Sunday, April 14, 2019

Skills, Abilities, and Memory in The Borderlands

For the three of four readers of this blog, you have seen, over the years, many attempts at settling on a comprehensive system to implement skills in my home D&D game. This is another shot at getting it right. I am sure, at least for now, that this is the final implementation of a skill/talent/ability system in my D&D game. I have waffled back and forth from using a system like that found in MERP, which has varying degrees of success and failure, using a more granular system with rolling six-siders and pips (like in WEG Star Wars 2e and LoTFP), and a simple system which relies on rolling d20s with a saving-throw like mechanic (Gavin Norman's BX Warrior and Rogue supplements). All of these systems have given me inspiration and have worked well at my table.

 Skill use in action... by Jeff Easley

I am moving my game in a direction which requires a splitting of skills, or whatever you call them, into 2 categories. I am splitting them into two categories, one is still called skills and the other will be called abilities. Abilities will often be further identified as either racial, class, or special... but in any case they are all abilities and are all treated in a similar manner.

Skills is the term am using to define more mundane activities: climbing, swimming, brewing, etc. These are simpler activities. Some of them are available only to members of certain classes, while others are open to members of all classes. e.g. A Thief/Rogue and a Fighter/Warrior might both be trained climbers and trackers, while only a Thief/Rogue is permitted to train at picking locks and disabling mechanical devices (i.e. traps). I am using a d20 saving-throw type roll to resolve skills. Rolling higher is always better. An unmodified roll of "1" is always a catastrophic failure of some sort while unmodified roll of "20" is always a total and complete success. I am using this table, the Action Throw Table - below- (thanks GG), to determine success and failure. It includes adjustments for levels and ability scores.

Abilities (racial, class, etc.) is the term I am using to define activities which are more consequential; they often have a mystical or magical taint to them. Some good examples of abilities are a cantrips (very simple spells) a Magic-User employs or the ability to identify, make, and safely employ  poisons. Another good example is the ability to conduct alchemical research and to create alchemical bombs and potions... corrosive, exploding acid bombs can be pretty awesome! By nature of the uncommonness and mystical nature of these abilities and their greater, explosive (sometimes!) impacts on the game, I want there to be a granular, level-like advancement system system within a system. To be considered trained in a skill, a character gets an "x" in six chance of success (we will roll d6s). An initially trained character starts with one pip and can invest in more training as s/he advances. A character may never have more pips in an ability than their level plus two (i.e a third level Magic-User may never have more than three pips in any of his/her Cantrips). Additionally, many abilities will bring additional effects which they can produce as they are bumped ip from pip to pip. These may include increased range or duration or additional recipes, for an Alchemist, etc. 

Basically, for a character to get trained in any skills or any abilities, s/he will use some of his/her Memory Pool (similar to a character's Fatigue Pool being equal to his/her Wisdom score, a character's Memory Pool is equal to his/her Intelligence. I will include more on Memory Pool in another post). For our current purposes, characters are able to use up a portion of their Memory Pool when they are rolled up to acquire skills and abilities. Skills and individual pips for abilities each consume one point of a character's Memory Pool. To train on new skills and abilities characters need to take time between game sessions. But they might also be required to find instructors and convince them to provide instruction, i.e. paying them, etc.

I will follow with a post re: Memory Pool; I will link it in the body of this post. That post will go in depth re: Memory Pool and how will be used in my games. I still owe a pretty big post, or series of posts, defining Alignment and Cosmology in The Borderlands. I also plan on working up a post defining spell casting in my games.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Mutated Corruption and Mental Deformities

In my last post I laid out my updated Death and Dismemberment system. It is pretty deadly and awesome... blood and severed body parts everywhere. Into this system is folded my psychic/fatigue damage system. Fatigue damage can come from either normal exhaustion, subdual damage, or torture; or it can be the result of failed/risky casting of magic spells, muffed reading of sorcerous scrolls, or the summoning of Outsiders.

In my last post I referenced my upcoming  Mutated Corruption and Mental Deformity tables. These tables are used as directed by other systems/tables. These are both Level I tables. Once a character has rolled a specific result, the next time they roll on either of these tables and get the same result they will be directed to another, Level II table. The character will not roll again, they will use the same die result. The idea being that the specific mutation or insanity has worsened/become more intense. e.g. A Rorgar the Super Sorcerer miscasts a spell, as a result he must roll for Mutated Corruption. He rolls a 4 on the Mutated Corruption (Level I) table, resulting in horrific boils. The next time Rorgar miscasts, he is compelled to roll on the same table. He rolls a 4 again. Since he is already covered in horrific boils, he keeps the result of 4, but shifts the result from the Level I table to the Level II table. Rorgar's boils have become even more horrific; they continually ooze and have a putrid odor. Level II tables are not written yet. They will come when I need them. Additionally, as character suffers greater mental and physical damage they may eventually reach a point where they become too mutated and corrupted to be played as a PC, i.e. they have become a big ball of mindless slime. At this point, they will either be retired or become an NPC who will be controlled by the DM. 

