Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Problem With Assassination in Role Playing Games

This is mirrored from a discussion the GH forums, but I thought I'd throw it up here as well. The discussion is specific to the way Band of Bastards works, but it applies to any game with moderate-to-high potential lethality.
As I've been hammering out the rules for 'Bastards, a topic has been eating me for a while. Since Higgins and I were unable to come up with a good solution, I thought I would offer it up for discussion here.

We are going to define the word assassination in this discussion to mean "a situation in which the target is dead without a meaningful chance to prevent or react to it." The primary examples to be discussed are sniper shots and poison.

Both of these things are extremely effective in killing people. That is why they exist. It's realistic and good simulation that they should kill people pretty effortlessly when they happen, and it's fitting that the rules should encourage players to make use of them (if it is the sort of thing their character would do). After all, getting in a fair fight is usually a very poor tactic utilized by the foolish, idealistic, or desperate.

The problem is that this blade that should cut both ways, but in practice doesn't. Mechanically speaking, there's nothing stopping me as a GM from rolling some dice and announcing "Your conversation is cut short when the window shatters. Blood and brains fly out the back of your skull and splatter the wall behind you. A half-second later, your friends hear the report of a high-caliber rifle some distance away." The rules support it just like they do if it were a player character doing the same to an NPC.

The problem is that any GM who would actually do that out of the blue is ..well.. probably an asshole. For a game like 'Bastards to work, you have to have some kind of trust in your GM and killing a PC off without any meaningful chance to prevent it is a gross abuse of that trust. Poison is the same way. An option is always some kind of perception test to spot the sniper or detect the poison first, but even that seems grossly unfair when the fail-state of the test is "you die."

Thus in practice, this becomes an extremely strong tool for the PCs to use, but one that they are essentially plot-armored from ever receiving. At best, the GM is going to have to either intentionally miss the first shot, or an NPC winds up eating a bullet to alert the players to the danger.

In our discussion, Higgins did point out that we are primarily simulating fiction - not reality - and that protagonists very rarely die suddenly and without warning from assassination attempts (George R. R. Martin notwithstanding). This is a good point, but the counterpoint I offered was that the protagonists in fiction aren't aware of their own plot-armor. By contrast, players can generally trust that their GM isn't just going to kill them without a warning or a chance to prevent it - which has a strong tendency to translate into player-characters operating under the same assumption.

So the question we are forced to grapple with is "how does one balance assassination as a useful and effective tool for the PCs without making it so effective that it can never be used against them?"
Following this up with some broader-applicability to other games - I find this isn't an issue in OSR games specifically, or D&D games in general. After first the first couple levels, you generally have enough HP that a single crossbow bolt to the face isn't going to kill you, and even then in most D&D games death isn't permanent. Poisons lose a lot of their efficacy, because you can still try to make saves for them. In general, dungeon-crawling also usually means the characters are always on the lookout for something trying to kill them anyway. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Brute - A Class for Lamentations of the Flame Princess (or other Old School Fantasy Games)

Brutes are freaks of nature. Whether mutations born of fell magic, unspeakable parentage, or some unseemly devolution, Brutes are born cursed and misshapen. Their bodies are twisted parodies of the human form. They are huge and powerfully built, in some ways closer to ape than man. They often possess secondary characteristics that put people off - malformed or asymmetrical features, jagged teeth, unnaturally thick skin or hunched backs.

When a human child is born a brute, they are normally slain at birth or left in the woods to die of exposure. When a child does survive to adulthood, they are changed for the experience. Their whole lives spent fighting for survival, they are in many ways closer to animal than human. Even when calm and personable, there is something unmistakably savage and predatory about them.

Brutes can use the same Fighter-class moves as Elves and Dwarves, but do not advance in Attack. For XP, and HP, use the table below.

LevelXPHPSneak AttackStrength Mod







As they advance in levels, they learn to better use their size and ferocity to their advantage. They increase their Strength Modifier and Sneak Attack when indicated on the table above. This could mean that even with only 14 Strength, a level 11 Brute could have a +4 modifier for all purposes.

Friday, July 31, 2015

House Rule: Duel Wielding

I've never liked the idea that duel-wielding gives you twice as many attacks. Having two weapons doesn't make you attack twice as quickly, and having two attacks per round is by comparison such a good option that it's almost always better than having the +1AC or whatever that a shield would have given you.

My current compromise:
When using two weapons, roll your attack as normal. If you succeed, roll the damage of each weapon. Keep the highest.

This gives a slight bonus without being ridiculously better than a two-handed weapon or shield. I'd like to incentivize using smaller weapons with this - or at least, using something like "Sword and dagger" rather than "I'm duel-wielding longswords." I'd prefer to do it without having to resort to some kind of "one weapon has to be shorter than the other" kind of rule.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Continuing my LotFP tinkerfest:
My biggest bugbear with the current setup is that some rolls are roll-over, others are roll-under. This bothers me, as players get confused as to which way the rolls should go.

As it stands, attack rolls and saves are roll-over. Ability rolls and skills are roll-under. I'd like to align them all in the same direction:

Option A: Roll Over

Move everything to a roll-over system. Attack rolls can stay the same (d20+AB vs AC). Saves would be the same (equal to or greater than your save number).

Ability Score would have to be roll 1d20+Ability. 21+ is success.
Skills would have to be 1d6+skill. 7 is success.


  • Rolling high is by virtue of language and conditioning intuitively good. "Natural 20" automatically triggers something in most gamers.
  • Ability Scores can be directly opposed, with each side rolling d20+Ability to determine the winner.


  • Double digit+double digit math is something that will produce an "uhhhh" every time it is rolled.
  • Defeats the point of recording skills in pips, as part of the charm was the visual representation on the sheet actually looking like the d6, and needing that or under.
  • 21 and 7 sound arbitrary (even if they aren't), and begin to stray into TN/DC territory, which I'm not a fan of for this kind of game. The simplicity of roll-under is that what you see is what you need.
  • Save numbers go down to improve instead of going up, which is slightly counter-intuitive. 

Option B: Roll Under

Attribute and Skill rolls remain as they are now. Saves are easily converted to roll-under: you just take what they are now and subtract them from 20. A sheet could have the updated saves and no one would notice the difference.

Attack Bonus would need renamed (it's no longer a bonus), but is functionally the same. If you had +2 before, it would now just be a roll-under of 2. AC would go back to TSR era "lower is better."

