a blog of short and medium length ttrpg thinking posts

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Come Out // Fight Me

This one's kind of a snippet, but I wanted to write a class that uses the flip mechanic before the rest of the gretchsphere moves on from the idea.

Come Out // Fight Me: The Monster Slayer (GLOG Class: Fighter)

Monsters can't be fought with ordinary weapons. Well, I mean, they can, but it's a mistake. Monsters don't fight in ordinary ways, and if you want to match them you can't either.

+1 HP and Save per template.

  1. You have a flip weapon of some kind (such as the CRASH // LASH, below), are proficient with it. You can use the abilities that cause it to flip from one state to another.
  2. You never mistake the signs of a monster's presence for something a natural creature would leave.
  3. You can rescue someone within reach from an attack by throwing yourself in its way. You always take half damage (no roll or save) from the attack and can't do this again until after you flip your weapon.
  4. Whenever you're fighting a creature that will hurt someone else if you don't stop it, your weapon damage explodes.


  • CRASH. An iron rod with an iron fist at the end. As a mace, but when you deal maximum damage your foe is knocked down or back a few steps (their choice) and the weapon flips to LASH.
  • LASH. A chain whip ending in an iron claw shaped like a human hand. As a whip (an awkward weapon), but if you successfully disarm, entangle or trip a foe with it you pull them to you or you to them (their choice), deal the higher of two d6s of damage, and the weapon flips to CRASH.

Friday, May 21, 2021

the horrible CRAAB

CRAAB. HD and fighting ability as two mortals, armor as plate. Immune to fire and cold, but takes double damage from fire after being subjected to a cold attack.

Spirits of chaos may take on innumerable forms in the depths of the maelstrom, but when they journey into the intertidal regions that border our world they overwhelmingly assume the shape of the craab: a round creature the size of a bullock, with too many legs and no other identifiable organs. Its surface is like baked, unglazed clay, yet it is both strangely supple and tough. When slain and broken open, the tissues of a craab quickly dissolve into murky, brackish and foul-smelling water and the shell crumbles like ordinary clay.


Magicians can force a spirit of chaos out of the half-shape of the craab and into another form. The Referee rolls two dice and chooses a form with as many HD as the lower of the two for the spirit. A magician must then expend a spell slot of that level/roll that many MD to force the transformation (no save) in a number of combat rounds equal to the higher of the dice the Referee rolled. If the craab has not been killed before then, its shell bursts open violently and the (unhurt) new form emerges from it, dripping pure water.

Friday, April 23, 2021


There's currently a buzz in the blogging scene for legallydistinctemon aka legamon or fakemon, and despite trying to stay out of it I could not help writing a fakemon battle system that is incompatible with most of the existing prior art. Some links to that other, better prior art: deus's generator tables, Phlox's automation of same, another generator on liches get stitches and, perhaps most prominently, Lexi's You Must Acquire Them.

As a disclaimer, I don't really think fakemon battles, even the streamlined version that I've written here, fits particularly well into existing structures of TTRPG play. Stopping everything to do tactically intensive 1-on-1 fights just doesn't gel very well with any sort of party play and I'm not sure that one should really try. This post certainly doesn't, it's just fakemon battle rules.

The math of pokemon games is trivial for computers to do but monstrous for humans, so we're not going to try to replicate their level of crunch. In particular, level grinding isn't a part of the game I think it's particularly worth imitating so we're dropping level from the game's math entirely. Fakemon have four stats: Attack, Defense, Speed and Special all rated 1-5. Max HP is equal to Defense times 3, plus the sum of the other stats. There's no leveling up, evolving to a new form should probably increase its stats.

Every round, both sides choose moves in secret. Unless otherwise noted, fakemon know a normal move and a special move of their type, which corresponds to a particular biome. Then, roll two dice and determine if either fakemon wins the initiative based on their speed (this table is equivalent to a Speed-in-12 chance to win the initiative on each side, if you're the sort of weirdo who has a d12.):

Speed Home team first Away team first
1 2,3 11,12
2 2,3,4 10,11,12
3 3,4,5 9,10,11
4 2,3,5,6 8,9,11,12
5 2,3,4,5,6 8,9,10,11,12

Whoever wins the initiative gets to use their move first. If no one wins initiative, moves get resolved simultaneously, which can cause mutual knockouts.