As directed by other systems, roll a d20 on one of the tables below.

Roll 1d20
1 Stubby tail: Passable.
2 1d3 extra nipples: Passable.
3 1d4 extra toes: Passable.
4 Horrific boils cover body: Passable.
5 Vast, strange birthmark below neckline: Passable.
6 Webbed hands and feet: -1 CHA, +30' swimming rate.
7 Loss all body hair: -1 CHA, +1 DEX.
8 Rooster/chicken feet and legs: double cost for footwear, -1 CHA, +1 STR.
9 Psychically active acne/nodules cover face/head: -1 CHA, +1 INT or WIS (50/50 chance).
10 Exotically-colored irises/pupils: -1 CHA, 30' infravision.
11 New internal organs grow, bulge, and shift position: -1 CHA, +1 CON
12 Bloated and gassy: -1 CHA
13 Withered arm (new arm or old arm - 50/50 chance): -1 STR and -1 CHA , hand-directed telekinesis Character LVL x 10 lbs weight and times a day
14 Neck gill vents: -1 CHA, can hold breath twice as long underwater.
15 1d3 tentacles: -1 CHA, functions as extra limb, apparel needs alteration.
16 Exotic-hued Skin: -1 CHA, +1 CON, talks compulsively of “the Other Realms”
17 Third eye: -2 CHA, can use a single 1st LVL MU spell 1/2 character LVL times a day.
18 Rotted nose, opening allows on-lookers to see massive pulsating brain: -2 CHA, +1 INT and WIS.
19 Third leg: -2 CHA, +30' movement.
20 Hardened bone spikes in arm: -2 CHA, +1 CON, 1d4+1 damage.

Roll 1d8
Psychobabble. There is a 25% chance that this character will begin shouting in a manic, incoherent manner each time she opens her mouth to speak (much as though she was speaking in tongues). This condition will persist for 1d6 turns. Strangely, religious zealots and the insane will understand the character just fine.

Mumbler. The character is unable to speak in anything beyond a quiet mumble. Creatures of INT 11 and higher can understand the character if within five feet (all others will not be able to make out what is being said).
Compulsive Contrarian. The character compulsively disagrees with any direct suggestion, assertion and even basic statement of fact verbally presented to her. Oddly, however, that character is still free to act in any manner that she chooses, even contradicting her verbal contradiction.
Imposter Syndrome. The character actively believes that she is a fraud and not really the character everyone else believes them to be.
Phobia. The character develops a single, persistent and deeply irrational phobia as per the LL's discretion (list of top d100 phobias). The character must make a save vs. magic spells/mind control to avoid fleeing when confronted with her phobia.
Secondary Brain. The character develops a second brain with its own distinctive personality, alignment, and mannerisms that on occasion hinders his thought processes. Once per month the brain will attempt to wrest control from the primary persona (save vs. magic spells/mind control to resist). If successful the secondary personality will assert itself. Once per day the primary brain can attempt to regain control by rolling another saving throw. The secondary brain will eventually lose control after a week has passed.
Hoarder. The character becomes possessed by possessions. She will habitually pick up seemingly worthless small objects from adventure locales. Any living space will become quickly cluttered with bric-à-brac. The character must roll under their WIS on 3d6 to sell or toss any particular worthless item picked up during a session.

Narcissism. The character becomes consumed by an inflated (yet brittle) sense of self. The character considers himself to be clearly superior to those around him, frequently (and habitually) asserting his opinion. Criticism directed toward him will make him alternately despondent and moody. Any discussion of leisure time activities and hobbies will exacerbate symptoms.

I want to thank Chris Kutalik for his inspriration. The tables above were (98%) ripped right from one of his great mini-campaigns, The Misty Isles of the Eld. Misty Isles and pretty much anything Chris has in print are among the best products out there in the DIY/OSR D&D scene. His blog, The Hill Cantons, has been a constant inspiration. Do not just reda his newer content. Start at the beginning and mine all of his great posts.

I am trying to pull together a bunch of data on Cosmology and Alignment, but it is probably going to have to wait. My next post will probably be focused on my arcane spell casting system. I am sticking with classic spell levels but I am also going to add a spell casting roll with miscasts and some pretty horrible results (see the above tables).

Friday, March 15, 2019

Updated Death and Dismemberment, and Psychic Damage

This recent post by Scott has gotten me thinking about my old Death and Dismemberment and Fatigue systems. I recommend reading the original posts to get some more background if you are considering developing your own systems; these posts have links to other, good blog posts.

First, I want to start off my stating that I stand by my convictions as a classic/old school D&D'er:

1. Death is a thing that must be feared. I do not want Players to be terrified that they are going to die every minute of a session, but I do want death and permanent injury to be a constant threat.

2. Character generation needs to be a fast process in order to ensure that losing a character is not a show stopper... i.e. once Fawg the Destroyer is killed, 15 minutes later, his younger brother, Georg the Miniature, can link up with the party and get right back into the action.

I have more to say regarding character death in this post from a while back.

After a few years of playing, these two systems, combined with my own critical hit charts, have proven to be worth the effort when it comes to wild deaths and injuries at the table. During one great session in Korea, we had a party get wrecked... 1 death, one lost eye, a chopped off leg, and a few missing fingers... it was great!

I have made a couple minor adjustments, but for the most part they remain unchanged. This post will roll up both systems into one conclusive post.

Another note regarding subdual damage and these two tables: When attacking and subduing your enemies, all characters/monsters attack as normal but roll with disadvantage when doing damage. The damage is applied to a character's normal hit point pool. When a character who has taken subdual damage falls to zero hit points, roll on the Psychic Damage Table (taken Fatigue damage), below.

As a firm believer in JOESKY and his TAX, see below for my death and dismemberment and psychic damage systems.


Once a character reaches zero hit points roll 2d8 and add the absolute value of his negative hit points. e.g. A character takes six points of damage when he has only 2 hit points remaining. He now has negative four hit points. Roll 2d8 and add four. Compare the result to the table below. The final result tells you what has happened to the character (has he taken some permanent damage or is he just knocked out after taking fatigue damage?).

Table (roll 2d8 + negative HP):
3 or Less - Last Stand: Gain 1d4 HP per every 2 levels in a rush of adrenaline; extra HP lost after combat and the character falls unconscious for 2d6 turns
4 - Impressive Scar: +1 CHA
5-6 - Ugly Scar: -1 CHA
7-8 - Badly Bruised: 1d6 Fatigue.
9 - Broken Ribs: 1d6 Fatigue, +1 ENC for 1d6 days
10 - Bruised Joint: (knee, elbow, or shoulder) 1d6 Fatigue, +2 ENC for 1d8 days
11 - 1d6-1 Finger(s) or Toe(s) Lost; 1d4-1 right hand, 2 left hand, 3 right foot,  4 left foot
: 2d6 Fatigue, and DEX/STR penalties when appropriate
12 - Broken/Crushed Bone: 2d6 Fatigue, limb useless, and +3 ENC for 2d10 weeks
13 - Face Damaged; 1d8, 1-2 Nose (-1 CHA), 3-6 Ear (Disadvantage for Surprise) 7-8 Eye (-2 Ranged Attacks): 2d6 Fatigue
14 - Severed Limb: 2d6 Fatigue and 1d4: 1 right or 2 left arm (-1d4 STR, unable to use 2 handed weapons, hook halves STR loss, and a well made prosthetic gives back all lost STR);  3 right or 4 left leg (-1d4 DEX, +4 ENC, +3 ENC with crutch, +1 ENC with peg leg, and a well made prosthetic gives back all but one lost point in DEX); some tasks may be impossible (e.g. climbing, sneaking, picking pockets, etc.)
15 - Mortally Wounded: only magical healing within 1d4 rounds can save you and suffer 3d6 Fatigue
Greater than 15 - Dead! 

I love this pic!


A character's Fatigue score pool, at maximum, is equal to his Wisdom (WIS) score. Character's take fatigue points either from spell casting or from environmental factors such as suffering from starvation or from enduring periods of extended physical stress, such as being tortured. The amount of Fatigue damage suffered from spell casting is determined through the spell casting process. The amount of Fatigue suffered from environmental factors and physical stress is typically taken in metered periods and requires a saving throw. e.g. After going two minutes without oxygen a character must make a save every round or they take 1d10 points of Fatigue. A character's Fatigue pool may have a negative value. As a character takes Fatigue damage it is important to note that their actual Wisdom scure does not change and that any adjustments (e.g. modifiers to spell saves) are not changed.

