  • Missile Fire While in Melee – pending
  • Pushing Spellcasting – pending; Rolemaster and Burning Wheel inspired
  • Ritual Magic
  • Scripted Combat – pending; Inspired by BWG, D&D 2E yet cribbed from 5E DMG
  • Spellcasting While in Melee – pending
  • Where We Last Left Off

Ability Checks

When you fail an ability check, you may choose to succeed at cost. If you fail by more than 5, choosing success will come at a major cost.

Intention: Sometimes failure is boring, or the player really wants it. If that is the case, I’m willing to give it to them, at a cost.

Aftermath of Combat

After any combat, each character that engaged in combat must either:

  • Spend a turn resting
  • Ignore resting, making a Constitution save (DC 8 + number of rounds of combat) or gain one level of exhaustion.

While spending a turn resting, a character may:

  • Spend one (1) hit die to regain hit points
  • Cast non-ritual spells
  • Perform other non-strenuous activity

Intention: To highlight that combat is exhausting and has a potential opportunity cost.

Conversation Reaction

Not all encounters need start with drawing swords. If characters choose to engage in a conversation, the GM will determine their starting disposition – friendly, indifferent, or hostile.

Once the players get to the point of their request or demand roll the applicable Charisma (perception, persuasion, or intimidation) check as applicable. Then consult the table for the response.

Extracted from the 5E Dungeon Master’s Guide p244
DC Friendly Indifferent Hostile
0 Do it if no risk/cost No help nor harm Opposes action might take risk
10 Do it will accept minor risk/cost Do it if no risk/cost No help nor harm
20 Do it will accept major risk/cost Do it will accept minor risk/cost Do it if no risk/cost

Exploding Criticals (Old House Rule)

When you roll a critical hit, roll your attack again and increase your critical hit range by 1. If this would be a critical hit, roll again and increase the range again by 1, and so on. Once your roll is not a critical hit, the number of critical hits you achieved is the number of extra times you roll damage.

Example: Fath, an elf fighter, wielding his longsword (d8+3) is attacking an ogre. He rolls a 20 on his attack. A critical hit. Fath needs to see if his critical explodes; He’ll need a 19 or 20 to continue exploding; The roll is a 19. Fath’s player grabs the die and rolls again; This time he’ll need an 18, 19 or 20. He rolls an 17. So close.

Fath’s final damage roll is 3d8+3; one die for base damage, one for the ciritical, and one for the first explosion.

Intention: Because ever-increasing chances of doing damage builds an interesting excitement; Once I start rolling my odds keep getting better. How lucky will I be?

Firing into Melee (Inspired by DMG 2E Revised p132)

When firing into a melee, any attack that requires a to hit roll might hit unintended targets. Count the target of the attack and any potential targets adjacent to the intended target.

For each target determine their chance value, doubling the chance for the intended target. Then randomly determine which target is hit based on the weighted chance.

Target Size Chance Value
Tiny 1/4
Small 1/2
Medium 1
Large 2
Huge 4
Gargantuan 8

An attacker may take a -5 to their to hit roll to avoid any chance of hitting an unintended target.

Intention: I want to highlight that firing into melee is unreliable and dangerous. I could grant disadvantage, but the nuances of random means that leaders can have meat shields to better save themselves.

Hazard System

I will be using the Brendan S’s Hazard System; Though perhaps with a few adjustments.

Intention: My goal is to expand the elapsed campaign time. I want changes in the world around the players. I want careful consideration of all resources.

Injuries

An injury occurs when you…

  • Drop to 0 hit points but aren’t killed outright.
  • Fail a death saving throw by 5 or more.

See page 272 of the DMG for the chart.

Intention: To add combat induced complications. To call attention to the fact that combat heroics are not without cost.

Massive Damage

If you take half of your maximum hit points (or more) in a single attack, you must succeed at a DC 15 Constitution save or suffer system shock (see DMG p273). If you fail your save by 5 or more, roll system shock with disadvantage.

Transcribed from the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide p273
d10 Effect
1 Creature drops to 0 hit points.
2-3 Creature drops to 0 hit points but is stable.
4-5 Creature is stunned until the end of its next turn.
6-7 Creature can’t take reactions and has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks until the end of its next turn.
8-10 The creature can’t take reactions until the end of its next turn.

Intention: Keep ratcheting up the notion that “combat is dangerous”; Under the existing rules dropping to 0 hit points buys you quite a bit of time before you die.

Morale

Creatures might flee if…

  • Surprised
  • When reduced to 1/2 its hit points or fewer (for the first time in the battle)
  • Has no way to harm opposition

Group might flee if…

  • All are surprised
  • Group’s leader is incapacitated, killed, captured, or removed from the battle
  • Group is reduced to half its original size with no losses on opposing side.

Check morale by having the creature or group leader make a DC 10 Wisdom saving throw.

Note: Player characters need never make morale checks. Henchmen, retainers, and hirelings must make morale checks.

Intention: I don’t want combatants to fight to the death; Draw attention to the fact that few people would fight on to the bitter end.

Ritual Magic

Any spell may be cast as a ritual. Spells that have the ritual tag may be cast as a ritual as per the existing rules. Otherwise, the following rules apply.

To cast a spell as a ritual, you must:

  • Spend viz or arcane reagents in GP value equal to 10 x spell level2
  • Reference a ritual (or spell) book that has the spell
  • Have the ritual casting feat or class feature

Intention: I want make ritual books

Where We Last Left Off

At the beginning of the session, one player should give a brief retelling of the previous session. That player’s character gains inspiration. Any player that wrote up a session report for the previous session gains inspiration.

Intention: To help refresh everyone’s memory of what happened last week.