Fakemon have dice for normal moves equal to their Attack stat and dice for special moves equal to their Special stat. Unless otherwise noted for a move roll as many dice as you choose, discard any 6s and deal [sum] damage, minus opponent's Defense for normal moves and Special for special moves. Fakemon deal an extra [dice] of damage when using special moves of their own type. Discarded dice can't be used again until your fakemon can rest. If damage reduces a fakemon to 0 HP they faint and can't fight anymore.

Types have vulnerabilities and resistances. Fakemon take double damage from moves their type is vulnerable to and half damage from moves their type is resistant to:

Type vulnerable to resistant to
SKY CITY normal*
WATER CITY normal*

There are no normal type fakemon, that would be boring.

Fakemon can only use special SKY moves if they are able to fly about; if a SKY-type fakemon does not have room to fly, they lose their resistance to normal moves. Similarly, fakemon can only use special WATER moves if they are swimming and WATER-type fakemon lose their resistance to normal moves on land.

If you use an item in battle your side can't use a move that turn. Some classic fakemon items:

  • Antidote ($10): makes a fakemon resistant to VENOM moves for a few hours, but reduces their max HP by 1 for every previous day they've taken antidotes.
  • Elixir ($120): restore all discarded dice for a fakemon.
  • Fake ball ($12): captures a wild fakemon if a roll of 2d6 is greater than their current HP.
  • Potion ($30): restores a fakemon to max HP.
  • Revive ($200): restores a fainted fakemon to half their maximum HP.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

a linguistic anthropology of fantasy folk

The nice thing about fantasy races is that they give character creation choices with a good degree of granularity and comprehensibility and are a neat way to pull folkloric material into your game. The bad thing about them is that they mean that race science (that is, the false belief that races as understood by society correspond to biologically distinct types of human beings) is true in your fantasy world.

Honestly, the bad part is bad enough to completely sink the goodness of the good part.

This is another in my ongoing struggle to formulate different fantasy folk in a way that isn't race science, but emphasizing the ways that real people saw themselves and others, particularly before the race-scientific idea became prominent in the modern era.

The problem with making things nuanced is that also makes them complicated; race science is conceptually pretty straightforward, which makes it very game-able. Trying to embed fantasy folk in a realistically nuanced web of relationships with each other also buries the conceptual clarity of a player looking at the list of options and saying, "I'm going to play an elf, that means I live in the woods and don't particularly like dwarfs." One runs the risk of overloading the player with world-building, particularly if one chooses to foreground linguistic groups which are among the more salient in-universe distinctions between peoples.

I'm far from a solution to this, but my current idea is to use somewhat-transparent names for languages (or groups of languages) wherever possible, and doing as little "hard" worldbuilding as possible to keep things relatively setting-neutral, while still keeping things complex enough to stop collapsing into the fail state of race science. It's a tall order, let's see how I do.

When making a character, you must choose a people for them to belong to (or at least stem from). A people is defined by a language, a way of life and an alignment, all of which affect how they see themselves and the world.

To make this your own, you only have to identify the peoples in your setting, their languages, ways of life and alignments. You may choose to give every people a distinct ethnonym; I'm not doing this so as not to overload a player with unfamiliar names. Instead, I'm going to organize peoples by language family, grouping setting languages together into four groups (middling, rhuno-buggish, sylvene and foreigner), the first three of which correspond to actual language families. Each family contains a number of peoples with different ways of life and dramatically different outlooks on the world and their place in it.

Monday, March 15, 2021

"correcting" weapon vs armor type from chainmail

Delta recently wrote an excellent post analyzing the origin of the Greyhawk/AD&D weapon vs armor type table and concluding (rightly, in my view) that it is fundamentally flawed. I just wanted to offer a few follow-up analyses of ways that one could try to "correct" the modifiers in there.

Putting the tables below the break.

Friday, March 12, 2021

some game economics for the ancient world

Before launching into a long post about economics of the ancient world, let's put the exciting part at the top, the random treasure hoard generator. These are going to be significantly smaller than typical fantasy adventure hoards, but I've tried to callibrate them to generate the kidns of hoards people actually find from the bronze and iron ages:

Now, for the less flashy stuff. Before we can really talk about economics, let's establish some units of measurement. These are going to be largely based on historical units of mesopotamia and the eastern mediterannean in antiquity. My sources are kind of all over the place on these so I'm not going to be citing much, but the system I'm giving here hews pretty close to the coins and measures used in Talmudic literature.

