Monday, 5 December 2016

De-Fanging Old School Poison

I know, I know. I'm a heretic.
Before you cast aspersions on my character, know this:

- Characters die in my game with some regularity.
- The sheer fear generated by Save or Die poison is fantastic and I love it.
- The Death and Dismemberment thing I use means characters can generally survive a few hits at 0HP

It's this last one that's the real issue.
Often a character will survive a fight where they ran out of HP, albeit with broken bones and a gnarly scar or two. Combat becomes less binary when there's a grey area of increasingly brutal injury.
In this context, the simple on/off switch of old school poison is somehow... boring.
Not to mention pretty bullshit when I've effectively been training players to think "oh no, 0 HP, I'm going to start getting hurt for real!" instead of "oh no, 0HP, time to start rolling up a new guy!".

Maybe it's that I always narrate poison deaths as literal instant death instead of the up-to-a-day of slow death implied by Delay Poison. Or maybe the exciting part is the actual save roll, and anything beyond that is so much fluff compared to the knowledge that your guy died again.

An important note:
You could use this poison system without needing to use the whole Death & Dismemberment subsystem. I've noted where this is the case in > Courier.

My players never fight giant spiders if they can help it. They have learned.

These are the things I like about old school poison:
- Doesn't give a shit how much HP you have
- Scary as hell
- Kills people

And these are the things I don't like:
- No scary grey area between life and death

So I've basically just bolted poison onto my established Death & Dismemberment rules.
The following rules for poison will be absolute fucking Greek to anyone who's not me or in my game, so here's a quick and dirty rundown of the relevant death rules:

When you're at 0HP you don't die, but begin accruing Death Dice. The more you have, the closer you are to death.
They come in different colours called Bleed, Pain and Trauma.

Bleed Dice mean that you take damage from bleeding out.
Pain Dice mean you've got a chance of fainting.
Trauma Dice mean you've got a chance of dying.

At the end of each round you roll your class Hit Die + CON modifier.
If you roll equal to or less than the number of Pain Dice you have, you faint. If you roll equal to or less than the number of Trauma Dice you have, you're beyond saving and die painfully of multiple organ failure over the next few minutes.

So if you're an average Specialist (class hit die - 1d6) with 3 Pain Dice and 1 Trauma Die, you've got a 3/6 chance of fainting and a 1/6 chance of dying outright.
An important corollary is that you can give up your whole go to avoid rolling for this, representing you just lying there holding in your guts and trying to keep your shit together.

> The key thing to realise with this subsystem is that it doesn't involve rolling the dice, just counting how many you have.
You could trivially replace "Pain Dice" with "Pain Points" or "Pain Tokens", something that counts up linearly.

With that in mind, here goes:


Poison: Instead of being insta-death, poison bypasses HP and gives you Poisoned Death Dice. This means you can be dying even though you've still got lots of HP.
Poisoned Death Dice act in the same way as Death Dice - Pain knocks you out, Bleed drains your health, and Trauma straight up kills you.
Unlike normal Death Dice, Poisoned Death Dice cannot be healed by First Aid or healing magic that merely heals HP.

Every hour, and at the end of every round in which you move or act, follow the normal rules for Death Dice. After every hour you can Save vs Poison to remove a single Poisoned Death Die of your choice.

Hopefully that makes sense?

The idea is you get Death Dice even if you're at full health. This is fucked because you can't heal them easily, they're independent of your HP, and even if you just sit there doing nothing they'll still hurt you every hour.
Here you are, the Fighter with 50 hit points, and you're powerless to stop the poison pumping through your veins.
In Logan's terms poison bypasses Grit to hit Flesh.
You're probably proper fucked without luck, hardy constitution, a Cleric with anti-poison spells and/or specific antivenom. I'd definitely allow people to create antivenom from harvested poison, that might be fun.

> Note again, to use this without the whole rolling-fistfuls-of-dice-on-a-death-table-at-0HP gimmick, just replace the dice with points or tokens.

On the subject of Clerical anti-poison spells -
Delay Poison will now make you immune to the effects of poison for 24 hours. This means you can act as normal and hopefully the poison will be out of your system (due to hourly Poison saves) by the time the duration wears off.
This also makes it a really great spell to cast on people before you fight a poisonous enemy, rather than a sort of janky poison-only resurrection spell.
Neutralise Poison destroys any Poisoned Death Dice you have, but doesn't heal anything else.

Now I've got three (three!) mechanically differentiated types of poison I can use. Depending on the monster or trap they'll inject more or less poison dice, or even inject a combination.
- Bleed poison drains people's HP over time, so that might be good as your video game-style DoT poison. An anticoagulant maybe, or a poison that eats away at your body from within, or even something that clouds your mind and makes it easier for you to get hurt. This also means First Aid and healing magic are mechanically useful against Bleed poison, because you can keep topping up their health to prevent it ever getting low enough for Death & Dismemberment.
- Pain poison leaves you unconscious, so it's for knocking people out. The "weak poison" of a classic giant centipede could be a buildup of a single Pain Die per bite. Eventually you just keel over and the centipedes eat your unconscious but still-living body.
- Trauma poison is the real shit, liquefying your innards and killing you TO DEATH.
Giant spiders definitely inject as many Trauma Dice as their damage roll, meaning they're still massively deadly, but a player can choose to do nothing on their turn to delay their death. They're still probably going to die in an hour when the first wave of poison rolls kicks in, but at least there's a glimmer of hope instead of a binary alive/dead.

> This is all true if you're just tracking them as points of Pain, Bleed and Trauma.