Table (roll 2d8 + negative Fatigue):

3 or Less - Second Wind: Gain 1d4 Fatigue, only fall unconscious if you still have zero or fewer Fatigue.
4  - Stunned: Fall unconscious for 1d6 rounds (awaken with 1d4 Fatigue).
5-6 - Exhausted: Fall unconscious for 1d8 hours 
(awaken with 1d4 Fatigue).
7-8 - Concussed: Fall unconscious for 2d6 hours, take 1d4 Hit Points 
(awaken with 1d4 Fatigue).
9-10 - Comatose: Fall unconscious for 2d6 hours, take 1d4 Hit Points; make save or suffer a Mental Deformity 
(awaken with 1d4 Fatigue).
11-12 - Brain Fever: Fall unconscious for 2d6 hours, take 2d4 hit points; make save with -2 or suffer a Mental Deformity 
(awaken with 1d4 Fatigue).
13-14 - Time TravelerFall unconscious for 2d10 hours and suffer a Mental Deformity; make save with -2 or travel to the Time Piece - Thanks, Venger - 
(awaken with 1d4 Fatigue).
15-16 - Vessel of the Great God: Fall unconscious for 1d4 daysGenerate a random godling. You are now the rock and cornerstone of its church. Lose half your levels and become the first priest of your new master 
(awaken with 1d4 Fatigue).
17-18 - Psychic Hemorrhaging: Fall unconscious and suffer two Mental DeformitiesOnly magical healing can push you up into positive Fatigue points. Make save every hour or die.
Greater than 18 - Dead

Rather than sticking with the old school Hit Point (HP) method of recovery in which PCs recovery HPs at a slow rate, I am adopting the 5e method of using short and long rests. The system is pretty simple. Each day a PC has a number of dice equal to their Hit Dice (HD) in both short and long rest dice. e.g. Maria, 6th level Cleric, has 6d6 of short and 6d6 of long rest dice which she can use/exhaust each day. She can take upto six short rests. During each short rest, she heals upto 1d6 HP per rest. At the end of each day Maria takes a long rest. She heals upto 6d6 of HP per long rest. A short rest is one turn in length. A long rest is c. 8 hours in length. If a short rest is interrupted the character recovers one HP. If a long rest is interrupted and not completed a character recovers the proportion of the total amount of HD which was completed. e.g. Maria's party is attacked by bandits while making camp/conducting a long rest. Rather than chasing off the attacking bandits and continuing their long rest, the party flees and continues adventuring. The party completed c. fours hours of rest prior to being attacked. Maria recovers 3d6 HP.

Recovering Fatigue is also wrapped into the cycle of short and long rests. After a short rest a character recovers one point of Fatigue. After a long rest a character recovers 1d8 points of Fatigue. In cases where a short rest is interrupted, a character does not recover any Fatigue. When a long rest is interrupted and not completed a character recovers 1d4 points of Fatigue.

In addition to the very simple prosthetics mentioned above there is a world of fantastic prosthetics out there fir us to enjoy. In fact, I could even imagine scenarios in which a PC might want a prosthetic limb, eye, etc (check out this video to see what I mean). Thanks to Skerples and Luka for these 2 great lists of replacements and upgrades:

Coins and Scrolls - OSR: Fantasy Prosthetics

WTF - 46 d100 Magic Prosthetics

The Fatigue system (above) makes mention of  Mental Deformities. This is a sub-system which requires a little more work. Expect more to come within the next few days. Additionally I am going to be pushing out a spell system which integrates Fatigue (and, as a result, Mental Deformities) and Mutated Corruption. The system will also incorporate chances for spell failure, wild effects, etc.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Another Option for Initiative

For quite a while I have been using this simple initiative system in my Home School D&D game. The system is based on characters and monsters drawing playing cards and acting in the order of the cards they have drawn: highest to lowest.

I have started playing again! And I am super psyched about D&D. I just hope we can keep the game going. The DM is kind of new to the game. I have been helping here simplify some things to keep her game moving along. The problem is that she (and I think the other players) want initiative to be an individual event rather than just a simple die roll for the whole table. My system is not really going to go well over with her group.

A while ago I read this simple little tweet from Mike Mearls. Basically, he started using a simple die rolling initiative system in his games. I think this might be a good system for her to try in her campaign.


Based on reading Mike's post based, my recommendation to her are:

1. When attacking with melee weapons or thrown weapons, roll the damage die/dice of the weapon (or all weapons, totaled) being used to determine initiative.

2. When attacking with all other missile weapons except firearms, roll 1d4 to determine initiative.

3. When attacking with melee weapons from the second rank or with firearms, or casting a spell or using a magical device, roll 1d12 to determine initiative.