A talent (kikar, if you prefer) weighs sixty pounds (maneh), each of which is fifty weights (shekel) of about eight and a half grams; this makes a pound of about 425 grams rather than the 453.59 of the avoirdupois pound, but that's close enough to use the familiar word in my book. A wet measure or dry measure are both a unit of capacity approximately equal to 144 medium-sized eggs (about nine quarts).

goods and their prices

The basic unit of money is a weight of silver. Although actual prices vary by place and season, most people will say that a silverweight should buy:

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

solo dungeoning experiment

I have done very little actual dungeon crawling in my gaming career. I have also done basically no solo gaming, so I was inspired to try to get a feel for both things in a more practical and less theoretical way. So, I made myself some dungeon tiles:

I decided to fill in the empty spaces red after I took this. Passages (round) have about a 1 in four chance of traps and a 3-in-8 chance of being the sometime abode of monsters. Most of the treasure (triangles) is in the larger chambers (square) which are much more likely to contain monsters. And I adopted a probably absurdly basic dungeon crawling procedure:

  • For every new tile, roll two distinct dice. If there's a random chance of something bad, that's keyed off the darker die. If there's a random chance of something good, it's keyed off the lighter die. Doubles mean wandering monster.
  • If part of a larger chamber is drawn, draw more chamber pieces until the chamber is complete. If there are multiple keyed things in the chamber check separately for each.
  • When a monster is indicated, roll a die: 1-2, their strength is 1 per monster, 3-5 it's 2 per monster and 6 it's 3. Another die indicates number, divided by strength (round up).
  • In a fight, every 2 companions or 1 fighter adds a die. Monsters roll their total strength in dice. Every die hits on 2-in-6 and a hit figure can save on 2-in-6 or die. If you want to escape from the fight roll your opponent's strength or better on two dice.
  • A triggered trap hits one figure, who can save or die.
  • If you find the magic fountain, you can wish. Roll a game of craps; if you win, you get your wish and if you lose a water demon (1x4, takes two hits to kill) attacks you.

With that established, I set about dungeon crawling. We set out with two fighters and four companions. Not all of us would escape the dangers of the dungeon.

  1. From the exit we went North to an empty passage.
  2. West, we encountered wandering monsters (1x3) whom we defeated without a loss.

  3. North, the passage was trapped but we evaded it.
  4. North, an empty passage.
  5. North, a chamber opened before us with monsters (2x3) but no treasure.
    We fled (6+ on 2d6) and escaped back down the passage, evading the trap again.
  6. Returning to the exit, we struck East, where a chamber opened again containing monsters (2x3) but no treasure. We chose to fight, took down one of them but lost three of our companions, then fled (4+ on 2d6).
  7. West of the exit is the only way left, where we lost our last companion to a trap. Foolishly, we pressed on.
  8. South, there was a chance of a monster but none was present.
  9. East, an empty passage.
  10. East...a magic fountain! We chose to wish, and were immediately rewarded. Being sentimental, we wished our friends back to life. Then, feeling confident again, we pressed on.
  11. Returning West and then South, we found monsters (2x2) lying in wait.
    We dispatched them with no losses.
  12. East, more monsters (4x1).
    We fought and defeated them, but they killed all our companions (who had only just been returned to life).
  13. South, empty passages.
  14. East, more of the same.
  15. East...a trap! Which killed one of our fighters.
  16. North, nothing.
  17. East, we found an alcove with a bit of unguarded treasure!
    Now all that remained was to evade the two traps encountered on the way over (which our last fighter did) and finally to escape the dungeon with a bit of loot (but five dead friends...)

I'm not sure what my reflections on this experiment should be. It was pretty fun, but in the future I probably wouldn't document with photos since that took me out of the game a fair bit. 

  • The combat worked, I think, but monsters are probably a bit too strong, perhaps monsters with 1/2 (companion), 1 and 2 strength would even things out somewhat. Probably also include a wizard who can toss +2 dice onto a round a limited number of times.
  • Using some sort of reaction or negotiation options rather than automatic hostility would be good too. 
  • Traps felt...ok? I liked the danger of knowing we had to backtrack past them, but losing party members to traps felt kind of arbitrary.
  • I liked the wish, although I had not decided when I included it what things could be wished ofr. Having more random magic in the game would be fun.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

the earthwife and the termagant

Continuing to muck about with my GLOG/echo, I wrote two classes that tie in with the fair and fell ancestries. Gaining lots as an earthwife represents growing closer to the elemental world to the exclusiong of the civilized one, while gaining lots as a termagant represents gaining magical power at the cost of your social graces.