That final note is important. It gives the poisoned player Interesting Choices as to what they do after being poisoned.
Do you become dead weight and rely on your friends to get you out of there? Or do you fight through the poison and risk the consequences?
Carting an unconscious body out of a dungeon is logistically interesting but pretty boring for the player of the body in question. Carting a conscious body out of a dungeon is a bit more interesting, because at least the player can speak and act if something goes wrong.
It also means their friends have got a few hours to frantically look around for a cure. I doubt they'll be able to craft a proper antivenom in that time (apparently you need access to a goat), but it gives me a few mechanical knobs to twiddle in terms of poultices and herbal remedies and spending a few years building up a resistance to iocane powder.

I don't know why I like the image of people being stretchered out of dungeons so much.
Probably this one picture, to be honest.

Finally, the full copy-paste of the new version of the Death & Dismemberment rules, because why not.

Hit points: HP is more like Not Getting Hit Points, when you take HP damage you’re actually avoiding serious injury. You never go into negative HP, instead you start accruing Death Dice and rolling on the Hack & Slash “On a Table for Avoiding Death”, which is more brutal than it sounds.

Death Dice: These are an abstract way of showing how messed up you are. They come in three colours representing Pain, Bleed and Trauma.
You keep Death Dice in a pile in front of you. The more dice you have, the more fucked up you are. 
When an attack would take you below 0HP, add a white Pain die to the pile. Then roll everything in that pile, add the damage you took, and look up the result on the death table. 
Most results give you more Death Dice, along with “entertaining” status conditions and injuries.

Death dice kickers: Bleed dice are red. You take 1 damage per Bleed die at the end of each round.
Pain dice are white. Each gives you a -1 penalty to all your rolls and a chance of passing out.
Trauma dice are black. Each gives you a chance of dying immediately of internal damage.

Encroaching doom: At the end of every round you have Pain or Trauma dice, roll your Hit Die and apply your Constitution modifier. If it’s equal to or less than your Pain total you faint, and if it’s equal to or less than your Trauma total your organs fail and you die over the next few minutes.

You can instead opt to just lie there panting and crying and holding in your guts. All attacks against you count as attacks from surprise, but you don’t take bleed damage or roll for unconsciousness and death.

Medic!: First Aid can be used to remove Death Dice, see New Skills.

Magical healing removes as many dice as it would usually heal HP. Excess goes to hit points.
Broken arms and other long term injuries mean you are at 0HP until you recover.

Poison: Instead of being insta-death, poison bypasses HP and gives you Poisoned Death Dice. This means you can be dying even though you've still got lots of HP.
Poisoned Death Dice act in the same way as Death Dice - Pain knocks you out, Bleed drains your health, and Trauma straight up kills you.
Unlike normal Death Dice, Poisoned Death Dice cannot be healed by First Aid or healing magic that merely heals HP.

Every hour, and at the end of every round in which you move or act, follow the normal rules for Death Dice. After every hour you can Save vs Poison to remove a single Poisoned Death Die of your choice.

Friday, 2 December 2016

THE DUNGEON OF IAXWW - Christmas Gimmick Dungeon of 2016

2016 has been a tough year. Celebrity deaths. Brexit. Trump.
So rather than stock my annual Christmas gimmick dungeon with Santa and elves and snowmen again, I decided to stock it with a bunch of dumb 2016 references.

This should give you some indication of the calibre of the material here.


Countries united!
GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP of the UNITED STATES has teamed up with the Goblin King NIGEL FARAGE to enact a great and terrible RITUAL that will enable Loegria to PHYSICALLY LEAVE Europea and PHYSICALLY UNITE with America, destroying everything in its way!
The DARK REFERENDUM requires that AT LEAST HALF OF THE POPULATION OF LOEGRIA agree to leave Europea! To ensure this happens, the God-Emperor and Goblin King are enacting the RITUAL OF MASS TELEDEPORTATION, a ritual that will teleport any non-white non-native non-human people STRAIGHT INTO THE SEA.
YOUR PARTY OF NOBLE HEROES has been summoned to this Christmassy gimmick dungeon by THE LAST OF THE CLINTON CLAN.
She was at least two million votes more powerful than Trump, but even she could not defeat him.
Now it is up to you.

(Naturally, replace Loegria with your campaign setting. And Europea with the continent it's on/near. And America you can just leave as is, right?)

Monster Stats

The Dead – 1HD AC12 ML12
Prince: Surrounded by purple rain, those nearby save vs Magic each round or weep.
Bowie: If you kill him – you are floating in a tin can far above the world. Escape back to Earth if you can sing like half the song.
Alan Rickman: Has 5 random potions on his person. If you kill him – speak in Alan Rickman voice and physically become one of his characters. Transformation happens in one round, and maintains for as long as you stay in character in real life.
Gene Wilder: If you kill him - become a big blue blueberry that can barely fit through doors. Lasts the rest of the session. If popped, you die.
Muhammed Ali: AC 18. Missed attacks mean he ducks, weaves, and punches you in the fucking jaw for 1d8 damage and blasts you backwards. If Ali takes you to 0HP, he bits your fucking ear off.
Ron Glass: Peaceful. Holds book covered in a layer of wool. Allows reader to speak with sheep.
Fidel Castro: Attack has 50% chance to be Good (attack heals 1d6 HP) or Evil (attack deals 1d6 damage)

Harambe – HD4 AC12 ML4
Automatically grapples and drags. Dragged creature becomes as helpless as a small child. Deals no damage.
Takes double damage from projectile weapons, triple from firearms.
If you kill him – Save vs Paralyze whenever somebody says the name Harambe or fall to the ground, distraught at what you did to that noble, perfect creature. Lasts until people finally stop posting Harambe memes on the internet.
Everyone else – While in the presence of Harambe’s killer – asking for Harambe’s Blessing gives you a +1 bonus to your next roll. Stops working when people finally stop posting Harambe memes on the internet.

