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!

Monday, May 1, 2023

Mercurial Magic for Elves in DCC RPG


Mercurial magic is one of my all-time favourite rules from DCC RPG (and they are so easy to use in other OSR RPGs too). I love to customize them (among other things). Here is my Mercurial Magic table for the Elf class. No, they are not playtested and are probably unbalanced.

I created them because I felt that the original table is perfect for human Wizards, but that Elves deserve something different. I remember doing something similar with the mutation rules in Warhammer Fantasy 2nd for my elves (no, the elves of the Old World don’t become mutants in my games, they became daemons). Anyway, each campaign has its own very specific flavour of elves. In my own Mundo Partido homebrew setting, there are two main types of elves: those under the influence of the mad King of Elfland (who is trapped within its own crazy nightmare of Faery/Dreamlands) and those that still live in their hidden enclaves, covered in mithril and trading secrets with demons and extraplanar entities, as described in the Elf class of the DCC Core (I see these last ones almost as melnibóneans).

Anyway, I tried to mix those flavours, even adding a bit of Tolkien (after tall, they are elves!). I hope you enjoy it!

Elven Mercurial Magic Table

1. Defiler: your magic weakens the walls between realities, drawing the attention of entities of the Void. Roll a 1d8. If you roll a 1, you must pass a Luck check or disappear forever in the Void. If you pass but cast another spell in the same encounter, keep rolling a 1d8 until you change location or at least a turn (10 rounds) has passed.

2. Fading: this spell requires too much of your spirit. You disappear for 1d3 rounds after casting. When you reappear, you must succeed at a Luck check or 1 point permanently of Strength, Agility or Stamina. If this ever reduces you to 0 in any score, you disappear forever and your Name is erased from existence.

3. Bound Imp: your spell is manifested as an ugly imp, usually no bigger than a mouse. It always follows you at arm's length and in fact you can only cast the spell if the critter is close. Besides that, the creature is useless and a constant source of regret. It has a mind of its own and loves to provide (pedantic) advice. The imp has AC 10, saves +0, and as many hit points as you. If destroyed, you must quest to recover the spell.

4. Play with Death: your spell is a result of a game that you constantly play with Death itself. It is usually some arcane form of chess (although you can choose something else). You must play this game each day, usually before resting. You must keep the board and pieces with you at all times. To others at your party, it always seems you are playing alone. If you pass one night without playing you must pass a Luck check or you are found dead in the next day.

5. Living spell: this cantrap has a mine of its own. Roll a Personality check DC 10. If you pass, cast the spell normally. If you fail, you must cajole the cantrap and use an Action Die for a new Personality check. Your spell might interact with you at inappropriate times. Besides excellent opportunities for roleplay (or for the Judge to bug you), every time you Fumble, your living spell will try to cast itself as a free action (it wants to help!).

6. Old blood: casting this spell requires old blood - yours or from an equally elder creature (Judge's call). The amount required inflicts 1d3 points of damage per caster level.

7. Tainted by the Court of Chaos: casting the spell makes Law symbols glow or bleed, murk milk, spoils food, and scares animals and children in a 1-mile radius. For 1d3 days you become vulnerable to Turned Unholy and any divine magic cast increases disapproval.

8. Nethermancer: you conjure a demon slave to cast the spell. Demons are lazy and spiteful creatures that won't miss an opportunity to strike back. After casting the spell you must use your next Action Die to trap the demon inside a gem. If not trapped with your next action, the demon will try to cast the spell back at you, disturb something as a poltergeist (like disarm you or an ally or move something), or attack. All cases require a save (Judge's call) against a DC of 10 + 1d10. If the demon attacks you or an ally, they suffer 1d6 points of damage per caster level if they fail a save.

9. Dark magic: your magic calls the Dark. All fires in a 30 feet radius are extinguished and artificial lights are out for 1d6 rounds. Casting in daylight seems for a second to weaken the Sun itself but otherwise holds no other effect.

10. Magic of the Moon and the Stars: your spell is written in the dark sky above! If you lose a spell under moonlight or starlight, you can roll a Luck check to recover it instantly. If you cast a spell and you cannot see the stars or the moon, besides the usual effects, the spell is automatically lost. Some elves manage to circumvent this barrier by trapping starlight within a gem or flask of pure water.

11. Oathmagic: your spell requires a bidding oath. Each time you cast roll a 1d4: (1) you cannot speak, (2) you cannot deny any request or say 'no', (3) you cannot help anyone before demanding and receiving some reward, and (4) you cannot let food or magic affect your body. Each time you swear an oath you must keep it for "a day and a night".

12. Smoke and mirrors: you draw your spell from a source of smoke or a mirror. If you have both with you, roll twice and use the best result. If a mirror is broken in your presence you must pass a Fort save DC 15 or be stunned for 1 round and lose 1 Luck. You do not have the will (or capacity) to break a mirror.

13. Changeling: you become mortal (again)! For the next 1d3 hours, you lose infravision, immunities, and heightened senses. On the bright side, you also lose your vulnerabilities.

14. Elven lights: for 1d6 turns after casting your shape shines with a spectral light. It is enough to read but otherwise weak as a candle. You have a hard time riding and present a great target in the dark. Benevolent Judges might grant you some bonus for social interaction as your radiance grants you an almost divine aura.

15. Material magic: check Mercurial Magic #15 from DCC Core. Mithril is not an option. See the next entry. 

16. Mithrilomancer: you must be touching mithril to cast this spell, otherwise you suffer 1d6 points of damage per caster level. If you manage to find a full plate of mithril, you can cast this spell with a +1 Die spell bonus.

