Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Gollum class for DCC RPG

 Around two years ago I wrote new classes for Halflings on DCCRPG. The reason for that was the same one for when I created new types of dwarves (in the olde days of ye blogue, when my English was a lot worse). In both stances, I was motivated by the fact that I had more than one of my players using Dwarves and Halflings in our DCC RPG campaign and I wanted to provide some variety. Fast-forward to the present, I was talking with my gaming table, and the topic of Halflings came back… and I realized I still haven’t made my “Gollum” class (OK, at the time it was a joke but…. Why not?).

A Gollum class you ask? Since when the Gollum became a gollum? Well, technically since the first edition of D&D was released in 74. Since Monsters & Treasure we had pegasuses, medusas, minotaurs etc. All plurals, not unique monster (in fact, it is funny how later, in the AD&D 2nd historical “green sourcebooks”, those monsters became unique again). The thing is: there is precedent for my madness!

The Gollum class represents ideally a corrupted or evil form of Halfling, but it could also represent some form of goblin, gully/degenerated dwarf, demodand, ratfolk, mutant, or even one of Dunsany’s gnoles (basically, just remove swimming and/or change it to something that fits your concept better).

The Gollum Class

Start with the Halfling class, but remove Good Luck Charm, Slow, Two-Weapon Fighting, Weapon Training. Keep Small.

Your Hit Dice is a d8 (Gollums are tiny but tough).

Your Weapon Training include just clubs, knives, stones, and other primitive stuff. Armors are useless as they will hinder all your abilities.

Infravision: Gollums can see in the dark up to 60’.

Bestial: Gollums fight more like animals than humanoids. They have an extra Action Die (AD) which is -1 Die Step lower than their main one. This extra AD can be used only to grapple, bite, choke, or escape (see Slippery for the last one).

Grapple: Gollums grappling double their basic Attack modifier. They still follow all the grapple rules normally (DCCRPG p. 96), except that size modifiers are not used. Instead of that, if a creature is bigger than the gollum, a successful grapple check means that the gollum can climb it and cling to it. While clinging to a bigger target, the Gollum gains an AC bonus equal to its level against any physical attack (including from the grappled creature). The gollum can use their extra AD to automatically bite the target (roll just to check for a Critical Hit or Fumble) for 1d4 damage (if a critical is rolled, treat the gollum as a monster of same level and roll on table M at p. 392). The gollum can also use their extra AD to choke the target (if they can grapple its neck, what usually limits this to human-sized or smaller foes). Each round of choking forces the target to make a Fort save DC 10 or suffer a cumulative -1 Die step penalty on all actions. The DC increases by 1d4 per continuous round and 3 failures drop the target uncounscious.

Corrupted: Gollums see everything inverted. Ugliness is beauty and anything beautiful is ugly. There are very few things more horrendous to gollums than elves and fey. The judge is free to use this as a descriptive device when telling what gollums see. Civilization for them is horrible and barbary is great. Weirdly, for gollums a comfy bed is a nightmare, and a bare rock is luxury. In mechanical terms, the judge is free to “invert DCs”. For example, resting in an inn would require perhaps a Stamina, Intelligence, or anything like a “survival” check for gollums (probably with a DC around 10-15). Meanwhile, they could sleep in a bare cave or hot desert like they are at home. Gollums require 3x less food than humans (and yes, the more raw and disgusting the food  the better). They are immune to diseases and can choose to lose 1d6 points of Luck to avoid any Corruption (if they don’t have enough Luck points, they suffer the Corruption normally).

Crawling Critters: Gollums can use the Halfling’s Sneak & Hide bonus to backstab, climb sheer surfaces, sneak silently, hide in shadows, and swim like a fish! The last one is a new skill check that allows gollums to swim really well (automatic for easy currents and lakes, DC 5 for most rivers and seas, DC 10 for heavy currents and stormy seas, DC 20 for impossible stuff live maelstroms and waterfalls) and hold their breaths (as a bonus to Stamina checks, the DCC RPG p. 412 on water elementals).

Miserable: Gollums are cursed and corrupt creatures, at the best pitiable and most of the time just hated. This is represented by “inverted Luck”. Roll Luck normally, however, invert the modifier’ signal. Example: a gollum with Luck 7 has a +1 modifier actually and one with Luck 18 suffers a -3 modifier. Therefore, the unluckier the gollum the more tenacious they are (this is usually represented by their Birth Augur bonus). Luck points remain the same. Like Halflings, Gollums recover each night a number of Luck points equal to their level. Finally, gollums are immune to curses (they are already cursed but see Precious Trinket).

Precious Trinket: Gollums are savage creatures that don’t pay attention to mundane stuff. They can only carry 1 item + an extra item per level. However, they can carry one additional item if they declare it as their “Precious Trinket”. As long as they have their Precious Trinket, 1 Luck point spent gives them a +3 bonus. When they lose their trinket, they can choose to go into a murderous rage or they MUST use all actions to recover it. If a trinket is broken or definitely lost, the gollum loses all Luck points until the end of the adventure (when, if they want, they can declare a new trinket). Gollums under a murderous rage must attack all enemies on sight and never retreat, but they gain a Mighty Deed of Arms die like a Warrior of the same level.

Slippery: Gollums can use their extra AD to escape without suffering an attack (see Withdrawal on p. 95).

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The Peril Die

My AD&D 2nd game hit an interesting point (and challenge), which I imagine could be common to a lot of other tables: basically, my game schedule became a mess very quickly and, as a result, our usual weekly sessions suddenly became monthly (if that). Besides the obvious problem of playing less RPG we had a more pressing issue: in our current game, most of the party’s resources were already spent and they were deep into a long combat against drows and their minions, at the last rooms of the dungeon. To further complicate matters, one of the player’s main characters was down and was being carried by hirelings (we are using the Dungeon Master’s Guide’s Hovering at Death Door rule, so PCs brought below 1 hp but not killed are incapacitated for 24 hours).

Now, imagine yourself stuck in the above situation for three months in real-time (as our sessions also became shorter). It is sometimes hard to get excited with a game if your character is so limited. As a DM, one of my main concerns is usually with pace. That said, I am very lucky that my current table is not only mature but also transparent and open to conversation (we just want to have fun). I noticed that, in the last weeks, the players were discussing in our online chat about optional rules and ways to regain spells or abilities that were lost “back in September”. I didn’t want to change the rules of the campaign – especially in the middle of combat – but I must be honest that I also felt that the table’s concerns were valid. They were, after all, stuck in the same place for a long time due solely to their DM’s crazy real-life issues. Because my own time was preciously short, I didn’t have the chance to come up with other solutions: such as introducing potential hirelings and NPCs to be controlled by the party.

So, I invented a special ruling to close that dungeon: the Peril Die. It worked wonders and our last game session (which was thankfully 3 hours long) allowed the party to end the combat, advance 3-4 rooms, two more encounters, and “finish” the dungeon! (Of course, now they must get back with a lot of loot, prisoners, rescued allies etc.).

The Peril Die is a metagame mechanic so many of you might prefer to avoid it. I created it to allow players to use a “recharge” mechanic mixed with some risks (and fun for me as a DM). It can be used in basically any Old School game, including DCC RPG. I would even use it in non-Old School games, like D&D 3rd and 5th, or Pathfinder 1st, but I would hesitate to employ it in more procedural games such as 13th Age, Fantasy Craft, Pathfinder 2E etc. (including a few Old School ones, such as Errant).

The Peril Die is a table resource that can be used by any player. If you are using it for just one session, I would start with a d6 (but I used a d8 and it worked fine). I suggest placing a big physical die in the middle of the table. Any player can pick it up and declare some event, usually restricted to recovering a resource for their character. The declaration must make narrative sense. So, for example, a cleric can declare “When my Deity sees my facing the vile drows, She fills me with holy might, and I recover my spiritual weapon spell”, or a fighter might say “When my ally falls, I am suddenly filled with rage and I can roll 1HD to recover hit points”. After the declaration, the entire table (including the DM) must discuss and decide – unanimously – to accept it. If anyone complains, the Peril Die remains in the centre of the table. If everyone agrees about the declaration and the mechanical benefit, the character gains that boon automatically. Then, the player who made the declaration must roll the Peril Die. If the numbers 1 or 2 come up, something bad happens. Otherwise, the Peril Die becomes smaller (i.e. like a Usage Die, changing from d6 to a d4 for example).

I usually follow this die chain: d8 -> d6 -> d4 -> d3

What is the “something bad”? Well, it depends. Here are some loose rulings.

First: the DM is the sole arbiter of what happens.

Second: the bad stuff should be somehow proportional to the boon received by the player. For example: an extra cleric spell? Nice, the enemy also recovers a spell (or a normal monster now gains a spell from a rival deity). Is the fighter regaining 1HD of hit points? That might mean that a monster also heals or that an extra monster appears (perhaps with 1-2HD in this case).

Third: the DM decides when the bad stuff happens (and yes, he can accumulate bad stuff as I did).

The Peril Die allowed my players to regain some agency over their (very) battered characters. It also allowed me to leave the adventure more dynamic. Finally, it made everyone have more fun at our last game. I am still thinking if I am going to use it sporadically or as a new constant house rule (there is, of course, a chance of power creep behind the mechanic but I am fine with that).

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

The Invisible Blade, a Fighter Kit for AD&D 2nd

The Invisible Blade prestige class first showed up on the Dragon Magazine #303 and later was updated to the Complete Warrior sourcebook for D&D 3.5. However, my favourite version remained the one designed by the author - Kolja Raven-Liquette – on his website (which is no longer available, unfortunately). The entire idea of a warrior specialized with daggers or knives is an awesome concept that I always wanted to use in my D&D games.

Oh, the crazy days of 3.5... call it a guilty pleasure but I miss them.

Almost 2 years ago, my table decided to return to an AD&D 2nd RAW game. We started the adventure within the Forgotten Realms Revised Boxed Set – Beneath the Twisted Tower. We just finished that adventure last Sunday and the campaign so far has been a blast. While we started with the intent of playing RAW that didn’t last long (which I find completely natural in RPGs). However, we were very specific with some rules. In particular, we always rolled 3d6 in order. As a result, most characters didn’t have attribute bonuses to their PCs. One player in particular decided to create a half-elf fighter and, after some reading, decided that the best option for his character would be to specialize in daggers. After 3 levels of grueling dungeon-crawl, his dagger-throwing and dual-wielding fighter was doing considerable damage. By that time we started slowly incorporating rules form the Complete Fighter’s Handbook and Combat & Tactics and soon we realized that daggers have lost their mechanical potential (in part because we also used a variant Extraordinary Strength rule from the Dragonsfoot forum designed by the user Matthew-). While I love all the many rules and options of AD&D 2nd, I also must admit that the original system (just from the Core Books) is a lot more simple and deadly than I imagined. I loved it, particularly how bonus to attack, damage, and AC are all very rare if you roll straight 3d6 in order. It is a very different way of playing AD&D for me (because when we were younger we would always roll a bunch of uber-powerful PCs). I will keep AD&D 2nd in mind for more minimal and bonus-avert games in the future. It is in fact an interesting sweet spot: lots of options and, if properly approached, not much power-creep. Anyway, as usual, I am digressing...

The first campaign setting that I bought!

Both the player of the half-elf fighter and I loved the idea of the character using daggers. It was his signature weapon after all. So, I decided to adapt the idea (not the rules) of the Invisible Blade to an AD&D 2nd Fighter Kit. Here are the results after a few months of playtesting.

The Invisible Blade (Fighter Kit)

Seen as daredevils or maniacs, invisible blades are fighters that eschew heavy armor and shield, trusting only on their reflexes and sharp daggers (or knives, katars, dirks, stilettos, kukris etc.). They enjoy the thrill of combat, to live on the edge, daring the gods to bring about their doom. The fact that many invisible blades fight a smile on their faces doesn’t help their reputation.

As a Fighter Kit, Invisibles Blades use the same THAC0, Hit Dice, and experience table as a Fighter.

Requirements: Str 9, Dex 13, Char 13

Alignments: any non-Lawful

Allowed Armor: Only leather. They don’t use shields.

Allowed Weapons: Only small blades (either piercing or slashing ones).

Weapon Proficiency: Invisible Blades must specialize in a small blade of some kind.

Non-Weapon Proficiency: Invisibles Blades can buy any proficiency from the Warrior and Rogue groups.

Benefits: all the benefits below presume an Invisible Blade with the right weapon and armor combination.

1. Amazing Speed: -3 bonus to Initiative or one Speed Category faster (if using Combat & Tactics).

2. Snake Lunge: the first time that any intelligent humanoid enemy faces an Invisible Blade they are susceptible to a deadly and sudden lunge that often catches them by surprise. This only works once with each enemy and any other adversary who saw the movement or heard about it won’t fall for the trick. In game terms, the Invisible Blade provokes a surprise roll (roll a 1d10 and 1-3 is a surprise). If the lunge hits, treat the Invisible Blade as a backstabbing thief of the same level.

3. Flying Death: at the beginning of any combat encounter, before both sides engage in melee, a non-surprised Invisible Blade can throw a small blade if he was carrying one before the encounter started (this works similar to the official rule that allow archers with a knocked arrow to shoot before initiative).

4. Daring Die and Daring Points: Invisible Blades’ panache and sheer insanity in battle, as well as their amazing reflexes, are not represented by modifiers to Armor Class but by a pool of Daring Points. Daring Points work like Hit Points in that if an Invisible Blade is hit, they can decide to lose the former instead of the latter. Daring Die are like Hit Dice but generate only Daring Points. The idea is that, unlike AC, which is a static number, Daring goes down with combat. An Invisible Blade’s Daring Die (DD) is a 1d4 and they gain one per level. Therefore, for example, a 3rd level Invisible Blade has 3d10 HD and 3d4 DD. Daring Points don’t work against surprise attacks or attacks that the Invisible Blade cannot perceive. They can’t be healed in any way. If an attack brings the Invisible Blade to 0 or lower hit points, they fall, no matter how many Daring Points they have. After combat, if an Invisible Blade can clean their blades and catch their breath (1 turn or 10 minutes), they can reroll their DD. If the amount is higher than their current total of Daring Points, then they can use the higher amount. Daring Points do not count as hit points for any purposes and an conflicts with the current rules will be adjudicated by the DM.

5. Make them Bleed!: any small bladed weapon in the hands of an Invisible Blade increases the die damage by one step. For example, daggers (usually 1d4 against medium targets) cause 1d6 points of the damage in the hands on one of those maniacs.


1. Invisible Blades are limited to leather armor and cannot use any type of shield, as detailed above. They can only use magical weapons for which they are specialized.

2. If their reputation is known, Invisible Blades suffer a -3 reaction penalty from Lawful authorities and in most civilized realms or cities (although they do fare well within areas dominated by Thieves Guilds).

3. Invisible Blades crave danger and risk. This trait should be roleplayed by Invisible Blades PCs and usually result in them targeting the biggest or stronger enemy in battle or attempting crazy stunts. DMs should reward extra XP for those attempts if successful (for example, perhaps granting +15% over the amount that the defeated enemy would concede). DMs whose desire a more rules-heavy limitation can use the following: while an Invisible Blade has at least 1 Daring Point, they must roll equal or below their lowest stat between Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. If they fail this check, they will refuse healing (i.e. if healed by forced with magic they must resist the spell with a saving throw).

Quick & Dirty versions for other d20s!

These are really “quick and dirty” as I haven’t pondered much about them, so be warned…

OD&D (the true and only one, from 74!) and clones: keep this as simple as possible. Limit the armor and weapons and just use Daring Die and Daring Points to make it different from a normal fighter. I am curious to see how this “ablative pool” of hit points interacts with the normal hit points (which are already heavily abstracted in OD&D).

OSE or B/X D&D or similar editions/clones: use the kit basically as written as a modified Fighter class. Ignore ability requirements and proficiency entries. Considering the most often those versions of D&D use a simpler initiative system, I would also remove Amazing Speed. Otherwise, it is worth a shot to see how this would play. It can be easily reskinned for a duelist or pirate (PCs who don’t use heavy armor). 

DCC RPG: one of my all-time favourite d20s. The Warrior and Thief are both already perfect takes on the Invisible Blade IMHO. However, if you must, try this hack: make a Warrior but restrict his armor to leather and his weapons to small blades, as per the kit. Reduce his hit dice to d8. Let him recover Luck as a Thief or Halfling. Now bump his Deed Dice by 1 dice step (i.e. it start as a d4 instead of d3, reaching d10+5 at 10th level) and bump the weapon damage also by 1 step (i.e. daggers do 1d6). There is a catch here: the Deed Dice ONLY WORKS with small blade weapons. For the “ablative pool” of hit points (Daring Points) I will give you 2 options. Option 1: use Luck. An Invisible Blade can reduce any damage taken by their Luck. Easy to remember. Option 2 (my favourite but it requires playtesting): during the first round of combat roll only (if not surprise) roll Deed Dice as a free action and gains a number of temporary hit points equal to the result. During later rounds, each time you attempt a Mighty Deed of Arms, you can decide before or after the roll to add the Deed Die result to your pool of temporary hit points. If you do this, you can’t execute a different maneuver or otherwise add the Deed Die to your damage rolls. If those temporary hit points are spent, you have “run out of panache” for that battle and can’t use this trick anymore. After the last round of combat, your temporary hit points are gone.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Planescape & 13th Age

With the new version of the setting released for D&D 5E, people are already discussing how to best play in Sigil in our times. Obviously, the answer is the way that you find most fun. When I thought on the subject, I felt that 13th Age would be the perfect system (for me at least) to run a Planescape game today. Let me explain my reasons. However, before that, a quick summary and ruminations…

The original AD&D 2nd Planescape setting came out in the same year that I started playing RPGs (actually I started playing one year earlier – 1993 – but I remember Planescape as the “new cool thing”). I was deeply impacted by the original boxed set and the supplements: the art, the flavour, the weirdness. I never read anything like that, particularly in D&D. That said, D&D 5E today is filled with exotic ancestries, places, and a whimsical factor that was completely absent from previous editions – except Planescape. So, in a sense, Planescape paved the way for this surreal/whimsical/exotic vibe that today is basically the “normal” version of the game (particularly among new players, who aren’t as indoctrinated as we grognards from the “good old days”).

Planescape (the “original” edition let’s say) is about “philosophers with clubs”; it is about living in the afterlife (and being extremely blasé about it); it is about seeing Alignments and the entire thing of Good x Evil just as different soccer teams (meanwhile asking nonchalantly “What is in for me, berk?”); it is about weird and wonderful rules of reality that have something to do with rings and the number 3; it is about the Chant, the obvious way that “cool” sods talk among themselves. In other words: it was strange, fantastic, and dream- (or fever-) like, and it was all coloured by the amazing art of DiTerlizzi. It is kind of a (very) specific Zeitgeist… if you weren’t a D&D player in the 90s it is hard to explain with words (for me at least)…

…ANYWAY! Moving on…

Planescape taught me that you could play D&D pursuing more interesting goals than just levelling up and magic items. It taught me that Belief mattered and that the planes, the gods, and everything else didn’t count so much. And if you had the (amazing) luck of playing Planescape: Torment, then you know how metaphysical and personal questions are the soul of a good Planescape game (“What can change our nature?”… it is a shame that computer games such as Torment and Baldur’s Gate taught me more about roleplay than official D&D books).

Planescape is also filled with unique and counterintuitive characters (Torment has those by the bucketload): moral demons, mythomaniac angels, people that are literally forgotten letters of ancient alphabets, misers that want to buy their way out of Hell (because they can visit it and know how shitty it is), characters with angelic/demonic blood (when that was rare and cool), broken robots of Law etc. It was a wonderful and unique mismatch that gave the impression that every character was bizarrely unique and that your belief counted more than your ancestry or class…

…and that is why I think 13th Age is perfect for a (new) Planescape game!

First: Ancestries (I know they are called Races in 13th Age 1st Edition)

We got our Tielfings and Aasimars in the game and I am very happy with 13th Age's simple but iconic take on ancestries (and the future 2nd Edition looks even better on that). What about other “traditional” races from the gold old Planescape AD&D line? Well, here is my quick and dirty version:

Bariaur: males have +2 to Strength or Constitution. They have the Racial Power Headbutt, which allows you to use your horns in a charge against any nearby or far away enemy. You deal 1d8 points of damage per level. If you want, you can deal 1d10 points of damage per level, but you are Dazed after that (save 11+). Female Bariaur have +2 to Intelligence or Wisdom. They have the Racial Power Cunning, which allows them to reroll one Initiative roll or to force one enemy to reroll a magic attack (the GM has the final word on what is “magic”).

Githzerai: these guys have +2 to Dexterity or Intelligence. They have the Racial Power Passionate Stoicism. Githzerai are creatures of burning passions, particularly when it comes to revenge (against Gythyanki and Illithids), but they are also beings of extreme self-control and mental discipline as they carved their home in Limbo. Passionate Stoicism is my clumsy attempt to simulate that. Once per day, a Githzerai can substitute any inflicted Condition with Weakened. This simulates either that they are using their intense emotions or iron self-control to ignore hardship.

If you must have some form of Magic Resistance…

Magic Resistance (Racial Githzerai Adventurer Feat)

Once per day, you gain Resist Magic 18+ (the GM/table decides if something is “magic”) for a battle. Your resistance also applies to any healing spell applied over you and the GM is welcome to roleplay all of your magic items as if all of them hate you. The GM should also choose a random chakra that you are using: the magic connected to that chakra is placed in a coma by your magic resistance until a Full Heal-Up (or an Icon Roll spend, or something like that).

Champion Tier: You can use this Racial Feat once per battle, but you lose 2 chakras.

Rogue Modrons: +2 to Intelligence or Constitution. You can use the Never Say Die Racial Power from the Forgeborn/Dwarf-Forged from the 13th Age Core Rulebook. If you want something more Modron-like, try this power.

Creature of Order (Racial Rogue Modron Power)

You are a creature of patterns and react poorly to surprises or change. You roll Initiative once at every Full Heal-Up and keep that number until your next Full Heal-Up. You can always choose to roll a 2d10 instead of a 1d20, but once you roll a 1d20 you become so erratic that you can only opt to roll 2d10 after a Quick Rest.

Finally, you can choose to buy the Preset Programmed Action Feat if you want some more Modron classic stuff.

Preset Programmed Action (Racial Modron Adventure Feat)

You can program yourself to act on a preset action, thus compensating your usual predictability. This action must be something that could be done with a Standard Action and that could be phrased as “If A do B to C, I will D to E”. Examples are “If an enemy (A) attack (B) me (C), I will attack (D) him (E)”, or “If an ally (A) is dropped (B) by an enemy (C), I will help (D) him (E)”. The GM/table has the final word. If a situation occurs where the Preset Programmed Action is triggered you can, once per day, use an interrupt action to enact it. Because this is something programmed into you before the current situation, you cannot use the Escalation Die for this action.

Planars and Primes

If you want to give some mechanical juice to the distinction between Primes and Planars, try this:

Primes: Primes are normal 13th Age characters (if there is such a thing). They begin with the free background Clueless +2. They can use this to simulate any knowledge from their home and also to go by on the planes if they are willing to accept a “success with a cost”. In other words, Primes start with a free background that lets them do stuff in the Planes if they are fine with that happening with some complications. For example, a Rogue Prime Half-Elf is invited to a dinner… by Baatezu in a special tavern in Sigil that specialises in attending the culinary tastes of the Nine Hells! The PC suspects that the food is poisonous to mortals but none of his backgrounds can help them. He can use Clueless +2 to find out if the food is poisonous. If he succeeds, what happens is that one of the Baatezu stops from eating poisonous food. However, the same Baatezu now claims that the half-elf has “soul debt” with him and demands that he use the poison to kill someone in 7 days or his soul is forfeit (“As you can read in the plaque above our table, which sets the socialization contract requirements for all those who wish to partake of this fine delicacy. It is a usual contract in the Nine Hells, but you primes are often so clueless about common sense…”).

Planars: Planars can sense nearby gates and see their boundaries if within sight. This should be a big advantage for any Planescape game. They also can speak the Chant and don’t make a mess of themselves (as most Primes do). Planars however have a few disadvantages in that most magic from the Material Plane made to affect devils, angels, spirits etc. also have an impact on them. There are two basic ways to use this. If you are in a hurry, just do this: every time a Planar goes to the Material Plane (unless summoned) or crosses a gate they must pay 1 Recovery. Simple. The second option is my favourite but a bit complex: do a Montage! Basically, once per Full-Heal Up the GM should create a Montage to make the life of Planars “interesting”. The most classic example here is to say that the Planars are suddenly summoned to the Material Plane by some wizard and must deal with it to return. This Montage should use the rules from the Book of the Underworld (i.e., it must involve some skill check and inflict some cost, usually some resource, damage, use of a power, or use of a Recovery). If the table has a mix of Planars and Primes, let the Prime PCs create the problem (and perhaps a complication) for the Planar PCs to solve. If you have only one Planar PC, then just use the first option. Ignore all this if it is too much!

Second: Unique Things!

This is where we hit the sweet spot for 13th Age. Planescape characters have an idiosyncratic nature and that is their unique thing! Do you want to be the aforementioned “living forgotten letter of an ancient alphabet”? A rogue petitioner seeking to escape the Lower Planes masquerading as a Wizard? An ex-Proxy who survived the death of his Power? The last dream of an entire ancestry? That is your Unique Thing! 13th Age practically invites you to create your own unique take on “Planescapian” flavour.

Third: Backgrounds!

This is where you can build upon your Unique Thing/Race/PC Concept. For example, if you are a Rogue Modron, you can have the skill “Supernal Instantaneous Mathematical Calculations”, allowing you, for example, to instantly determine the amount of anything you can see, such as the number of coins in a chest or the number of devils in a Blood War battle (and you can of course argue with the GM that the skill is equally useful to “count” stuff such as “Evil”, “Good”, “Bloodlust”, “Hunger” etc.). Damn, you can use your faction to create some cool backgrounds too, such as “I act before I think” (yup, that is a Transcendent Order skill, I love those dudes).

Fourth: Icon Relationship.

Did I say Icons? Forget it. I mean “Faction Relationship”. Take 13th Age’s Icons and replace them with Planescape factions (from the original box and AD&D 2nd sourcebooks or use the new 5E ones). Select for example a 1 positive relationship with the Mercykillers (i.e., your faction), a 1 ambiguous one with the Harmonium (perhaps from your ex) and 1 enemy with the Dustmen (who let one of your ex-cons return as a wraith?)

Remember that you can go way beyond Factions here and allow PC to have relationships with Powers, Planes (or just a place), or any NPC that you like… (except the Lady of Pain… people with “relationships” with her tend to disappear).

Fifth: Belief.

Belief or the power of belief to change reality is a cornerstone of Planescape. I am aware that the Planewalker’s Handbook tried to gamify that into a rule (in a way that I still find very nice). However, instead of that, I suggest using Belief as a reward mechanic: when a player manages to change someone’s Belief or to concentrate enough Belief to incite change in the world (for example, convincing most of the population of a portal town for example), they should be rewarded: let them regain Recoveries, maybe a Full Heal-Up, or better yet, regain Faction Relationship dice (that you can roll right away!), or to change one encounter to a Montage!

If you prefer instead the original Planewalker’s Handbook system, then just create a Belief for each PC (one per Tier seems enough) and track their Belief Points. PCs can use 1 Belief Point to succeed at a Skill Check, gain a significant Clue from the GM, or regain 1 Faction Relationship Roll.

Optional rule: Binding Belief

Instead of changing someone’s Belief your PC can accept the burden of another’s Belief and hold on to it for the next 4 encounters (or until the next Full Heal-Up or when the GM say it is enough). After that, you gain some reward (preferably one use Faction Relationship Dice from the faction/group that you helped). The price paid is that, for those 4 encounters, you suffer a “negative Background”. For example, if accept the Belief that “Thought is a barrier to the true nature of the Multiverse -2” (a typical slogan for the Transcendent Order), means that you suffer a -2 penalty to any check where the GM thinks (ha!) that you have to use your rationality first (such as persuading an NPC, searching for a clue, using your erudite knowledge etc.). Depending on the Belief the negative background might have a stepper penalty (or it might impact some aspect of your PCs, such as your chakras).

OK, so I hope that by now we have reached a point where you (at least) agree that 13th Age is a good fit for Planescape. What else can we do? Well, I am glad you asked. Let’s try to create rules for Planescape's flavorful “truths” about the Multiverse:

The Rule-of-Three: everything important in Planescape tends to come/happen in threes. So, if you want to gamify this “rule” it could be something that the table (all the players, by consensus) could invoke ONCE per game session or day. Did they find one or two potions, or maybe two helpful NPCs, or even two paths ahead through Mount Celestia? Then the table can invoke the Rule-of-Three to create/suggest/negotiate new options. Depending on your GM style, you can settle this with a Montage, Skill Challenge, etc. A more “tactical” table can invoke this rule to ask for a Full Heal-Up after 3 (instead of 4) encounters. In this case, I would advise granting ONE player the benefit of a Full Heal-Up (not the entire table), as I feel this can lead to interesting choices. Instead of letting them use the Rule-of-Three for “free” every game session/day, you can instead determine that after invoked by the PCs, the next use of the Rule-of-Three belongs to the GM (yeah, 3 elite-level bosses! Time for the party to escape!).

Unity of Rings: Things in Planescape tend to follow a “ring-like” or circular logic. What comes around, goes around. OK, this one is harder. Here are my ideas so far…

First version: Use this for outlier results and “whiff’ factors. In other words, if a player rolls a fumble in any check (or rolls their Faction Relationship dice and doesn’t get anything), I would suggest they can spend 1 Recovery to request a “karmic counterbalance”. In other words, they gain an extra chance later to change the same kind of test. If the fumble was an attack roll, they have an extra d20 that they can use later; if it was a skill check, the same idea; if it is a Faction Relationship roll it costs 2 Recoveries and they can try to roll a new die at any point in the adventure.

Second version: like the first, when a player fails a check or doesn’t gain anything relevant/interesting, they can invoke the Unity of Rings to “invert” the result. Here, the effect is stronger. A fumble (a 1) becomes a critical hit (a 20). A 1 in a Faction Relationship die becomes a 6. However, after that, the Unity of Rings goes to the GM who can use it with his monsters. If using this version, the Unity of Rings can be summoned once per adventure or per game session.

Third version (after all, we must follow the Rule-of-Three too): This is a failing forward TURBO version! Once every encounter, when you fail any check (or Icon Relationship Roll), you can ask for a Ring Check. Only one PC per encounter gets this. A Ring Check works like an Icon Relationship roll: roll a d6 and it kicks in if you get a 5-6. If you get a 5-6, you have the right to execute a small Montage with a cost. In other words, you propose an advantage from the GM (a new way forward, a consumable magic item, access to an NPC, recovery roll for a power etc. in exchange for 1+ Recovery Die, a temporary negative Background, perhaps some damage etc.).

Center of All: this one rule I don’t feel the need to gamify. Instead, I would encourage the GM to ask each player what their character believes is the “Center of the Multiverse”. This would provide a lot of thought (and hopefully game material) for the GM to work it 😊

Friday, October 6, 2023

A matter of Luck

Luck is one of my favourite aspects of DCC RPG and it comes from a long tradition in TTRPGs (such as from the good old Fighting Fantasy games). That said, I have one little problem with the Luck rules as stated in the DCC RPG Core Rulebook: the whiff factor. Let me try to explain this better.

I like rules that move the session forward, particularly those that make the players hold their breath before rolling the die. In certain ways, this is how I see the themes of luck, chance, fate, and doom. I remember this particularly from the classic D6 System (of Star Wars), which its Wild Dice, Force points, and Character Points. I would like that same feeling in DCC RPG when PCs spend Luck.

Actually, this topic came to my mind because what usually happened at my table is that players would roll their die and then I would ask if they were happy with the result or would like to spend Luck. And here we have two “difficult schools”. The “first school” is that of the “transparent Judge”, who lets the PCs know all the DCs and necessary stats. So, if you like to tell your players a check’s DC before they roll, then the player would just do some math after the roll and decide if spending Luck is worth it. However, if you follow the “second school” (the “secret Judge”) then that means that you do not reveal DCs (perhaps just communicating to the players that one action is difficult, easy, practically impossible, etc.), which means that PCs don’t know how much Luck they have to spend to succeed. The first school turns Luck into a matter of mathematics; the second school is a shot in the dark, which usually results in considerable frustration for players. After all, they are spending a resource for maybe no result. To make matters worse, most Judges of DCC RPG that I know (including me) use a “mixed school”: they reveal the DCs for skill checks, but not monsters' stats (such as their AC). In the end, the result is the same: either the players are doing math between rolls or spending Luck blindly.

OK, so I decided to change that. What I’ve been doing for almost two years is this: each time a PC burns Luck, they can only burn 1 point at a time. Each point of Luck is either a +1d4 or +1d6. We usually prefer 1d6s because we love to roll them, but some tables might prefer 1d4s. Why might some prefer a 1d4? Because the die explodes. That means that if roll the maximum number, you get to roll a new die and add the result (and if the second die explodes too you keep rolling).

My players so far are loving this house rule. Why?

1) It speeds up our table dynamics. I usually like to tell the skills checks DCs but not monster stats. So most of the time (with skills checks) they know right away if they want to risk burning Luck. And if they do, they don’t have to think about how much they spend: they just burn 1 Luck and roll +1d6.

2) It is clearly a risk mechanic. The idea that you know that you die might not explode works better for my players than burning blindly “X points of Luck” and feeling that it was for nothing. There is still a chance that they will burn Luck and not get enough points, but they feel the risk here is more “honest”.

3) When the dice explode, the entire table cheers! They love it! (Particularly in spellcasting checks and damage rolls).

How about Thief PCs? When they burn Luck, I let them roll +1d6 plus the Luck Die indicated by their level. Just the 1d6 can explode. So, a 1st level Thief burning 1 Luck gains +1d6+1d3.

Halfling PCs? They roll +2d6 and pick the best die.

This house role of course is not perfect (and it requires adjustments when using optional Luck rules, such as Fleeting Luck, or classes such as those from DCC RPG Dying Earth). That said, so far it has worked really well at my tables and we are not thinking on changing it for time being.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Augury: Black Star

100% Recommended!

Recently my daughter discovered Clone Wars and to my total delight she devoured all the series like there was no tomorrow. Then she jumped to Rebels with equal enthusiasm and we both watched Ahsoka together – with made the experience something that I will treasure for the rest of my life., She then asked (no… demanded!) that I run a Star Wars RPG for her and my boy. Being a “old school” Star Wars gamemaster, I immediately recovered my Star Wars d6 (2nd Edition, Revised & Expanded) and used Bill Slavicsek’s house rules to de-crunch it a bit (you can find his excellent advice at the end of Defining a Galaxy: 30 Years in a Galaxy Far, Far Away, a must read for fans!).

Our first Star Wars d6 session was (of course) a mission for my daughter’s padawan and my son’s clone soldier. They enjoyed the narrative but complained that they felt limited by the rules. While I deeply love and still run Star Wars d6 I do admit that it is better suited for a level power close to Rogue One and Andor than Clone Wars (I mean, you can run it for Clone Wars with Jedi and Clone Commandos, but it requires character that are a lot stronger than traditional initial PCs… which also means rolling lot of dice all the time).

So, I started searching for another option. I am running a Dragon Ball Z FKR campaign for my kids, so I didn’t want to use the same approach for Star Wars. I briefly considered the awesome Star Wars Saga (d20) or using my old Star Wars FATE hack. I was tempted to dust off my Star Wars books that used Genesys (I love those dice), but I didn’t have the time to read the rules again. While I felt that my daughter might enjoy any of those options, my younger boy would get bored quickly. So I went looking for something not overly minimalist but also avoided traditional systems – and this is where I found Black Star.

LakeSide Games' Black Star is a not-Star Wars rules light player-faced game. All checks are made with 2d6 against a difficulty of 9, but the game also incorporates a lovely success with cost rule based on a limited resource: Resolve. Resolve is literally “dramatic hit points”. As long as you have 1 Resolve you still can do stuff, but if it hits 0 you are at the mercy of the opposition. Mixing traditional hit points with metagame currency is never a safe bet, but for the pulpy feel of Star Wars (especially the Clone Wars series)… damn, it works like a charm. Of course, it is a fine balancing act. I saw myself in situations where my kids faced the choice of either burning Resolve and trying something cool or not burning Resolve but suffering Resolve as damage. However, that kind of situation is a natural consequence of such systems and I never felt that it “broke” the game (more importantly, it never shattered the narrative reality). But it remains perhaps the weakest point of Black Star if you don’t like that kind of mechanic.

The rest of system use positive and negative die do adjudicate difficulty (kind like D&D 5E’s advantage and disadvantage, but cumulative). Gear, ships, and NPCs use a clever tag system that builds upon that system. Characters are defined by a set of universal skills, their archetypes, and their talents. Gear is part of the narrative but when it really matters mechanically then it is a talent, and that is a design decision that I totally approve (and which screams Star Wars!).

The book provides a cool set of not-Force powers, adventure samples, and everything you need to start kicking your campaign in a far, far away galaxy. I have already run 4 sessions for my kids and we are having a total blast. I cannot recommend enough this game for people that are looking for a rules light Star Wars option but who find things closer to FKR (like the awesome Galaxy Far Away) too light.

A typical Black Star player character.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

The Wilds of Hyrule, the diegetic Zelda campaign for my kids

My kids (and I) love TTRPGs and Zelda: Breath of the Wild (and yes, we are having a blast with Tears of the Kingdom). Obviously, I decided to bring those two love interests together. As you may know by now, given my previous post about ancestries, I already use elements of lore from Zelda in many of the games with my children. In fact, our current Wilds of Hyrule game started sometime after I wrote that post.

Basically, I wanted a TTRPG that gave the same design and aesthetic experience as Zelda: Breath of the Wild (BotW). BotW is not only an amazing and beautiful videogame, but it is also unbelievably simple and practical in its presentation. You not only learn the game as you play, but everything is so minimalist that the immersion aspects are a thing of pure genius!

In TTRPG terms, I wanted something as diegetic as possible. In other words, I wanted the game mechanics to, as often as possible, never break the immersion. More importantly, character advancement and change should be a result of the narrative, never of non-diegetic elements such as XP, milestones, advancement tracks etc. Advancement should also never refer to lists of feats, skills, etc. Everything, in the end, must emerge from the narrative itself. Of course, I started with FKR principles. The initial game mechanic is quite simple and well-known: if dice are necessary during the narrative, the player rolls 2d6 against the gamemaster with the highest roll determining who dictates the resolution.

I also like to roll one FUDGE/FATE die with any relevant 2d6 check. Those extra die era excellent for providing non-binary results ("Yes, but...", "Yes, and...", "No, but...", and "No, and..." results). They are also a good indicator regarding equipment damage, something important in a survival-like game like BotW. Usually, after three minus results in the die I declare that an item is broken (but, again, that depends on the narrative).

Like in BotW, each player has only two mechanical stats (and I wanted them to be the only thing in the game that is strictly diegetic): Hearts and Stamina.

You start with 3 Hearts. Every time you fail a dice check in combat you usually suffer 1 Heart of damage, although a high margin, the enemy’s size, and other factors might inflict more damage. If lose all of your Hearths and suffer a new injury then, considering the narrative, I let the player decide between falling unconscious, suffering a serious wound (which fills a part of your sheet, more on that later), or deciding to suffer a deadly wound and keep fighting. Again, everything must make sense in the narrative, not in the rules. I usually don’t let characters suffer more than one serious wound, because I don’t want too much bookkeeping, but that might change. A deadly wound usually means you are going to die barring some extraordinary event (like a Princess using the Triforce to heal you or the Sheikan Chamber of Resurrection). If you are already with a deadly wound and receive another hit, you are dead.

You also start with 3 Stamina. You can use those to push your roll, usually adding +1d6 (and picking the 2 better rolls), although I can see you using Stamina to move further, execute another minor action, concentrate on something like aim without missing your main attack etc. Like in BotW, Stamina also is impacted by extraneous physical and mental effort: a difficult climb, a long journey, surviving inclement weather etc. I like to use it also as a sign of bruises and scratches, or maybe as a result of a hit that is not enough to remove Hearts. Stamina also works as a source of power if a character is doing magic or if I want to apply a success with cost ruling.

Just the 2 Stats in the left, while on the right they can register their items and possibly specific wounds. There is a second sheet for equipment carried in a backpack, belt, or mount, as well as space to list deeds, friends, enemies, and anything else that your PC learned.

Those 2 stats and your character sheet, as you can see below are all that there is to your character. EVERYTHING else is diegetic. Do you want to learn to use a sword? Train, find a master, get possessed by the spirit of the Hero etc. Do you want to learn magic? Find a way, maybe with a master, an ordeal dictated by Korok spirits, a journey to the Font of Wisdom etc. The best part is that I can use the amazing Hyrule lore and BotW map as the location for my sandbox-like game.

I printed a big laminated version of this map to use in my games.

We have played as of this writing close to 10 game sessions and the character have developed quite well. To make sure that the video games are a good source, we established that my kids’ PCs are exploring Hyrule roughly 100 years after the events of BotW (and now Tears of the Kingdoms). Thus, they can use the lore they know from the game to discover what happened with Zelda and Link (who are now legendary figures whose fate is unknown).

Meanwhile, my kids already were cheated by the Yiga Clan (twice!), save the Captain of the (now a) city of Hateno, and journeyed to the top of Mount Lanaryu (which allow me to explore a skill challenge and point-crawl format while still keeping the game 99.99% diegetic).

The PCs could see through this map to visualize how their climbing was going, while from the GM side I could keep track of encounters and challenges like a point-crawl.

So far in the campaign, one of my kids managed to learn the basics of water healing magic from a Zoran, while the other saved (unknowingly) the old champion of an ancient god and was given a blessing of Strength. Both PCs also conquered a dungeon (inside a shrine, because this is BotW) and were blessed with either an extra Hearth or Stamina).

Wilds of Hyrule has been a simple but wonderful experience for me about how an (almost complete) diegetic campaign can be run.

Now I have to add all the cool stuff from Tears of the Kingdom!