Nigel Farage the Goblin King – HD3 AC12 ML12
Any time you are in the same room as Nigel Farage the Goblin King, you must punch him in his stupid smug grinning face (just fists, no weapons) unless you Save vs Magic-ally Punchable Face.
Nigel Farage has a big mug of Real British Ale. Every round he can take a massive swig of his Real British Ale to heal up to full health, but takes -1 to his AC. Stop him from doing this by either dragging him away from the tap (hard when you’re punching him in the face) or taking/adulterating his ale somehow (which sends him into a rage).

God-Emperor Trump – HD 8, AC 17, ML 9
Trump takes half damage from women and does double damage against foreigners and minorities
Roll 1d8 twice every round for Trump’s attacks:
1.       Pussy Grab! Wrestle. 1d4 damage to men, 2d6 damage to women.
2.       Build a Wall! Creates a wall 30’ long and 20’ high in the location of his choice. Anybody of even vaguely South American descent in the room (player or character) loses half their cash.
3.       Glass Ceiling! A huge pane of glass drops from above. Deals 1d6 damage to women inside the room, but men pass harmlessly through it.
4.       Rigged Pole! Springs from the floor and smacks a random person nearby for 1d10 damage. Roll to hit, but change the result to anything you want. It’s rigged.
5.       Krav MAGA! Three attacks for 1d6 damage each aimed at whoever he chooses.
6.       Hell Toupee! Hairpiece LEAPS FROM HIS HEAD and begins strangling someone. 1d6 damage every round until you wrestle it off. If he rolls this again, jumps again.
7.       Charm White Male! Random white human male in room is Charmed and does whatever Trump wants. Save vs Magic in subsequent rounds to break free.
8.       Deport Minority! Random non-human in room is teleported to the dungeon entrance.

Dungeon Key

Entrance. The Resting Place of the Last of the Clinton Clan
It is snowing. A blonde woman in a pantsuit ages before your very eyes.
"I was two million votes more powerful... but not even I could defeat him... I have used the last of my strength to summon you here. Please, save 2016. Save us all."
She collapses into the snow. If searched, you find no emails.
Above the dungeon entrance, festive neon splutters and fizzes in the cold. The letters spell IAXWW. The foetid stench of a horrible year blows from the dungeon mouth.
We were forced to got through 2016. Now so are your characters.

Room 1. Hall of the Dead.
The Celebrity Dead of 2016 are here, stacked in neat alcoves amongst tinsel. Search the berths and you will find every celebrity who died this year.
Progressing means several animate and attack! Specifically the first five I made stats for - Prince, Bowie, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder and Muhammed Ali.
They will generally say that they didn’t want things to turn out this way, but the dark energies unleashed by Brexit have caused them to hate the living.
Surprise! It's not over! When the five are defeated, Ron Glass and Fidel Castro appear! Ron Glass does not fight and offers a book bound in wool. Castro may attack depending on the group's opinion of him.

Room 2. Harambe.
Shallow water surrounding a central island. Narrow ledge around room could be traversed with some difficulty. On the island, a single bare-branched Christmas tree.
If someone climbs down to the water - Harambe the Gorilla runs around the island, grabs them, and begins dragging them through the water to the sound of screams!
If the ledge is traversed instead - the smallest character falls! No save! Harambe catches, cradles, drags through water to the sound of screams.
Harambe is peaceful and harmless, but scared. It's up to you to work out how to save whoever fell in.
Leaning against the christmas tree is the Gorilla Gun. Any who touch it must Save vs Magical Device or shoot the nearest gorilla they can see. It deals 1d10 damage and has 6 shots left.

Room 3. The Inevitable Slide
A slide shading from dark blue at the top to dark red at the bottom. Those who didn’t vote in the EU Referendum or the US election this year take 1d10 damage from the sandpaper roughness at the bottom of the slide.
It doesn't matter what you voted for, just that you voted.

Room 4. Lair of the Right.
God-Emperor Trump and Nigel Farage the Goblin King are here!!
Steep 20' cliff with stairs up on the west side. This is to make this room into a "6", but also so people can get knocked off the cliff.
Farage stands by a tap marked Real British Ale and is laughing gleefully. He and Trump are smooching while also gloating about their plan to cast Mass Teledeportation which will throw all non-white non-human non-native people in the land into the sea.
Ritual circle on the ground is a big gold pentagram filled with blood.
The chamber shudders, and somehow you know it’s Loegria beginning to drag itself away from the continent!
Trump and Farage will fight you if you try to stop the ritual, of course.
The main boss fight gimmick is that you can't attack Trump if you're punching Farage in the face, and Farage's punchable face keeps healing when he gulps down his ale.
Kill Farage quick, or find some way to avoid seeing his punchable face.
Trump gets Opportunity Attacks on people who are forced run past him to punch Farage, by the way.

Treasure in the final room!
- Gold pentagram is worth 5000sp, and counts as double that if used as a Thaumaturgic Circle for the purposes of the Summon spell.
- Farage Mug magically fills itself from whatever it was last filled from. If filled with ale, heals 1d6 HP if you drain the mug but gives you -1 AC for the rest of the day.
- Real British Ale tap sticking from wall has 1d10 pints of Real British Ale left in it. Heals drinker to full health but gives -1 AC penalty for the rest of the day.
- Trump Power Armour is tacky and poorly made but wrapped in gold leaf! Low quality plate armour. Worth 10000sp.
- Trump’s Toupee, when placed on a bald head, will protect its new owner. Jumps and wrestles like a headcrab. 1d6 damage per round until wrestled off, but any damage will kill it. Comes back to life when you offend at least 100 people with a single statement.
- Wall Button acts like Wall of Stone but eats 1000sp from user whenever it’s pressed. User can pass this cost onto a South American in line of sight if they wish, but it fails if they don’t have the cash.
- Sack containing 350 million gold marked with the letters “NHS”. Super heavy because of this. If you look inside, there's nothing there and the sack weighs as much as an empty sack. Basically you can carry it around easily if you're looking inside it the whole time.
- Frog Face Grimoire has a frog's face stretched out on the cover forming a horrible grimace. Contains the ritual "Dark Referendum".
Casting time: 2 months
At the completion of the ritual everyone in the country is given the choice to Leave or Remain. If at least 50% choose Leave, the entire country begins moving in the direction of caster's choice at a rate of a mile a day, leaving behind a big hole and smooshing any other landmasses in its way!
This spell can be delayed indefinitely by the leader of the country, so kill them asap if they're not on your side.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Party Upgrades in a Deadly Campaign

I run a game where character death happens.
This has a bunch of good effects on gameplay, but that's not the point of this post.