Your attack roll would then be a d20  with the goal of rolling under your Attack Score+EnemyAC. 

Bonuses can universally be assumed to apply to the score itself, rather than the roll, so a +1 bonus is still good.


  • No math required anywhere except the attack roll, but that always needs math unless you want to make a chart (Note to self: consider chart). What you see is what you need.
  • Pips on dice retain their charm.
  • All Stats go up to improve - except for AC? Hrm.
  • AC listed in other retroclones/TSR material can be used more or less as-is. 


  • "Roll low to succeed" is inherently less intuitive. "Natural 1" doesn't hit the brain the same way as "Natural 20."
  • Enemy AC now modifies your roll, instead of being the target you need to meet. Not sure if this is less intuitive. Could be fixed through a THAC0 style table, but that goes back into "is this more or less intuitive than the alternative? If you did go that route though, AC could be positive as well.
At present, I'm liking B more than anything, but debating whether a return to a THAC0 style chart is better or worse than weird AC mechanics.

Monday, July 27, 2015

LotFP Multiclassing/Hybrids

Last post, I was chewing on the way LotFP classes work. In the time between, I came up with the following. It needs some testing, but I like the idea:

LotFP Hybrid Classes

In addition to the four traditional classes, human characters can instead choose to play a hybrid class. Each hybrid consists of a blend of two of the core classes, gaining some of the strength of each but not the full benefits thereof.

Pick two of the following to gain your core benefits:
Cleric: Casts Cleric spells as a cleric of half their level. Cannot be combined with Magic-User.
Fighter: Gains all fighter combat options and begins with a +2 Attack Bonus, but their attack bonus never increases.
Magic-User: Casts Magic-User spells as a Magic-User of half their level. Cannot be combined with Cleric.
Specialist: Pick two skills. Each of these begin at 2 dots. One of these may increase each level.
If the character is a hybrid class that has spells, they will for all rules purposes (spells per day, learning spells, spell effects) be considered a caster of half their level. If you are a Cleric/X hybrid at level 10, you will in all ways act as though you were a level 5 cleric for the purposes of magic rules. You begin with no access to spells at level 1.

Saves will be identical to one of the parent classes. The player may choose which.

XP will be equal to the highest XP class x1.5. Thus, to get to level two a Fighter needs 3000, Cleric needs 2625, Magic-User needs 3375.

Niche protection shouldn't be an issue. Each of the core classes will always be better at their job than the hybrids. There is slightly closer competition with the demihumans but each demihuman gets a benefit that the hybrids can't and they universally have a lower xp requirement for what they are trying to do.

The applications of the above create a lot of interesting concepts. Paladins or witch-hunters could easily be fighter/clerics or even cleric/specialists.  Fighter/Specialist in particular opens up nice possibilities as a ranger or assassin. Magic-User/Specialist could even be used for a bard, god forbid.

I'll have to test this more before I decide if I like it, but it would actually handle most of the concepts I was considering making alternate classes for without deviating much from the core rules. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Classes in Lamentations of the Flame Princess

We started a new Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign the other day. I really love the system, and it's become my go-to for OSR style play. As my players get into it though, I find the itch to tinker again. I always have the itch to tinker. Right now, my attention is on classes.

(TL;DR, skip down to "What I'm Thinking.")

What I love about LotFP Classes:

There is an extremely fine balance between the classes in the game. Each of the four human classes are good at and completely own a specific niche.
  • Clerics are the only ones with access to clerical magic, which already grants them a lot of really cool stuff including the extremely important healing abilities and turn undead. 
  • Fighters are the only class that gains AB as they go, as well as having access to better combat options (AC+4 on parry, Press and Defensive fighting). This is the only version of a D&D style game I've played where Fighters really feel indispensable as the fighting class.
  • Magic-users get all of the eldritch goodies you'd expect, and some extremely flavorful spells.
  • Specialists are the best thief variant I've seen in an OSR game. The ability to put dots where you please lets you play them as the ranger, the cat-burgler, the explorer, the assassin, or whatever else. More importantly, they are the only class who gets points to spend in increasing abilities. 

The demi-human classes are somewhat less impressive, but each feel like a hybrid of something above.
  • Elves are essentially fighter-mages, as they usually are. The interesting thing is that they don't get advancing AB the way Fighters do, but they do get the extra melee options.They do however get an ascending Search die as they level.
  • Dwarves are treated much the same. No advancing AB, but they get the extra melee options, a larger hit-die, and can carry around more stuff. Stonecunning takes the form of an advancing Architecture skill.
  • Halflings.. uh.. are. halflings. In LotFP, they wind up with a 5-in-6 Stealth skill, an ascending Bushcraft skill, and a bonus to their dex and AC. [Edit: Raggi himself dropped a comment on my G+ for leaving out the halfling's saving throw bonuses! Woops.]

What I Hate about LotFP Classes:

Each class is indisputably the best at it's specific niche, but those niches are fairly narrowly defined. In normal B/x, it's pretty easy to add in new classes because every class already gets better at multiple things. In LotFP as written, it would be extremely hard to introduce another combat class that wouldn't step on the Fighter's toes. Giving other classes much in the way of skills winds up making the Specialist a little less.. special.

What I Want to Do:

I've got a few things I want to tinker around with but have held off because LotFP is on its own a pretty well-oiled machine. For instance - letting a character have some additional points to spend in their skills based on Intelligence modifier (Fighters wanting bushcraft is an obvious one. A dwarf in our current campaign made that exact request). I've also wanted to tinker in letting players specialize their character in one way or another - a Specialist variant that gets more offensive capabilities in exchange for reduced skill points; Paladin, Ranger, or Barbarian being Fighter variants that gain extra abilities in exchange for giving up some Fighter prowess; Variant or specialized magic users or clerics, and so on.

What I'm Thinking:

Fighter and Specialist are the two classes I'm most concerned with, as their whole value comes from being the sole class that advances in their niche. If I give another class AB, or another class skills, their relative value goes down. To solve this, I'm considering the following:

When the class in question is doing the thing they are supposed to do, they roll two dice and take the better result. Fighters would roll 2d20 on their attack rolls, keeping the higher. Specialists would get 2d6 on every skill roll, only failing if both fail.

