Monthly Archives: December 2011

Warrior-Monks and Martial Arts (Part Two)

So, in Part One of this two-part post, I sort of went over my history with martial arts and the AD&D monk. It’s been a long one, and as someone who studied a couple of different styles of martial arts, I always had problems with many of the ways things were handled. Oriental Adventures went a long way to solving the problem, and then a series of articles from The Dragon magazine filled in large numbers of the holes. For those that are interested the articles are as follows:

  • Marshalling the Martial Arts: Twelve martial arts styles for Oriental characters by Wayne Goldsmith and Dan Salas (Issue #122)
  • A Menagerie of Martial Arts: Twenty martial art styles based on man, nature, and animal by Len Carpenter (Issue #127
  • Flying Feet and Lightning Hands: Special maneuvers for Oriental Adventures martial arts by Len Carpenter (Issue #164)
  • Things Your Sensei Never Taught You: Add some kick to Oriental Adventures martial arts by Rudy Thauberger (Issue #164)

A couple of basic ideas when it comes to unarmed combat. An unarmed, essentially untrained individual does 1d2 damage with a punch or 1d4 with a kick. They can punch twice in a melee round or kick once – and fighter types with multiple attacks can mix in kicks with his punches at higher levels. People can also choose to grapple for 1d2 points of damage, which also immobilizes people and prevents them from attacking with anything larger than a dagger. Targets can then make a grapple roll to either grapple back, or escape. Finally, characters can attempt to throw, push, overbear or otherwise knock someone to the ground. This does no damage, but forces the opponent to use an action to get back to their feet. Fighting on the ground or while grappling is at a -2 to Hit and Damage without special training (aka Martial Arts). In all cases, Strength and Dexterity bonuses apply. Yes, people can Specialize (or Double Specialize) in Unarmed Combat without studying a martial art – and this is the most common way people get better at it…

Now, with the martial arts, things are a bit different. First I modified the chart from page 102 in Oriental Adventuresto create a bit more range in options, and second I codified the rules a bit on martial arts attacks. This creates a range of up to an AC9 to AC5, from 1d2 to 1d8 damage with an attack, and between 1/1 attacks to 5/1 attacks per round. Martial Artists have two basic attacks. The first is that they can strike for whatever damage that they do using the principle body part. The second is that they can throw (trip, sweep, etc) a target to the ground (this also results in normal striking damage if a save vs. Paralyzation is failed). On a Natural 20, the attack of the Martial Artist will stun the target for 1d3 rounds if they fail a save vs. Paralyzation (in addition to the normal doubled damage).

A Martial Artist can grapple like an untrained combatant, but this removes many options for most Techniques so unless they have studied a grappling art they will avoid it.

Taking pages from the articles, I expanded the martial arts listing of Techniques (aka “Special Maneuvers”):


  • Grappling: 1: Choke Hold – 2: Locking Block – 3: Incapacitating Grasp – 4: Immobilizing Grasp  – 5: Crushing Hug
  • Movement: 1: Feint – 2: Prone-Fighting – 3: Immovability – 4: Missile Deflection – 5: Leap – 6: Flowing Water – 7: Great Shield
  • Push: 1: Concentrated Push – 2: Sticking Touch – 3: One Finger – 4: Charge Breaker
  • Strike: 1: Iron Fist – 2: Crushing Blow – 3: Eagle Claw – 4: Thunderpunch – 5: Thunderclap
  • Throw: 1: Fall – 2: Instant Stand – 3: Hurl – 4: Great Throw – 5: Crushing Drop
  • Vital Area: 1: Destruction Block – 2: Pain Touch – 3: Stunning Touch – 4: Paralyzing Touch – 5: Shattertouch – 6: Poison Chi – 7: Distance Death – 8: Death Touch
  • Weapon: 1: Sweep – 2: Weapon Break – 3: Throwing Mastery – 4: Arrow Cutting – 5: Steel Cloth
  • Slash: 1: Disarm – 2: Blind – 3: Vein – 4: Artery
  • Blunt: 1: Heavy Blow – 2: Limb Paralysis – 3: Stunning Blow – 4: Great Blow
  • Mental Training: 1: Meditation – 2: All-Around Sight – 3: Pause & Silence – 4: Blind Fighting – 5: Mental Resistance – 6: Stillness – 7: Balance
  • Physical Training: 1: Quick Strike – 2: Controlled Breathing – 3: Featherwalk – 4: Summon Strength – 5: Focus Dexterity – 6: Speed – 7: Contortion
  • Mystical Training: 1: Meridian – 2: Suppressed Desire – 3: Inner Flame – 4: Ironskin – 5: Levitation – 6: Slow Resistance – 7: Slowed Aging – 8: Invulnerability