17. Stolen knowledge: check Mercurial Magic #17 from DCC Core.

18. Siphon magic: check Mercurial Magic #18 from DCC Core.

19. Mistbound: when casting a mist surrounds you and everyone within 2d6 feet. The mists are otherwise natural and dissipate within the turn if not disturbed. You are as blind as everyone else in the mists.

20. Rush of wind: check Mercurial Magic #20 from DCC Core.

21. Corrosion touch: check Mercurial Magic #21 from DCC Core.

22. Talisman: casting this spell requires a unique material focus, such as a silver wand, a crystal vial, or a mithril pendant. If lost, you must quest for a replacement. Casting the spell without the talisman increases the fumble range by 2d4.

23. Runic: this spell demands that you draw eldritch runes with both hands. If you shape your runes in the air, it requires both hands. If you draw it in sand or water, just one hand. If you draw it in blood or ink, with one hand, you have a +1 Die step bonus. If you manage to draw the runes in metal or stone, you have a +2 Die step bonus (but usually that would take a long time). You don’t need to speak.

24. Prismatic distortion: check Mercurial Magic #24 from DCC Core.

25. Power of the Green: vines grow around you constantly for the next 1d3 turns. You need to pass an Str DC 10 to move, or you are stuck for the round. You leave a trail of vines and leaves.

26. Fey mien: memories from before the time of Man flood the caster’s mind as you (re)assume a pure faery nature. Antlers grow over your head, your hair changes to leaves, hands to claws, and feet to hooves. For 1d4 rounds you cannot speak intelligently, cast other spells, manipulate anything with your hands, and suffer double damage from metal weapons.

27. Elfland's spell: after casting the spell 2d3 sprites, pixies, and brownies manifest as the Elfland's magic oozes around you. They are completely harmless but absolutely annoying. They will dance, sing, move unattended objects, and ask silly questions. They remain around you for 1d6 rounds. Each fey has 1 hit point, AC 20 and saves +2. They disappear if hit.

28. Odd growths: check Mercurial Magic #28 from DCC Core.

29. Chaos miasma: your spell disrupts probabilities and inverts Fate. The Judge roll secretly a 1d4. That is the number of times things go bizarre. Each occasion is triggered by a fumble or a critical hit. Under the chaos miasma, a fumble is treated as a critical hit and vice-versa. Also, if anyone rolls a natural 13, besides the normal results of their action, they also suffer a fumble. This affects everyone 60 feet from you.

30. Memorized spell: this spell is written in complex and non-ontological mathematical inculcations. It requires equally arcane methods to be learned and cast. When you cast this spell, besides the normal result, you always lose it. The only way to avoid losing the spell is to suffer 1d4 + the spell level in Intelligence points. The good news is that if the spellcasting result would be a lost spell, you can also choose to suffer the Intelligence damage to keep the spell (if you do so you can ignore any additional result, such as misfire and corruption). After suffering Intelligence damage, the Judge can ask for one Luck check. On a failure, you forget something: your Occupation, name, the last encounter, the fact that you know a friend in the party etc. The Intelligence damage and potential amnesia are cured with a good night's sleep.

31. Songs!: you sing and dance to a jolly song that, while pretty noisy and obvious, does not look like normal spellcasting. Any enemy needs to pass an Int/Will DC 10 to guess that you are casting (or they can't spell duel and are caught by surprise).

32. Channelling: the spell requires extra effort to bend extraplanar forces. You must use both hands and the planar energies of the spell manifest as visible pulses of power that you try to shape. You must use an Action Die and pass an Intelligence check DC 10 to control those forces. You keep rolling until you pass, you fumble, or you are hit. If you roll a fumble or are hit, the planar energies disperse chaotically. Everyone within 10 feet per spell level suffers 1d6 per caster level (Refl save DC 15 for half). If you roll a nat 20 in your Intelligence check, you can use that as your spellcasting result.

33. Elder magic: your spell uses ancient words of power and the lore of archmages of previous aeons. After casting it you are drained of magic for 1d4 rounds. The good news is that attempting a spell duel against elder magic has disadvantage (i.e. your adversary rolls twice and picks the worst result).

34. Paradox: your spell untangles causes and effects, unleashing a small injury in the continuum. The Judge should randomly select a target within sight. Either the last action practised by the target or the last effect inflict on it never happened (50% of either). For example, if the Judge rolled a character that was just killed, there is a 50% that the character is not dead.

35. Fey mood: the spell flames inhuman feelings within your heart. After casting you roll a Luck check. If you fail, roll a d6. An odd result means you flying in a berserk rage for 1d6 rounds. You cannot cast spells during your rage, and you must attack all enemies on sight (of friends if there are no enemies). Your AC and saves are reduced by 1d4, and you gain a +1 Die step to all attack and damage rolls. An even result means that your spirit is burdened with the long centuries of your people. During 1d6 rounds you use all your resources to leave the encounter and find a lonely spot to lament your existence. If you roleplay your tragic fate well the Judge is welcome to grant you a 1 Luck point afterwards.

36. Elvenwine: your spell requires you to drink from the fabled elvenwine (of which you always carry a bottle). A potent liquor, dangerous to mortal Man, elvenwine is like nectar, summer nights, and otherworldly pleasures to you. It also leaves you profoundly drunk now and then. You must pass a Fort DC 12 each time your drink or you are intoxicated for the rest of the encounter. While intoxicated you suffer disadvantage (i.e. roll twice and pick the worst result) on all Action Die. Your fumble range increase by your level. However, you tend to ignore pain. Reduce all damages taken by 1d6 and you suffer the detrimental effects of any save only 1 round later. Elvenwine can be bought from other elves, demons, black magicians, witches, and other debauched individuals.

37. Unseelie: your magic draws upon the power of the Queen of Elfland, a.k.a. the Queen of Air and Darkness, the deadly sovereign of the Unseelie Court. For 1d4 rounds after casting, you acquire a terrible dread and a cloak of shadows around yourself. Anyone needs to pass a Will DC 10 to move in your direction or otherwise touch you (including allies).

38. Whimsical patron: check Mercurial Magic #38 from DCC Core.

39. Pixie dust: after casting the spell you start levitating for a number of rounds equal to the spell level. You cannot control this and will rise 10 feet per round (although you can try a Luck check to control the direction). Usually holding on to something is the safest way. If the spell would allow you to fly or levitate anyway, this mercurial magic impacts a random target within 30 feet. If anyone rolls a critical hit during this effect, they also immediately start levitating. Any children or halflings within the area gain the ability to fly 30 feet per round (and they have perfect control).

40. Exotic potion: to cast the spell you just need to drink a specially prepared concoction. Preparing this brew usually requires unsavoury monster parts or strange drugs and the Judge is welcome to demand some small quests. Every time you drink this elixir you must pass a Fort and Will DC 10. If you fail both saves, you become addicted and every day without drinking the elixir leaves you progressively comatose, inflicting 1d3 Agility damage (when you hit 0 you fall into an eternal slumber until the party quests to save you).

41-60: No change. Boring. If you want, roll again!

61. Wild magic: roll a 1d3 and try to guess the number. If you get it right, increase your spell result by one on the table. If you are wrong, the spell works normally but also produces a misfire.

62. Somatic magic: the spell is inscribed in your body. It could be runes covering one arm, a gem in the place of an eye, a tongue of fire, or a permanent spectral hand. Besides getting all the attention at parties there is no other effect. Oh yes, if you lose that body part you lose the spell permanently.

63. Ritual: casting this spell requires 1 turn per spell level. After that, the spell requires just a last command word to be triggered. Unfortunately, it also requires a lot of concentration. While holding the command word you cannot do a second spell without losing the first. Also, if you suffer damage, you also lose the spell.

64. Grimoire: this spell is so complex that you still carry the grimoire to cast it, which requires both your hands, besides gestures and speaking. The good news is that being able to check your notes can help. If you are not happy with the result, you can use your next Action Die to roll again. If you are hit before that you lose the spell.

65. Glorious mien: your magic derives from your otherworldly beauty. If you are using expensive clothes and are clean, use the next higher result on the spell table. If you are dirty, with normal clothes, covered in blood or anything like that, your fumble range increases by your caster level. Socially interacting with any ugly creature (non-elven, non-divinely perfect or beautiful) creature requires a Will DC 10 or you suffer 1 point of damage or pure disgust.

66. Demonic: your spell was written in one of the many demonic planes and it taints your form. You gain a flaming aura, demonic horns, a guttural voice, and red shining eyes for 1d6 rounds. You are susceptible to Turn Unholy from Law clerics. Law clerics that try to help you with divine magic automatically accrue disapproval. You suffer half damage from fire and non-magical weapons.

67. Spellsinger: you only need to sing to cast this incantation. Anyone on sight must pass an Int or Will DC 10 to recognize that you are spellcasting.

68. Mirror magic: check Mercurial Magic #68 from DCC Core.

69. Shadowcaster: if you can see your shadow when casting the spell, you can decide to animate your shadow. Your animate shadow can now move beyond one and perform actions if you have line of sight to it. Your shadow has a d14 Action Die and is trained for stealthy actions. It cannot attack but it can pick up items or interact with objects (it is still bound to surfaces). It is immune to normal attacks, but anything magic that hit it (it has AC 10 and saves +0) will destroy it. If your shadow is destroyed, you suffer a minor corruption. Your shadow remains animated for a number of rounds equal to your caster level.

70. Temporal echo: check Mercurial Magic #70 from DCC Core.

71. Sprites!: roll 1d3-1, that is how many rounds the little lazy fey takes to cast the spell. If the result is a 0, the spell comes out normally. If the result is a -1, the sprites actually guessed the spell before you ordered it and cast it already. You can still act in the round (any action besides spellcasting action) with a -1 Die penalty to your Action Die.

72. Otherworldly: casting the spell aligns you with other planes. You become ethereal for 1d4 rounds and every interaction with the world around you (besides spellcasting or talking) has a 50% of being ineffective. This includes non-magical attacks against you.

73. Draconic magic: you need to burn treasure to full your magic! You must sacrifice at least 50 gp in treasure and must touch the item. You can burn more treasure if you want, each 50 gp grants a +1 bonus (to a maximum of +20).

74. Mindspeak: everyone in a 60 feet radius can hear in their heads the eldritch invocations of your spell. However, your lips do not move and you don't need to move your hands to cast this spell. For 1 turn after casting this spell, you can speak telepathically with any target you can see.

75. Spell by proxy: check Mercurial Magic #75 from DCC Core.

76. Silenced: check Mercurial Magic #76 from DCC Core.

77. Call of the Outer Dark: check Mercurial Magic #77 from DCC Core.

78. Arcane circle: when you cast this spell a circle of magic runes surrounds your character. They provide illumination and protection as long as keep using one Action Die each round. The protection is a +2 bonus to AC, saves, and spell duels. If you move or are moved the circle is cancelled.

79. Summoner: your spell manifest as a creature who has the following stats (SL means spell level) – AC 10 + SL, AD 1d20, one melee attack +SL, which causes 1d3 or the die closest to your caster level + SL, saves are +SL, and hit points are SL x caster level. The caster can choose the creature’s appearance. Thus, a 5th level Elf casting sleep (1st level spell) could summon a fey cat with AC 11, AD 1d20, claw +1, dmg 1d5+1, saves +1 and 5 hit points. The summoned creature reminds for the spell duration or 1 round per level (whichever is greater). While the creature is there the spell cannot be countered, but if the creature is killed the spell is cancelled. If the caster tries to cast the spell again while the summoned creature is there, the magic originates from the creatures and the caster gains a +1 Die spell bonus.

80. Scroll magic: this spell must be previously written in a specially prepared scroll that costs 50 go per spell level. To cast the spell the caster needs only to pick it up and open the scroll (no gestures or words are necessary). The caster can give the scroll to another character. If opened in the caster’s sight, the spell still works, but in the hands of anyone else the spell is cast with a d10 and the chances of a fumble are 1-3 instead of 1. Thieves can use their Cast spell from scroll die.

81. Terrible to behold: check Mercurial Magic #81 from DCC Core. My house rule here: Also the next attack against the caster has a 50% of failing. The Judge should also grant some bonus on intimidation attempts (or if cleverly used trigger a morale save among the enemies).

82. Hidden power: this spell unleashes for a moment the depths of potential power hidden in your spirit. You shine as a strong beacon of light for 1 round and can completely ignore one attack made against you before the beginning of the next round.

83. Sword magic: you require a mithril sword to cast this spell. You can use the result of your Action Die both to determine the result of the spell and of a melee attack. However, when you choose to use this power your fumble range increases to 4 (i.e. you suffer a fumble if you roll 1-4 in your Action Die). Note that a fumble will impact both your melee attack and spell. Even if you do not decide to attack you still need your sword to cast this spell.

84. Old Pacts: an eldritch entity owns your bloodline favours. You can cast the spell without using an Action Die but after that, the spell is lost until you do a small service to said entity.

85. Mystic: this is not a spell, but actually an esoteric, psionic, or mystic technique. It cannot be countered and is not treated mechanically as a spell (it cannot be used in a spell duel). The caster still rolls normally but he and the Judge should interpret the result. A charm person could be a series of hypnotizing movements with the caster’s hand, a fireball could be a combat move where the caster’s spirit burns with inner power while he punches all targets within sight, his body burning so hot that it burns his enemies. The idea is from this wonderful blog post here. If this is too much for you (c’mon, elven wuxia are awesome), just roll again.

86. Druidic: this is icon magic, not arcane. You learned it from one of the old gods. Ignore any lost spell, corruption, and misfire. The spell just fails and accrues disapproval like a cleric. You must follow your power’s general ethos or can receive more disapproval.

87. Spellbreaker: your unorthodox casting creates strange effects beyond the spell’s intentions. When casting a spell you can choose to suffer 5 points of Spellburn. Roll the spell normally, without adding the points of spellburn. If you succeed, instead of the spell’s result you can cast one of the spell’s misfire effects but choose the targets. If this doesn’t make sense for your spell, roll again.

88. Astral body: when you cast the spell your spirit temporarily leaves your body. Everyone can see your astral form. While in astral form, you can move 30 feet in any direction and are immune to non-magical attacks. You stay in astral form for 1 round per spell level after which you instantly return to your body. Your body remains still. Any damage done either to the astral form or the body reduces hit points normally.

89. Memories of old: casting this spell awakens memories from previous centuries, incarnations, or from other elven spellcasters (depending on your campaign). The result is the same, you can declare that you are trained for one specific check for the next 1 turn (i.e. rolling 1d20). This could be used to read old runes, understand a language, remember who built ruins etc. If you are already trained, roll with a +1 Die step bonus.

90. Elven grace: when you cast this spell successfully the world seems to shift in your favor. The sun parts the cloud, torches flash brighter, and the darkness seems lesser. You or an ally you can see gain 1d3 Luck points. When you fail to cast this spell, you lose 1 Luck.

91. Breath of Life: check Mercurial Magic #91 from DCC Core.

92. Magical servant: you control an entity (a small djinn, a lesser sandestin, or an astral demon) that shows up and cast the spell. If you cast another spell in the following round, your servant stays around to help you, granting you a cumulative +1 Die step bonus. If you fumble at any point, the servant smiles wickedly and leave. You must quest it to regain its services.

93. Greater power: check Mercurial Magic #93 from DCC Core.

94. Fine control: check Mercurial Magic #94 from DCC Core.

95. Sublime craft: spells are for crude creatures such as humans. You have refined your art to such a degree that your spell works for all effects as a natural effect. You still roll normally but your spell has no manifestation and you ignore misfire, corruption, and patron taint. To all witnesses, your spell seems more like a natural ability. For example, your charm person appears to be natural charisma, while spells such as flaming hands and feather fall happen because fire or air are your friends. Your spell cannot be used or countered in a spell duel.

96. Powerful caster: check Mercurial Magic #96 from DCC Core.

97. Chronomancer: a copy of yourself appears from the future to cast the spell. This copy is exactly like your original character at the moment of casting. The copy stays in your continuum for 1d3 rounds. If you are killed while your future self is present a paradox instantly obliterates both from existence (you can never be brought back to life).

98. Natural-born talent: check Mercurial Magic #98 from DCC Core.

99. Names of Power: you know one of the secret names of a Patron (the Judge will roll randomly). Before casting this spell you can decide to add that Patron Name to the casting. If you do you must spellburn an amount of damage equal to the result rolled. You cast the original spell normally, but at the same time, you unleash an Invoke Patron. Yes, that Patron hates you.

100. Choose one effect.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Augury - Pan, His Majesty in Yellow


Nymphs of rain and despair, the Greek deity Dionysius, a mortal shepherd stolen from his world, and the jealous god Hastur… Who would ever imagined that Peter Pan and the King in the Yellow would mix so nicely? That is precisely the theme of the Pan, His Majesty In Yellow (PMIY), a beautiful hexcrawl for Old School Essentials, currently in his last week of crowfuding.

After a brief introduction (and a poem!), the book opens with a nice “Once upon a time…” section devoted to the weird and mysterious life (and death) of Hyas or Pan, touching not only upon the original source, but also in Greek mysteries and the Hastur legendarium. These days I am usually wary of background in OSR modules (as I don’t by OSR for that reason), but PMIY managed to make it not only succinct (just 2 pages) but also very flavorful. After it we get a d66 Things Pan Might Say, followed by more details on the (very weird) Boy Who Would Not Grow Up. In PMIY, Pan is the centre of a struggle between Hastur and Dionysius (or his nymphs). As a result, Pan’s spirit is fragmented and quite mad, split in different personas (including Captain Pan, a pirate, and the evil King in Yellow), while Hastur seeks to reclaim him. If this sounds confusing and dream-like that is precisely the idea. It works beautifully with Hastur’s own mythos. Yes, we get (various) stats for Pan and they are all scary!

The next part is a full description of the Neverborn Islands, including maps (one with hexes), encounter tables, and the weird planar rules of the fantasy realm. “Fantasy” is the word here. The Neverborn Island operate on dream logic and much of the new mechanics are about that: memory loss is a constant threat and death is not the end (this last bit is perhaps the most distinguish factor in PMIY, a campaign setting where forgetting who you are is a lot more dangerous than dying). However, travelers be aware: Pan CAN kill you (permanently). Oh, and yes, if you believe hard enough you CAN fly! The unique mix of new rules makes the Neverborn Island a very interesting scenario to visit and I am already tempted to attach it to most of my current settings just to see what will happen.

Each part of the Neverborn Islands get a small but flavourful description, followed by a few adventure hooks. My favourite locations are those where the dream-like atmosphere and “unrealness” of the setting are highlighted, such as the Dog’s Cemetery. There are a lot of cool references here and there, such as in the Emerald Island and in the Hydra’s Teeth. After the gazetteer, we are presented to the Underhome of the Neverborn Islands (i.e., please insert you favorite dungeon here) and to Carcosa. Both Hastur and Carcosa itself are more of a background threat than a NPC and a location, and PMIY recommends using them to generate an atmosphere of dread and alienation.

The next part of the book is about Denizens, which ran from wonderfully illustrated bleeding trees, blue wolves, and mermaids, to a surreal version of Captain Hook (the undead fairy-slaying pirate, who pillaged Carcosa). Yes, we get a description of the Jolly Roger Pan, together with a map! PMIY’s version of the crocodile is called the Chronodile, a magic warping gargantuam monstrosity. Creatures have stats for OSE, but use some concepts from D&D 5E, such as legendary actions (which work quite nicely in my opinion, but leaves some of the creatures really tough). Other Denizens include the various faeries, Sir George (THE Sir George), the gingerbread demon, a statless Hastur (but with stats for his shadows), the Kraken, Ladon (the famous Hydra), Lost Children, among others. There is a lot of stuff here. PMIY also offer new magic items, including Captain Hook’s coat, the Chronodile Scale, and (of course) the Tatters of the King.

PMIY is a unique book. The flavorful atmosphere, mixing Barrie’s original work with Greek mythology and Ambrose’s Carcosa is so cool that I would still recommend the book even if there were not stats for the Denizens. The fact that the author uses the “original” Hastur and not the Cthulhu pastiche is a plus for me and the part of the setting that I like most. I think that the unique Denizens are a bit too powerful, especially those that use 5E-like mechanics, but that is counterbalanced by the normal monsters, most of which are there more to be interacted with rather than fought (especially the fairies, mermaids, and Lost Children). Finally, it is impossible to read PMIY and not compare it with Neverland by Andrew Kolb. Neverland picks Peter Pan after the events of the original novel and extrapolate a unique OSR for hexcrawling (while updating the setting in matters of sensitivity). Its monsters are some of the best of the OSR. PMIY is widely different. It is a fever-induced mélange of Classics, Ambrose’s alienating Weird Tales, and horror. Both Neverland and PMIY are amazing works and I am happy to have them in my collection. That said, Neverlands is a flavorrful but traditional hexcrawl, while PMIY is a surrealistic, cruel, and tragic scenario. You can visit the Neverborn Islands and try to make sense of it, but if you try to engage it as traditional hexcrawl you will end mad or in the belly of Chronodile in a short time (and yes, that is a compliment!). PMIY reminds me of H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands at its best: a dangerous and beautiful world that doesn’t make sense where your goal is to keep your wits and survive until you can scape it. In fact, I like it mix of fantasy and horror so enthralling that next time I won’t send my players to Ravenloft, but to the realm of Pan, His Majesty in Yellow, below the Hyades and above Carcosa.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Augury - The Book of Ebon Tides (D&D 5E)

This review is based on the PDF of Kobold Press’ Book of Ebon Tides. Although tailored specifically for their Midgard setting, it offers an interesting plethora of characters for the Shadow Realm, which is a demiplane that is made of equal parts of Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales, eastern European legends, D&D famous’ Demiplane of Shadow, and the Feywild (but as if seen through a delightful darker glass). The Shadow Realm was discovered by the goddess of moon and magic Hecate who, after fashioning it more to her liking, populated it with goblins, shadow fey (the Scáthesidhe) and their servants, besides bearfolk, human night worshippers, and other races.

After that brief history, the book details the eerie and mutable nature of the Shadow Realm. This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the plane. Unlike the Material Plane, the only things that are eternal in the Shadow Realm are, well, shadows. Everything else is affected by the so-called ebon tides, which produce slow and dream-like but constant changes: rocks, trees, and other physical landmarks, even entire forests and mountains, inexorably change their location and even aspect. The natives discovered ways to bind or hold certain places together through unique magic and materials, such as wood taken from the holy wood of Hecate. These isles of stability are connected through the equally magical Shadow Roads. The book provides a table with suggested manifestations of the ebon tides to increase the setting’s weirdness. The Book of Ebon Tides also provides further details on holydays, weather, gods, fey etiquette, and customs.

We next get to “Umbral People and Heroes”. Here we get new races: bearfolk (the shadow bearfolk subrace), darakhul (the Midgardian High Ghoul, with new templates for bearfolk and shadow goblin), the famous shadow fey, the luminous lunar elves, the rare sable elves, the cunning and provocative shadow goblins, and umbral humans (with the subraces changeling and gifted). We also get stats to play with the fey-like quicksteps, the squirrelfolk ratatosks (with the subraces ekorre and tradvakt), erinas (spiritfarer), shades (Stygian), ravenfolk (sublime), satarre (unbound), and gnomes (wyrd). In terms of Midgardian lore, the sable elves are probably the most interesting one, presenting a decadent and weakened branch of the ancient elves that once shaped worlds like Midgard itself. Mechanically speaking the most interesting entry is the Gifted Umbral Humans, which represent mortals who made some pact with the fey in exchange of power or a perk. The ratatosks are a bizarre mixture of themes (squirrels, celestials, Yggdrasil… you name it) that are not only remarkably original but offer some very fun options as a race (specially the tiny ekorre). Finally, it is worth mentioning that all the races receive the most recent D&D 5E mechanical treatment, with flexible options for ability scores for example.

The Book of Ebon Tides also offers plenty of new options in terms of subclasses. We have the Circle of Shadows (druid), the College of Shadows (bard), the community-based Keeper Domain and the mandatory Shadow Domain (both for cleric), the original (and unexpected) Light Weaver Origin (sorcerer), the poison-obsessed Mother of Sorrows (warlock), the Shadow Arcane Tradition (wizard), the smoke/mist-based Shadow Gnawer (barbarian), the Umbral Binder (rogue), and, finally, the charismatic Way of the Prophet (monk). Seeing in darkness or similar forms of darkvision are, obviously, ubiquitous here. And yes, I did miss a new Fighter archetype.

The next part of the book is about magic. First we get rules on how illusion spells (with the shadow and illumination keyword) are empowered in the Shadow Realm. There is even some advice on how to describe the malleable nature of that plane through some spells. I wished that the book devoted more attention to that last bit, as I feel it is what makes the Shadow Realm so unique and different from other planes, Shadowfell, or Feywild. After that we get into the meat of the chapter: new spells! I am more mindful of flavorful then merely tactical spells and the Book of Ebon Tides did not fail me. There are plenty of awesome magic here, such as the 1st level Blade of Blood and Bone (you can create and store a magical dagger made of your bones and blood) and the grotesque 7th level Charnel Banquet (a disgusting but invigorating repast). There are a lot more of those: Child of Light and Darkness, Conjure the Ferryman, Conjure Giant, Deep Roots of the Moon, Doom of Poor Fortune… originally, I ended listing basically 90% of the new spells here. Usually, I can’t bother even reading magic chapters in most book as they are so bland, but the Book of Ebon Tides is simply otherworldly (no pun intended) when it comes to magic. I would buy the PDF for this chapter alone.

‘The Nature of Shadow’ feels like a continuation of the book’s introduction, further detailing the weirdness of the fey plane. How to get in (and out) of the Shadow Realm, its beasts, features, hazards, traveling, and my favorite one: Shadow Corruption. The Book of Ebon Tides builds its planar corruption mechanic upon the chassis of one of D&D 5E’s most neglected (but potential) rules: Exhaustion. So, here we get a 6 levels chart of progressive Shadow Corruption that gives not only disadvantages but also a few perks, such as (surprise!) darkvision. It is a simple but flavorful way to build a new mechanic and I quite like it. The chapter also details a few specific locations.

The next bit of the Book of Ebon Tides is all about intrigue: we get more details on the fey courts and their servitors. These courts are like locations and are more detailed than the previous chapter. Some are little more than a giant manor, while others are basically cities. Among those there is, of course, the one ruled by my favorite Midgard NPC/villain: the Court of the Moonlit King. This is one of the biggest chapters of the book and there is a lot to process here, all pure campaign setting. There are even details on fallen courts. In ‘Realms Beyond the Courts’, we get further places to explore, such as Fandeval, the City of Goblins, and Merrymead, the City of Revels. Again, there is a lot to use here.

Next, we reach the deities of the Shadow Realm, each one with a full description, including some good DM advice, such as Midgard’s wonderful approach to gods and goddess trough masks, which lend a lot of mystique back to religion (something that I sorely miss from most D&D books). ‘Monsters and NPCs’ comes next with 25 new entries, including stats for a lot of ready-made NPCs such as bearfolk, elves, goblins, among others.

The Book of Ebon Tides, like any other D&D sourcebook, has its own chapter of magic items. Like spells, these are usually things that I usually pass by, but the magic paraphernalia lovers are for a treat with some 80 new items among weapons, armors, artifacts, and wondrous items. I often feel that good magic items are more about telegraphing to the reader the unique flavor of the setting than just “kool powerzs” (although I also like nice powers), and the Book of Ebon Tides sets a good example. We have the Book itself as an in-world wondrous item. Remember that bit about the Shadow Realm being flux and malleable? Well, the Book of Ebon Tides is how you funk with that. Other examples of flavorful or just outright awesome magic items are the various memory philters, the illusion seeds, Hecate’s Lantern, and my all-time havoc-unleashing favorite: the collapsing mountain (yeah, your read that right).

The Book of Ebon Tides closes with three Appendixes. The first one has tables describing lesser magic items. These are pure gold and I love when authors take some time to create these trinkets, as they always are a lot more flavorful to a setting than endless lists of new magic swords or staves. There is also tables on fey pranks and tricks, court fashion, pets and mounts, food, cantrips, omens, secrets, lore and weird servants. The result is that these tables (and the awesome art) manage to pack more flavor than a lot of chapters put together. More importantly, they are useful to any fey-themed campaign.

The second Appendix has encounter tables, while the third Appendix has a list of monsters separated by terrain (very good) and CR (not very useful in 5E). We also get some battlemaps for generic locations, such as a fey court, roads, and dark woods.

Before I forget, the Book of Ebon Tides (to my surprise, given the flux nature of the place), also has a beautiful two pages color map of the Shadow Realm (of the type that you would love to have printed and hanged on your wall).

The Book of Ebon Tides is a refreshing surprise in terms of 5E sourcebooks as it manages to be not only an original reading (in crunch and flavor) but it is useful both for players and gamemasters. The Shadow Realm’s planar nature makes it easy to attach it any world or campaign. For old Midgard fans, it is a must, providing perhaps a first full picture of the world, especially for those like me that love to play around Zobeck and the original locations of the campaign setting (where the shadow fey have a strong presence).

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Boku no Hero Academia (A Minimalist) RPG

From time to time I create small hacks of some RPG from my collection so that I can play with my kids. I’ve been doing this for so long (since my daughter was around 4-5 years old and now she is 10!) that I am faced with two interesting consequences: my children don’t want to play anything “bigger” in terms of RPG as they love these DIY games; and they consider the agency and liberty of actions in TTRPGs to be so fun that they have a hard time playing other games (board, cards, etc.).

We have been watching the awesome shonen anime Boku no Hero Academia, about a world where around 80% of the Earth population has some kind of power (or Quirk as they say). “Super Hero” is a profession and the best super heroes of Japan train at the prestigious university UA. So that is where I am setting our games. We have played around 6 sessions so far and it has been blast.

The system is minimal and was not only by awesome minimalist games, but also the OSR, FKR Movement, and RPGs such as Blades in the Dark (besides other games by the great John Harper) and, more recently, GROK?! (by Lester Burton).

I ended up creating the character sheet first and then coming up with rules for it. The basic roll is trying to roll 4+ for success. Under normal conditions a 4+ is a success, but with the proper narrative position and impact it can be a “yes, but…” or a “ yes, and…” success. With the proper advantage even a 3 might be a “no, but…”.

The three bigger in the character sheet represent Mental, Social, and Physical stats. The player writes the proper attribute at the side of each die. For example, during a fight, if your Physical is a d8, you roll the d8 and a 4+ is success.

The d4 is a disadvantage. Each time I feel it is appropriate I might ask for a d4 roll to see how hampered you are by your disadvantage (with a 4 been the only way to ignore it). Right now, my son’s PC disadvantage is that his body does not support his powers at maximum effect, where my daughter’s PC gets nausea if she by using her powers too much in a short time.

The main circle to the left is where your write your main concept/power. The comic balloons to the right are for power stunts, secondary powers, special moves, equipment, allies, and other assets. I let my kids each start the first game with two balloons filled, besides the main circle.

The circle and the various balloons are like aspects and open new narrative actions (like flying, blast, invisibility), depending on your powers.

The explosive balloons to right are for wound conditions and other impairments (even mental or social ones). Once they are all filled you are knocked out/defeated.

In combat, you can choose to continue fighting after that, but after each hit you must mark off one of your 3 stat and a balloon. You cannot use an action based on a die or balloon that is marked. Once all 3 stats are marked you are dead.

Oh, I almost forgot, the row of stars at the bottom is the XP system. Each game session my kids mark one star. Once a group of stars is marked, they “level up” (at first you only need one game session to level up). Each time that happens they can add a description to a new balloon or try to bump up one of their 3 stats, although the later requires two advances (I am still tinkering with that). I also let then change or refine the description of a balloon are filled with each level up, to represent their progress or evolution.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Monsters In Media Res

The Monster Reaction table is my favorite rule of the entire OSR. In fact, I like to use it even outside of its original purpose. For example, when I want nonbinary results (it even uses 2d6, my favorite mechanical roll). But this post is not about that. In fact, it is about using Monster Reaction to further flavor encounters.