A Paladin class then could take on Lay on Hands or a similar feature and still have advancing AB, but lose their 2d20 roll. Other classes could have skills, or an Assassin class could exist with its own features, but only get 1d6 for skill rolls. It would also make the Specialist better at whatever skill than any of the demi-humans using that same skill.

I can't decide if this is the way I want to do it. I'm not sure if it would make the classes too good by comparison, but it's definitely something I want to play around with.

Update: I have since come up with some potential solutions for all of this.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Time Flies

Has it been a month already? Man. Right. Updates:

Grand Heresy now has two youtube channels. Barbarossa has outdone himself with setting things up and getting our whole AV situation sorted. Grand Heresy Press is going to be our core channel, and we'll be uploading things on there as we get them recorded. We'll be throwing some updates on as we get closer to 'bastards release, but it for now primarily be the home of the Grand Heresy AP Podcast. More on that in a moment. Our secondary channel is Grand Heresy Presents, which will be a place we upload stuff that isn't directly related to role-playing games, but involves us or our interests. Barbarossa already has some footage about grilling, of all things. Neither channel has proper content up yet, but Barbarossa did an excellent job on the intros. 

The Grand Heresy AP Podcast recorded some test footage. We just started a Lamentations of the Flame Princess one-shot and are basically recording our normal game footage. When we get it all situated, we'll be uploading the footage to youtube and ripping the audio as a downloadable podcast. Links to everything will eventually be up on our website.

If you didn't already know, because the group is so spread out, we're using Tabletop Simulator for our gaming. It is a huge improvement over Roll20. The mood and atmosphere are a lot better with TTS. It feels a lot more personal than the more clinical interface of Roll20, and having physical space with moving cameras lets you do a lot of things that are hard to do otherwise - using tokens to keep track of gameplay, having multiple maps or sheets out at the same time, etc. Most of all though, the dice. Roll20 has a terrible random number generator system. I have vivid memories of using it for Mordheim and deciding that it actually didn't matter what the stats of the characters were. Most d6 results were either 1 or 6, auto-fail or auto-succeed. TTS treats them as objects with a physics engine, so they roll as they should and produce the results you would expect. Even better? They make extremely satisfying noise when you shake them or clatter them across the table. I've been doing so much online gaming that I forgot how great that noise was, even through simulation.

If I had any criticisms of TTS, it's not particularly well-optimized for complex operations. It will start to tank when you have a high number of objects on the table, but for the most part it hasn't bothered me. It's also relatively early in its life-cycle, so future updates may improve this.

I've also started trying to force myself to piddle with art again. I make no claims towards professional talent, but I like to play with it. It's decent enough to render a character portrait now and then (like the above, from our LotFP group). If you're interested, I keep a tumblr for that purpose. Fair warning: I'm studying anatomy. There are naked people.

I've got some more stuff to post shortly, but that's enough for now.

Until next time,

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Still Alive

Hello internet. It's been a while.

I'm still alive, fortunately. Our orc-based campaign got sidelines when the GM had his work-schedule change, and my own writing time has been compromised by my day-job, the sad reality of adulthood.

So what's new:
  • Bastards is hopping along. We got out another couple teasers on the GH site, and discussions on our forums. Progress is being made on the core book for beta, but not nearly as much as I would have liked.
  • Our site admin decided to start designing a game of his own, which will be later revealed under the GH brand. I won't get into details here, but it looks to be very cool. I've been consulting, but I won't be sitting down and putting words to paper until 'Bastards has gotten to publish.
  • OrcQuest picked back up last week, hopefully to be a regular occurrence again.  I'll have an AP report again before long. 
  • We're considering an AP podcast with our next campaign, in case you have a dire urge to listen to us ramble for hours. We'll need to figure out how we want to do it, but it sounds like a good idea on the face of it. 

That's where we're at for now. I'll have the next OrcQuest installment before long.

Carry on.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Orc Quest: Episode 7 - An Eye for Adventure

It was a day's travel to arrive before the fortified gates of Haganna. It was late evening and the guards stood in place to block their entry. It was quickly revealed that the mayor had issued a decree that orcs were forbidden to enter the city. The party wound up improvising and with the assistance of the party bard Cunnin managed to convince the guards that they were on a mission to deliver this human girl to someone inside the town. A quick bribe changed hands, and they were shown around to a side entrance, handed robes, and given the instructions to not be seen and to be gone within 24 hours.

They snuck in quickly and made their way to the market square. I basically asked if Cunnin (being a thief) could case the area and see if anything looked shady, like they were doing dirt (a fence, a fake front, etc) i.e. Someone that would do business with illegal orcs. After a bit of RP and an intelligence roll, they located just the sort.

Some brief negotiations later, they managed to unload some trade goods and spoils in exchange for hard currency and some additional supplies. We also acquired some new information:

The town guard was nervous over elven raids on the roads. We heard further rumors of an elf-queen, and that the elves weren't just robbing the travelers but kidnapping them. Only one person had managed to return alive, and he had kind of lost his mind. "Doomsday Dave," they called him. He apparently wanders around as a homeless person now.

The merchant handed over a bag of coins, but as he was turning to leave Cunnin poured them out and counted them - and found the bag short of the promised amount. Taz and Justice moved into position behind the merchant, who quickly threw his remaining coins at Cunnin and ran off.

About this time, the guards entered the market square and it became obvious that the rest of the merchants had already left. The party made themselves scarce before they were noticed - but not before Cunnin took the opportunity to nick back an item they had traded: one golden pickaxe that he had been reluctant to sell in the first place.

From there, they managed to find an Inn in the seedy side of town: The Flail and Sail.

As it turned out, the bartender was a giant of a man named Bjorn, about the size of many of the orcish party members. From a bit of conversation, he had a mercenary past and spoke a good bit of Orcish - something that has been something of an issue in this campaign, as many of the NPCs we have encountered only spoke common. [ed: this is slowly being rectified, as Cunnin is having Tuska teach Raph and Justice common while she's learning Orcish] Some drinks were had and ultimately negotiations were made for them to stay in town and stay there for the evening.

There were some friendly jabs thrown back and forth between party members as the orcs had some drinks and decided to unwind. After butting heads with Justice, Cunnin decided to retire early and went upstairs to his room with Tuska - giving the young girl further lessons in orcish and instilling in her proper tribal ethos.