From there, the other significant change is that instead of forcing martial artists to spend proficiencies on learning Techniques, martial artists simply learn a new special maneuver each level. Yes, this makes people who learn martial arts somewhat “powerful” but I like four-color games and I control who gets to learn martial arts so it isn’t horribly unbalancing. Plus, I can throw in any number of specifications to individual martial arts – that restrict the ability to learn Techniques. So from there we have martial arts like the following:

Endorian Dragon Style: AC7 – Attacks: 3/1 for 1d3 each
Mystic: 1,4,7 – Push: 2 – Grappling: 1,2,3,4 – Kick: 1,2,3- Mental: 1,4,5 – Movement: 4 – Strike: 1,2
Those who study Endorian Dragon Style must be Lawful in Alignment, those who do not meet the statistic requirements for a Warrior-Monk may not learn any Technique greater than Difficulty 3.


Endorian Cat Style: AC6 – Attacks: 4/1 for 1d2 each
Movement: 1,2,5 – Throw: 1,2 – Push: 2 – Kick: 3 – Physical: 1,3,5 – Mental 2,4,6,7
Those who study Endorian Cat Style must have a Dexterity of 12 to learn the basic Art, a Dexterity of 13 to learn Difficulty 1 Techniques, a Dexterity 14 to learn Difficulty 2 Techniques, a Dexterity 15 to learn Difficulty 3 techniques, Dexterity 16 to learn Difficulty 4 Techniques, Dexterity 17 to learn Difficulty 5 Techniques, and Dexterity 18 to learn Difficulty 6 & 7 Techniques.

The Techniques must also be learned in a specific order – from lowest Difficulty to highest, and from “left to right”. In Cat Style, Movement 1 is learned before Throw 1, and then finally Physical 1 is learned – only then is Movement 2 learned, then Throw 2, then Push 2, then Mental 2. For those who study multiple martial arts, if a Technique is learned in one Art, then it can “leapfrogged” in another Art. So someone who studied Cat Style and had learned Kick 3 would not have to learn it again in the study of Endorian Dragon Style, they would automatically leap to Mystic 4 (following the normal model of progression). Warrior-Monks automatically have some abilities that duplicate Techniques and they get to treat these as “already learned” – notably Meditation and Missile Deflection.

For Weapon Forms, things are basically the same save that Attacks and Damage is treated a bit differently. In all cases, the number of attacks is the same for character class. For Soft Styles, there is no bonus to hit or damage, for Mixed Styles it is +1/+1, and for Hard Styles it is +2/+2.  They are also able to either fight with no armour and a certain base AC, or possibly gain Armour Optimization (ganked from Dark Sun)  with certain classes of armour (or possibly even specific types). So, here is a pretty typical version of a somewhat common fighting style:

Tyrsfarian Knife-Fighting: AC8 or Armour Optimization (+1 to AC) with Light Armour – Attacks as Class at +2/+2
Slash: 1,2,3,4 – Movement: 1 – Weapon: 1,2,3 – Mental: 2,3,4 – Physical: 1,2,5,6
Tyrsfarian Knife-Fighting can only be learned by characters with a Strength and Dexterity of 13+, it requires a Dexterity of 15 to learn Difficulty 3 Techniques, and a Dexterity of 18 to learn Difficulty 6 Techniques. It may only be used with Daggers (all types) and Shortswords (Great Khuri only). Tyrsfarian Knife-Fighters are most commonly Fighters or Gladiators, though the style is also studied by Rogues of all types – and those who are generally considered the greatest masters are Duelists.

It is matched with proficiencies in Dagger and Two-Weapon: Dagger/Dagger, plus Specialization in Dagger if they have the slots to spare. Plus, often, taking a proficiency in Shortsword as well when they get the chance. Tyrsfarian Knifefighting came about from a bit martial arts geekery as I contemplated what the “best” sort of dagger I could envision would be and came up with a Gurka Khukuri that was also sharpened along the first half of the spine – probably as I think of it with a few more years of experience and knowledge now, at least a hint of a swage and trailing point, and likely a gut hook in there somewhere and certainly finger grooves for a better grip as well as at least some examples having a forward finger ring (rather than a rear/bolster ring like a kerambit) – it does 2-7/2-5 damage and sits rights at the 14″ of overall length that is the limit for daggers.



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Wandering Monsters

Telcanter had a post recently about “Wandering Monsters” that has me inspired to talk about how I do wandering monsters a bit more.

I know I mentioned earlier that I used to have unique wandering monsters charts for each area of my world. I created these using the base table format from the Monster Manual II, but done with the idea that I wanted my encounters to be something that I could roll while people were hunting or wandering about, and actually represent what they ran into. So, in the vast majority of places things like “Rabbits” and “Birds” and “Squirrels” were the common encounters. I would also have a table for “Road Encounters” as well as one for “Unique Beings” – a Very Rare encounter that let you randomly run into “Important People”. I could also include things like “Goblin Hunting Party” and “Goblin War Band” and “Troll Raiding Party” that the party would soon learn to dread depending upon what level they were.

But to this day, “Rams and Sheep” resounds in my head as synonymous with “Nothing of Interest”.

I really need to buckle down and do some of these again. I still have some of my old ones, but not many and it’s an odd selection. I’m kind of wondering what drove my decision to save them and not others. But here’s a newly created example of what I’m talking about:

The Barrow Downs:

  • 2 – Moonwolves (2-20)
  • 3 – Hill Trolls (1-6)
  • 4 – Ogres (1d4+2)
  • 5 – Goblin Scouting Party (1d6+12)
  • 6 – Black Bear (1 or 1d3)
  • 7 – Bandits (2d6+6 Men)
  • 8 – Wolves (2-20)
  • 9 – Rabbits
  • 10 – Deer
  • 11 – Birds
  • 12 – Rams and Sheep
  • 13 – Rabbits
  • 14 – Skunk
  • 15 – Hunting Party (2d4+2 Men)
  • 16 – Wild Boar (1d4)
  • 17 – Old Faith Party (Rangers and/or Druids, 1d4+1)
  • 18 – Dire Wolves (2-12)
  • 19 – Ghouls (2d6)
  • 20 – Drake (Fire or Forest, 1)

The key to using a table like this is to also have the good sense to be reasonable – my general “rule” was to roll every fours of travel and every six hours of rest. But certain things indicated a “No Encounter” – roll “Ghouls” during the day and generally that meant no encounter (they don’t like the light!) and the same thing with “Hunting Party- Men” at night if you were encamped. The men aren’t wandering around at night any more than the party was! Also, while there is a fair amount of “goodluck/badluck” in these rolls, assuming the party is trying to be careful, or has some outdoorsy types, I’ll usually give them some chance to get some sort of warning about a bad or “out of their depth” encounter – tracks, spoor, whatever. This doesn’t mean they’ll automatically get out of the encounter, but if they play their cards right they may not have quite so bad a time of it.

On the other hand, I’ve never been a real fan of “Wandering Monster” charts for dungeons – unless it is a megadungeon of some sort. Of course, I don’t have many places that are really “dungeons” in my game world. The players are more likely to be fighting and tracking down bandits or goblins, or sneaking into or assaulting someone’s stronghold. In those latter situations I’m more likely to use some sort of random roll for bad luck rather that just roll a “wandering encounter” of some sort – I know that it is essentially the same thing, but the name just irks me.

You’re more likely to run into some person going to the jakes or trying to sneak into or out of someones bedroom than a “wandering patrol” or some random giant rats in somebody’s house, y’know?


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Gaming Yuletide…

So, all-in-all, this was a light year for gaming goodness.

One thing I recieved that was fun was a Dungeon Tiles Master Set: Dungeon – a welcome addition to my old Chaosium “Fantasy Paths” boxed set and my old Games Workshop “Halls of Horror: Gothic Floor Plans” set. These are quite sturdy and think and look like that will last at least as long as my other boxes (which, I guess, is 20+ years now).

We’re a family of bibliophiles here, so it’s pretty common to see multiple books get unwrapped for everyone – though both my son and my spouse tend to get video games as well (which cuts out on the book budget a bit this year my son received Fallout: Las Vegas from KT and Skyrim from us, while my dear spouse has a date with a hot Italian assassin later)

My three books this year were two I wanted and one that was a surprise. The surprise, from KT, is The Viral Storm by Nathan Wolfe, an excellent book as gaming fodder (and one that fulfils my interest in the spread of infectious disease transmission, a somewhat professional interest). The first of the books I wanted is Rick Lai’s Chronology of Shadows: A Timeline of The Shadow’s Exploits. This is total fodder for my Call of Cthulhu game which is quite pulpy in flavor. The second book is Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road – a book that sounds like a good AD&D campaign from the reviews.

I also have one other gift in the works that hasn’t arrived yet, since it literally is being shipped from Mongolia and hasn’t arrived yet. I’ll post when I can add a link or pictures or something. It’s the present from my son, and he came up with something quite cool that I look forward to sharing!


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Warrior-Monks and Martial Arts (Part One)

I always loved the AD&D Monk class, and would certainly agree with arguments that it is somewhat misplaced in the nominally “European” setting of standard AD&D. Plus, I always thought is was incredibly poorly though-out class based on what seemed to be arbitrary and illogical rulings – no Strength or Dexterity bonuses, etc. I quickly moved to a conception of the Warrior-Monk that had more in common with the “wierding ways” of the Bene Gesserit and the ferocity of the Freman and the Sardaukar – combined with a more widely encompassing vision of the weapons available to martial artists.

So, the Player’s Handbook vision of the “monk” was tweaked early on and the “Endorian Warrior-Monks” were born – the Masters of Endorian Dragon Style. There were some quick changes that were made immediately – Warrior-Monks were given Strength and Dexterity modifiers, were allowed Percentile Strength like a Fighter and given the Constitution bonuses of a Fighter as well. I also gave them d6 for Hit Dice instead of d4. What was taken away was the abilities to Open Locks and Find/Remove Traps – and instead the ability to Track like a Ranger was given, plus an ability called “Aura Sense” (40% Base, +5% per level as the notes in my PH indicate) – this was essentially a True Sight style ability back in the day and it has been somewhat downgraded at this point. Instead of Special Ability A as listed they instead had Warmth as the ring (the Endor Monestary is way up in the peaks of some nasty cold mountains), they had the ability to do a Suggestion in addition to Special Ability D at 6th Level (ala the Voice), and finally the other major change was that 8th level, Special Ability F was replaced with Fire Resistance (again, as the ring). They were also allowed to use short swords and shortbows as weapons of proficiency and lost crossbow and javelin. My vision the Endorian Warrior-Monks were of a reclusive and self-reliant group of religious warrior mystics – not …whatever it was that they were modeled on in the PH.

I think I also let them strike creatures that were only hit with magical weapons like they were a monster with Hit Dice equal to their level. All of this actually made a monk class that was fun to play. I know that I experimented with the Monk from Dragon Magazine #53, possibly as some other order of monks someplace, but I don’t remember anyone ever actually playing with them. The only other martial artists for years were the Lictors (aka the Ninja from the Best of Dragon Vol. 2), but that all changed when Oriental Adventures came out…

Ok, there were also the Feyhd, my homage to the Fremen. They were all “monks” as well, but I don’t think anyone ever played one. Plus there was the mysterious and terrifying “Old Race” that haunted the Outer Planes.

Suddenly there was a way for anyone to learn martial arts, and it was merely monks who were vastly better at them. Plus, the “base” martial arts weren’t so horribly underpowered as to make it worthless to use. Plus martial artists of all stripes had all sorts of very cool things that they could learn how to do if they wanted to invest the proficiencies into them. Quickly I had Tyrsfarian Knife-Fighters (with the special Tyrsfarian Khuri), the sworn brotherhood of the Black Watch with their bastard swords, the Battledancers of Ulstem and Ith, and a host of places where people could learn all sorts of martial art styles.

But other problems raised their head.

For one, studying martial arts was far too much of an investment of proficiencies. It was kind of ridiculous actually, the sheer amount of “time and energy” a monk, let alone a non-monk, had to put into learning the “cool stuff”. Second, it was basically impossible to model any sort of martial art weapon style in this system. Now, some articles in Dragon Magazine helped round these things out (and birthed the Tyrsfarian Knife-Fighters for that matter), but it was still a pretty broken system in some respects.

Some folks would also point at the martial arts rules as being the ancestor of Feats – and I wouldn’t disagree. In my home-brew rules engine I essentially adapted these rules into “fighting styles” for all sorts of weapons. It was learning and mastering them that made you an effective fighter. It was also a far too complicated system in many respects – and there is a large part of me that is happy to never look at that home-brew ever again. But from there is where the various martial arts of the Dakini, the Tantric-Assassins, were first spawned, along with the deadly arts of the Bloodmoon Adepts (the title ganked from an old Citybook from Flying Buffalo).

Next up: How do we make it work?



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Merry Yuletide!

My best wishes to everyone on this day of the winter solstice. May your holiday season, whatever your religion or spirituality be one of happiness, compassion, and safety.


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The Houri… Errr… I mean Tantric!

Those who know me in person know that I am not exactly a person who shies away from controversy, and for years I’ve had mages who at least in some form or another have been “sexy” and by “sexy” I mean mages whose abilities and studies owe something to the real world practices of tantra, karezza, and other forms of sexualized esoteric practice. When I decided to go back to AD&D I was trying to figure out how to model this sort of flavor-text (even if discretely “off-screen”) in the AD&D system and I tripped over the Houri in an old issue of White Dwarf, #13 if you are interested in looking up the class yourself.

It seems that I’m not the only person to do this.

I just happen to call mine “the Tantric”. These are the great courtesans of my game world, combining all the social savvy of the Greek hetaera, the entertainment skills of a Japanese geisha, along with mastery of analogs to the Kama Sutra and the Perfumed Garden. Tantrics are generally a highly respected profession, though there are groups which are less enamoured of them than others which hold them in high esteem. My version is substantially the same as the version from White Dwarf, the Hit Dice, spell list, and spell progression are the same. What is different? Well, the Seduction ability from the article doesn’t really work for me. That whole formula thing is way, way, *way* too complicated for use in the middle of a game session. So I’ve simplified the heck out of that.

Seduction – This ability cannot, without some form of magical enhancement, be used in combat (save to distract a opponent in order to bring some item or ability to bare- errr… bear….). It represents the highly trained wiles of the Tantric, in combination with techniques of voice, movement, meridian manipulation and bodily display that entice the target into an intimate amorous embrace. If the initial roll for Seduction is made, a second roll can be made in an effort to Charm the target (who gets a standard saving throw, -1 per three levels of the Tantric). If the attempt to Charm is successful then a roll may be made in an attempt to implant a Suggestion (at a -1 to the save per 3 levels of the Tantric). The chance for success at Seduction is 10% +5% per level of the Tantric, plus the Reaction Modifier of the Tantric as calculated by Charisma and Comeliness. Targets are allowed to subtract their own Reaction Modifier from the chance for success, or have some sort of special resistance due to mental or physical fortitude.

The article also mentioned that “Tantrics” could essentially “split-class” with Thieves if they had decent enough attributes, somewhat akin to how the Archer can be united with a Ranger to make “Archer-Rangers”. I actually have a small handful of classes that do this in some way, but that is a different post. Instead of Thief, I allow Tantrics to split-class with Assassin, the most common version of which are the Dakini – who essentially act as the “protection” for Tantrics as a whole. This is where the combat application of Seduction might get applied – usually for a backstab or an assassination attempt.

Treat your Tantrics nice, or the next one you meet might be a Dakini…



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High Men, Psionics, and Psionicists (1e)

So, James has posted today about the Psionicist over at Grognardia. I’ll add on to say that it is one of the ways that I’ve handled psionics in my game world – and certainly the major way that players have had psionic characters in my game for a while now. Coincidently I’ve been thinking about psionics the last couple of days and came up with a new tweak that I like and that makes more sense to me from both a character development and a game balance perspective.

Personally, I never had a problem with psionics in AD&D, first I was reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series at a young age because my mother loved them and they were sitting in the huge pile of speculative fiction that inhabited our house (along with the rest of the books the bibliophiles that my parents were had collected). The simple fact is that psionics hardly ever came up, what was noticeable was that they were often something that either immediately doomed a character because psionic encounters really, really suck or foretold a long and successful career because certain abilities just made the characters quite powerful. This was a s true of the psionicist as it was of the psychic but actually emphasized the “psionic encounters suck” end of things because the progression was slowed down so much.

You’ll notice that Brother Illya is a “High Man” (aka Deryni aka Dúnadan aka Comyn aka whatever) and is a multi-classed Psionicist/Warrior-Monk (currently 3rd/3rd) while a couple of other characters are listed as “Minor Psychics” and “Psychics”. The “Minor Psychic” is a new category that I essentially invented when I came back to AD&D after running my own rules system to cover those races that I wanted to always have some innate psychic Talent to model certain abilities but without giving them the full range of psionic abilities automatically. High Men only count as roughly about 5-10% of the population and are considered to be the true scions of nobility – paradoxically because having the traces of blood of angels, elves, dragons, whatever running through their veins that grants them the mixed blessing and curse of psychic ability violates the taboo against inter-racial sexuality that the “civilized” races have in my game world.

Psionicists work pretty much as they do in the article, save that they use my attribute of “Talent” instead of the IWC (Intelligent-Wisdom-Charisma Average) to determine Psionic Ability – everything else is the same. High Men are able to multi-class as Psionicists with any other single class, and suffer the same 10% XP penalty per class as non-humans. Also, Psionicists automatically have the Minor Devotions of Rapport and Lights in addition to the other Disciplines gained as a result of advancement. At one point in the very distant past I allowed Psionicists to choose thier Devotions, Sciences, and Arts – but at this point I insist that they roll them like everyone else.

Psychics are pretty much the way psychics are written up into the Players Handbook, with the addition of automatically having the Minor Devotions of Rapport and Lights. I interpret the advancement for multi-class characters to occur as one ability (Minor Devotion or Major Science, all Minor Devotions first) to be added each odd level, the same as for single-class characters, but the multiple classes are added together to determine “level” rather than using the highest level class or some other arcane formula to determine how many abilities had been learned. This would also represent the abilities of “untrained” High Men if someone wanted to play one without multi-classing as a Psionicist. The chance for any non-human to be Psychic is the same as the basic roll from the Players Handbook – with the stipulation that Talent must be 16 or higher. This is limited to those races who even have the potential – Dwarves, Gnomes, Half-Elves, Sh’dai – Elves and Ithians are either Minor Psychics or Psionicists, never half-way. As an odd note, two “human” races are automatically considered Psychic if they do not specialize as Psionicists, the “Old Race” and the “Feyhd”.

One other note, only characters who choose to be multi-class as Healer/Psionicists can start with Cell Adjustment at 1st level, and other Psionicists or Psychics may only take it if they roll high enough to “Select One” on the table – and may only do it with my permission.

(As I write this, I think I’m just also instituting a rule that Psychic characters suffer a 10% XP penalty “as if” they had another character class as a multi-class. That’s another nice bit of balance for the benefits that you get for the abilities. If you are Psionicist, you already get it, and if you are a Minor Psychic the “benefit” is really not much compared to the potential downside for most adventurers.)

Minor Psychics have only the abilities of Rapport and Lights – as given in the Psionicist article. They can use all forms of psychic item, device, or consumable just like a Psychic or Psionicist. They only have one Defense Mode (G- Though Shield) and they only gain one Attack Mode (A – Psionic Blast) at 2nd level. None of this is rolled, either your race is considered “Minorly Psychic” or it isn’t. This is mainly Elves, Half-Elves, Sh’dai, and Ithians. Perhaps strangely, bit Gnomes and Dwarves are not Minor Psychics, their gifts manifest as thier other abilities to detect stonework, etc.

Psychics and Minor Psychics roll for Psionic Ability using the following formula: 1d100, plus one for point of Talent, plus one for each point of Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, and Power over twelve. If two of the five attributes are above 15 then the “bonus” points are doubled, if three then they are tripled, if four, quadrupled; and if all five then the bonus points to the d100 roll are quintupled.

Here is the tweak for Psychics and Minor Psychics that I just realized this past weekend made much more sense. Instead of rolling to determine what the Attack and Defense Modes are known, just ruling that Defense Modes are gained at the rate of one for every odd level (and Defense Mode G being the first automatically gained at 1st level) and attack modes are gained at the rate of one for every even level. Psioncists advance as the table in the article.

It’s worth noting that I also consider Illusionists to use “Mentalism” rather than Arcane Magic or Divine Power, along with Oracles (Dragon #53) and Timelords (Dragon #65). This means that “Magic Resistance” doesn’t work against these “spells” (though for certain extra-planar creatures I have ruled that they have equivalent “Mentalism Resistance”). In some ways this might makes things more powerful for Illusionists, but at other times it means that a simple Thought Shield prevents them from doing much of anything worthwhile…




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The Thieves Guild and Gentleman Rogues

As should be clear from the last few posts, in addition to the normal game sessions, I will occasionally take folks aside in email or in person to handle “off-screen” details. It may be blue-booking like below, or it may simply be some basic solo adventuring to figure out a couple of things, but especially when I have two people Skyping in from out-of-state, I prefer to use “table-time” for actual gaming rather other stuff. This is slightly adapted text of the email that I sent out as the last intersessionary update as to what had happened:

Gryphon is able to get all of you (via a couple of trips) to the city of Snell, a smaller inland city of a few thousand inhabitants on the eastern border of the Grand Duchy of Soahc. While not as fine or grand or ultimately as exciting as Aos, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Soahc, it is as a busy trade center mostly concerned with mundane goods and services (unlike Aos, which concerns itself with the exotic and the magical as much as possible).

That is, of course, if you are interested. Pretty much all of you (except Gryphon!) went up two levels in Thief and would like some decent training in the appropriate skills and whatnot. Of course, this does require joining the Black Masks Thieves Guild (or at least, this thieves guild for the moment) – these are the folks with the knowledge and the skills (and the equipment) that most of you are seeking and they aren’t going to hand it out to just anyone. Joining is easy, it merely costs 100sp, though the dues (which are immediately assessed) are another 100sp per your current level.

The benefits are pretty obvious. You have a place to get training (though it will cost), and in this town you have the contacts to fence stolen goods of most goods, plus a place to buy rogue-specific equipment. You’ll also have some contacts for selling stolen goods through fences, and anything else that might be appropriate for the Thieves Guild. You also all get an official black silk mask that you may wear on job to obscure your identity, and you all get tattooed with a small black mask somewhere on your body (your choice). You also get access to legal advocates in the event that you get caught and need legal defense, and the Black Masks and the Black Rose Society (the Assassin’s Guild) have a mutual “hands-off” policy.

The requirements are that you give a cut of 10% of the value of all your stolen goods (or monies) to the Guild if stolen within its area of operations. This is essentially most of the GRand Duchy of Soahc as well as the surrounding area, though if there is any question it’s usually best to just hand the Guild it’s cut and be done with it. You also agree not to steal from people and businesses under guild protection, and that you will also do your best to aid other guild members in need. I suppose that I can come up with actual bylaws, but those are the high points that really get emphasized. They also mention that, at times, members may be offered “opportunities” by the leadership of the Guild. You are all left the impression that turning down these “opportunities” isn’t very optional. You are also all supposed to operate under the “guidance” of more senior members of the Black Masks when they offer “advice”.

Pretty much the folks in the Black Masks that you know at the moment are: “Black” Stillson, the Lieutenant who took your oaths; Andraa, the owner of the Boarshead Inn (a front for the guild); “Blind Lew”, a beggar who can get messages to the Guild; Rueben, a kind of beefy Guild enforcer; Paulus, a gray trader (fence); and Blackburne, the rather attractive female training master of the Guild.

What was really interesting is that KB, the guy playing Ketzl, decided that he wanted to go in another direction with his character. Ketzl is gnome, and not exactly super-interested in getting all involved in human guilds and politics – and more importantly is a noble and really doesn’t think of himself as a “thief” exactly (especially a tattoo..? How déclassé)… That said, he did recognize the need to play nice with the Thieves Guild and proposed some sort of other arrangement.

I thought about it a bit, and nodded. The Thieves Guild certainly would recognize the existence of “gentleman rogues” who while not exactly embodying the “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” of the Guild would have reason to do business with the seamier side of the common trades, and perhaps even have need of a gray trader at times. So, while there is a “gentleman-sized” fee for the privilege. Basically the “gentleman rogues” merely pay 200sp per level and will pay extra for all sorts of services. Plus they still pretty much have to obey all the guild rules and get very little in the way of guild benefits – but it keeps the peace with the adventurers that don’t want to get embroiled in local politics but also don’t want to get in trouble for doing their thing as well.

It’s been awhile since I had so many different people playing thieves all at the same time. It’s kind of fun actually, and really does rather neatly create an interesting balance against the very Lawful Good and highly religious members of the party.


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Geasa and Dust Bunnies

Here’s another Intersession, the one for Smjor the Barbarian. Yeah, I know, the Barbarian class from Unearthed Arcana that everyone hates. I have a bit of strange relationship with the Barbarian, complicated interestingly by the fact that I do not, as a general rule, care how powerful a character is. So my issues aren’t exactly with how powerful they are, but with how unplayable they are. So understanding that I have tweaked the class around pretty severely, drawn a bit from the Oriental Adventures version of the class (which is better balanced in general) one of things that I have added is that barbarians all have geasa – and gain one with each level of advancement.

As SS (Smjor’s player) likes to put it, “Barbarians, the only class that can do less with each level they go up!”

But, Barbarians basically have to find a decent level shaman or druid (or oracle I suppose) in order to get themselves their geis, and Smjor also has this mysterious bunny that climbed into his pack and seems to bring him good luck that he’s not sure what to do with or about – normally he’d eat it, but he’s superstitious enough to recognize that bunnies don’t just crawl into people’s packs….


Caedmon is a druid, and while he showed up to give a blessing to the rangers (and check out the “hot half-elf ranger/druidess” before they went out for their induction into their lodge he’s perfectly happy to provide you with a geis. He’s actually a bit surprised to find a Northman around here, but he’s perfectly happy to pull out the sticks and a bull’s skin to see what is up for you. After some fiddling around he comes up with “Never enter a cairn in the Heartlands on Imbolc.” So, no grave-robbing for the holidays!

On a short note, I use the geis tables from the Pagan Shore Ireland supplement for Pendragon – only slightly adapted becauise I’m running a game in Ireland.


=>From Smjor’s Player

1) Since I’m not up there, it was hard to find a time to sneak this info in, so I’ll just let you know a) in case it matters, b) just for color text. As I said in my letter to the group, Smjor is really considering that animal to be a gift from the gods – after all, rabbits just do NOT curl up in backpacks randomly. The better combat skills could just be psychological, the prescient nature of its paranoia could just be, well, being a rabbit. (and yes, I think Sjmor may have thought of these things)… but just the fact that it showed up how it did is evidence enough for the big guy.

2) Smjor will thus treat this rabbit accordingly. He needs to find a way to carry that little guy around with him that minimizes risk of injury, but also maximizes its comfort. Yes, this may be expensive. And yes, He’s willing to ask ppl about it (engineers/mages/etc at the keep). Smjor will NOT let those not-in-the-group know of the circumstances, He’ll just tell them that he want to keep the rabbit safe… He’ll let them think it’s some bizarre northman superstition if he needs to.

3) But what this really leads to is Caedmon. Smjor will show the druid the rabbit in a way that (hopefully) shows respect for both the man and the beast. Animal kinship is certainly a thing of “the Old Gods” – but not so much a thing of Smjor’s people (or, certainly, his father and family).


Now, when it comes to Caedmon and the bunny…

“Hmmmm…” Caedmon eyes the bunny, the Bunny eyes Caedmon.

It wriggles it’s nose.

“That’s quite a rare beastie you have there. You say it just crawled into your pack?”

*Yes, yes it did.*

“Well isn’t that interesting.” Druid and Bunny eye each other some more, Caedmon leans in quite close to look at it. The Bunny sits there and then sneezes, Caedmon jerks back. “You are quite the lucky fellow aren’t you.”

*I- Err, Yes, I …am?*

“You have a Dust Bunny. Quite a rare-” He eyes you “-and magical beast. And it appears to have chosen you.”

*Err… Ulp.* (Barbarians don’t really like magic you know)

“That is, quite frankly, a sign of excellent luck and the favor of the Old Powers. The Dust Bunny is quite devoted to its companion, never leaving their side, bringing them luck in all things. There is no way of knowing, but some of them can be quite vicious when defending a fallen companion, so be aware of that. See those great gnashy teeth there?” Caedmon points out the large incisors of the Dust Bunny.


“They’ll bloody well rip your throat out if they get the chance. Dust Bunnies can also be quite dangerous if attacked or provoked, so warn your companions not to tease it.” Caedmon eyes you ominously, “Dust Bunnies do not tolerate teasing.”

Yes, Caedmon has a cousin named Tim – he’s a mage…

This all came about because SS (and about half the gaming group) all play Godville a “Zero-Player Game, and his Hero had just lost their “pet” a “Dust Bunny” – and I thought it was funny to have a rabbit crawl into his character pack in my game to replace the lost pet in the other game. Now, as I played with it I actually liked it as a “magic item” for a character class that doesn’t normally like magic – the Dust Bunny acts like a Luckstone as long as it is within some reasonable range of Smjor (rather like a familiar).

Anyways, tomorrow I’ll post the Intersession for the Rogues.



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The Old Faith and Ranger Lodges

This was, as with the previous post, the intersessionary email for the Old Faith folks.

So, shortly after you all get back to Seraph Keep, after treasure is divided up, a trio of members of the Old Faith show up. Jezebel is happy to see Ru (short for “Kharukash”) show up, her sponser into both the Ban Draoi and the Rangers. Ru is a half-elven Ranger/Druid/Mage that she knows from her past training, and who generally serves as liaison between the Rangers and the Ban Draoi (the distaff side of the Druidic Orders) – as well as being a member of the Circle, a kind of larger, over-arching organization of rangers, druids, mages, and bards (as well as other classes, but these are the most represented).

Ru takes Jezebel back to Áine, a Druidess whose grove is deep in the mountains, and where she undergoes her initiation into the 1st Circle of the Ban Draoi Order. Imagine lots of dancing naked around fires, sleeping in caves, and meditation under the night sky wrapped in animal skins. Jezebel also spends time under the eye of Ru herself as she gets inducted into Dragonblood Lodge – this involves lots of sweatlodges, running naked in the woods hunting things with your bare hands and teeth, and being painted in woad and blood – possibly some tattoos as well. Now, this isn’t free, each of these costs you in the neighborhood of 1000sp. If you don’t have the money, or don’t have things you can offer up in place of money – so after treasure picks (and yes, you do know that this sort of thing is going to take cash, this isn’t a surprise) we’ll see where you are at. But don’t worry, you’ll get your initiations and inductions no matter what. Ru isn’t going to let a prospect of your potential slip through the cracks.

The other two who show up are the ranger Laighhean and the Caedmon the Druid. Laighhean is a pretty well-respected ranger (he’s like 8th level) and he takes Arvid and Taloth off into the mountains after they get a blessing from Caedmon where they meet up with a handful of other rangers and they get inducted into the Blackmoon Lodge. Similarly to Jezebel, this involves lots of sweatlodges, lots of hunting things with nothing more than your hands and teeth, being painted in woad and blood, possible tattoos, and meditating under the night sky wrapped in animal skins. This is going to cost each of you roughly 1000sp, let me know if you don’t think you’ll have enough cash or trade after the treasure picks. It will get figured out.

This shows the players a bit more about what they can expect from both being members of the Old Faith, but also introduces them to a couple of “movers and shakers” when I say Druid (and Druidess) I’m talking the 12th level ones – the folks that are important. Plus Ru is pretty darn spiffy as well, the Circle is one of those groups that was spawned a million years ago in my game, by a mention of a group of rangers and druids of the same name by Ed Greenwood long before he was ever talking about the Harpers. I think it was in one of his Pages from the Mages articles.

The other part is that as we discussed this all in person, it also “came out” that there had been at least a couple of days spent all together doing said ranger-y things off in some hidden valley where the rangers and the druids hang out. Not sure where exactly that will go, but it’s good to know that I have that in the wings as well if I need it. Plus, Taloth’s new broadsword let’s him Teleport once per day – and he spent some time making a point of memorizing the teleport terrace in the hidden valley. So, if all else fails, he has a spot to bamf out to for safety.


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