Traditional OSR games (especially retroclones like OSE) are extremely lethal in general. That is not an error but a feature. Look at the Monster Reaction table (OSE Classic Fantasy Basic Rule p. 49) carefully. According to it, only about 2-3%* of all the encounters should start right away as combat. Almost 25% of all encounters will have unfriendly monsters but that does no mean that they will attack.

*I suck in statistics, and might be wrong, but I hope you get the point.

That opens up a lot of opportunities. In fact, considering the Monster Reaction table, most creatures met by the party will be busy with something else instead of “patrolling” the dungeon or wilderness (of course, except things like constructs and most undead).

Using regularly the Monster Reaction table is a great to inject a different feeling to your OSR games, but it does require a good deal of improvisation skill by the referee to make it work properly. Here are a few ideas to further inspire your games if you decide to use the Monster Reaction rules. They are not to be used always but should provide some help when you are at a loss on what to do. Obviously, those suggestions also use 2d6.

Monster Reaction Result: 2 or less – Hostile, attacks


The creature can talk, even if that is not possible to its species. It will pretend to be neutral, and offer advise, but as soon as it gets the party in trouble, it will attack cruelly and seeking to maim rather than kill. It doesn’t need to roll morale.


For some reason, the creature enters an uncontrollable berserker rage upon seeing the party. The focus of its rage might be a specific member of the party (maybe it even knows the name of the character), a type of character (elves, clerics, etc.) or something carried by them. It doesn’t need to roll morale.


The creature attacks but stays on the defensive and tries to hold the party there. It is expecting reinforcements (maybe others of its kind, or help from another monster in the adventure, or even it might be charging up a specific and unique power).


The creature is wounded from a previous encounter (roll or chose against which monster). Reduce its hit points (-1 to -4 for each Hit Dice) and final XP accordingly. It will stop attacking if the party retreats and it is more vulnerable to morale checks.


The creature is maimed (maybe a missing eye, scarred hide, lost natural attack, etc.) by someone like a member of the party. It will seek to avoid that specific member and might have to roll morale if attacked by him. Nonetheless, if it survives, it will desire revenge in the future.


Monster Reaction Result: 3-5 – Unfriendly, may attack


The creature deeply fears something otherwise innocuous possessed by the party. If it can get rid of it, it would love to devour, kill, or attack the party.


The creature is just a scout and will attempt to attract the party to its allies. Only then it would risk an attack.


The creature dislikes the party but desires something else (a treasure, control over a specific place, to defeat another monster). That is more important… at the moment.


The creature only hesitates because it was wounded in a previous encounter (roll or chose against which monster). Reduce its hit points (-1 to -4 for each Hit Dice) and final XP accordingly. It will try to buy time to heal or find refuge.


The creature misjudges the power of the party, believing them to be a lot more powerful than they look. If given proof otherwise it will attack.


Monster Reaction Result: 6-8 – Neutral, uncertain


The creature is actually an outsider, like the party, and desires some treasure or magic item in the adventure. It may even ally with the party but it will never divide its desired spoils.


The creature is running from another encounter (roll or chose another encounter). Probably scared. The pursuers will arrive soon.


The creature will slowly try to flee, but only to keep following the party from a distance, until it makes up its mind.


The creature just killed another monster (roll or chose another encounter). For now, it just wants to rest or heal. If necessary, reduce its hit points (and XP) to reflect the previous combat.


The creature seeks something possessed by the party (food, a new weapon, a component for a spell, or something weird that is otherwise essential to it). It is willing to trade or follow the party for a while to convince them. It will flee if hurt and probably it will be hostile in future encounters.


Monster Reaction Result: 9-11 – Indifferent, uninterested


The creature is not what is seems and is in fact more powerful than it looks. It could be a shapechanger, spirit, construct, extraplanar, etc. (if in doubt, just change it to a magic creature with a few HD more or make resist to non-magical attacks maybe). It does not understand pretty much anything about the world.


The creature is obsessed with hunting or killing another monster (roll or choose another monster). If the targeted monster is a potential future ally of the party that is even better.


The creature is trying to find another of its kind (its mate?), who is trapped or lost in some location of the adventure. Instead of another creature, it might be looking for an item that once belonged to it.


The creature is completely amnesic or somehow lost.


The creature is actually a mirage, illusion, or haunt. It will ignore the party unless interacted in a strange way (through magic, song, riddles, prayers, or offerings). At best, it might offer a place of refuge or rest. At worst, it might curse the party or force them to expend resources.


Monster Reaction Result: 12 or more – Friendly, helpful


The creature cannot tell the difference between its kind and others (or does not care). For example, if it is an orc, it will believe that all party is composed of orcs. It is possibly mad.


The creature seeks protection (or revenge) against another monster (roll or choose the monster) and it thinks the party is the answer to that.


The creature is ridiculously helpful as long as it is fed with something (rations, candles, paper, etc.) or entertained (with songs, fire, etc.). A turn or two without that and the creature becomes agitated. If the situation persists, it might flee but not before attempting to the take its “favorite” character with it (or some item that it believes to be the source of its desire, such as a wizard’s grimoire if it likes paper).


The creature is completely in love with one member of the party. It is also very possessive and jealous.


The creature is a civilized demihuman, polymorphed or cursed in its current form. It cannot tell the party directly of its condition, but only through signs or indirect clues.