Downstairs, Justice had a bit much to drink and wound up having a long heartfelt discussion with Raph. Taz watched on, nursing his own drink, somewhat bewildered by the whole thing. As the discussion heated up downstairs, Justice was spurred to action with the realization - we need to have a group meeting!

Cunnin was roused from his slumber and stumbled down the stairs. After a brief but fruitless attempt to explain to the bartender the concept of coffee, Cunnin settled down with his pipe and the strongest "you woke me up for this shit?" face he could muster.

Justice poured forth from his weary heart all of the concerns and confusions from their journey together so far. Ultimately, the discussion boiled down to: Who are we? What are we? Cast from their previous tribe, their relations were unknown. Justice was all but cast out from the original tribe, effectively an exile. Cunnin's reasons for leaving were largely unknown and Raph was just following Cunnin. Taz? We're not sure. When we met him he was having an intimiate moment with a tree he claimed was a dryad just moment's before we showed up. We're never sure about Taz. Then we have this human child. What is she to us?

Are we a group of people who just happen to be traveling together? Are we a tribe?

After some time, Cunnin finally responded with this: That in his mind, they had been a tribe since the moment they set forth - that everything he had done thus far had been about the tribe, for the tribe. And even that he counted the tiny human as part of their tribe now. She is ours. She is part of us.

Some further debate reconciled the remaining issues. Born of the priestly caste, Justice had a need for structure and hierarchy and finally appointed Cunnin Orkis Inter Pares, Ork Among Equals and defacto warboss when they were on a raid. At other times, they would settle matters via egalitarian tribal democracy, with each member of age (sorry Tuska) having a vote, decided by majority.

With those basic agreements settled upon, Taz voiced a concern about the limits of Warboss authority within an egalitarian electoral tribal leadership. If the time came and someone had to lay their life down for the tribe, would the warboss be allowed to give that order? To decide who lives and who dies?

In response, Justice rose. "I don't think you understand what's going on here. I need you to understand how important this is, the kind of sacrifice you need to be willing to give for your tribe. Cunnin. I need you to cut my eye out."

Taz did a double-take and began to argue "No, that's not necessary. That's not necessary at all."

Cunnin already had the dagger out, as though he had been half-expecting this. He got a jug of the strongest liquor Bjorn had behind the counter -- a purplish liquid that smelled like turpentine and had so many Xs on the bottle it was unclear if they were a rating of potency, or a WWII plane-style kill count. It was labeled only as The Good Stuff™. Cunnin rubbed the dagger down with the drink and then stuck it in the fire, letting it get red hot.

Meanwhile, Taz argued for reason against this course of action. Justice argued back, consumed with both determination for his tribe and religious zeal - for he would sacrifice an eye to make himself in Gruumsh's image, sealing the founding of our tribe with the Unsleeping God's blessing.

The dagger prepared, Raph was given the order to hold Justice still. Justice was given several deep drinks of The Good Stuff™ and Cunnin offered him his belt to bite down on. Taz appealed once more, now to Cunnin as Warboss but was rebuked. "This is going to happen. If you don't move, I'll take your eye out instead." Finally, Taz backed down and the deed was done. With a sizzle of flesh and a quick, deft motion, the extraneous orb was removed from its housing and Justice immediately began to shake and foam at the mouth.

We threw him down on a table and held him in place, keeping the belt in his mouth so that he couldn't swallow his tongue. After several long moments, the seizures passed and he came to.

"I h-had a vision. I know what Gruumsh wants from me now.."

And then he turned suddenly and wretched all over the table.

With that, we decided to turn in for the evening. It was now too late into the night to find Doomsday Dave before daybreak. We made arrangements with the bartender to keep our presence in the city more or less quiet and then retired to our rooms to sleep off the excitement.

[Ed: This was such a ridiculous and amazing session. I wind up having to gloss over so much of it in the write-up because it wound up being 90% in-character dialogue. What was probably meant to be a quick pit-stop in the Inn turned into three hours or so of solid role-play as intra-party conflict was played up, brought to the surface, and ultimately resolved. This is the kind of glorious scenario in which it might seem like nothing happened and barely any dice were rolled.. but the sheer quality of the role-play was brilliant. And the best part? It is developing from a premise about orcs being murder-hobos doing murder hobo things. Half of it is just a string of inside gags and out-of-genre references..and yet, I left this session more psyched than I have been from a game in a long time. This is why I play these games.]

Until next time,

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Orc Quest: Episode 6 - Elves.

I haven't been maintaining these as well as I should, but other matters have been calling my attention lately. I'll try to catch up in brief.

When we last left our heroes, they had just left a kobold cave and were heading south to find the road again. Upon the road they came upon a merchant and his guards slowly traveling to the west. Upon stopping them, it was debated whether or not our heroes should rob them blind or merely ask for directions. Ultimately, the latter was settled on and they gained some information:

The merchant was traveling from the eastern city, which had fallen to some catastrophe of unspecified nature [ed: I might just not remember, I'll be honest. With my luck it was foreshadowing some massive plot hook] and they were heading west towards the town of Hanaga in order to acquire new goods to trade. The roads were dangerous, as elven bandits have been spotted in the region.

Our orcish warband let them carry on their way unmolested and made camp for the evening. Cunnin and raph replenished their firewood stock and Cunnin acquired a pair of long, stout sapplings he could trim down into two staves - one long one of about his height, and a short one for their humie girl, Tuska. After they were whittled, debarked, and shaped properly the weapon was presented to the girl as her first weapon. The little girl beamed and squeaked and wrapped herself around Cunnin's leg and d'awws were shared all around.

Justice did a bit of sparring with the girl, taking the other staff and showed her some of the basic movements with it. Afterwords, the fire was stroked and everyone settled in for the evening for something of a heart-to-heart talk. Justice had some character development on the subject of faith. Cunnin and Taz collectively advised him that instead of hoping that Gruumsh will aid him, that Gruumsh was waiting for Justice to prove himself worthy of aid. After some time, it was discovered that Justice just needed a snickers, because he turns apostate when he's hungry.

Interrupting this bit of role-play, the wolves responded to movement in the woods at the side of the road. Before we could act, we were beset by a party of elven raiders!

Justice knew that this was the moment he must prove himself to Gruumsh and..stripped naked, for some reason... but no matter! The elves rushed in, several taking positions around the edge of the woods near which we camped, but a central party headed straight for Tuska. Taz made a B-line to cut them off, but several got around him. The wolves leaped in, tearing down a pair of elves before they could close. The hammer of Justice smote mightily, turning an elf to paste before him, but Raph was not so lucky. As he turned to face down one elf, another leaped onto his back, sinking a dagger deep into his flesh. For the first time, Raph felt the pain of mortals.

One of the elven raiders grabbed Tuska and was making back through the forest. Cunnin abandoned everything and jumped headlong after them, cutting down the first elf that got in his way and finally tackling the other, sinking his dagger in again and again until the raider ceased to gurgle beneath him.

When the dust settled, one elf was left alive and their captive. There was some discussion on what to do with it, the options ranging from "kill it," to "kill it with fire." Cunnin wanted the prisoner questioned, and so they let him do the questioning while Taz and Justice went back to check on Raph and ensure that Tuska was unharmed.

The interrogation became graphic as the prisoner was uncooperative. Cunnin responded by removing bits of extremities until the elf was feeling more cooperative. With the elf's tongue sufficiently loosened, we learned of an elf-queen who had sent the raiders after the girl. Unfortunately, before anymore information could be had the paladin of gruumsh stepped in and an argument was had on the comparative ethics of enhanced interrogation on a prisoner of war.

Losing this battle, Cunnin dispatched the prisoner quickly and put the elf-thing out of its misery. A better fate than it deserved.

They set in to camp that night, but none slept well. Cunnin remained at watch until daybreak, and they set off west towards Hagana to resupply - and to gather more intel.

Until next time,

Saturday, March 28, 2015

History is Not Boring: Cool Stories That..

Something that I posted on the GH Forums, but I thought I'd mirror it here as it's kinda cool:

History is not Boring: Cool Stories That Actually Happened (Probably)

A common argument I hear in favor of fantasy literature and games is that real history is boring. I will here defend that not only is history not boring, but it is actually more interesting than anything we could come up with. One need only look at A Song of Ice and Fire to pick out the historical inspirations - Hadrian's Wall, the Protestant Reformation, the Angles conquest (really? he called them Andals, of all things), even the landscape of Westeros is basically the British isles with Ireland turned sideways. The list goes on.

So here I will begin posting really cool people and events from history, either to inspire your own game as a historical pursuit or to take the ideas, stories, and elements for use in your own fantasy adaptations.

To get us started, some cool stuff from more or less own period:

Cesare Borgia
A Spaniard and an Italian, son of a Pope, ex-cardinal (first person to ever resign the office!) who becomes a condottieri (soldier), commands the papal armies, eventually carves out his own state and is ultimately cast from power by a series of betrayals and political machinations. An excellent tale of passion, ambition, assassination, and political intrigue. The Showtime Borgias isn't terrible either, even if it starts quite slowly.

Hernán Cortés
Another Spaniard who goes from being a relative nobody (born of lesser nobility) to carve a bloody mark in the history books. Explorer, soldier, military captain. Brilliant politician that successfully forges alliances among natives in order to bring down an empire.

Sir Kenelm Digby
English courtier, diplomat, natural philosopher, alchemist, fencer. Born not only Catholic, but the son of one of the Gunpowder Plotters, he still manages to gain enough favor at court to land a seat in the Royal Academy, later becomes a privateer, captures spanish, dutch, and flemish ships. Gets involved in the civil war, fights quite a few duels.. guy is absolutely fascinating.

Johannes Liechtenauer
Mysterious fight-master who was active sometime in the 14th century. Most of the later fight-masters trace their own "school" back to him in some way. Even with the limited information we have, he's worth reading on. The mind immediately wants to cast this wandering yoda-like elderly sword-saint traveling through the German countryside.

Hans Talhoffer
Professional swordsman turned Fight-master that eventually founds and becomes grandmaster of an entire German school of fencing. True renaissance man who was also studied a number of academic subjects throughout his life.

Swordsmen Cultures and Organizations
Brotherhood of St. Mark
15th century German fencing guild. Talhoffer may have actually founded it. Some really cool information on the way fencing guilds functioned. The article also mentions rivalry with other fencing guilds - the Lukasbruder (Brotherhood of Saint Luke) and the Federfechter. Immediately, I want to run a game about rival fencing guilds and the bloody conflicts between students vying for position within their own guild, and defending the honor and prowess of their guild through battle with its rivals.

Spanish Sword and Buckler men, originally a troop type invented by the Italians. High risk, high reward troop types that become popular as adventurers and mercenaries, including following Cortes into the New World.

Arguably some of the most famous mercenaries from the Renaissance period, known for their colorful clothing and - perhaps most famously - their massive two-handed swords.

Also known as the "Spanish Third," they were the first modern, professional volunteer army. While Landsknecht certainly get a lot of attention, the culture and lifestyle of the Tercio is fascinating.

"Soldiers serving in the tercios were proud and extremely cautious men when it came to their personal honour. So much so, that they would die before staining their reputation as soldiers."

"Such an obsession for matters of honour and reputation would provoke numerous duels, which, added to the soldiers' fierceness on the battlefield, earned the tercios a quarrelsome reputation. When fighting together with allies or tercios from different nationalities, it was common that the Spanish ones demanded the most decisive, dangerous or important positions in combat, in order to defend their reputation. In fact, the Spanish army was the only one at the time which had to include punishments for those who dared to break formation due to eagerness for fighting or to distinguish themselves in the face of the enemy."

I will come back and add more over time, but seriously - history is fascinating. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Waagh Upon the Risers

I haven't actually caught up my OrcQuest recaps yet, we're about two episodes behind, but last night something happened that I thought I should share.

At some point during the game, a song began and it caught on. It is now our official orc-tribe marching song. I present to you: Waagh Upon the Risers. Feel free to sing along.
Waagh Upon the Risers
He was just a yellow greenboy and he surely shook with fright
He checked out all his wargear and was gripping his axe tight
He had t'sit and listen to those awful elveses roar
"He ain't gonna raid no more!"

Orky, Orky, What a helluva way to Waagh
Orky, Orky, what a helluva way to waagh
Orky, Orky, what a helluva way to waagh
He ain't gonna raid no more.

"Are all a'you shits ready?" cried the Warboss lookin grim
The greenboy squeeked an answer, and he nodded back at him
He charged into the elven lines, his axehead comin' loose
He ain't gonna raid no more

Orky, Orky What a helluva way to Waagh
Orky, Orky, what a helluva way to waagh
Orky, Orky, what a helluva way to waagh
He ain't gonna raid no more.

He shouted out, his choppa swung, its axehead flew away
He felt the weight, it sealed his fate, unarmed into the fray
The bowstring twang, the impact sang and punctured through his helm
He ain't gonna raid no more

Orky, Orky What a helluva way to Waagh
Orky, Orky, what a helluva way to waagh
Orky, Orky, what a helluva way to waagh
He ain't gonna raid no more.

Da boyz were there on the spot, the warboss runnin wild
The clerics jumped and screamed with glee, the necromancer smiled
For it had been a week or more since last a boy had died
He ain't gonna raid no more

Orky, Orky What a helluva way to Waagh
Orky, Orky, what a helluva way to waagh
Orky, Orky, what a helluva way to waagh
He ain't gonna raid no more.

The arrow struck true and split straight through the backplate of his dome
Right through his eye, his gore did fly, Gruumsh had called him home
His brains splattered all around, his skull was split in twain
He ain't gonna raid no more

Orky, Orky What a helluva way to Waagh
Orky, Orky, what a helluva way to waagh
Orky, Orky, what a helluva way to waagh
He ain't gonna raid no more.
My thief is going to have to start taking bard levels.
RPGs are a hell of a drug.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Trials of the Magi: Kickstarter in Progress

Patrick Lapienis (@MTTJ_Patrick ) of My Tabletop Journey has just launched a kickstarter for Trials of the Magi - a game he wrote as part of NaGaDeMon last year - and it looks pretty cool.

From what I see it's a Harry Potter-esq story-game aimed at introducing beginners or newcomers to the hobby. Rather than paraphrase, I'll let him explain it to you:
Trials of the Magi is a quick and easy role-playing game centered around a Harry Potter inspired world, where arcane scouts track down and test those with the potential for magic. These gathered candidates are required to overcome a crucible of mental simulations in order to prove that they have what it takes to become a fledgling magus.
These tests compose the core fiction of Trials of the Magi, following the players as they guide mental projections of themselves through the strange and treacherous landscapes of the trials.  The psychological and imagined nature of these landscapes allows the Game Master to create interesting and creative locations that can bend the laws of reality.

Where Trials of the Magi tries to shake the RPG formula is that in the game's fiction the "real" players are the ones actually being tested by the arcane scout. As such the mental projections that navigate the trials are literal representations of the players. Meaning they look, act and talk just as the players would. Not surprisingly, it is really easy to role-play yourself, making Trials of the Magi a great game for first time players of the hobby. It allows them to get familiar with navigating a shared fiction before trying their hand at more role-play intensive storytelling. This idea of the player being the character is expanded upon in the game’s mechanics, where a character’s strengths and abilities come from a player's real life experiences. These memories are written on custom dry erase cards [or blank Index cards] and a hand of these cards act as a player’s character sheet. No complex calculations or overabundance of stats. Just simple tactile mechanics that allow players to get into the game easily and quickly.
Very cool. If that's a thing that would interest you, go give it a look. I know I will.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Band of Bastards: Intro Teaser

I've always hated writing self-promotion. I always feel compelled to seek out that (what seems to me) incredibly narrow space between "HYPE: The HYPENING" and "So dry that the author seems to have forgotten the purpose of an introduction."

I know what I'm supposed to do. The job of an introductory text is to hook players and answer some questions up front: What is this game? Why should I care? What makes it special? Why should I waste my time reading the next 300 pages?

The obvious desire then is to answer those questions in the best light possible - preferably filled with as much energy and passion as you can muster. The problem is doing so in a fashion that won't cause your audience to groan and roll their eyes. Indie games can be quite bad about this in general, so I feel the need to be twice as careful about the image I present.

As it stands, the teaser is now available here, and I would really welcome any feedback on it.

On other fronts: We have a new logo! Well. modified logo.


Following entirely reasonable feedback from our forums, I wound up redoing the sword image to be specific to the period we're talking about. Once I found some sample images to work with that weren't basket-hilt swords, we were in business. I actually really like basket-hilts, but they are very hard to "read" in an image of this type.

'Bastards is now in InDesign, being formatted as a 6"x9" (trade hardback) style pdf for the Beta. We're taking some risks on the format, but it will at the very least be mobile-friendly, which is important given that I don't expect anyone to print off a 300 page pdf to beta test. I can see the light on the horizon, and I am unbelievably excited to have this project out in the open air for a while.

Stay tuned, 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Orc Quest: Episode 5- Kobold Cave a.k.a. Baby's First Dungeon

When we last left our heroes, their course was set in pursuit of Orcpra, the foul Orc Queen. Their only clues were a golden necklace which seemed to have a connection to the Queen's magic, and the vague notion that she was in a land to the south where winter had not set so harshly.

The party stuck to the road for some ways, making several days trek before coming across the smell of woodsmoke somewhere to the East. The party split, with Justice and Cunnin making their way through investigate, and then ultimately Cunnin using his stealth to creep up to the source and investigate. Ultimately, the smoke was rolling out of a small cave entrance. By the volume and density of the smoke, an estimate was made that it was a small camp or cooking fire. The small, scratching footprints in the snow around the cave entrance gave good indication of the inhabitants - kobolds.

Returning to Justice, a brief debate was had on the relative merits of ignoring this cave in pursuit of their higher goals vs stopping here in pursuit of the highest of Orcly traditions: a good raid. Ultimately and unsurprisingly, the raid won out and the remaining members of their party were gathered. Tuska was, once more left somewhere safe guarding the baggage.

The party crept back to the location of the cave mouth, with Cunnin scouting ahead. He moved carefully through the entrance, avoiding a trip wire set at the mouth only to rattle a set of hanging bones. The kobolds looked up from their cook-fire and fled down a northward corridor deeper into the cave. Realizing his error, Cunnin went back to the party that now waited at the cave-mouth.

"I think they heard you coming."
"Raph not sneaky. Sorry Cunnin."

He quickly explained the tripwire and the situation. The kobolds had no doubt taken up defensive positions deeper in the cave mouth. They could be walking into an ambush.

So gleefully, they marched onward to face their ambush.

They rounded the corner to the abrupt north passage and found themselves facing down a line of kobold ballista not much larger than heavy crossbows. The volley arced its deadly fury down upon them, but the quicker members of the party reacted quickly enough to get out of the way. A single bolt managed a grazing strike on Raph, but such was his massive bulk that he did not register the wound. The next moments erupted into chaos. Cunnin loosed his crossbow into the side of one of the kobold defenders, but failed to bring it down. Kobold slingers rained rocks down upon the party, a lucky shot ringing Justice's helm and nearly knocking him unconscious. Taz brought both swords to bare, hacking his way into the fray and Raph charged the line of ballista head on, smashing his way through the weapons and defenders alike as though they were beneath his notice.

When the dust settled, Taz had acquitted himself well in the melee, catching his breath among the ruined bodies of the kobold defenders. Raph was now covered in gore, carrying a kobold spear as a prize. Or toothpick. Justice was gravely wounded and was forced to call upon the aid of Gruumsh to heal his wounds. Even as the power of his faith sealed his wounds whole he began to question his convictions. It was not the first of such battles that had turned poorly for him, and time and again his hammer failed to find it's mark. Is Gruumsh even watching?

The hall before them formed a natural four-way intersection. In the westerly direction, a large wooden double-door stood with metal furnishings. Additional pathways went to the north and south, or back east from the direction they came. Rather than proceeding further, Cunnin raised a hand to halt the group, before uttering the four words of terror "I have an idea."

Cunnin called out in common, his voice echoing down the stone halls "Parlay?"

Confused noises could be heard from down the northward hall, whispers and the barking speech of the kobold tongue. A few moments later, there was movement and a single representative of their kind appeared before the party. It barked out in clipped common "You. Leave!"

"You are kobolds. We are orcs. Orcs raid kobolds. It is the way of things, but it does not have to be. If we fight you, you will die and we will take everything. But if you pay us now, we will leave instead."

The kobold considered this for a moment, then barked back to his fellows around the corner. After brief discussion, he shook his head and tried again. "Kobolds not bow to Orc! You! Leave!"and then proceeded to fold its arms and flap its elbows in a manner not unlike the chicken dance, hissing and spitting at the floor.

"Your friends don't have to die."

The kobold at this point turned and ran back around the corner. After a few moments of silence, Cunnin tried one last time "Is that a no?"

The reply barked back at him from the darkness. "Ff-f-ffffffffaaack you!"

Taz had translated much of the affair to the remaining party. At the last line, Justice questioned "What does that mean?"

"I guess they aren't feeling reasonable."

With a shrug, the party moved down the tunnel into which the kobolds had retreated. Some time during this, the Justice's mind began to spin. The pieces all fit together. Raph's flawless Chopin. His seeming invincibility in combat, his unparalleled destruction, his innocent and unexpected "from the mouth of babes" wisdom. What if Raph wasn't just a simpleton, but instead connected to some higher power? He seems simple to us only because we are not capable of understanding the raw power of his mind, operating on a level so high above us as to be incomprehensible. What if Raph himself is a god?

The orcs fell upon the defenders. Crossbow bolts and sling stones arced across the battlefield. The bard's swords nearly sang as they crossed through the air and landed their blows. Raph smashed kobold upon kobold and Justice, inspired by the might of this new god called out to him for power. So imbued, he set upon the enemies, his hammer crumpling one after the next until none stood before him. Yes. This was it. This is what he had been looking for.

In the aftermath, a number of kobold young were discovered hiding among some supplies in the back of the cave. Some discussion was had as to what would become of them, but Cunnin had other things on his mind. He slipped back to the intersection of the tunnels to examine the double door. He very carefully examined the frame and the ground before it, finding nothing of note. He let his hand go near the handle without touching it to check for heat and was rewarded when the hair on his arms stood on end as though by static.

Standing back, he squirted a brief stream from his waterskin at the door, careful not to let it be long enough to lead back to him. Where the water touched the metal furnishings, it sparked and crackled filling the air with the smell of ozone.

It was about this time that Justice came to check what Cunnin was doing and cautiously watched the experiment. Cunnin explained that he thought it might be some kind of electrical trap, and asked if Raph still had the kobold spear. Justice nodded and went to retrieve the item, holding it with the kind of reverence due to such a sacred relic, wielded in battle by the divine.

Cunnin nodded in thanks, taking the spear and immediately snapping the metal head off of it. Justice fell a step back in horror and stormed off, taking the now dislodged head and muttering to himself.

With the wooden shaft, Cunnin carefully pushed the right-side door back, careful to ensure that wood touched only wood, and equally careful to ensure that he was around the side of the door, not in the path of the entrance. The door swung almost frictionless open back against the wall behind it, opening fully. He moved to the other side and repeated, getting the same result. As the left side touched the wall behind it, a row of spears shot up from the floor just inside the door-frame as though to impale one who incautiously stepped through.

Confident that the door was the pressure mechanism, Cunnin stepped through and saw before him a great hoard of boxes and chests, barrels and scattered coin. The remainder of the party entered in behind him and with great excitement went to investigate. Despite his initial enthusiasm, Cunnin took a step back across the threshold. Suddenly, the Kobold's awkward chicken dance made a great deal of sense.

"I don't think we should be in here." He made another step back out of the room.

Justice made to open the first chest, when the pile of treasures began to shift before them, revealing the body of a great red dragon waking before them. It's motions were jerky at first, eyes glowing red and head leveled to stare at those who had trespassed in its domain.

Realizing his fate was sealed, Justice took a step towards the beast and tried to explain the circumstances. "Ah, if we had known the kobolds were in your service, then we would never have attempted to -- AH HA!" he lunged forward, trying to spear the dragon in the eye with the spear of Raphginus only to fumble the draw and drop it on the ground. [ed: Of all the times to roll a 1!]

The dragon reared its head back, and Justice looked back to his new God for aid. Raph looked around for a moment and declared "uh. Raph heard Cunnin say he needs help in hallway. Raph will be back." And the giant demigod ran out into the hallway.

"Raph? Why have you foresaken me?"

As Raph came out, Cunnin stepped in, determined to throw his lot in with Justice. The tribe will live or die as one. However, rather than a certain death, what Cunnin saw was almost comical. He swaggered in, weapons sheathed and bellowing.