What I've been noticing is that the power of the party as a whole is constantly increasing, even as the individual characters die and are replaced with fresh first level folks.

There are three main avenues for this
- Party Stuff
- Party Influence
- Player Knowledge

My players have been banging out some FANTASTIC art for a good while now.
Credit: Tom of Dungeons & Doritos

Party Stuff

Magic items are the most obvious example.
The party stumbles across a magic item of some sort, whoever wants and/or needs it most claims it, and when they die it gets passed on to somebody else or their successor.

Possibly a TPK would break this chain, but in half a decade of running D&D I've still never presided over a TPK!
This campaign's been going for two and a half years now and STILL no TPKs. Maybe I am too nice, or maybe they are too clever to keep fighting when their friend's head gets eaten off. Who can say?

Also in this category - cash. I well remember the struggle to save up for plate armour in the early game. It still happens to players because Carousing and such keeps taking their money, but nowadays the armour question is less "can I afford this?" and more "how much can I carry?" which is slightly more interesting.

Due to carousing, cash also acts as one of several Save Point-ish mechanics.
If you die you can burn all your previous character's cash on buying back their exp and/or burn it on Carousing and its ilk.
If the party's cashed up, they can potentially pool money to bring a new character to party parity, which keeps the whole group powerful.

Party Influence

This is stuff that's only possible because the party has influenced the campaign world in some way.
The point is that the party has gained contacts and reputation as they go through places.
If they head back to Fortress City Fate, they've got their friend Slim Jimmy there who'll fence their goods. If they head to the mountains, they've got a bunch of gypsies who they rescued travelling around the area who can tell them what's going on.
This even happens in dungeons. If the group has previously helped/intimidated/befriended a faction of dungeon dwellers, that attitude is passed onto the group as a whole.
This also, in my campaign, includes investments. While these are mostly businesses that persist for the player (ie. persist across characters), they're also a great way for the party to gain as a whole.
A contact for one person is a contact for all people.

Player Knowledge

This is the Big One, but also the least obvious.
It's about each individual player's experience with the game, and how that adds to the whole.
Player Knowledge is fascinating to watch in play.
The Party-as-Unit enter an unfamiliar place and, by chance, one of the oldest running players remembers this. Sure, it was a previous character. Sure, it was a long time ago in real time. Sure, they don't remember the details. But the memory persists. And that memory belongs to the Party.

I love it.

The Party as an aggregate becomes stronger than each individual character, but importantly it becomes stronger than each individual player.
Knowledge is passed on from one player to another, and even when that player leaves their knowledge remains.
I get a fair amount of player churn here in London. People are forced to leave due to work or deportation or simply because the group's grown uncomfortably big and they feel forced out. Each generation of players becomes better than the last because there's a sort of fast-motion intergenerational knowledge transfer going on. New people take on that knowledge because it literally makes their character survive longer.

This includes both rules knowledge and in-fiction knowledge, and the intersection between the two becomes one of those interesting intersections between the player and their character.
"The kobolds set up lots of traps" and "The kobolds only have 1HD" are both useful bits of player knowledge that help you survive.
"Poison is bullshit overpowered". "Axes are good against unarmoured". "Goblins are vegetables". "Lulu's got a honey business up north". Is it out-of-character or in-character knowledge? Mostly both.
Everything adds to the ability of the party as an aggregate.

This is also why I'm unconcerned about metagaming (look at how angry this dude gets).
Any advantage based on player knowledge is a fair advantage, and on the outside "fuck, a ghoul! Scary looking!" and "fuck, a ghoul! Three attacks per round and paralyzing touch!" result in very similar actions.
I don't like separation between player and character, I like it to be a big soupy pool of not being entirely sure where the player and and the character begins.

There's a weird edge case here with my Rune Magic thing. I specifically invented it to be a Player Knowledge gimmick, and so we usually get a single person per player "generation" who takes it upon themselves to be the Rune Guy.
What's beautiful about this is that we've had a few Rune Guys in the span of the campaign, and they've always been the go-to guy for inscribing runes on shields and weapons and stuff.

And one day, life gets in the way. And they can't play for a while. And the crafted rune objects remain, but the knowledge of how to create them gets lost.
Which means the players have Party Stuff without the Player Knowledge to make more of them and it's fucking awesome. Especially when they tell new players there used to be this guy who could create fire with his fists and suck the air from your lungs and all sorts of crazy shit, and look, here's this infinite light source he left us with,

Now the current crop of players have tuned into this and began strategies to mitigate the loss of knowledge.
There's more than one Rune Guy now, and they've created little spell booklet things to ensure the knowledge gets passed on even if they're not at the session. It's neato.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Digging Deeper into Lorebonds - Dwarf Subclasses

A sheet of Lorebond effects, bond quests and geasa are here.

The Dwarf is one of these concepts you can't really fuck with. They're solid, both as a species and as a concept.
They're gruff. Short. Husky. Bearded. Live underground. Male. Love mining. All that.

I think this is because there is this same representation of Dwarves across a lot of different media.

D&D Dwarves are Dragon Age Dwarves are Tolkien Dwarves are Movie Tolkien Dwarves are Dwarf Fortress Dwarves and so on and so on.

You can fuck with Elves. There's lots of representations of Elves. Sometimes they're melancholy Tolkien Elves, sometimes they're scary Fey Folk, sometimes they're just a generic D&D race of humans with funny ears and a stat adjustment. You can do a lot with that.

You can fuck with Halflings. The simple reason is that they're not in a lot of different media (pretty much just Tolkien and D&D right?), and they're fucking boring. Small contented farmers who smoke a lot of weed and don't do much. Basically that one room mate you had. Or you, you mongrel.
But Dwarves are Dwarves.
You can extrapolate their architecture.
You can make them tortured artists.
You can make them the only survivors of an unknown cataclysm.
But all those innovations and extrapolations don't mess with the solid core that is Dwarf. Good, solid, dependable Dwarf. Which fits. The concept named "Elf" is ephemeral and alive and strange. The concept named "Dwarf" sits in my mind like a lump of stone.
The spelling of the plural of "Dwarf" flip-flops through my mind like a fish that has somehow learned to jeer, but that's by the by.

The only person I've seen to really push the boundaries of what a Dwarf actually "Is" is Tom over at Middenmurk. Recreating them into avaricious fey. But that feels like "Elf" to me!


The vast majority of Dwarves spend their lives stolidly working, locked into chains of debt. Work satisfies a Dwarf, much as a good book may satisfy a man. At least, that is what a Dwarf might tell you. Of this I may write later.

But this good, solid, honest toil does more than simply satisfy the soul. It serves to quell the pull of the ancient lore-fetters within the flesh and bone and blood. Digging deeper into the Earth prevents a Dwarf digging deeper into themselves.

It is a rare Dwarf who willingly stares into themselves, reaching inside and pulling apart the lore-fetters. These brave, strange souls are forevermore a step removed from Dwarfish society. Respected, perhaps, but never accepted. A class half empty.

Those who abandon the Dwarf holds find themselves at the mercy of these dark temptations. The strange raw emotions of the surface world, the impossible immensity of the sky, the constant thrum of life. Without monotonous, untiring work a Dwarf might find themselves prone to introspection... and that way lies madness.

So How Do They Work?

The original idea comes straight from the wonderful Erik Jensen via Santicore 2013.

Essentially, there are several Lores. These include things like Lore of the Beard, Lore of the Brew and Lore of the Forge.
Each Lore has three tiers. You have to unlock the previous tier before you can advance to the next.
To unlock the Lorebond you have to complete a Quest.
Once a Lorebond is unlocked you are saddled with a Geas.
If you break a Geas you are hit by the associated Curse.

As you progress up the tiers you get better powers, harder quests, trickier geasa, and worse curses.
The idea is you can charge up one Lore which is hard and limiting, or mix and match several lower tier Lorebonds which is easier but less powerful.

You progress every second level, if you wish. Obviously you can just ignore this whole thing if you like.

Bond Society

Lorebonds are a strange mix of embarrassment and pride to the Dwarves.
They influence Dwarfish culture, and different Dwarven cities tend to be associated with a single Lore, and more particularly its Geasa.

The Dwarves of Ur-Barakh are associated with the Lore of the Beard.
They never trim their hair, so wear Sikh-esque turbans and keep their beards in rings.
They soak their beards in milk before they leave the home.
When drinking they leave the end of their beard in their drink, removing it implies they need another. They are taciturn to strangers and are careful to never speak to crowds.
If they have to travel, they carry around a small box of plucked eyebrow hairs in neat bundles.

The Dwarves of Ur-Kalladh are associated with the Lore of the Forge.
They are peaceful and known for their craftmanship. Their tools are always of the highest quality.
They refuse to buy or use tools crafted by anyone but their own.
They each carry a bundle that they swaddle with cloth and keep with them at all times.
If angered, they begin to unwrap the bundle. Inside is a weapon.
Ur-Kalladh Dwarves, when arguing or trading, will swap their weapon bundles and begin unwrapping them while talking. Negotiations are complete when both weapons have been bundled back up. If a weapon is revealed, they must fight to the death.
A Dwarf with a small weapon bundle is confident and daring. A Dwarf with a large one is soft or untrustworthy.

The Dwarves of Ur-Darghab are associated with the Lore of the Stones.
They live deep underground in one of the deepest and darkest Dwarven cities.
If they must come to the surface they wear strange hooded Niqabs and wide-brimmed hats. No part of the Dwarf's skin can be seen. They travel only at night.
They carry semi-precious stones and gems with them wherever they go and swallow one with their food at dinner.
They reclaim these stones after they have passed through their digestive system.
They are targeted by humans, for it is said that they shit diamonds.
Sometimes those who come after them disappear. Bodies have never been found.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

1d100 Retroactive Backstory

A note to my players: pls don't read.

I've been working on this off and on for the past couple of months.
The Backstory table is here.

The basic idea is that every time you level up, you roll 1d100 on the Backstory table.
Each has a hopefully-inspirational fragment of backstory and two potential outcomes.
So if you roll a 1, the DM tells you "You got into a confrontation with a bully who was way tougher than you. Did you fight or flee?"

Now the trick here is that the other players at the table decide what your character must have done, based on how your character's been acting in the game thus far. Debate is allowed and encouraged, as is swapping examples of supporting evidence, in this case probably times you stood and fought versus times you turned and ran.

The others come to an agreement or vote or whatever, then you make up a story of what actually happened. Who was the bully? Why did you do what you did?
The story can be as detailed or as sparse as you want, no pressure. Most of my players tied it into their failed career in some way.

Finally you get told what your new ability is! Each outcome of each backstory has its own associated power. In this example, "fight" nets you a +1 to hit vs enemies who have more HD than you, and "flee" grants you a +1 to fleeing rolls.
Score! Now your character is hopefully encouraged to live up to their new backstory.

An old one but there aren't really any better images when you search for "backstory"

This was all, as with damn near everything I ever make these days, chiefly inspired by Arnold K.
Specifically, his lifepath character generation thing.
It's a fairly involved process but at the end of it you have a character who's fleshed out in a way that Bob the Level 1 Fighter isn't.

Trouble is, I love quick char gen with an embarrassingly fiery passion. It's quick to get to the actual playing-the-game part of the game, I can get new players playing quickly, and I don't have to feel too guilty if a PC dies. It's the best.

But another thing is that I already have some light character history at char gen via the failed career table. After their character's finished I ask the question that goes like "So you're a Necromancer who used to be a Bellringer. How'd that happen?" and have actually always received a good answer. The implication's meant to be that before that point they were a boring nobody, at which point they went off to become a Player Character and their life gets Interesting and their character's actual in-game experiences become their backstory.

Which is great and all, but making up the story about How Your Character Got Here is actually really fun! So this retroactive backstory is meant to be a sort of best-of-both-worlds approach. You get quick char gen, but as your character levels up you get to flesh out more backstory.
This also has the neat effect of making your character's personal story grow backwards as well as forwards, and means you sort of learn more about them as you play them. Plus from the DM's side of the table, you can tie current campaign events into backstory you just found out about.

As for the special abilities, many of them are based around my house rules, so you might need to change some of the specifics for your own thing.
Generally they either give you a little stat or skill bump, grant you some sort of conditional bonus, or give you a gimmick you can use once per session. Nothing's meant to be particularly powerful on its own, but some of the once-per-session ones are a bit wacky.
Something that came up in the comments when I posted this was what I meant by "+1 HD" under some of the benefits. It's just intended to be a bonus HD-worth of health until the end of the session, not a full extra level. So a Magic-User gets 1d4 more maximum HP and a Fighter gets 1d8, for example. Not that you have to do the same, of course!

Many of the individual backstory fragments were lifted from the Lifepath generator I mentioned before, and some of the powers were lifted from yet another Arnold post about player-player bonds.

Since I've instigated this thing mid-campaign, each player's been getting a new backstory a week until they catch up with their current level.
This means, unlike most things I post, it's actually been tested extensively as a gimmick. And it's been great!

Currently we've got a Necromancer who attempted to kill the tyrant who ran her village in a convenient bellringing accident, but tragically dropped the bell on her own family instead.
We've got a Cleric whose backstory is basically all centred on his prior "career" as a flagellant, particularly one crazy night at an all-night flagellant rave that got shut down by the local guard.
We've got a Muscle Wizard who was once a member of the Men of the Rooves, a group of shinglers who were part thief and part Robin Hood-style local resistance.
And many more!

So anyway, if you do try it out I'd love to hear how it went.
I'm still fiddling with the table, so if you notice anything bullshit in the abilities or come up with something better for anything definitely let me know!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Religion for the Masses (aka players who don't want to read all that)

So while I'm pretty stoked about this new religion bollocks, it's a tough sell to hand a player an actual religious pamphlet for an actually definitely fake religion and ask them to make an informed choice about what fake religious denomination they want to be.

I'll leave the actual deciding part to players of Clerics. Here's a guide for the masses.

Choosing My Religion

So you’re choosing your character’s faith.
What a decision! You have three options -
A. Roll Randomly
B. Go with whatever the Cleric in the party tells you to do
C. Make an informed decision

Choice A. Roll Randomly
Roll 1d20:
1-9: Loegrianism. There are Nine High Gods and no others.
10-14: Roman Nonanism. There are Nine High Gods and there are Low Gods who serve them.
15-17: Denialism. There is One True God.
18: Unorthodoxy. The Nine High Gods each have an alignment, from Lawful Good to Chaotic Evil.
19-20: Termaxianism. The Gods are too distracted by the Final Battle for All Creation to watch us.

Choice B. Go with whatever the Cleric in the party tells you to do
Hey man, he’s the religious leader here. His unique spell will affect you differently depending on what your faith is.
If it helps, here’s a table showing how the faiths interact.
Blank means the spell has the regular GOOD EFFECT on you.
Smiley faces mean the spell has some EXTRA GOOD EFFECT on you.
Frowny faces mean the spell has NO EFFECT or a NEGATIVE EFFECT on you.

If there are Clerics of more than one faith in the party, it might be wise to pick something that works for both of them.
You →
Cleric ↓

Choice C. Make an informed decision

Friday, 17 June 2016

Five Faiths One Religion - Cleric Subclasses

Religion presents something of a problem.

My campaign map started out as a standard fantasy map with forests and rivers and a terrible sense of scale. Over the past half-decade it's grown closer and closer to Real History due to the influence of LotFP. Nowadays it's a sort of altered-geography parallel Earth in the vein of the Warhammer world or Lyra's World in His Dark Materials.

It's 1550 here in semi-fantasy England, meaning my established pantheon of nine gods needs to serve a similar role to Christianity in the early modern period. That is - fuck up everything and allow a lot of interesting wars and zealotry.

I want religion to be something the players will want to engage with. The early modern era is saturated with religion, but D&D often trends towards a sort of tacit atheism. Gods demonstrably exist, but nobody really gives them any thought in their day to day life. Even Clerics don't really have to engage if they don't want to. Just take your domain spells (if available) and go on your merry way.
Luckily Barry Blatt knocked it out of the park in England Upturn'd. Give Clerics of different denominations different abilities! Genius! And not only that, give mechanical benefits to everyone based on their denomination, not just Clerics.
Now everyone has a meta-reason to pay attention to their religion.
Plus it almost creates Cleric subclasses that intersect and interact with each other in different ways.
I really enjoy differentiation within a class because it means you can have two Specialists or two Elves or whatever without them necessarily stealing each other's thunder.

In case it wasn't obvious, I'm totally cribbing from, remixing, and generally ripping off the religion appendix at the back of England Upturn'd.

Finally, it's been established for a while in my game that Clerics can invent their god if they want. I've never really gone out of my way to justify this, because it's seemingly quite a natural thing to do. One of my players is currently playing a Cleric who worships his previous Cleric who got eaten by a demon bear. I want to make sure people can still do this if they like.

So that's three main goals:
- Create a mostly plausible parallel Christianity
- Mechanically impact all classes, not just Clerics, so it's something everyone needs to think about.
- Allow Clerics to invent their own deity if they want.

And so -



Nonanism has nine gods. It eats other religions and adds their gods to church canon.

Nonanism in Brief:

The Nonanist Church is basically an alternate Catholic Church, at least in the social historical sense.

There are Nine High Gods instead of the Holy Trinity.
In 0AD Jesus gave his life to free humanity from the Halfling Empire.
The holy tome is the Bible. The head of the Church is the Pope. The holy symbol is the Cross, or occasionally the Nine-Spoked Wheel.

One major difference is that the Church is rather liberal towards other religions. It’s hard to deny that other gods exist when there are Clerics of other deities performing legitimate miracles.
Instead of denying the existence of other gods, the Nonanist Church assimilates them.
As long as people recognise that their god is a Low God, merely a servant or aspect of one of the Nine High Gods, everyone’s allowed to carry on as they were. The newly discovered deity is added to a long list of Low Gods, the Church sends missionaries to build real churches and present the Gods’ real message, and the people are shown how and why they might have gotten confused.

You can still worship your Low God, just make sure the Nine get their proper praise too.

This all ticked along quite nicely until Martin Luther came along and fucked everything up by translating the Bible into the vernacular. Now people can actually read the Bible themselves and it turns out none of this bullshit about Low Gods is actually in there. Not to mention the scriptural basis of the Nine High Gods is really quite shaky.

So now everything’s falling apart.

Main Denominations:

Loegrianism: Anglican analog and state religion of Loegria (aka alt-England). Believe there are Nine High Gods and no others. Unique Cleric spell changes weekly.
Roman Nonanism: Catholic analog. Believe in Nine High Gods and the Low Gods who serve them. Clerics can invent own Low God and craft buff-granting talismans.
Denialism: Protestant analog. Believe the Nine are a lie and there is only One True God. Righteous oratory shakes faith of sinners and inspires flock.
East Unorthodoxy: Use D&D alignments. Believe each of the Nine High Gods represents a different moral standing, from Lawful to Chaotic and Good to Evil. Swap mutually exclusive long-term buffs depending on situation.
Termaxianism: Just weird. Believe the Nine High Gods are too distracted by the Final Battle for Creation to bother watching us. Clerics grant action battle magic.

The Nine High Gods:
Alaunus. He of the Mailed Fist. Loyal, honourable and fervent.
Minerva. She of the Burnished Shield. Wise, reserved and battle-worn.
The Allfather. He of the Filled Cup. Strong, warm and kind.
Oberon. He of the Green Branch. Wild, cunning and tall.
The Lady. She of the Silver Coin. Fickle, quick-witted and joyous.
Vorn. He of the Rusted Blade. Grim, gaunt and iron-clad.
The Dead God. He of the Brittle Bone. Vigilant, just and quick-tempered.
Dispater. He of the Subtle Knife. Secretive, sharp-eyed and silver-tongued.
Eris. She of the Spinning Wheel. Progressive, shameless and driven.


The Fated King is the head of the Loegrian Church, having split off from the main Nonanist Church about fifteen years ago.
While mostly following mainstream Nonanism, Loegrians believe that the whole thing with Low Gods is nonsense and the Nine High Gods are all there are.
Each week a different member of the Nine is used as a focus for religious devotion, culminating each Sunday in a celebration in the name of that particular High God.

Game Effects
Loegrian Clerics acquire the unique spell Blessings of the Nine.
Loegrians gain double benefit from Blessings of the Nine.
Denialists reverse the benefits of Blessings of the Nine.

Blessings of the Nine

Cleric Level 1
Duration: 1 turn per Cleric level
Range: 50’ radius

Grants a different bonus depending on which deity is the focus of devotion this week.
Alaunus: +1 to melee attacks
Minerva: +1 to AC
The Allfather: Food eaten to heal always heals the full 6 HP. Loegrian faithful heal 6+1d6 HP.
Oberon: +1 to ranged attacks
The Lady: Gain a reroll to be used at any time. Loegrian faithful get two.
Vorn: Equipment quality improves by 1.
The Dead God: +1 to rolls to avoid unconsciousness and death when at 0hp.
Dispater: +1 to hit from surprise
Eris: +1 to gambit attempts
During holidays sacred to Jesus (Easter, Christmas, etc): Reflect mind-afflicting effects back on the attacker with a successful Save vs Magic. Loegrian faithful roll twice and take the best.


Many people weren’t particularly pleased by the Fated King’s decision to break away from the Nonanist Church. They still follow mainstream Nonanism despite the King’s attempts at Reformation, and tend to riot if someone tries to mess with the Book of Common Prayer.
It’s obvious that the King’s blasphemies led directly to the current crises wracking the South. Why else would there be Dead and Demons everywhere?
People sometimes refer to Nonanists as Roman Nonanists in order to set them apart from other denominations. These people are wrong, real Nonanism is the only true Nonanism.

Game Effects
Nonanist Clerics can invent their own Low Gods and acquire the unique spell Imbue Talisman.
Talismans last a week, but Nonanists can refresh worn talismans for another week by attending Church on a Sunday.
Denialists and Loegrians receive no benefit from worn Talismans.

Imbue Talisman
Cleric Level 1
Duration: Instantaneous
Range: Touch

This spell may be cast only on a Sunday. It requires a holy symbol representing the Cleric’s god and a place sacred to them. The value of the symbol and the altar do not matter, only that the Cleric believes it to be sacred.
Once cast, the symbol is imbued with the power of the god and the Cleric’s faith.

The power of the talisman is chosen by the Cleric’s player. It should be specific, conditional and related to their Low God. Mechanical benefits will not exceed a +1 bonus.
The God of Thieves might grant a bonus to hiding in shadows while indoors, for instance, while the God of Light might give a benefit to AC when standing in direct sun.

A Talisman retains its power until sunset on the following Sunday.


Denialists believe there is One True God as told via the teachings of Jesus. They reject all Church doctrine as the Bible is the only source of spiritual truth.
The Nine High Gods are never mentioned directly in the Bible. Nonanists try to justify them through scripture but frankly it’s a mystery where the doctrine came from in the first place. Presumably one of the Popes made it up at an ecumenical council and the concept stuck. 
At best this makes the Church a bunch of corrupt fools, but more likely the Pope is a puppet of Queen Satan trying to bring about the downfall of Man.
This is, of course, a vastly heretical point of view and antithetical to the doctrine of the Nonanist Faith at large.

Game Effects

Denialist Clerics acquire the unique spell Undeniable Truth.
Denialists are affected positively by Undeniable Truth.
Other denominations are affected negatively by Undeniable Truth.

Undeniable Truth
Cleric Level 1
Duration: 10 rounds + Level
Range: 30’ radius

The Cleric lets fly with their most unassailable quotes from scripture, most ironclad arguments against Church doctrine, brutal threats of hell, curses, gesticulations and all round hollering, reaffirming the beliefs of himself and his followers and presenting sinners with undeniable proof of the corruption of the Church and the falsehood of the Nine.
This shakes the faith of any non-Denialist Nonanists in range, causing a morale check and filling them with crippling self-doubt. Affected individuals must make a Save vs Rhetorical Device or become immune to the benefits of their denomination until they can talk it over with a priest, Cleric, or other high-ranking member of their faith for at least an hour.
The Cleric and their Denialist faithful within range are filled with RIGHTEOUSNESS and CLARITY OF PURPOSE, gaining a +1 to hit against people of non-Denialist denominations, +2 against Roman Nonanists, and immunity from mind-afflicting effects for the duration of the spell.


The East Unorthodox Church split off from the Nonanist Church at the turn of the millennium due to a range of theological disputes, most notably over the concept of the Triple Trinity.
The Unorthodox believe that the Nine High Gods each embody a different moral alignment. 
The Three Good Gods seek to lift humanity into the glory of heaven. Worship and obey them.
The Gods Between care more for Nature than for Man. Respect them and do not invite their wrath.
The Dark Trinity seek to destroy the souls of Mankind. Curse them and fight their machinations.
The Low Gods exist to serve the Nine, and act differently towards Man depending on whom they serve. Give praise only to those Low Gods who serve the Three Good Gods, for those who serve the Dark Trinity are demons.
The Unorthodox are prevalent to the east of Europea, but some few have made their way west.

Game Effects
Unorthodox Clerics gain access to the unique spell Triple Trinity.
Unorthodox faithful gain additional benefit from Triple Trinity.
Denialists and Termaxians gain reverse benefits from Triple Trinity.

Triple Trinity
Cleric Level 1
Duration: Until Sunrise
Range: 50’ Radius

The Cleric gives a sermon to focus the faithful upon one of the Triple Trinities. The Cleric chooses which Trinity to focus on when they cast the spell. People can only be affected by one Triple Trinity spell at a time.
On casting, choose between:
Praise the Three Good Gods: Affected Clerics cast spells as though they are one level higher. Affected Unorthodox faithful gain the maximum benefit from Cleric spells (eg. maximum health from Cure Light Wounds, maximum Bless points from Bless).
Respect the Gods Between: The DM rolls overland encounters twice and the Cleric chooses which to take. Affected Unorthodox characters are ignored during random encounters if there are other targets available.
Abjure the Dark Trinity: Affected Clerics gain +5 against saves vs magical effects from Chaotic sources and gain a +2 to hit against Magic-Users, Demons, Elves and other creatures that detect as Chaotic. Affected Unorthodox faithful gain a +2 against saves vs magical effects from Chaotic sources and +1 to hit against creatures that detect as Chaotic.


The Termaxians are a weird bunch. They believe that the Apocalypse happened five hundred years ago when the Eris the Ninth God fell from heaven and became Queen Satan. Soon after, the prophet Terms Termax fused with the spirit of Jesus to form the entity called Maximum Godhead Hyper-Jesus and descended into Hell to defeat Queen Satan forevermore.
When Maximum Godhead Hyper-Jesus finally wins he will bring the Termaxian faithful to the Holy Mountain. There they will blast off in a silver rocket to heaven, which is exactly one hundred miles above the surface of the Earth, and sit and watch what happens to everyone left behind while having just the best time.
Until then they can all just hang out and do whatever they want. The Eight Gods Who Remain are too busy watching the Ultimate Battle to pay attention to boring mortals, so in the meantime go wild! Fornicate, drink, smoke, whatever! No gods are watching to judge us!

Game Effects
Termaxian Clerics acquire the unique spell Comes the Godhead.
Comes the Godhead lasts twice as long for Termaxians.
Termaxians gain a +2 bonus to saves versus non-Termaxian Cleric spells.

Comes the Godhead
Level 1 Cleric
Duration: 1 round/level
Range: Touch

The target takes on a measure of the spirit of Maximum Godhead Hyper-Jesus. Their skin glows with inner light, a halo forms above their head, and at the start of each round they choose between the following moves:
Maximum Smite: Deal double damage.
Cross Counter: Return damage onto the one who damaged you once per round.
Ultimate Move - Final Fortress: Meditate within an invulnerable shell until the end of the spell’s duration. Absorb all damage done to you and your allies within 50’. At the end of the duration the damage absorbed is dealt to everyone within 50’, including yourself.