4. When moving, roll 1d6 and add it to all other rolls to determine initiative. If a character or monster is only moving, roll just 1d6 to determine initiative.

5. When stowing/exchanging/drawing gear or equipment, roll 1d8 and add it to all other rolls to determine initiative. If a character or monster is only stowing/exchanging/drawing gear or equipment, roll just 1d8 to determine initiative.


- Characters subtract their Dexterity Adjustment.
- Characters add their Encumbrance Modifier.
- Characters wearing Heavy Armour add 4 to their Initiative Roll and those wearing Medium Armor add 2 to their Roll.

I will update this post after seeing how well this system plays in her campaign.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Some Inspiration from the Slums: Ability Score Checks

I am trying to get back on top of my blogging and fleshing out my new gaming world.

For two reasons, I have never been quite satisfied with simple (roll 1d20 under a specified ability's score) ability score checks. First, I like to stick with a general rule to keep things rolling in the right direction. Rolling higher is always better. This is a good rule to follow with newer players; it makes things a little easier for them (I also believe that higher values should be better... that's why, even though I am a BX fan I have adopted ascending AC like in Swords & Wizardry). Second, I have never liked that your ability to succeed on these checks (though not necessarily the actual scores thenselves) do not change as a character levels up. To me, in D&D a character levels up and gets better at doing stuff... even stuff that is dependent upon their ability scores. With some help from Greg Gorgonmilk and David Lewis Johnson I have devised a simple system which curbs the extreme probabilities of rolling d20s, allows me to easily make doing stuff either more or less difficult without over thinking it, and which complies with the criteria mentioned above.

Ability Score Checks:
When in doubt roll an ability score check... basically if there is not another applicable mechanic, I will have the player roll a few d6s with the target being set by checking the Action Throw Table (below) which I discovered on Greg's old blog. I am not sure if he made it himself or if he borrowed it from someone else. But in any case, thanks Greg. I like this table because it takes into account a character's level when setting the target for each ability score check.

When making ability score check a player rolls 3d6 (for a task of average difficulty) for their character with the target being set by checking the Action Throw Table. In cases where either the character has an advantage or the task is easier than average, the player rolls additional dice. In cases where either the character has a disadvantage or the task is more difficult than average, the converse applies, the player rolls fewer dice. The base concept of rolling 2d6 (and d6 dice, generally) for task resolution is rooted in the oldest editions of D&D and Chainmail. David inspired me to add and subtract dice based on the circumstances on the ground at the time of the roll.

Backgrounds (Wheelhouses):
One way to get to roll an extra d6 when making an ability score check is to have some experience in working your way through similar tasks. At creation and later in their careers (i.e. as they advance) players choose Backgrounds for their characters... they may be bundles of skills they have learned, innate abilities, etc. This is another of David's good ideas. Thanks, again. In the campaign setting from which both of David's ideas come, Gathox Vertical Slum, David calls what I call Backgrounds, Wheelhouses.

Next Up:
Within the next week I will putting up another post with a little intro to my new campaign and some basic information about alignment and religion in my game.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

DM Helper: Armor Class Conversions

I have been pretty absent from this blog. Work just takes a ton of time and energy. Something I threw together a while ago, is this little chart. It is something you/a DM can easily cut and paste into a doc or glue (with a actual paste) into a DM screen.

It is an Armor Class (AC) conversion table. It includes AC values from AD&D, B/X, Swords and Wizardry, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I use a house-ruled B/X (Labyrinth Lord) ruleset. One of my biggest house-rules is that I use Ascending Armor Class (AAC). Newer players to D&D find it much easier t work with. In this table, I am looking at the S&W/AAC column as the column from which I draw my outputs.

I hope this is useful.

thAC0 Attack Matrix AAC AAC
Base 10 Base 9 Base 10 Base 12
10 9 10 12
9 8 11 13
8 7 12 14
7 6 13 15
6 5 14 16
5 4 15 17
4 3 16 18
3 2 17 19
2 1 18 20
1 0 19 21
0 -1 20 22
-1 -2 21 23
-2 -3 22 24
-3 -4 23 25
-4 -5 24 26
-5 -6 25 27

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Sharing a Great Adventure: Fortress of the Fungi Chemist

Michael Raston of The Lizardman Diaries blog gas produced a dungeon level and he is willing to share... level 1 of the Fortress of the Fungi Chemist can be found here on his blog. All of his posts and hacks are straight up DIY D&D rooted in old school styles of play. I have gotten a lot of inspiration from his blog and should be posting a few things which are rooted in some of Michael's posts.

This is one of the maps from the fortress. I really dig the raw DIY look and "feel" to his work. Thanks for sharing, Machael.