"You know who we are. You see what we can do. We have your women, your children. Surrender now and we will take our gold and leave. If you don't, we will slay every last one of you."

Justice turned, wide-eyed and horrified, immediately attempting to interject "that's not --- he doesn't mean ---"

It is at this point the "dragon" fell from the wires that had suspended it, seeming to deflate all at once. A few moments later, three kobolds emerged from inside the chassis of it with a guilty, embarrassed grin. Justice and Taz stood in stunned silence for a long moment. Cunnin crossed his arms, waiting.

The two kobolds gestured to the treasure pile and booked it for the door, disappearing down another corridor.

Our heroes loaded up everything they could carry, which was some considerable sum of coins, a pair of magic daggers, an enchanted crossbow, a magic breastplate (that was too small for any of us), a golden necklace with a saphire stone, and some miscellaneous gems.

Honoring their word, the tribe gathered up what goods it could carry and left the remaining kobolds unmolested, setting forth back into the world for another adventure.

Until then, 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Brawler - A Monk Replacement for AD&D2e

My group has slowly reshaped its home campaign. We started with Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but slowly adopted bits and pieces from everything including class structure from AD&D2e. Some classes have been removed entirely for thematic reasons (No one in our group was big on Druids as treehuggers), and some have been replaced.  I always liked the idea of a monk, but it just doesn't fit the setting we play and has always kind of stuck out as a sore thumb in the D&D milieu. Enter the Brawler.

I picture the brawler as one part greco-roman wrestler, one part just skinhead roughneck looking for a bar fight. I'm imagining table legs flying and chairs breaking. In practice, it's worked out pretty well for our group, but we also aren't the sort that really worries about balance so your mileage my vary.

The following does reference a couple house rules as well. We are playing with 2e Weapon Proficiencies, but when classes are restricted by weapons we've simply categorized weapons as "simple" "martial" etc. Individual weapon proficiencies are still purchased, but the prior categories make it easier to manage. We're also using LotFP specialist style skill points, so you may need to tweak the class to your own setup.

Without further ado:

Ability Requirement: Strength 14, Dexterity 14
Allowed Races: Dwarf, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Human

Where thieves are often thought of as nimble professionals, brawlers are best characterized as roughnecks, knee-breakers, and thugs. While lacking the pure martial prowess of the warrior classes, Brawlers compensate through dirty-fighting and a raw talent for destruction. Brawlers can be of any alignment, and gain the following special abilities:

The Sweet Science: Nothing makes a brawler happier than sweet sweet pugilism. Their initial unarmed attacks do 1d4 damage, but as they increase in level their capacity for mayhem rises dramatically. They do increased damage per the chart below.

Bonus Attacks: Unlike other members of the Rogue group, Brawlers gain bonus attacks per round similar to the way in which Warrior classes do. These bonus attacks only apply when the character is using Simple Weapons, Improvised Weapons, or unarmed attacks, and only when the character has not moved that round.

Improvised Weapons: Street fights and pub brawls have left the brawler adept at making use of whatever is at hand. Brawlers can make better use of any improvised weapon that is reasonably similar to a weapon they actually have proficiency in without penalty. Thus, a Brawler who has proficiency in Clubs can make easy use of a table leg. A brawler with the dagger proficiency is deadly with a broken bottle in hand. This ability does not give brawlers access to weapons they couldn’t otherwise make use of, such as fighting with a woodsman’s axe without the Battleaxe proficiency.

Bob and Weave: When wearing light or no armor, Brawlers gain double their normal dexterity bonus to AC.

Rogue Skills: Like other members of the Rogue Group, Brawlers gain some points to spend on skills. Unlike some other Rogues though, their combat focus leaves them with a more narrow skillset. They may only spend points in the following skills: Architecture, Climbing, Search, Stealth

At level 3: Brawlers become an even greater threat through unarmed combat. When they attempt any wrestling / grappling maneuver, they double their Strength modifier when calculating grappling rolls.

At Level 5: Brawlers maximize the destructive potential of their surroundings. If they have not moved this round and are armed with a blunt improvised weapon (table leg, beer bottle, chair, whatever), they may opt to give up their normal Attacks Per Round and instead make a single Collateral Damage attack, by breaking said object over the target’s head or back. This attack roll is made as normal, and can even be a ranged attack at whatever range the object can be thrown.

If the attack is successful, the damage is resolved as normal for that class of improvised weapon but has an additional chance to stun the target on a d6 roll of 1-3, noting the difference in HD or level between the Brawler and his target. For every Level the Brawler has above the target’s HD, the chance of success increases by +1. If the target is a higher level than the Brawler, each level or HD of difference reduces the chance by -1 This cannot reduce the chance below 1, or raise it above 6.

Bob decides to break a chair over the head of the party’s Paladin. Bob is level 5 and the Paladin is only level 3, for a 2 level difference. He has a 1-5 chance of stunning the Paladin.

If successful, the target is stunned for the current round, and d3 rounds thereafter. Regardless of success, the item used is completely destroyed in the process. Undead creatures, and creatures immune to critical hits or Backstabs are also immune to Collateral Damage.

At Level 9: the Brawler gains the ability to Sucker Punch their opponents. In order to qualify for a Sucker Punch, their opponent must be either unaware of the Brawler’s presence, unaware that they are about to be attacked, or distracted by another enemy in combat (not currently engaged with or targeting the brawler). If they have not moved that round, they may opt to give up their normal Attacks Per Round and instead deliver a single Sucker Punch to their opponent. The attack is rolled as normal and if successful delivers it normal damage, but has an additional chance to instantly knock their opponent unconscious on a d6 roll of 1. As with Collateral Damage, compare the Brawler’s HD. For every Level the Brawler has above the target’s HD, the chance of success increases by +1. This chance cannot be modified to less than 1.

If successful, the target is immediately knocked unconscious and will remain so for d3 hours. Undead creatures, and creatures immune to critical hits or Backstabs are also immune to Sucker Punch.

Favored Weapons: Simple

LevelXPHit Dice

Save vs.


(d8)DeathWandChangeBreathSpellPointsDamage/ Round

It's rough, but I've been enjoying the thematics of it. The abilities are possibly a little overpowered, but entertaining and thematic. The unarmed attack damage gets a little ridiculous, but is actually less ridiculous than the monk class that it was based on.

If anyone tries it, let me know. Hopefully it will inspire someone to something.

Until next time,