Both are three-level classes, and both have decreasing-dice mechanics inspired by The Oblidisideryptch's excellent druid. The termagant's abilities were lifted from Rise Up Comus's Dwarf class.

  • Earthwife (fair ancestral class)
    1. You cannot tolerate anything of base metal upon your person, but can speak heart-to-heart with any living thing. Plants and animals will attempt to do as you bid, though not contrarily to their natures. This roll has no goals; the dangers are not reaching what you cannot touch with your limbs, not reaching more than you could bear on your shoulders and not conveying more than flashes of raw sense information.
    2. You cannot tolerate spun fibers upon your person, but may speak heart-to-heart with earth and stone, which tell you what they know of old or bestir and rearrange themselves for you. When you speak with living things you may disregard one danger.
    3. You cannot use common nouns; though you may use or give proper nouns to specific things, you must otherwise describe whatever you refer to obliquely. You may speak heart-to-heart with bodies of water to learn nearly anything you wish to know or ask them to bar your enemies or save your friends. When you speak to earth and stone you may disregard one danger, and when you speak to living things you may disregard two.
  • Termagant (fell ancestral class)
    1. You gain two useful magic items chosen by the Referee. When slighted or wronged at all, you roll for the goals of not complaining, not demanding recompense and not holding a grudge. Keep a list of every grudge and strike names from the list only if they suffer a greater loss.
    2. Once in your life, you may withdraw from worldly affairs for a time and emerge with a powerful magic item you wrought. Work with the Referee to determine the nature of this item. When slighted or wronged, you may only roll for two goals.
    3. Magic, friendly or malign, can no longer affect you. If any of your hair is cut or dressed, you lose this protection until it grows knotted and tangled again. When slighted or wronged, you may only roll for one goal.

Monday, February 22, 2021

unified levels

In my opinion, one of the more interesting things D&D 3e did was treat monster HD/type somewhat like the classes for player characters. Understandably, this was closest to the surface when discussing the possibility of adventuring as a monster. Level adjustment meant that a monstrous character was treated as one or more levels higher than their class level for the purpose of how much experience they needed to reach the next level.

When Savage Species was written, that concept got significantly expanded by the inclusion of monster classes. One could start your career as a stripped-down version of a monster on par (in theory) with other level 1 characters, and gradually gain their more powerful and iconic abilities. However, this still needed a separate class for each monster type and it didn't expose the mechanical guts of how monsters and characters ticked.

What follows is an attempt to do unify monster and character building by giving each an "ordinary track" that governs more mundane advancement, here Nerve (aka Hit) Dice, and optional multi-classing into "extraordinary tracks" that grant special abilities.

A lizardman engaged in combat with a human warrior. David Sutherland (1977).

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

hazarding a tale


Whenever a rogue is in dire enough straights, they can hazard a tale appropriate to their current peril. You may not hazard the same tale that someone else has already proved for themselves. After naming your tale, throw two dice:

  • A throw of 2,7 or 12 proves the tale is true. It becomes a permanent part of your character (retroactively if necessary) and they escape the peril.
  • A throw of 3 or 11 calls out your character for a liar and they'll just have to deal with the situation like everyone else.
  • Otherwise, the tale remains to be proven; record the throw next to the tale. The peril remains

While a tale remains to be proven, the Referee can occasionally put it to the test by rolling again; the tale is proven when the original throw is thrown again, but a throw of 7 before then calls it out for a lie.

A poker player tossing chips forwards. I know that this is a dice not a cards mechanic, ok, there just weren't good pictures of people shooting dice that made it clear what was going on.


I have a great love for the way the Far Traveler and the Zouave inject a checkered past into a character. If I could find a fault with those classes it's that I'd like to have that sort of thing continue throughout their adventuring career. I wrote the mechanic for specifically roguish characters (it's what I'd use for the core mechanic of a rogue class), but in a more generally picaresque game it may make sense to have it open to all characters.

A list of example tall tales follows. It's not meant to be exhaustive, players are certainly welcome to make up new tales, but this should do to prime the pump and all these options would I think be interesting at the table: