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Randomness in Modules

Posted by Dennis

Reading through a module I picked up, it reminded me to chat about a philosophy of mine and that's don't make everything in your module the result of a random die roll.

i.e. don't let your players actions be dominated by random dice rolls.  Give them the information they need to further the plot, the information that's just obvious, don't make them roll to change a television channel (true story from a pod cast I listened to a few weeks ago).  Don't slow the story and the game down with lots of random dice rolls.

In all the game systems I've designed that have skill systems in them, I use a three tier information/action system.  There's for lack of a better generic term, the Primary/Gimmee, the Secondary/Resource based, and the Tertiary/Random Luck.

The break down is Primary/Gimmee are things that the character can learn/notice/do simply by being present in the scene.   They don't need a roll or a skill.  They just 'get it'.

Secondary/Resource based are things that a character can learn/notice/do because that have 'any' skill/training/resource at whatever it would take or because they have something that would let them do it.  They 'get it' because they have the ability to do so.

And then lastly and least importantly is the Tertiary/Random information/actions.  These I use when I'd like to see possible branching solutions to a problem.   i.e. a PC when making their way home may notice that the crowd seems tense as they walk  through the streets, or they may spot the two figures standing in the shadows near your steps, or a neighbor may decide to give them a warning or whatever.  It's not critical to the story that the various rolls succeed.  It merely provides alternate paths if they do or don't.

Not to point fingers but here's a paraphrased quote from an unspecified module with way too many random rolls -

Getting into the house will require them to use the Lockpicking skill, or break a window which requires a Strength check with a bonus if they use an object to do it.

Anyone else see the problems with this?  There's a chance that a PC might not be able to break a standard house window due to random chance.  I don't know about your windows but I can pop one of mine from a rap with an fist or elbow, much less a rock I pick up anywhere in the street.

Additionally the vast majority of house doors in the U.S. can easily be booted open with a few kicks, door jambs especially tend to be that flimsy.

Under my design this wouldn't even be an entry for this encounter, it falls into the 'gimmee action'.  YOu don't really need to put stats in for everything, just a "The house doors are locked, front and back." and let the players figure out how to get in would suffice.

And the point of the encounter is to let them get into the house, why put obstacles in that path for no purpose other than roll dice?

Earlier on, they also needed a random roll to notice moving NPC's that aren't in any cover or taking any care to conceal their motions during the light of day.   That would fall into the 'primary information' gained. Rather than, "Sorry you had your eyes closed, you missed the ones out in the open because you failed your dice roll."  just add it to the scene description, "You see several moving figures, taking a few seconds to count, you come up with eight of them.."

Anyway, that's been my little discourse (rant) on module design and how much randomness is necessary to have a good story.

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13th Age Playtest 1

Posted by Dennis

This is a playtest for myself of the 13th age system which has a lot in common with any d20 system and 4th Edition D&D in particular.  Not surprising given who the designers are.  I find doing play tests this way helps to cement things in my own mind.

I have a few house rules in mind already to make the combat simpler for my needs but this is being played straight out of the box.  Any changes from RAW is purely error on my part.

Note that all dice rolls are randomzied using and are used as rolled, no fudging involved.

Scene 1 - Where's my Two Dollars?!

We open our scene with Hu'nchi walking back to the room he's renting.  He's just lost the biggest in a serious of bad losses in the Arena.  Not just as a warrior but as a promoter.  He was betting the house, almost literally, on this last series of fights he'd arranged and is now wondering how he's going to pay various debtors.  This is the backdrop for the 'why' this character is going to start a life of adventuring.  Also known as killing things and taking their valuables.

GM: "After the debacle today at the arena you're heading back to your place on the Street of Tinkers where you have a small stock of golds hidden away  as a rainy day fund.  You were able to put paid most of your losses at the arena with only a couple of outstanding debts. One is minor and you're on good terms with the vendor but the other is a moneylender who carries various nicknames like Legbreaker and No Mercy.   Him you owe several hundred in gold too, golds you borrowed for your last string of bouts.  And it was him you ducked out on at the arena."

Tom (Hu'nchi): "I'm going to act natural, my normal self but I want to meet Legbreaker on my own terms not his so I'm going to keep an eye out on the way."

GM: "The streets are still fairly crowded as the sun goes down, the artificer lamps keeping a glow on everything.  It's market day after all when the outer fief's and villages come to town to trade and buy.  Can you give me an perception roll using either Int or Wis?"

Note: This is an d20 roll that the player will make using their Intelligence or their Wisdom modifier at their choice.  This isn't something spelled out per se in the 13th Age rules but as a GM I feel that a character could either intellectually note something or just have a 'feel' about something.

Tom: "Would either my Combat Trainer or Arena Organizer/Participant backgrounds come into play?  I rolled a 19 and add 2 for my Wis modifier and 1 for my level for a 22.  I can add another +1 or +2 depending on which one of those backgrounds might apply."

Note: The player has a couple of Backgrounds that they believe might give them a benefit in perception, situational awareness or just spotting things.   As it turns out the GM agrees.  (If there's any doubt then say yes)

GM: "Either will work so add the highest at +2 which gives you a 24.  Not that you needed it.  It's a normal difficulty so a 15+ is good.  As you enter your street, you get vibe from the crowds, the same vibe you feel before a match is about to start in the arena."

Tom: "I stop at a vendor and check out the wares so I can scope the situation out and see what has everyone on edge.  I'm looking up and down the street especially closer to the place I call home for now."

GM: "A couple of thugs wearing the yellow/purple sashes of the Legbreaker's men are leaning up against the wall of your house in the shadow of the front steps.  The crowds are swinging wide of them leaving which causes gaps that enable you to catch glimpses of them."

Tom: "Can I get a read on their body language?  Do they look like they're looking for a fight or a conversation?"

Note:  The GM decides this is a gimmie, based in part because of the background of the character and primarily because the GM doesn't personally believe every tidbit of information should be a random event.  Another character with different backgrounds would probably be a roll of some kind.

The initial 'sense something wrong roll' is there because the GM's feels it adds a good branching to the story, in one branch the character notices something and reacts accordingly.  In the other he doesn't notice something and has a completely different experience with the upcoming scene.

GM: "They look pretty relaxed, they're talking about something you can tell and they don't have weapons out."

Tom: "I still don't like it, Legbreaker isn't known for his kindness to children and small animals.  I'm going to duck across the street and into the alleyway. If it's clear I'm going to go up the drain pipe on the back wall to the second floor where my room is and slip in and grab my stuff and get out."

Note:  The details of the player's room weren't known until now when they created them.   This type of give and take is what we strive for as GM's.  Get the players to invest in the world.  13th Age helps with this through the backgrounds which the players come up and the GM then incorporates into their world.  The fact that this town has organized MMA fights is based solely on the character's backgrounds.

GM: The GM makes a roll to note if the thugs notice Hu'nchi cross the street but gives them a penalty for inattentiveness of -5.  Being Mook's they have no real background bonuses other than what makes sense to the GM based on the situation.  This means that they need a natural 20 to spot anything and they fail with a 8.  Note that the current iteration has no real recommendations for bonuses of penalties for skill checks, just the base DC's for normal, hard, epicihard checks for each tier.    There are indicators, perhaps, that a +/- 4 or +/- 5 might be the edge of bonuses or penalties one might add given the various Feats and Magic Items that grant them.

"You apparently make it across the street without anyone noticing and navigate down the cluttered and dark alleyway, there's only reflected light back here and what comes through a few windows or badly fitting doors from lighted buildings.  Reaching the back of your building you start up the outside using the drain pipe or rather it's supports for help.  Take a +3 for that and make a strength check."

Tom: "Being an active arena fighter would it be safe to say I've had to climb some obstacles or heck just the wall when things go bad and the dragonlings are winning?"

GM: "Sure, add the +1 for that."

Tom: "Okay a 13 on the die and a total of +... 8? 21.  I scale the pipe trying to be as quiet as possible, hopefully the crowds out front will cover me and I only have to get to the second floor.   I arm walk using the edge of the roof over to my window and nudge it open with my foot before reaching down and climbing through."

Note: Hu'nchi has a 19 strength (+4), is level 1 (+1), has a moderate resource in the form of the drain (+3).  While one might consider that doing all the above with one roll is being a little too generous on the part of the GM, remember the GM is supposed to make it possible for the players to feel heroic and awesome.   Making four rolls that result in a near 100% likelihood that random chance will cause a failure isn't typically fun for the players and can slow down the action.

Besides the GM has a surprise for the player. 🙂

GM: "As you drop lightly to the floor inside your room, a slow clapping starts from across the room where your single chair and table are.  A light blooms and you see a familiar figure seated in your chair.  You also don't fail to notice the three thugs clustered on the far wall. Behind them on the floor is a cloth covered lump.  It's Faelin the Legbreaker's nephew.  Also known as Fancy Fae although not to his or his uncle's face. His rich clothing is at odds with your rather run down room."

Tom: "I nod at him but don't say anything.  Let him talk first."

GM: "A few moments pass and then he says 'So Chi, you don't mind if I call you Chi do you?  Great.  After the bout this afternoon somehow Uncle's bagman missed you at the Arena and he was a bit put out with him for not making the pick up.   When he's able to walk again, I'm sure he'll do a better job in the future at his job.  Uncle asked me to come by and talk about your debt.'  He sniffs loudly looking around, 'Although I must say if I'd of known just how badly you lived I might have objected more.'"

Tom: I'm going to try and talk my way out of this since I don't have his money and four on one odds aren't great. "Hey Faelin, fancy meeting you here...  Sorry must have missed your man at the arena, it was pretty packed.  Wasn't intentional I can assure you.  I was just on my way to collect some money owed to me and was going to drop by Legbreaker's place later this evening."

GM/Faelin: "And you came climbing up the side of your own building like a spider monkey because?  It wouldn't have anything to do with my boys out front?   The ones that are now in the alleyway...."

Tom:  "Can I hear anything or tell if he's lying?"

GM: "Give me an intelligence roll for hearing and/or a wisdom roll to detect if he's lying."

Tom: "I think my arena participant background will cover the lying part, I'm using to dealing with lying scum.   My combat training should help with hearing someone sneaking up behind me, even if it's two stories down."

GM: The GM agrees and Tom rolls.  For insight into Faelin's lying he rolled a 9.  Add +2 for his background, +2 for his Wisdom and +1 for his level for a total of 14.  Failed.  If Faelin had been actively lying it would have been an opposed roll. But he's telling the truth.   For his hearing check he does better, a roll of 15, +1 for the background, +2 for Int and +1 for level for a 20 total.

"You can't really tell that he's lying, if he is but through the window behind you comes the sound of movement, people not trying to be subtle or sneaky.  You also notice the cloth covered, it looks like your bedsheet, lump behind the three men moved."

Tom: "Greeaaaat.  How big is that lump?"

GM: "Maybe human sized give or take."

GM/Faelin: "I see you've noticed my package.  Jek could you open our present for our friend here?"

One of the thugs bends down and hauls the bundle up, the bedsheet falls away and the slight figure of the landlord's daughter is revealed.  She has a lump on the side of her head with a slight trickle of blood but is breathing if unconscious.

"Just in case you were entertaining bad thoughts about not..."

Tom: "I attack while he's monologing.  I don't see any way this is going to end well for anyone so why give him the pleasure?"

GM: "All right then!  Let's make an an opposed check your dexterity versus an average intelligence roll for them.  If you win, I'll give you a +5 bonus on your initiative."

Note: As of this writing there is no surprise or surprise round in the system.  The above seems like a decent compromise to me, for this specific scenario  two sides, both kinda antsy but one going into action in the middle of someone else talking who's used to people hearing him out.  Rather than make 4 different rolls which helps to insure that the player won't win, I chose the single roll average but will give them a bonus for their number.

13th Age works well without any maps and requires no grids at all but miniatures or just some way to differentiate rough positions can help to keep things straight in people's minds.  In this scene, anyone in the room is considered to be Nearby each other and anyone outside the room is considered Far.   In general I believe you could use a dry erase board with one big circle and a few smaller circles inside it to designate a few Nearby zones and the overall Far zone and call it good.   Then move the mini's which could be anything, actual minis or coins or dice or chips next to each other to designate Engaged as necessary. 

Tom:  "Okay I rolled a 12, add +3 for my dex, +1 for my level and my combat training should work here for another +1.  That gives me a 17."

GM:  "Okay I'm going to give them a total of +3.  That's +1 for their average Int mod and I'm going to add +1 for each two of them for a total of the +3.  A 7 comes up on the die so a total of 10.  You win the reaction contest and get the +5 on your init roll."

Tom: "Sweet!, Damn another roll of a 12 with a +3 for dex , +1 for level and the +5 bonus  for a 21 init roll.

GM: "The bad guys get a 16 total for the mob of thugs and Faelin gets a 14.  You get to go first, then the thugs will go and then Faelin.  I'm gong to give them a -2 because you've kind of shocked them with your speed of action on their rolls for the first round."

Round 1 -

Init: Hu'nchi, Thugs, Faelin  - Note: Order is fairly static barring someone delaying their turn to go later for the remainder of any battle or other things that might change the order.

Tom: "I'm assuming we're all Near here in the room and the guys below are Far."

GM: "Correct."

Note: 13th Age has four distances, officially three, there's Far, Nearby and Engaged.  I add the fourth one, Not there. 🙂   It's a move action to change from one distance to another.  So moving from Far to Engaged is two move actions or your whole turn.  This can change based on situation and GM discretion.  There is no 'grid' in 13th Age.  You can use a move action to engage anyone you're Nearby, preferably with some nice narrative.

This is where something like Hero, Karma, Plot, Benny, Fate chips would come in handy, to allow the players to spend those to get an actual combat bonus provided they give a good narrative for their maneuver.

Tom: "I'm going to draw my sword and dart across the room and plunge my sword into the thug holding Emillia and try to get him to drop her."
Mechanically: Tom declares he's going to use a Flexible attack.  This means he rolls his attack roll first and then picks which attack from his repertoire he's going to use.  He rolls a 18 on the die.  This allows him to use either of his flex attacks.  Since Precision Attack triggers on a 16+ roll and it makes narrative sense he choose that.  He also a feat that doubles the damage boost on it which isn't a bad thing.   He rolls damage, 1d8 (he's using a long sword at the moment for his walk about town) for a 6 roll and adds his Strength mod for a +4.   Precision  Attack adds an additional +3 for his Dex modifier and he took a feat that doubles that so another +3.  That's 16 damage.

Mooks are similiar to Minions in 4E and various other low end mobs in many other systems.  In 13th Age mooks are tyipcally a group of 5 creatures that have the stats of their base creature.  In this case a Human Thug.   They share a pool of hit points, each being worth 1/5 of the base.  In this case the base Thug has 27 hit points and we're going to round that up to 30 to get a number divisible by 5 so each mook is worth 6 points.

GM: "Very well done, that's going to take out 2 and wound the third!  Tell us what happened."

Mechanically: Tom's 16 damage drops the pool from 30 to 14.  For each 6 points he kills one mook and the leftover damage is applied to a remaining mook if any.

In this case, he's used his move action to Engage all three mooks since the scene has already been set such that they've been described as standing together.  Tom's killed two of them and wounded the third.  Pretty sweet results for him and he narrates his victory.

Tom: "I dart across the room to stop in front the three of them and before any of them can react, I've punched my sword through the one holding the girl in the throat and he staggers backwards trying to stop the flow of blood.  I continue the motion sideways and slam my sword through the second one, puncturing his lungs and then slam a foot into the third driving him sideways with the sound of ribs cracking."

Note:  The player has free rein (at least in anything I run) to describe the results of their actions.  Personally I don't describe the player's actions for them, it disengages them and frankly it's a lot of work trying to come up with clever narrative for every single action of both the players and the NPC's.

GM/Thug: "Faelin starts yelling for help, shocked by the outbreak of sudden violence.  The remaining thug in the room staggers, face twisted in pain and then draws a heavy studded club from his sash and moves against you, trying to bring it down on your head but his aim is thrown off as his ribs grate in his chest and the heavy weapon smashes splinters from wall sending a loud thud through the building.  Through the window you hear the sounds of someone struggling to climb up the same pipe you did followed by a yelp and then a heavy thud and pained cry while rapid footsteps clank down the alley, possibly heading toward an entrance or just to get help."
Mechanics:  The Mook rolled a 4.  +5 for his base bonus for a 9 which doesn't meet or beat  Tom's current AC.  The thug outside rolled a 3 for his attempt to climb up the wall.  Too much beer and not enough working out obviously.  

Note:  Faelin hasn't acted yet, just screaming like girl isn't an action.  His yells were designed to engage the remaining two mooks in the alley into the fray. 

GM/Faelin: "He stumbles backwards, the chair falling over and almost knocking him down.  He draws his sword, a thin rapier like blade with a jewel encrusted hilt.  He continues backwards into that corner, yelling for help the whole time."
Mechanically:  Faelin is going to Ready or save his standard action and use it to attack Hu'nchi if he advances.

Note:  Delay, Ready, Refocus, Reserve actions aren't officially a part of 13th Age but the designers do mention, use them if you wish and have a need for them.   In this case it makes perfect sense to use something like the 4E Ready action but without modifying Initiative order in any way.  If by the start of his next turn he hasn't done anything he's lost his action and must act as normal although he can choose to Ready that action instead.

Round 1 results:  2 thugs are dead or dying.  A third is wounded.  A fourth and fifth thugs are doing something out of sight of they player.  Faelin is waiting for the player to do something.

Round 2:

Note:  The Escalation die, a d6, is put on the table showing a 1.  The players get to add this value to their attack rolls. It rotates to the next highest number at the start of each round until it hits 6.  The GM has the option to reset it if the action stagnates for some reason, personally if everyone calls a time out and tries to negotiate a surrender or whatever I'd reset it to 0,  and of course it's reset between battles.

Tom: "I'm going to circle around to the side of the thug and then attack him.  I want to be able to keep an eye on Faelin."
Mechanically: He rolls a  4, with a +5 for a 9.  A miss.  He's going to invoke his Comeback Strike which lets him make a free attack once per battle when he misses with his first attack. Its at a -2 penalty and he rolls an 8, +5 - 2 is an 11.  With the +1 from the Escalation Die a 12.  Not nearly enough to hit the Thug's 17 AC.  

But heroes deals their level in damage even on a miss so the Mook pool takes another 2 damage, 1 from each attack, dropping it to 13. 

GM/Thug: "The thug is recovering a bit and he bats your first strike and then your second away, sparks flying from the metal studs in his club but the broken ribs in his chest grate as he exerts himself, grinding into this chest.   Behind him Faelin shouts 100 gold if you cut the son of a bitch down!  His eyes light up and he swings but you parry his club away easily.  Through the door to the hall comes the thudding footsteps of at least one person racing up the stairs and then the door bursts open and one of the thugs from outside is standing there, a wicked long dagger in hand.  He'll be in the room next turn."
Mechanically:  Another roll of 4, the sun's giving us some crappy numbers right now. ( uses sunspot activity to create random numbers)

GM/Faelin: "A gold hilted dagger flies past your head easily three or four feet wide and hits the wall sideways and drops down the floor.  Faelin grits his teeth and draws another one."
Mechanically:  A roll of a 2 on his throw...

Round 2 Results:  Nothing much happened although the remaining two thugs have managed to move to where they can enter into the room next time.

Round 3:

Note: Escalation die moves to 2.

Tom:  "Damn it's going to get crowded in here, this guy has to go down fast."
Mechanically:  He rolls a 10, +5 (str+level bonus) for a 15, +2 for the ED for a 17. Just enough to squeak a hit in on the guy.  A damage roll of 8 + 5 yields 13 damage.   That's as much as is left in the mook pool killing them all...

What this really means is that he didn't magically kill all three including the ones outside.  But we'll let him describe it. 

Tom: "I whip my blade up with both hands, eviscerating the bastard in front of me and his chest opens up like a paper bag dumping his internal organs out onto the floor and blood sprays out covering my front.  I kick the body back where it slams into the guy standing in the doorway.  With his friends blood dripping off my face and my blade I flick it tot he side leaving a line of red on the floor as I give him my best Arena victory scream and vow his death will be even worse.   He and the other guy in the hallway turn and run, dropping their weapons and I slowly turn toward Faelin."

Note: This is an excellent way to narrate the character's 'killing' the remaining mooks.  You don't have to kill a creature to get victory over it.  The player now feels like a flippin hero of legend with his actions. 

GM/Faelin: "Shadows take you!  What's it going to take to let me walk out of here."

Note: Faelin is a coward and a bully.  Without his men to back him up, he wants no part of this fight.  Not after seeing three of his men killed in seconds and two others scared away.  

Round 3 results:  Three thugs dead or dying, two removed from the encounter, both of the remaining primary characters unwounded.

Round 4: 

Tom: "I advance on him slowly with a terrible purpose on my face and with proper Princess Bride intonation say 'Drop. Your. Sword.'"

GM: "Give me a Charisma check to intimidate him.  He rolled a 14 to oppose"

Tom: "Damn, a 11, +1 for my Charisma mod.  Could I get +2 for my experience intimidating people in the arena? What about the escalation die?"

GM: "Sure on the background use, no on the ED, it's only for attack rolls per the rules although I'd be tempted to use it here.   But that'll give you a 14 and I'll give you the tie."

GM/Faelin: "The sword clatters to the floor as does the dagger in his other hand."

Tom: "Sit.  Down."

The remainder of the scene plays out with Tom tying Faelin to the chair.  His weapons he takes and passes one of the jeweled daggers to the girl for her trouble, he keeps the rapier and other dagger.  Bundling up the possessions he wishes to keep he leaves and heads out toward the main gate, pack on his back and gold in his pockets from a quick sell of Faelin's weapons.  He knows if he stays that Legbreaker would get to him eventually so it's best that he get on the road and see what the world has to offer. 



Game Math – 13th Age

Posted by Dennis

Note that there are ancillary benefits that aren't accounted for here.  Fighters are harder to hurt with higher armour and deeper health reserves.  Casters have other tricks than pure damage etc or attack alternate lower defenses, clerics have the ability to heal their damage giving them longer life spans during a fight.

Some preliminary melee damage number simulations using level 1 characters with the exception that the Ranger had to spend a class talent to get the 'roll a second attack on any even roll on the first attack'.    Basic dual wield allows a second attack roll only on a 2.  Ranger talent allows a second attack on any even roll when dual wielding.  This is roughly a 25% damage boost by itself making it a must have in terms of power gaming.

The Rogue entry spent a Talent to pick up Lethal which increases crit range to 18+ (this adds 30% more damage FYI for a single talent expenditure which makes it a must have again from the power gaming perspective).  And the numbers reflect that the rogue is always assisting another ally against a target so they always get their sneak damage.

All weapons used in the simulation are 1d8's (even the rogue's short sword is a 1d8 for them) except the 2 handed stats which are a 1d10, the largest damage die weapon in the system at the moment.  There are other sized weapons, the 1d4 and the 1d6 but they offer no mechanical advantages to using them although for many classes (i.e. casters) a 1d6 is the best they can use without taking 10% attack roll penalty for a 25% damage boost.

Sneak damage is a bonus 1d10 when the rogue attacks a character that's already engaged with someone else.

Versus a AC 15 (Arbitrary number)
Base Dual Wield Stats:
Hits: 26489     Ratio: 0.26489
Damage per turn: 1.43824
2's rolled: 5080
Rogue with Lethal Talent and Assumed Sneak Damage Wield Stats:
Hits: 26275     Ratio: 0.26275
Damage per turn: 3.33512
2's rolled: 5027
Ranger Talent Dual Wield Stats:
Hits: 25012     Ratio: 0.25012
Damage per turn: 1.95777
Evens: 50064
Single Wield Stats:
Hits: 24932     Ratio: 0.25012
Damage per turn:  1.34493
2 Hand Stats:
Hits: 25108     Ratio: 0.25108
Damage per turn: 1.65612

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First post on Karma Opposed

Posted by Dennis

A new game system I'm toying with has a working title of Karma Opposed.  It's a story heavy, rules light(er) with opposed rolls for most things that other systems have flat rolls vs target numbers for.  The idea there is keep players engaged in the game even when it's not their turn.

One of the mechanics of the system includes Karrma Stones.

Each player and the GM are granted 2-3 Karma Stones at the start of the session, yin yang symbols if I can swing it.  They can use these to add bonuses to rolls, introduce plot twists, gain favor, scene tweaks etc.  Fairly standard stuff there.   The GM primarily uses them to increase the strength of an encounter in some way by spending them to boost rolls, recover downed mooks or summon reinforcements.  Things that are usually story driven or by fiat are now resource based to some extent.

The reason for that resource management twist  is that when a player spends a karma stone, it goes directly to the GM.  When the GM spends a karma stone it goes into a neutral state.  When any player thinks another player has done something awesome, narrated something really cool, role played exceptionally well, they can award that player a karma stone.  Each player must be awarded a stone before a player can receive a second one.  This is to encourage every player to do cool shit.

It also takes the typical 'the dm hands out the treats' to a system where the players are rewarding each other for good game play.  Obviously there is some honor system involved, giving karma stones for "You rolled that d20 great!" shouldn't be done, or at least very often.

There's also the side effect that putting karma stones into play means that the GM's resource pool builds up.

Neither side is obligated to spend their stones but I think the give and take will naturally encourage both sides to spend them as they see good opportunities too, rather than hording them like some systems kind of encourage that have such things.   It also removes the onus of rewarding players from the GM and puts it back on the players.


13th Age – Fighter Hu’nchi

Posted by Dennis

So this is a first pass through on character building.  One of the things that's evident is the background mechanic helps quite a bit to get a grasp on the character.  Much like the Questions from Don't Rest Your Head it causes you to look past the character's numbers and into what they've done, experienced and trained up to this part.

We start with the basics.  The first thing I had to do was create charts showing the advantages of the races and classes and how the basic numbers are generated.   I hope something like this makes it into the final product as it's a pain in the ass having to flip back and forth.

I went with something basic, human fighter.   Being Human lets you add +2 to any stat.  Fighter lets you add +2 to either Strength or Con.  You cannot add the boosts to the same stat.   All the race/class's get two +2's as a result in their primary attributes.

As an aside, for 4th Edition I house ruled it so that players weren't so 'racially bound' in where they put their bonuses.  PC's are supposed to be the exception to the rule so if a player wanted to play a dwarvish wizard I saw them as being the one that broke the mold, not forced to play at a disadvantage because they didn't want to play an elvish wizard.  13th Age starts down that path but doesn't go as far as I'd like but it''s okay.

In a nod to Old School I used the roll your stats method, using numbers generated by which uses the noise of the sun as random seeds.   As I kind of expected from the mechanic, I ended up with a really good character.   The method is 4d6 per roll, drop the lowest die, roll 7 times and drop the lowest roll.

Hu'nchi the Fighter ended up with  a Str: 19, Con: 19,  Dex: 17, Int: 14, Wis: 15, Cha: 13.   The two 19's are from adding the race and class +2's to two of the three 17's I rolled.

This is my biggest issue with random stats, it leads to OMFG and Waaaa characters.   The PC who rolled the average or even below average character, well it's the rare person who does't feel a little let down as a result.   We can say all we want, "Yeah but now you have an interesting character to play!  Play up the flaws!".   But for a lot of people that's small comfort as they're suffering up to a 25% power imbalance compared to other players or worse.

The system does support and provides for Point Buy attributes.

Next I determined his defenses which had me flipping down to the FIghter section.  As a Fighter if he's wearing Heavy armour (and why would you not?) he has a base AC of 15.    Then we take the middle value of Str/Con/Dex which in this case ends up being a 19.  That's +4 and throw in one for his level.  He has an AC of 20 while dressed in 'heavy armour'.

Armour is defined as Light and Heavy.  There aren't 18 types each with some minutae difference that always ends up resulting in really there being one good armour and you have to sacrifice character ability/numbers to satisfy your roleplaying/characterization.   Here, much like Gamma World 4E, it's up to the player to determine what Heavy armour is for their character.

Next up is Physical and Mental Defenses.  These work the same as AC and are computed from a base + the middle modifier of three stats + level.

End result is AC 20, PD 15, MD 13.

Now comes the first step in breathing some life into this character.  We define the one Unique thing about him.  Yes it's a him.   As part of my particular game worlds canon I decide to incorporate a decades old running mechanic where one of the characters in each campaign is related in some way to one of the characters from the previous campaign.  Usually the players don't  know just who it is.

Hu'nchi (Hoo-un-chee) is the current male descendant of the Iron Lord, the immortal guardian of Castle Dragon.  I also kind of added the Iron Lord as an Icon, I already have several of the 13th Age Icons in my world so it made sense to just add mine to theirs.   The character isn't aware of his lineage, just that he's had a knack for weapons and has always been drawn that way, up to and including a stint as an arena fighter much like his famous predecessor.

With that in place we add in his Backgrounds.  These replace the use of skills.   They're similiar to Professions from Barbarians of Lemuria.

I put two points (+2 to rolls where the background makes sense for the roll) in Adherant to the Way of the Warrior.  He's followed the path of the warrior his whole life, their practices, their lore and legend, their training regimes.

He also has a 2 point background, "Arena Combat Participant" which grants him knowledge of such things as planning and staging contested fights, the politics involved, gambling, refreshments and all the frameworks that go into arena combat.

He has a 1 point background, "Weapons and Armour." which could be of use when picking out quality weapons, identifying their maker and origin, crafting them if need be, what they're worth, their care and upkeep.

And lastly a 1 point backgorund in "Combat Trainer".  He knows how to train warriors, the best training methods for a given style, what styles are most popular where and the like.

Next we determine his relationships with the Icons of the world.  Icons aren't gods although they may come off that way given their power levels.   Every character has some kind of link with one or more of the Icons of the world.

We choose a Conflicted 1 - Iron Lord, a Positive 1 - Crusader and a Conflicted 1 - Emperor.    This means that the character can use these relationships to advance their own storylines and to impact the plot play as it impacts their character.  The number values are bonuses to die rolls (or potentially negatives) in non-combat situations where a roll might be called for.

The end result is we have a young warrior, he's fought and taught in the savage arena fighting of K'tar and survived.  He thinks the Crusader has the right of it, might of strength of arm but wonders why the crusader continues to bow down before the Emperor.   HIs unknown past, his links to the Iron Lord, will touch his life in ways that may be for good or ill but touch him they shall.

I now have a good picture of this character, he's proud and arrogant, the folly of untested youth.  He's brash and over confident because he was lucky and that may get him killed when a true test shows up and he fails to take into account a realistic assessment of his own skills and those that oppose him.

Then we get into some characterization.  He wears heavy armour, fashioned from supple leather with bars of steel over a cotton undergarment.   His weapons are a greataxe with a two handed hilt of sharkskin and he also carries a warhammer and shield if he needs to 'tank it up'.   Due to a problem with gambling he's down to a mere 30 gold in his pocket and has been forced on the road by those he owes debts to seek his fortune elsewhere.

For his Talents we select Cleave, Comeback Strike and Tough as Iron.

For his Maneuvers we add Precision Attack, Deadly Assault and Shield Bash.

For his Feats we throw in Improved Initiative which when combined with his human granted ability Quick to Fight should see him being first to act in most fights.  Because he who acts first wins more often.

He also gets a bonus Feat for being Human and we throw in Strong Recovery to go along with his Tough as Iron talent.   He's a walking talking damage sink.  It's how he made his name as the Rock in the pits.  Attacks hit him like a wave and like the wave they broke around him to go after easier targets.

Next up, we'll throw Hu'nchi into a pit with a couple or three goons and see how he fares when we take the mechanics for a spin.

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13th Age Review

Posted by Dennis

So I've read through the system a few times.  I like quite a lot of what I'm seeing.  Quite a lot.

Just to give you my final thoughts, I'd rate this an 80% without table time to see how she moves when the dice hits the table.   This is a fairly good rating from me.  Sure I can find nits to pick but it wouldn't take much HR'ing to make this a go to for classic fantasy trope'ic play for me.

The score is subject to change for the final product and my own and player reactions to it once it gets put to use.

The meat of the post -

Firstly it's not complete in terms of content.  There's a lot of placeholders for things like monsters and the spell lists are kind of slim.  So this isn't a review of a final product, just a preliminary overview of the system.

It's your classic DnD trope.  Same classes, same monsters, same spells, d20 rolls.

Levels range from 1 to 10.  Each level nets you stuff.  They essentially got rid of the every other level sucks because you get nothing except a few more hit points that's plagued DnD since day one.

They also have 'incremental' advances.  Each level gets you quite a lot of new toys.  So at the end of each session that you didn't level up, you get to pick one of the new things you'd get when you did level up and use it on a loaner basis.   When it's time to level up, if it turns out what you picked for the loaner isn't to your style you don't have to keep it.   A nice way to let players try before they buy and give them a new carrot for each session.  Recommended is you level up after every 12 to 14 encounters.   There's no experience tracking, challenge rating, dividing crap.   Every player levels up at the same time, regardless of participation.  In a way they have to.  More than 1 level difference in the players means someone's over or under powered due ot the power escalation.

The mechanics are lighter than 4E but it keeps quite a lot of flavor of 4e.   Each class has powers/tricks/moves that come in at-wills, rechargables, dailies.

So be warned, if you hated 4E, you're going to be pre-disposed to hate this.  If you like 4E then you might very well like the way this takes 4E and puts in on diet, especially at the higher levels where the slog fest really starts to kick in.

Daily is a misnomer, a 'day' is four encounters and has nothing to do with time passing.  From a 'reaslism' viewpoint this makes no sense.  From a game play viewpoint I love this.

You can do a full rest every four encounters (give or take at the DM's discretion and at your risk).   This helps IMO to eliminate the "Let's rest up after each fight."  Now you have to push through the loss of resources and fight smarter, not harder.  No resting up right before the big boss fight.

Rechargables (encounter style) powers have an activation roll after the encounter.  You only get one shot at recharging the power, it's not automatic.  If it doesn't recharge you have to wait until after the next encounter to try again.  It helps to add situations where the PC's may have to work around missing resources rather than lather rinse repeat syndrome in each encounter.  What if a few key parts of killer combos is missing?  Now you have to come up with something else to defeat the bad guys.

At any time the party as a whole can retreat from an encounter, grabbing the downed and wounded.  A retreat though causes a Complication.  If you were trying to save the sacrificial victim?  She gets killed.  If you were trying to rescue the princess?  She gets moved to another location.  Trying to find the last section of the staff of Law?  Someone else nabs it.

It's not a new technique but I love the fact that it's in the rules...

The same thing happens if you can talk the DM into letting you have a full rest at a shorter interval than 4 encounters.

An encounter by the way is something that requires you to expend resources.   Talking to a street merchant for an hour about the qualities of rope isn't an encounter.

They also have a rule very similar to one that I have in another system I'm working on.  They call it the Escalation Die, I call it Heroic Momentum.  Their rule is there's a big d6 somewhere on the table starting with Round 2 of any fight.  The PC's get to add the value of that die to their rolls.  Each turn the die is turned to the next biggest number.  So by turn 7 the PC's are at a +6.

In my system on any round that at least one PC has a successful meaningful skill roll (attack, heal, buff etc) the party gains momentum for the next turn, the format is still under design.  This keeps piling up until the fight is over or if everyone who makes a skill roll fails on their turn then it's reset to zero.  Nothing rewards success like success and nothing's more defeatest than watching everyone whiff.  Given a 3 or 4 player group with a 60-70% chance for success, odds are good that the momentum will keep building.

But I digress.

Their damage system is iffy for me at first glance but I can kinda see where they're going with it.

One thing I did with 4E was throw out the level +1 boost and dropped HP across the board and reduced attacks and defenses of the monsters across the board to remove the severe stratification that 4E had.  As a result I was able to use monsters that were even 6 levels higher than the players, or 4 levels lower and still make a good fight out of it.   This system I might attempt the same thing.  I don't care for combat systems where the very tippy top of the food chain can completely ignore the lower parts.  I want the top tier to be worried about the lower tier at least a little.

The reason it's iffy is, what this does is cause content stratification especially at the lower levels.  This effect is reduced the higher the levels.  There's a big difference between 1d8 and 3d8  versus 7d8 and 10d8  compared to a level 1 vs a level 3 and a level 7 vs a level 10.

Everyone has at least 8 recoveries (think healing surges) and there's a second wind style option you can use during combat.  When you spend a recovery you roll 1dX per level where X is based on your class.  Or you can just take the average.   This change is good as it removes the 'well crap, who's getting stuck playing the cleric this time?' that we all go through. Clerics are a great resource but they're not critical.

After a fight you can spend as many recoveries as you want but you're obligated to spend at least one, if you have it, if you're at or below 50% health.  You can't horde your recoveries and try to find almost dead if for some strange reason you might want to do that.   This takes a few seconds of 'world time' so as long as you have the slightest break in combat you can catch your breath.

Map grids aren't needed.  There are three distances, Out of the area (my word for it), Far, Nearby.   Any creature in the Nearby ring can reach any other creature in the Nearby ring as a single move action.  No speeds, no counting spaces, no hard corners.  If the general layout suggests it's possible, other creatures can try to intercept another creature's movement and get OA's.   Any creature can shift from Far to Nearby or vice versa as 2 moves.   Out of the area requires a Retreat.  For melee attacks you have to be Engaged with the opponent i.e. base to base.   For ranged attacks you don't have to engaged.  If you are engaged then you suffer OA's as normal for ranged attacks and spells.

There's no shift move action, if you want to Disengage you just do it and roll a d20.  On a 11+ you dodge any OA's you'd of taken.  Otherwise you take an OA.  This nets you about about a 75% chance on average of being able to disengage without penalty.

The bard and fighter, possibly some others have attacks that are called Flexible.  You say you're going to use a Flex attack and then roll the dice.  You can then pick any attack you have that the dice would result in a hit that has the Flexible keyword.  This helps to elminate 'blowing a daily' for fighters and bards as long as it's flexible.  If the dice indicate a miss, you just go with a 'i'm using an at will'.  If it's a critical hit you could go with the daily.

Virtually every damaging attack deals at least your level in damage even on a miss.

Attacks target one of three defenses, AC, Physical Defense, Mental Defense.

A lot of the ideas are designed to reduce the combat slog.  A level 1 fight and a level 10 fight should each last about the same amount of time because while the numbers are escalating drastically, the ratio of damage to hit points remains pretty close.    This gets rid of the slower and slower fights as you go up in level that 4E had because damage didn't keep up with damage sinks.

They also want every round to mean something, no wasted rounds i.e. game time because everyone missed.  Even on misses the bad guys are getting whittled down a bit.

SKills are a thing of the past (Big effin' yay!) and they use a background system very similar to say Barbarians of Lemuria's Professions.   If a background you have would be beneficial to the 'skill roll' you're about to make, you get that background's value as a bonus.  Simple and heavily promotes more narrative style play than calculator play.

Monsters are lighter than 4E in that they don't have a lot of stats. The below is just a level of epic stupidity of information for a monster for a DM to have deal with.  I mean seriously W...T...F...  When the hell would you EVER need to know what a Balor's survival skill rating was?  Or trying to remember to add the various bonuses for the feats list?


Demon, Balor
Large Outsider (Chaotic, Extraplanar, Evil, Tanar’ri)
Hit Dice: 20d8+200 (290 hp)
Initiative: +11
Speed: 40 ft. (8 squares), fly 90 ft. (good)
Armor Class: 35 (–1 size, +7 Dex, +19 natural), touch 16, flat-footed 28
Base Attack/Grapple: +20/+36
Attack:+1 vorpal longsword +33 melee (2d6+8/19–20)
Full Attack:+1 vorpal longsword +31/+26/+21/+16 melee (2d6+8/19–20) and +1 flaming whip +30/+25 melee (1d4+4 plus 1d6 fire plus entangle); or 2 slams +31 melee (1d10+7)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./10 ft. (20 ft. with +1 flaming whip)
Special Attacks: Death throes, entangle, spell-like abilities, summon tanar'ri, vorpal sword Special Qualities: Damage reduction 15/cold iron and good, darkvision 60 ft., flaming body, immunity to electricity, fire, and poison, resistance to acid 10 and cold 10, spell resistance 28, telepathy 100 ft., true seeing
Saves: Fort +22, Ref +19, Will +19
Abilities: Str 35, Dex 25, Con 31, Int 24, Wis 24, Cha 26
Skills: Bluff +31, Concentration +33, Diplomacy +35, Disguise +8 (+10 acting), Hide +26, Intimidate +33, Knowledge (any two) +30, Listen +38, Move Silently +30, Search +30, Sense Motive +30, Spellcraft +30 (+32 scrolls), Spot +38, Survival +7 (+9 following tracks), Use Magic Device +31 (+33 scrolls)
Feats: Cleave, Improved Initiative, Improved Two-Weapon Fighting, Power Attack, Quicken Spell-Like Ability (telekinesis), Two-Weapon Fighting, Weapon Focus (longsword)
Environment: Infinite Layers of the Abyss
Organization: Solitary or troupe (1 balor, 1 marilith, and 2–5 hezrous)
Challenge Rating: 20
Treasure: Standard coins; double goods; standard items, plus +1 vorpal greatsword and +1 flaming whip
Alignment: Always chaotic evil
Advancement: 21–30 HD (Large); 31–50 HD (Huge)
Level Adjustment: —

In 13th Age you have the minimum stats needed to run the monster effectively along with its nifty keen powers that make running monsters just a little more fun and fighting them just a little more fun than standing there rolling d20's until someone drops.  The balor entry is blank so I picked another demon at random.  I also changed some of the headings because I'm intrusive like that.


Large 9th level caster [demon]
Initiative: +17
Defenses -
AC 22 PD 22 MD 18
HP 320
Combat Moves
Melee - Pincer +14 vs. AC, 2d4 x 10 damage Natural 11+: The demon can grab the target, preventing it from disengaging or making non-basic attacks until the end of the target’s next turn. If the glabrezou somehow makes another attack while holding a victim, it can wind
Close Hellfire :+ 14 vs. PD (up to three nearby enemies), 2d3 x 10 fire damage Special: Hellfire also targets any allies engaged with the targets.
Range: Painbolt +14 vs. MD, 2d6 x 10 psychic damage Special: This attack can target a nearby or distant creature.
Cool Tricks -
Lesser teleport: At will, as a move action, a glabrezou can teleport itself about 50 feet. It has to see its destination or at least have a really good idea of where it’s going to end up.
Mirror images: At will, as a move action, a glabrezou can create multiple images of itself that make it harder to target. The next time an attack would hit the glabrezou, the attacker has to roll 11+ or miss it instead, but at least the miss hits the images and dispels them.
Power word stun: Once per day as a free action, the glabrezou can utter a power word, cancelling a single action that a nearby creature has just taken, whether it was casting a spell, healing an ally, or whatever. The GM can see the results of the action, such as a die roll, before deciding whether to use the power word.
Nasty Tricks - 
True Seeing


So my final thoughts are, even though this the same DnD we've had for 30+ years in terms of classes and roles, it's a damn good take on it amid the sea of OSR that's going on that harkens back to the "I roll to hit." "I roll damage." Players need a push to get them off their dice and trying to do cool shit during conflict other than roll dice.



Posted by Dennis

Session Recap

+David Warren continued his near future campaign for +Scott Stone +Laura Dollins +L. Scott Rubin and myself.

Our group was sent on a scouting mission after nukes went off in the middle east and dimensional jumpers were pouring into north korea.

We deployed through a dimensional portal, the 5 of us (Scott S. has two characters) and proceeded to search around.

We discovered a manufacturing area that we infiltrated and uncovered that it was making munitions.

We decided to hitch a ride on a flatbed that was leaving out loaded with ammo and bomb stuff. We figured it was heading toward the portal that was being used to ship it into our world.

Along the way we had some cool ideas, just too late to implement them. D'oh.

As we neared the city we then had the good idea to booby trap the ammunition such that we could either remote detonate it or if the detonation device failed to check in it would self detonate.

Our flatbed joined a stream of others and at this point we decided that perhaps this wasn't a great idea and we bailed out.

We tried to make it back to our portal stealthily but yeah well that didn't work too well and we got into a series of escalating fights as the alarm started spreading.

The final fight had the five of us facing 40 of the deamon caninoids.

Yeah, that didn't go as well as you can imagine. We're tough but not that tough.

With Hell Wards we ended up facing blocks of 5 and 10 bad guys who were ablaitive obstacles. We wiped out 20-25 of them but at what cost?

I'll tell you cost. My character Dr. Pierre LeBlanc was raked by multiple streams of gun fire as he tried to assist his fellow agents. But he managed to save at least one life, maybe more with his able bodied assistance and skills at eliminating the opposition.

At that point our super bikes finally managed to show up and unleashed a swarm of missiles on the remaining troops. Derrick triggered off our booby trap at some point in here causing massive chaos and confusion.

We, our I should say, everyone else took advantage of the confusion by the bomb blast. My corpse was loaded onto my super bike and put into follow mode.

We, the other agents and my corpse, escaped back to our own portal, encountering a tank along the way that we'd run into on the way in.

Our portal dilated open on schedule and we drove through. The other four agents were also beaten to hell, most had 1, maybe 2, life points left.

The good news is that the portal in Korea had closed.

One heck of a 'scouting mission' if you ask my corpse.

Stacey Kourik will soon be planted, I mean joining the group, and won't be spying on the possessed by energy worms with super psychic powers for her boss. Nope, no spying here.

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Posted by Dennis


All the negativity toward #dndnext is making me want to get in there and make it work somehow.

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Heroes Against Darkness

Posted by Dennis

Free RPG -

It's hard to argue with free. Very well done in terms of layout, graphics (so not a fan of the dirty paper under text though) and overall'ness of it.

At it's most broad overview you'll see a lot of old school dnd flavoring, the classic six attributes, the mostly standard races but it does start to divulge quite a bit after that point with unusual classes and abilities and magic system.

I haven't had a chance to do more than glance through it but did I mention it's free? Go download it.

Embedded Link

Heroes Against Darkness Version 1.0 Released!
Heroes Against Darkness Version 1.0 Released! Well, editing has taken several weeks longer than I anticipated but it's done now, so v1.0 of Heroes Against Darkness is released: The major changes a...

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HWARDS Conditions

Posted by Dennis

What's the good without the bad?

+David Warren asked about negative effects last session of the ongoing playtest of HWards and his near future secret agent setting and I've been ruminating on the idea of incorporating such things in Hell Wards.

After said chewing of the cud, I'm adding in an Condition mechanic in Hwards. A Condition is a negative status that is applied to a character or a situation. It costs Fortune tokens to apply one so there's a cost involved. The effect is temporary, per scene or until the target pays another fortune token to remove it. A roll of some kind is necessary along with the narrative means to do so.

With the recent changes in the way dice are grouped, Fortune tokens from the players' side are now quite a bit more valuable so tossing them willy nilly onto obstacles won't be a great idea but they'll help a beat to crap party otherwise overcome a really hard obstacle they may otherwise have no hope of beating.


Anyone may attempt to apply a Condition as part of a Contest roll to the opposing side. The Condition once applied will inflict a 2 die penalty to the dice pool for that side for the remainder of the Scene unless removed. This penalty means that from that point on, after that side has determined their base dice pool for a Contest, two dice must be removed from it before the roll.

A Condition is always a 2 dice penalty for the target's dice pool but can be narratively anything up to an advantage for the side that applied the condition.

Examples: A condition could be, sprained ankle as a result of a combat contest. Pretty straight forward. Or it might something like, the first person to climb the cliff notices handy cracks that makes the task of climbing it just a little easier for the rest of the group.


To add a Condition, the person wishing to create it must pay one Fortune or Misfortune token, as appropriate to the person. As usual if the token is Misfortune then it goes into the player's Fortune bowl.

Conditions may be stacked but each subsequent stacked Condition costs double the number of tokens that the previous one did. Ex: The first condition costs 1 Token. The second Condition costs 2 Tokens. The third Condition costs 4 tokens and so on. The costs is based only on the number of Active Conditions, not the total number that may have been earlier applied but subsequently removed.

The token(s) to apply the condition do not have to be paid until the outcome of the Contest that is being used to apply it is determined. In other words, you only have to pay for the Condition when it worked, you don't pay in advance and then lose it because you lost the contest.

A target with a Condition that can affect that Condition may make a standard 3 dice roll at the start of any Contest they're involved in by spending a Fortune token with any number of successes indicating the Condition is removed.

A target of a condition that's inanimate or otherwise unable to affect the condition cannot attempt to remove it. So a cliff can't remove the "Handy Cracks Condition" and an unconscious hero cannot remove the "Burning to Death Condition".

Exceptions: Some Conditions may only apply during certain types of obstacles but in general these should be fairly uncommon ones. Example: The "Sprained Ankle Condition" may not impact a contest of wits. Although it could if the Director deems it painful enough to interfere with clear thinking.


Mechanically: Dennis rolls his dice against the obstacle, in this case a large dog like humanoid demon from another world. He wins, yay! He narrates what actions he took and spends a Fortune token and adds the Covered In Flaming Alcohol Condition to the creature. It now has two less dice to roll.

Narrative: Dennis narrates: :The Crazy Frenchman grabs a bottle of vodka from the bar and arcs it out to smash under the dog creatures body spraying it with flammable liquids and with a clever flip of his other hand sends a lighter flying through the air after it. As the plastic Bic lands beneath the heavy beast, he snap draws his Glock 89 and uses his mad skillz with his pistol and hits the lighter, exploding it and the creature is set on fire. And unfortunately the hostage over the thing's shoulder but hey you can't make an omelet without frying a few eggs."

The beast responds...

Mechanically: The dog creature is going to attack Pierre for his actions but Sam (+Temple Smith 's character) announces she's going to heroically step up to save the man she secretly has the hots for after walking in on him 'accidentally' in the shower at their posh Cuban hotel. Director Dave agrees that's plausible for the narration and the beast shifts targets and rolls against Sam. The Dog wins the contest, Boo! and the Director burns a Misfortune token which goes into the players bowl and applies the "I've Got Blood In My Eyes" Condition to Sam. Dave narrates the results.

Narrative: "Blue flames licking off its skin, the smell of burnt hair wrinkling noses for yards around it bunches its muscles and leaps! The hostage falls off its back landing in the burning alcohol". This causing Pierre to interject into the narrative to make a "I didn't do that." expression. Dave continues, "It sails through the air toward Pierre only to body tackled by Sam. She drives it sideways and it expends its fury on her. Its savage claws flick out and slash through her new pretty face opening a flap of skin over her eyes, ripping through her cheek and nose. Blood courses down, partially blinding the not so pretty unless you dig scars Sam." Sam is going to be at a 2 dice debit until she can fix that up by hopefully paying a Fortune token and making a roll to push the skin back in place.

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Marvel Super Hero System

Posted by Dennis

Marvel Super Hero System

Disclaimer: I've not actually played this system with players.

This is a particularly peculiar system to me. The feel of it it to me is it comes off as traits based game but with Aspects that are of varying degrees of value at its core for what should I think be a narrative four color comic book action setting.

In practice though, the mechanics come off as overbearing or perhaps overshadowing is a better word. Each round everyone's trying to figure out which dice they can or should use and then determine the results of those dice. There's just a lot of time spent trying to get those 2,3,4 dice they want to roll. And in many cases it ends up being the same effects. Much like a Hero system game you spend your turn doing the same thing over and over again and that can easily lead to player dis-engagement.

Actual narration seems to be taking a back seat in practice. Each player and the GM spends an inordinate amount of time on their turns trying to determine or justify the dice they're going to roll and narrating what happens is almost an afterthought.

In a narrative mechanics (tactically) light system that's not really what I'm looking for. It's like the worst of both worlds, a lot of time spent on mechanics like with a heavy tactical/mechanical game and at the same time mechanics that are too simplified to be interesting at a tactical combat level.

A strong narrative system should free the player characters to take actions within the bounds set by common sense, not a structured mechanical framework. A strong tactical system should provide the player characters with actions, combinations, moves and conditions much like a chess game with opportunities to think three moves ahead.

In the end the system as I've seen(heard) it played doesn't necessarily hit the mark as either type of system.

A lot of this feeling is of course colored by how I see the system and I could be completely misunderstanding it or maybe just haven't seen(heard) it played correctly or at least as intended by the designers.

In the end, I'd just rather use a Fate derivative using Aspects as powers if I had to choose between this and something else. (Or my own Hell Wards system)

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Zombies and Gaming

Posted by Dennis

Get in on the free playtest of Outlive Outdead over at

It's got zombies in it. How can you not want a copy? Did I mention it was free? And it has zombies?

Go on, visit the site, download the game and let them know what you think, good or bad. There is no such thing as bad criticism, just constructive criticism and criticism you can safely ignore. 😉

Go on now, get your zombie on.

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Happy Bishop Games
Happy Bishop Games - If the bishop's happy, we're happy

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Thoughts on Playtesting and SImulation

Posted by Dennis

Playtesting and Simulation -

It's important IMPO as you're designing your 'engine' that you play test it at frequent steps along the way and do it thoroughly.

This means create characters brand new for each one, using the steps as you've written them out. Don't just assume you know what you mean. Read each step and make sure it actually says what you think it does.

It means take your guidelines on creating monsters and create new ones for each playtest, don't use the same old ones. Mix it up with melee, range, controllers, tanks and so on if your system mechanically supports such differentiation.

There are two key types of obstacles in any game system, the social and the anti-social. Make sure you have whatever mechanics you need for each one in place.

Run social encounters using your mechanics and your players stats versus the bad guys. Figure out what their average success rate is going to be and make sure you have the hardware in place to deal with both success and failure.

Run combat encounters with 1 player and 5 players, 1 'boss' and 50 minions. See what your system can support and what doesn't work and add that to your 'how to run a campaign tips and tricks section.'

Then test, test and re-test. And don't just do it in your head. Write out each character's actions and then write out the mechanics involved in determine success or failure. Let a few weeks go by and then go back and test again and follow your written instructions step by step. Assume you have no knowledge of the system and that you can easily find exactly what Dazed means. Or what are the effects of a smoke grenade going off in the room in the middle of a firefight. What happens when one side surprises the other? What happens when the players or the bad guys try to run away from a fight they find they can't win?

I can't tell you the number of minor changes I've done purely from my own playtests. And this is before it hits the players who are born to break things.

Mechanics that seemed good on paper fail against my "Is the cost / reward / complexity ratio high enough?" in terms of mechanics costs in game time and fun factor. Like just recently, "Crap that's a complicated example, could I have picked a more convoluted character + situational factors to try and explain how to shoot someone? Which begs the question on whether the complexity even in this edge case adds enough to be worth it."

As a result I loosened some restrictions on certain mechanics as the limitations didn't really need to apply any more based on other changes because the mechanics were inherently limiting a character's narrative.

I'm also strongly of the opinion, if you have the ability, to run simulations of your mechanics. A lot of systems just go with what looks good in terms of boosts and handicaps to dice rolls.

When I first got into doing the math behind the mechanics a couple of years ago I was surprised at just how often what looked like it was right, ended up broken looking at the results of its use millions of times.

As a example with LCA! if you get a Shift on a combat roll (in specific) you get to add a die to your damage pool. It takes +10 for each shift. So 2 shifts = +2 dice added to your damage pool. This is identical to say savage worlds Raise system or... I can't remember the system but its Degrees of Success mechanic.

A Vitals shot (i.e. any smallish target or especially sensitive area on a larger target) is only a -5 handicap but if you succeed you get to add a bonus die to your attack roll. Again overall similar to many systems.

You're probably looking at that going huh, -5 to get a one die boost or having to roll 10+ over my TN to get a one die boost. Hell I'm going for head shots every time, I'm twice as likely to get the bonus die!

But surprisingly enough, the math supports the - 5 in spite of it looking like a much better bargain. A character with a low skill rating actually reduces their win loss ratio by 10% by going for vitals shots. A character with high skill brings it back to fairly even +/- about 2%. (It doesn't hurt that I standardize where I can on handicaps being -1,-3,-5 so it not only works by the math, it works by my standard)

This has the end result of it being a 'working' mechanic as I deem it. If the player wants their character to be the guy going for the head and nad shots then he can certainly narrate it that way and the vitals mechanic doesn't put him at a great advantage or disadvantage.

Anyway, just some random thoughts as I'm working on a playtest and keep tweaking things on the mechanics that it might help someone else.

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Action Economy and Limits

Posted by Dennis

Just to offer a few minutes in the mind of someone who's creating a game system this is what I just emailed to my play group, mainly to clarify the thoughts to myself more than anything. I do that a lot, putting it down as a stream of thought onto 'paper' to get a clearer picture of things.


As part of the balance of LCA! I limit you to 1 attack per weapon per limb. You can take two actions on your turn (base movement is free). If you use both actions then both skill rolls suffer a -2 penalty, if the second action is an action made using your offhand (typically a weapon) then it suffers an additional -2 for a total of -4.

i.e. dual wielding =

Attack 1 = -2
Attack 2 = -4

The negatives are necessary to balance people using dual wielding light weapons versus single wielding heavy weapons versus light weapon + shield.

The math works out, trust me.

Now though in working through a playtest one of the characters announces, "I'm going to shoot him in the heart and the head." This character has two pistols but he only has one out at the moment.

This started me thinking. The math balances based on actions, is it necessary to limit the attacks to a single use per weapon per limb? What if instead there's a second attack penalty with the same weapon of -2 that matches the off hand penalty?

What are the implications of letting someone fire one pistol twice on their turn?

Cons -

It negates needing to dual wield for one thing which leaves one person with a free hand and the other with both hands filled.

If you only have one gun you can draw and attack with it it on the same turn (Quick draw lets you draw and attack as a single action) and attack twice on your second turn.

Someone with two weapons has to spend two actions to draw them both, or draw and attack with one on turn 1 and draw and attack with the other on turn 2.

That puts the dual wielder at a bit of a disadvantage. In two turns they only get to attack twice while the single wielder gets to attack 3 times. Of course it's their choice to get both weapons out or just stick with one.

Pros -

If you do dual wield guns and one gun runs out of ammo (roughly a 2.5% chance per roll) then you have a second one out already and ready to go to make two attacks with on your turn until you can get a break to reload the other one.

It lets you dual wield a melee and range weapon and still get to attack twice with them regardless of whether your target was in melee or at range.

You could have two different weapons with different tweaks perhaps. Not really a pro since it would be so rare it would make any difference.

Points to consider -

Someone with a shield would lose the shield bonus if they attacked twice with their weapon, otherwise we're empowering the sword+shield user way too much. This complicates things on the Director's side since he has to remember that the person lost their shield bonus.

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LCA! – Directing Tips

Posted by Dennis

How to host a murder

This is the rough first draft of the chapter of tips and suggestions for would be directors, aka game masters. I have the feeling it may come off as preachy, definitely opinionated and with a bit of 'this is the right way to do it' but I'm not sure that's a bad thing in general since invariably such things are based on opinion.

And frankly if you're an experienced GM, you probably never bother read these sections in an RPG and if you're not, then any advice is good advice? Or that's my story and I'm sticking with it.


Directing Your First Game -

What follows are some tips and recommendations that I can make based on my personal experience. There’s no guarantee they’ll work for you, your group or your method of play. I offer them not as ‘the’ way you should play but simply as example of one way to play.

These are all hard learned lessons from 30+ years of GM’ing. Years where I’ve been just as guilty as anyone of ‘bad technique’ to put it mildly. Hopefully something in the below will help you make your games as awesome as they can be.

Narration -

As the Director one of hats you’re going to wear, perhaps the most important one is, the narrator hat. Describing what the players see, hear, smell and feel in the location you’ve put them in is critical to engaging the players’ interest in what’s going on.

There’s a small middle ground of ‘this porridge is just right’ that you have to dance in. Too little narrative and the players don’t really get a sense of what’s going and don’t engage. Too much narrative and you start to lose people as they zone out wondering who’s ahead in the game or remembering they need to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home.

And unfortunately I can’t really tell you exactly where that middle ground lies as it varies from group to group, setting to setting and honestly from session to session.

Your initial narrative for a scene should set the tone and mood you’re looking for in the scene and in general be the longest block of narrative you offer without the players interacting.

After the first narrative, just fill in as the players ask questions about what they see or hear or smell with brief but descriptive answers to their questions.
As an example when running a 1920’s dark noir setting where the players are investigating some strange deaths and disappearances I might use something like this as the mood setting. It’s a bit long but suited to my particular group and the sombre tone I’m shooting for and is tailored to the actions the players have stated they were going to take:

“The trip over through the darkened streets is uneventful. You circle the block eyeing the area and the dark building you’re interested in. As you drive past the entrance you spot a flare of orange red glow as someone takes a drag on a cigarette in the dark alcove of the doorway. The light illuminates two faces nestled back in the shadows before it fades to a small ember, the faces turning to watch your car out of sight. A black model T sits at the curb, seemingly empty.

A alleyway filled with heavy shadow runs behind the building between it and others, choked with discarded trash.

You park on a side street out of sight of the building. As you get out of the car the strong smell of salt and rot wafts your way, pushed by the winds coming off the dock distract that lay a few blocks to the west. The distant sounds of cranes and lifts indicates the dock runs 24/7.

Moving into a shadowy vantage point you study the building your informant told you the gang was holed up in. Above you on the top floor, golden light shines through the windows, flickering occasionally, probably lantern light or candle light. Not surprising as the building looks condemned. The lower windows are broken or missing glass completely leaving gaping black holes.

A red star comes flying out of the dark front entrance to hit the pavement in a shower of sparks, the cigarette quickly extinguished by the cold damp street.”

As the players asked I’d then offer more information on the building, “It’s made of the typical brick of the area although covered in stains from age. There are 22 floors and probably a basement level judging by the stairs that lead down from the street level in one spot.” or the general area “Most of the buildings are shut down or condemned although a small furniture store appears to still be business and a laundry service. Both are closed at this time of night though.”

But it’s that first narrative for each scene that really gives you an opportunity to set the stage for your players to perform on.

Cooperative Storytelling -

Narration brings us to a subject near to my heart. Choices. You have to let the players invest in choices. Choices are extremely important for them to feel they’re actively participating in your story and not just riding the rails as you move the train from fight scene to fight scene.

Nothing disengages a player faster than figuring out they’re being railroaded, that there’s nothing their character can do that has any real impact on the story you’re basically cramming down their throats.

Yes, you have a story to tell and you should have a chance to tell it. But the story you want to tell should have a starting scene, a middle point and an end direction. Everything between those should be strongly impacted, flavored and heavily influenced by the player’s actions and choices. This requires a lot of mobility and flexibility on your part. You have to be able to set aside things you’ve spent time working on, maybe to never be used, to adapt to the choices the players have made.

You can use story elements to steer the players toward certain actions and choices but again, don’t straight-jacket them into slavishly following them. They may simply not be interested in your story and want to tell one of their own. If that turns out to be the case, shelf your story or have it run in parallel and be told to the players as news of other events while they pursue their own story threads.

To give you a short example of what I’m trying to encourage you to not do. I was in a sci-fi game once and the GM had this story to tell. And there was nothing we could do about it.

The fight in space? We lost even though we won because the bad guys suddenly had uber weapons when it became apparent we were going to win through great tactics and dice rolls. We were forced to use the escape pods. And guess what? There was a single planet in range. With a single place to land. Convenient.

Where we were faced with a locked room puzzle. We spent an hour or more coming up with some pretty clever ways to get a door open. None of which was the one way the GM had decided would work.

We finally, in character, sat down and got our lunch out, one of the few things we managed to escape from our bajillion dollar ships with and ate it. Waiting for the bad guys to come kill us since only one person had a weapon better than a rock.
In a strange epiphany one of us got the idea, per GM narration, to combine our one phaser with a tricorder and a belt buckle and adjust it to the frequency of the material of the door which caused it to open.

Choo choo, all aboard!

Don’t be that person.

Narration vs Combat -

How you split your time between narrative and tactical game play is another one of those areas that’s strongly driven by your story, your players and your setting. I’ve had sessions where dice were never rolled in anger and others where it was one continuous running fight. Those are not the norm but they have occurred.

In general I shoot for 1-3 tactical scenes for a given session. Less for a more narrative setting and group, more for when the setting calls for it or the players are getting antsy to ‘roll some dice and kill some things.’

Your first session or two I would advise leaning toward more combat than narration in terms of time spent unless you’re confident in your ability to do narration and keep your players engaged in what’s happening on stage for their characters. For the average player, it’s hard to go wrong with a strong challenging fight of some kind in terms of keeping their interest and getting them to invest in their character, the scene and your world.

Pacing -

Talking about how to split time between narrative and tactical brings us to pacing. Pacing is how you accomplish a couple of things. One of which is important to game and the other is important to your story. To-wit, keeping the players engaged and advancing your storyline in the process.

In general you’re going to want to flip between the two. You should give your players some action sequences when it looks like they’re starting to zone out or trying to hide yawns. If they’re yawning during the action sequences then perhaps you’re up too late or they’re not getting enough sleep. Or maybe you should just send in an extra wave or two of henchman armed with power armor and flame throwers.

After a particularly tense or brutal fight, bring it down a notch and give them a chance to rest up a bit, talk between themselves or with some NPC’s. You can have a random traveling merchant show up for some bartering (or mugging if they’re that kind of group). Or just a summons from one of their benefactors to answer some questions as to why they felt it necessary to ransack the Duke’s son’s keep out in the hinterlands. “Oh, you heard about that did you?”

Watch good action movies and you can see how the director builds to the big boss fight with some action scenes, some humor scenes and some just filler scenes to give the audience time to settle down so they can appreciate the next scene when fists fly and guns bark.

Voices -

If you can do voices for your NPC’s then I strongly encourage you to do so. I unfortunately do not have a great talent for it so my NPC’s tend to sound like... well me.

But voice and or mannerisms are a wonderful tool to give life to your NPC’s and make them unique in the player’s mind rather than npc_002 who sold them the canteens.

That’s not to say every NPC should have a lot of time invested in them from your perspective. The street vendor they buy coffee from who they’ll never see again, probably not a good place to spend a lot of time on flavor, color and descriptors.

When To Roll -

To be blunt, heroes shouldn’t have to make acrobatics rolls get on board a dragon sitting still that’s going to fly them somewhere. Don’t spend 20 minutes of game time making the heroes look like keystone cops when the dice roll badly as they fall off the dragon.

To take that sentiment to a more general conclusion, don’t make your heroes roll for minor obstacles. If they need to open a door to get out of a room, just narrate it out that they picked the lock or broke it down based on whatever actions they announce they’re trying to do. Don’t spend an hour on them trying to get out. In most cases that’s simply not going to be fun for anyone concerned.

And if you find it fun as they beat their heads against your narrative brick wall, then perhaps Directing isn’t the job for you.

It’s especially important in my opinion to not make them roll to get information that you’re going to have to give them anyway when no one makes the roll because otherwise they don’t have the information they need to continue. It defeats the purpose of rolling at all.

Giving information out is why the information system exists in LCA!. Primary information is a given, anyone and everyone gets it. Secondary information is almost a given, just needs someone to trigger it by having a stat or asking a question or narrating an action.

There’s a reason you have to get to tertiary information before a roll is required. It’s the stuff that has no importance to the storyline but rather making the roll would net the players a bit of color, flavor or a minor advantage or allow an informed choice to be made.

Difficulty -

My personal opinion is, a scene that doesn’t offer at least a moderate challenge, provide color/flavor to the world, have strong potential to be interesting or forward the story , then it should not be taken to Tactical game play but instead be narrated out or hand waved.

This is not a hard and fast rule just my personal style.

Part of my reasoning is, quite honestly, I simply have limited game time and spending part of it for a ‘trash mob fight’ to use an MMOG term is not a good utilization of it.

Another part is players get bored and disengage from such scenes because they know there’s no real risk after a short while. And then you have to work to engage them again for the next scene.

Risk -

Difficulty brings us to risk. I’m of the opinion that characters should be at risk. They should know that there is a chance they’re going to die or otherwise be removed from game play. I’ll admit to not feeling this way years back. When a player got down to very low health, for some strange reason the monsters started to hit less often, or dealt less damage or changed targets.

Over time, this lead to a very real lack of tension with the players, they knew what was going on and as a result would take risks that would be ill advised.

I’d urge you to make sure your players feel that risk. Yes, for a player it might sting to lose a character they’re really in tune with. But you know what? In recent years, the times it’s happened, that actions or luck or fate if you will have caused a PC to die, the players second character invariably was much more colorful and just flat out awesome.

Perhaps it’s coincidence, even probably? But knowing that they could die just like the NPC’s lent a definite nail biting to some encounters. And made victory all that much sweeter because they knew they’d earned it through their own skills and dice rolls and not me fudging the dice.

Fudging The Dice -

If you’re not familiar with the term it basically means the person directing the game, in this case the Director, is rolling dice for the NPC’s and other challenges and then ignoring the dice rolls when they would cause undue hardship or make things too easy for the players as they see it.

Frankly I’m not a fan of it. I’ve done it, some systems have the balance is so far off or so difficulty to achieve you can’t not do it or your players are either steam rolling over your encounters or they’re rolling up new characters every session.

But I don’t like it and I don’t like having to do it in order to balance a system from the outside as it were. I believe it cheapens the experience to a degree. If you’re only going to pay attention to the dice when they match what you want then why roll them in the first place? Just hand the players their ticket for the train and narrate the combat as you see fit.

Hopefully with LCA and the tips on scene and creature design you can create challenging encounters but ones that allow you to roll in the open just like the players and let the chips fall where they may.

Open rolling adds a certain element of tenseness for players, they know they don’t have that safety net of the Director changing a big hit into a small one or even a miss for them. They know that there’s a chance their character will go down and possible expire.

They also know the Director isn’t ‘cheating’ when a player gets hit for a bazillion damage or when the Villain misses four times in a row on a hero who’s just barely hanging on by a thread.

In my opinion these are good things to know from a player’s perspective. Your opinion of course may vary and if rolling behind a screen works better for you then by all means do so.

I’ll end this with the thought that your job as a Director is an order of magnitude harder than being a player. But the rewards when everything clicks and a group of people walk out going “OMG that was awesome!” is an order of magnitude greater.

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Random Skill Gains First Draft

Posted by Dennis

Based on comments from my group and other who I broached the question to, I've added a 'semi-random' skill up mechanic to LCA!.

The idea is to cater to the folks who enjoy a little bit of randomness in their character's path choices as well as the ones who have a definite, "This is what I want, don't screw with me." path for their character.


Raising Skills -

In LCA! I offer two potential mechanics for you to offer your players. One should be chosen and enforced for all players, I don’t advise mixing them although statistically a player that uses either one should have the same rough end result in terms of power outputs, but random can trump non-random on both sides of that coin. Mix them at your own peril.

In one method the player has full control over their skill gains. Their character grows exactly as they desire them to with no surprises. This is the Buy method.
The other method, known as the Semi-Random method, allows the player to influence the skills that are raised but there’s no guarantee they’ll get their first choice but odds are very high they’ll get ‘something’. This can lead to interesting developments in a character that are unforeseen by the player and add some color and definition rather than a plotted out growth chart.

With the Semi-Random method the character, for one character point, goes through the skill list in the preferred order until they raise one skill or fail to raise any skills. This has a minimal but real risk that they may not raise any skill. The odds are something like 1 in 2,000,000 so don’t worry you’re going to waste the point.

Which method you choose should be based on your own groups’ needs and playstyle or your own need for iron fisted control.

Buy Method -

For one point the character can pick up a new skill at Rank 0 or increase a Rank 0 skill to Rank 1.
To increase an existing Rank 1 or higher skill by one Rank costs one point as long as the skill’s Rank is currently below the associated attribute.
It costs 2 character points to increase a skill’s Rank if the new Rank would cause it be higher than its associated Attribute.
Example: Dave ‘dings’ and gets another character point. His Range skill is 3 and his Grace is three. Because raising his Range skill would take it higher than the associated attribute it’s going to cost 2 points to raise. Luckily Dave planned ahead and saved his last point and has two to spend and his Range skill increases to 4.
Scott who also has two character points decides to broaden his skill set a bit and adds Occult as a Trained skill for 1 point. His Range skill is only a 1 and his Grace is a 2 so he spends the other point to raise his Range skill to a 2.

Semi-Random Method -

For one character point the character tries to raise a skill using the semi-random method. This can be an existing trained skill or an untrained skill. Note that the new skill must be from the standard list and they can only attempt to learn a single Area of Expertise skill. The player can’t get an infinite list of skill raise attempts by trying AOE after AOE.
They then make a 2d20 roll against a TN of 20 plus the skill’s current Effective Value. The TN would include the Untrained penalty of -10 if the character is trying to raise an skill from Untrained to Trained.
If they succeed on the roll that skill raises by 1 point and the player is done with raising skills. If they have another character point and wish to they can start the process over.
If they skill raise roll fails the player can select a different skill and make the same roll against that skill’s effective value. They can repeat this process until they either raise one skill or have attempted to raise all skills once. If they fail on every skill the character point is lost.
Example: Dave just leveled up and earned a character point. He wants to raise his Ranged skill up by one. His current Effective Skill is 6, he has a Grace of 2 and a Ranged Rank of 4. His TN to meet or beat is 26 to raise this skill. He rolls 2d20, unmodified, and gets a 18. Not good enough.
He looks at his list of skills and decides to try to raise Burglary by 1. It’s Effective Value is 2 giving him a TN of 22. He rolls and succeeds getting a 25 on his roll. His Burglary goes up by 1.
If the Burglary had failed then he’d simply pick another skill to try to raise. He can keep doing this until he succeeds on something or there’s nothing left he has any interest in knowing.

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Session Report – DRYH – Session 2

Posted by Dennis

Don't Rest Your Head

Session 1 report - Part 2

You can find the first part of this session report here -

Players: +Laura Dollins +Scott Stone +David Warren

Persons of Interest: +Temple Smith +L. Scott Rubin

Just to sum up, this was our first gaming session using DRYH. None of us have used such a light system before or one where the players control the narrative to such a degree so it does take some getting used to. It's very much like everyone's the GM.

In general the players had a good time and report the system was a win.


We pick up with Jimmy and Klaus both heading to the river although for different reasons. Klaus to dispose of the ground up remains of the guy his soon to be ex-wife ran off with. Jimmy to dump the stolen wind up police car (yes you read that correctly) that he stole after two cops showed up at his apartment to ask him questions.

Sophie is waiting under a streetlight in the freezing December air, standing in the large mound of snow the city created when it plowed the streets while new snow continues to fall. She fled there after a break-in at her apartment forced her to hit a guy with her baseball bat, twice. A man of certain strange qualities about him.

[Edit - D'oh. I completely forgot something, let me rewind Klaus's story a bit.]


As the the last of the meat dropped into the heavy waxen box, Klaus startled as the sound of his meat locker door closing sent a dull thud and click through the butcher shop.

He turned to see a man in a full three piece suit of a style that hadn't been popular in decades walking toward him. In the man's hand was a thick vellum card about the size of a business card, perhaps slightly larger.

"Who the hell are you?" Klaus asked, moving to cover what he was doing although at this point it would take a forensics team to tell what exactly was in the box.

"I am the Accountant. Please take this." the man said, his voice smooth and cultured.

Klaus pulled the heavy .357 out of his apron pocket and pointed it at the man.

The man sighed in an exasperated way and shook his head slightly, more perturbed than afraid by far at the sight of the large weapon.

Klaus shivered a bit, blinking as the world seemed to whirl click around him. He was standing alone in his butcher shop, pointing his gun at nothing but between the fingers of his free hand was the business card. He jerked then whirled. The shop was empty except for him and his product.

The card was thick with a luxurious feel to it, nothing like the thin crappy cards that passed for business cards today. It was completely blank on both sides.

What was one more bit of strangeness on this strange night? A man that showed up and disapeared was fairly small potatoes compared to shooting your wife's boyfriend in the back and then boning and grinding him up into sausage after all.

...And back into the normal timestream...

Jimmy climbed out the police car on the passengers side. The drivers side was pretty messed up where it had smashed into the two cops, sending them flying. The car was just... odd. Nothing was in the right spot, nothing major just off by enough to make it weird. And it was sterile, nothing in the glove compartment, nothing on the floors except a little snow melt, no papers, no wrappers, no empty salt packets or hot sauce containers.

"And what the hell is up with this key?" he muttered looking at the trunk. The huge wind up key was still turning although a lot slower than it had been while he was driving. He grabbed it and pulled and it popped free although not without some effort. There was a loud "ZZzzzzzzzuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrr" sound from inside the truck as if a giant coiled spring was unwinding all at once.

The key was heavy, easily seventy pounds if it was an ounce. As he struggled to hold it the light caught an inscription in very small text, "Property of Officer Tok - #369"

Jimmy staggered toward the bank of the river, it was faced with concrete blocking in this area and probably pretty deep he silently bet himself. The key made a nice ka-flump noise at his plunged into the icy waters.

The sound was oddly echoed from off to his right. Jimmy turned to look.


Klaus dumped the first box of meat into the river. "Good for fish food at least you bastard." he snorted, an brief almost hysterical chuckle bursting from his lips.

As he let go of the box there was a heavy splash from off to his left. In the distance a figure stood staring at him next to the edge of the river. "Someone else having wife troubles?" he said with a laugh that didn't touch his eyes.

He went back to his car and quickly picked up the second box and sent it to join the first, the whole time keeping an eye on the other person who just stood watching.

"Can he really see me? Perhaps his eyes are good or the light is more here. Perhaps I should go see." some inner voice nudged Klaus. A voice with a razor edge and an echo of steel on flesh to it.

The weight of the 357 was a comfort but he found himself wishing for his tool belt for some reason.

And then a man stepped out of a strange looking police car parked near to the man that hadn't really registered on Klaus till then.

"Was the man a cop?" he thought and that steel toned inner voice responded, "Does it matter? Fish need to eat..."

The new figure walked up to the other and even at this distance, in this light a white card shone in his hand. He stopped some feet away from the first and then there was that strange whirl click as if the universe had hitched in someway and the second man was gone.

The first looked around wildly, much like Klaus had done earlier in his shop. Somehow comforted by this strangeness, Klaus slipped back into his car and drove over.

From the first there was a sense of recognition between the two men, the mad recognizing the mad. Not of like or agreement, just two mad dogs knowing each other for what they were.

The man's name was Jimmy and he shared a story that was strange and yet not strange to Klaus, at least not this strangest of nights.

Jimmy shivered and Klaus recommended they go find a coffee shop and perhaps talk further.


Sophia's teeth were chattering and she couldn't stop shivering. She called 911 again asking how much longer it would be. "Soon" the operator responded, citing road conditions as the source of the delay.

The door to the vacant warehouse behnd her opened and a man stepped out, dressed in a suit like in old movies. He carefully traversed the snow covered steps and moved toward her. A white card was in his outstretched hand. "Please take this." he said.

She hefted the bat, "Stay the fuck back asshole."

The man sighed, a world weary put upon sigh. Then she jerked as the world seemed to hitch in place around her. And the man was gone. But there was that card he'd been holding stuck between her cell phone and fingers.

With a crunching of snow under wheels, two police cars pulled up to the curb. Each had some strange key like thing sticking out of their trunk.

"Some radar trapping thing spewing radiation into the streets without any care for the citizens. And who can blame them, they should all die of poisoning." she thought to herself as they stepped closer, their footfalls strangely heavy.

"We would like to ask you a few questions miss. Please come with us."

Their voices were somehow wrong, an odd stilted quality to them that penetrated her cold borne misery. She started to back away.

A large vehicle was passing by and inside were two men that were staring in her direction, the passenger pointed at the police and seemed agitated about it.

The cops continued their slow inexorable advance toward her and she backed further almost stumbling in the lumpy snow pile.

The moving vehicle stopped and the door was flung open, "Get in!" shouted the passenger, the driver's shout muffled but holding a same urgency to it.

Sophia hesitated only as long as it took the cops to close the distance another stride but she turned and in a stumbling run dove into the vehicle. The driver was already moving before she'd bounced off the cracked vinyl seats once and expertly nudged the gas to avoid spinning the tires and losing traction.

"Jimmy doesn't like this, he doesn't like this at all." the passenger said staring out the rear view mirror. The two cops were moving back to their cars. "Jimmy thinks we should go faster."

The driver, an older fellow, "Seriously son, stop with the third person bit." He pressed a little harder on the pedal and the old vehicle picked up speed.

Behind them the two police cars picked up speed as well.

"Hi, my name is Jimmy." the passenger said, "Your chauffeur for the evening is Klaus."

"What the fuck is going on?!" Sophia half screamed.

"Jimmy's not sure but he doesn't think you want to get to know those particular cops any better. Klaus they're getting closer by the way."

Sophia glanced around, getting her bearings, "Turn left at the next corner, there's some hills there. This thing is four wheel drive?"

Some minutes later the two police cars were left behind, one losing traction in a sharp turn and sliding sideways to hit the curb and fly up and over into a store front. The other hitting the back of a moving truck hard enough to almost fuse with it.

"Jimmy could go for some coffee, that's for sure." Jimmy said, "There a Duncan Doughnuts, pull through the drive through."

As they waited for the attendent to bring them their bearclaws and coffee, Sophia observed, "Stupid place to put a door, anyone coming through it going to get creamed by a car."

There was a door in the wall to the right of the drive through window. An ordinary looking door, scuffed and aged, chips in the utility grey paint revealing slightly rusted steel underneath.

Klaus pulled the car around and parked it in the parking lot, leaving the motor running for heat. The coffee and pastries passed around, they shared their evenings so far. He was quite careful to leave out the whole murder and butchering part though.

Each pulled out the business card they'd been given by the disappearing man. Jimmy held his up to the light from the street lamp, it was still blank on both sides.

"What was that?" the sullen angry girl in the back said.

"What was what?" Jimmy asked, turning to look at her.

"Do that again."

"Do what again? Jimmy's confused."

"Oh for fucks sake." The girl held her card up, glancing back toward the doughnut shop. She looked puzzled then rolled her window down and her hand out, holding the card.

Both men in the front seat noticed then what she had. As the card entered the light a soft glow appeared from around the building, the source hidden by the corner. As she pulled it back into the car out of the light, the glow vanished.

They all looked at each other in silence and then in unison they all got out and walked toward the corner. Ignoring the attendent who was nattering on about she couldn't serve walkups, Sophia held her card up into the light and the door to the right of the drive through window glowed softly as if light by a dim spotlight.

Klaus stepped closer and then gripping the handle pulled it open. A veritable wall of sound, an almost physical impact to it blasted forth. Voices cried out, in languages familiar and not, people hawking wares and arguing about prices. Through the door came the light of a thousand sources, candles, lanterns, electric lights and some that were just dancing plasma. As far as they could see, which wasn't far the lay stalls, tents, blankets, each piled or almost empty of things. And moving between them were people, throngs of people of all types and descriptions.

In near silence the three went through the door, Klaus, then Jimmy and although slowly Sophia.


I'll continue with Part 3 when I get a chance.

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Session Report – DRYH – Session 1 » Key Our Cars
Session Report. Don't Rest Your Head. I ran my first for real session of DRYH or Dont' Rest Your Head last night. It's a strong narrative, light mechanics system set in a dark surreal land...

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Random Skill Gains

Posted by Dennis

Random skillups

Curious if anyone has an opinion on the pros/cons of a random skill up system.

Most systems I'm familiar with, skill gains are done either automatically as you level up or you get character points when you level that you can then spend to level up your skills as you see fit.

There are a number of systems though that this is random. When you level up or even at the end of every session, you make a roll versus your current skill, sometimes only for skills you actually used during the session. If you either roll under or over (depending on the way the system mechanics work) then you go up in skill.

I'm not necessarily a proponent of randomization in character power this way, it makes life harder for me as a GM to create encounters of the power level that I'm trying to achieve.

The whole if you used a skill then you can try to level it up is something I'm against though. It merely ensures that every player is going to find some way to use every skill they have. And I can either accept that or block it. In either case it's more bookkeeping than I personally want to deal with.

But with that said, I've never actually GM'd or played in such a system, so maybe it works out well enough. If you have an opinion on the matter feel free to comment.

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Session Report – DRYH – Session 1

Posted by Dennis

Session Report

Don't Rest Your Head

I ran my first for real session of DRYH or Dont' Rest Your Head last night. It's a strong narrative, light mechanics system set in a dark surreal land of horror and scary things that really do live under the bed, things that are all pointy bits and razor edges.

In attendance were +Laura Dollins (my lovely wife), +Scott Stone and +David Warren friends who I've shared gaming tables with for 20+ years. Two other players +Temple Smith and +L. Scott Rubin were unable to make it but hopefully next time.

Laura and Scott had already created their characters and we were able to go through Dave's pretty quickly. The mechanics are easily explained and eventually learned. I've read a lot of game systems and the dice mechanic is unique in my experience.

Laura turns out to be a young woman named Sophia, a serious social misfit and introvert who's secret hatred of people turns out to fuel her Madness Talent although it got little use last night. Her hatred of others is contagious and she can make them so hate themselves that they... well let's just say you wouldn't want to get on the bad side of this woman.

Scott is a mature man, a salesman by the name of Jimmy who can sell anything to anyone, even himself at times as he covers up his horrible self image with flashy material goods. The power to Forget his Madness talent, when pushed he can reach into the past and make a person forget to have locked a door and by pushing to the limit his Madness talent could literally do something like make gravity forget about him for a short instant while falling 40 stories to the ground.

Dave is a older fellow with a lot of suppressed rage. A german butcher by the name of Klaus from a long line of butchers it's not surprising that in the end, his Madness talent is The Knife. It's always there, in whatever form it needs to be and it knows even before he does when he's going to need it. Push him too far and the Knife can sever the tie between your mind and body and leave you in a rather bad way.

Each character had their opening scene, based on their character questions and their What Just Happened answers.

These are the results of those opening encounters. I'll follow up with the rest of the fallout later on this week as well as the player's reactions.

Assuming the recording didn't jack up, I'll get the podcast cleaned up this week hopefully and posted for anyone that wants to listen.


The fated evening started quietly enough with a authoritative knocking at Jimmy's door. Peering through the peephole he sees two policeman. Being all to familiar with debt collectors and eviction notices, Jimmy's not too keen on opening the door.

"Who is it?" Jimmy calls.

"The police. We need to ask you a few questions sir. Please open the door." The stilted way the one policeman was talking had images of James T. Kirk and a T-101 running through Jimmy's mind.

"Jimmy doesn't need anything officers." he replies. His odd way of talking about hismsef in third person creeping in.

The the wierd way the the police have of talking and the high sheen on their skin was definitely freaking Jimmy out a bit.

He calls 911 and requests assistance but the police outside seem to have some urgency to talk with Jimmy and start to break the door down.

Jimmy attempts to block the door with furniture but in the end decides to flee, grabbing his new jacket ($399 custom fitted and brand new that day bought on the last of 10 credit cards that was still working) he flees through the window of his 8th floor condo. ("A decision I think I'm about to regret, after stating he lived on the 8th floor earlier")

The two policemen give chase but they're slow and Jimmy flees down the snow covered escape, breaking windows and arousing an outcry as he passes them. He ducks back in on the 5th floor and then takes the stairs down.

"Hi John, Mary, just passing through." he says with a bright salesman's smile as he crosses in front of the couple watching the latest reality television show. "He's never going to win you know."

Outside there's a police car parked at the curb, an odd one, one more fit to be seen on the streets of London. And even odder, there's a large, slowly turn wind up key sticking up out of the trunk which brings back childhood memories.

"That's something you don't see every day." Jimmy says, bouncing from one foot to another, filled with nervous energy.

The few other cars ("No I'm currently in between cars." Much like he's in-between jobs...) on the street are snow bound and besides Jimmy isn't a car thief. But that police car running at the curb, headlights on attracts his attention and as heavy footsteps each from inside the building he dives in and decides to head out. The two police come back and Jimmy, in an unusual fit of rage, throws the car in reverse and speeds back the way he'd just come, deftly flipping the wheel at the last minute to spin the car and catch both cops with the side of the car. Metal crushed and clanged and the cops went flying heavily through the air to burst through the front of a building.

With air leaking through the damage doors of his acquired cop car, Jimmy proceeds to head toward the river with the idea of ditching the car and catching a water taxi.


Sophia on her way home spots something really odd in an alleyway, a man who appeared to be shoving his arm through another man's chest. "Serves the bastard right I'm sure." she mutters, hating him instantly for attracting her attention. Head down she trudges home in the heavy snow from her minimum wage job at Walmart. Oblivious to the figure that's now ghosting along the dark streets of this run down section of town behind her, one that minutes earlier was doing... something to another man in an alley.

Her crappy apartment building, never warm enough to drive the chill of Boston's December chill is waiting, empty and silent. Even with her employee discount TV, much less cable is out of her budget so after a quick raman noodle dinner she heads to her bedroom to try once again to make a futile effort to sleep while listening tot he radio. Her inability to sleep is perhaps what allowed her to hear the window in the living room roll up or perhaps it was the cold draft that whistled through the rooms.

Regardless the heavy maple baseball bat was a comfort as she moved to the door. She reached through the opening and flipped the lightswitch. Rising up from where he'd just crawled through her window is a man. Her second floor window although it didn't occur to her to question that was a man in a dark floor length overcoat. His face was oddly hard to focus on, as if her eyes couldn't... or wouldn't... focus on it. His right arm is stained a deep crimson almost to the elbow.

"Oh that's fucking it!" she swears and steps forward and brings the bat around in a blow that had every bit of force of her sinewy muscles in it. The deep cracking thud as it hits the man in the side of his head echoes through the apartment. His head snaps to side and his vertebrae crackle. He folds like a wet dishcloth and lands on the floor.

She looks for her phone, realizes it's in the bedroom and heads to go get it. Hating that her night is going to screwed up dealing with this crap.

As her hand picks it up from night table, her bedroom door shuts. She turns and the man from the living room is standing there and takes two swift strides and grabs her by the shoulders.

Something inside her flowers and one handed she hammers his hands away and then brings it back and down on top of his head. The wooden thud is if anything louder than before and he staggers and falls.

She flees the apartment and into the cold air outside. Not really dressed for the outside now, she pushes through the piled snow to find a working street light three blocks away. Calling 911, she waits for someone to show up, hating the cold, the bastard who drove her out of her apartment and every son of bitch that conspired to have standing there shivering in the snow, bathed in the sickly yellow of the arc light above her head.


"Godamn bitch, I should throw her in the locker and set this place on fire." Klaus muttered as he drove his cleaver through the side of beef and hard enough to embed it a solid inch in the old butcher block table top. Another 16 hour day, one in a long series of them to try and make a better life for the two of them and then she up and runs off that creepy bastard and his gods be damned expensive cars and townhouse.

The little silver bell over the door rang out in the shop. The same bell his great grandfather had brought over from the old country and his butcher shop there.

"Closing up in 5 minutes friend."

"No hurry Klaus, this won't take a moment."

Klaus recognized the voice immediately although he'd only heard in the background after talking his wife. He moved around behind his counter before turning, his right hand closing on the walnut hilt of the .357 magnum he kept by the cash register. He'd acquired it through a friend of friend after getting robbed twice and ironcially had never had a need for it afterwards.

Jack smiled at him in passing, his glance moving around the shop taking inventory, appraising it.

Something broke inside Klaus, the predatory way this son of a bitch was looking around was the straw. The straw that broke the dam holding his rage back. He pulled the gun up and centered the barrel directly over the man's heart. "What do you want?"

The man smiled, seemed unperturbed in the slightest by the sight of the huge silver pistol. He carefully reached into his suit and pulled out some folded papers. "I just need you to sign these Klaus. Won't take a minute of your time."

"What are those?" Klaus said through clenched teeth.

"A bill of sale. For the shop. You see I need money and the money your wife brought wasn't enough. Ergo I need your shop."

Thoughts raced through his head, red thoughts, red broken glass and metal fragment thoughts. He nodded, "Fine, let's go to my desk and I'll look at them. It's through there."

Jack sighed in exasperation, "Fine, whatever." He opened the indicated door and found himself staring at a meat cooler, heavy iron hooks suspended from the ceiling.

Klaus said, "The desk, back corner."
Jack advanced into the cooler, "Odd place to keep a desk Klaus."

Klaus followed him in, closing the heavy insulated door behind him.

Jack looked around then said in a musing voice, "Those look like they'd hold a lot. Your wife, she dresses out at what? 130lbs or so?"

Klaus barely heard the words, his concentration on his right index finger, feeling as if he was an outside observer as the finger continued it's slow pressure and it came as no surprise at all when the revolver bucked like a kicking mule in his hand.

The heavy slug punched straight through Jack's spine, expanded and then exploded out from the center of his chest to spray heart and lung tissue all over an side of beef. Jack toppled forward and his chin fell onto one of the hanging hooks and his body dangled there as blood ran out of his chest in a quick torrent of crimson.

Klaus looked at the body, then the pistol and then around. He stepped outside, no one appeared to have heard anything. He flpped the closed sign and locked the front door. A last glance out and the streets were still empty.

Swiftly, working on auto pilot from long practice he went into the cooler, strapping on his tool belt that held the various tools his trade. In the meat locker on the prep table he began to work. The meat was swiftly boned and then processed through the industrial grinder, the end product making a fine sausage like grind. It was as he was reaching for his spices that some level of sanity returned and he stopped.

Using waxed cardboard boxes and butcher paper he boxed Jack up and then moved him out to his car.

Heading to the river he drove slowly and carefully, the driving patters of a sedate middle aged man and so ingrained he couldn't have hurried if he'd wanted to.


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DRYH – Character Jimmy Keller

Posted by Dennis

My first player submission from +Scott Stone for my DRYH campaign tomorrow. My response to the player -

Oh but the future loooooves Jimmy. It's been waiting in the shadows and alleys, biding its time, sharpening its claws for 37 long years, sharpening them to razor edges and needle points, just for this moment....

From the Player -

My Name Is:
Jimmy Keller

What's Been Keeping You Awake?
Jimmy is deep in debt and can't stop spending money. He just bought $3,000 worth of golf clubs on two credit cards, a cool survival knife, $300 in organic food, a nifty jacket...and they're threatening to turn off the power.

What Just Happened To You?
Jimmy just saw something in the corner of his eye that looks like a pile of walking, bleeding warts with horns and fangs. Jimmy ran away from it, but was sure he saw its shadow later on. He thinks it lives in the alley near his apartment.

What's on the Surface?
Jimmy likes to dress snappy. He's got thousands of dollars of clothes and shoes and nice watches. Jimmy often speaks of himself in third person. He's average height, 37 years old, dark red hair. He's had ten jobs and three marriages the last decade. He is something of a health nut.

What Lies Beneath?
Jimmy is hiding his inadequacy. He spends money to make himself feel better, and is nearly an expert in going bankrupt. Jimmy likes to pretend he's something he's not - successful at business, a good family man, affluent. He doesn't want anyone to know he's failed at anything.

What's Your Path?
Jimmy doesn't know. He'd love to find out. His longterm goals have all given way to immediate goals and needs. Jimmy doesn't like to think about the future.

What's Your Exhaustion Talent?
Jimmy is a persuasive guy. He can sell corn to an Iowan. He can really get persuasive at extreme need.

What's your Madness Talent?
Jimmy can make people (or things) forget. They forget to hurt him, or that he owes them money. They forget to do something that is in their own self interest, or to do something that is against Jimmy's self interest.

Fight or Flight?
Jimmy doesn't like pain. He runs. 2 flight, 1 fight.

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