Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Spear Combat [pits & perils]

or "differentiating weapons when all of them deal the same damage"

Normally I only run my BX-based mutations, no time for anything else. But I am currently searching for a different group to play exclusivelly Pits and Perils. There is a lot to love into that game, but never played it yet. It's a very simple ruleset, but the player-facing rules are maybe too simple for my taste. I have, of course, already customized it: adding armor as AC instead of extra HP was the first step (naked: 7, leather:8, chainmail:9, plate:10, shield +1)

I also feel that the equivalent of health points (hits) are very high for starting characters. A fighter for example starts with 10 hits, which is equivalent to a "level five" monster. 

from the hireling section

Finally, like in plain OD&D, all weapons deal the same damage and have no other mechanical differences beyond "2 handed great weapons deal an extra point of damage on a hit". In this case, all one handed weapons work by rolling 2d6 versus an AC (always 9 in the original) and dealing one hit or two hits on a roll of 12. Fighters add +1 to this roll, and Strong characters add +1 in melee attacks. 
As I never understood the "all weapons are equal" approach I made some differentiations myself:

Daggers: Fighters do not add +1 when using daggers. This makes them a little worse than swords for them, but gives all the other classes a good reason to carry them (the usefulness of any weapon for the minimum encumbrance!). If you are attacking a grappled enemy, you can attack him an extra time per turn with the dagger.

Swords: Using an one-handed sword with two hands allows you to re-roll an attack once per combat. +1 against enemies classified as large (I saw this somewhere and felt good- not sure of where!)

Maces: On a roll of 12+ deal an extra hit. This makes them stastically good against heavy armors. One handed axes can fit here maybe. Crossbows also use this one when compared to bows, though the former take a turn to reload.

2-handed swords/axes: an extra hit on any succesful attack, just as RAW. 

Spears: This one is a little more complicated. Or is it not? You get +1 AC to represent the biggest reach. This benefit is not cumulative with plate armor (to prevent AC bloat) and is negated as soon as you are hit, because you enemy has closed the range on you. If your enemy is that close to you, you must spend one turn to disengage or else they are too close to use the spear against them. If you do, you also recover that extra +1 AC.

Used with a shield, you're harder to hit, so this bonus might last longer. But the fighters only get their +1 when using it two-handed.

On special cases such as charging on a horse, or bracing against a charge, you get the +1 independently of wearing a shield or not, and all damage is doubled.

I've been watching a lot of HEMA fights lately, something that always puts me in a "weapon differentiation" mood, and I am very proud of this rule. I wanted something situational, that didn't put it over or under other weapons, and that represented the fact that when the enemy is over you, you better drop the spear and unsheathe a sword or a dagger, as modern fighters claim. In fact I liked this rule so much that I will port it to my normal game rules (both the current and the old d6 one. I like that variant to much to forget it)

Monday, July 24, 2023

Simultaneous Initiative

The other day I found this by reading my daily OSR stuff, and this paragraph offered me a new wonderful paradigm. I'll just cite:

OD&D has no such thing as Initiative and to my way of thinking it should never use it - EVER!

OD&D uses Parallel Actions; everyone does what they do in a round and then results are applied.

You engage the orc and you are both circling and looking for an opening… roll your attack, oh you hit it for 7!

The orc falls to its knees mortally wounded, in a last effort it swings at you missing and falls face down on the ground in front of you.

The orc got its attack in even though you killed it.

Oh Oh, sometimes things should not happen in a parallel order.

What you can do is apply reasonable results to any situation. Lets say our heroic fighter decides to attack a troop of orcs armed with pole arms. The pole arms should do about the same damage if they get a hit as our hero's sword. Yet our hero has decided to be The Man in this situation and is charging at pole weapons, this is not a good idea. He needs to clear those pole weapons before he gets his attack roll. Thus I would judge that the orcs get to roll their attacks before he gets past their pole weapons and can strike with his sword.

Legend of Shalice (pc-98)

With simultaneous initiative, the problem in my head was at first: "then who declares actions first?" But for some reason, I was enlightened this time: It doesn't matter. You can make it so combatants can re-declare actions based on what their opponent is doing, and then the opponent, add infinitum. Or just say that you can hold action indefinitelly, with some rounds ending with motionless combatants in both sides because they don't want to give an opening. But the truth is that you can probably run games during months before you have to resort to one of those.

Just a good point to remember: If PCs and NPCs power grows parallel to each other the game might keep balance, but with simultaneous initiative, the possibility of mutual kill increases depending on how easy is for both to hit. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Ecology of Magic Items

twitter: @kaimatten

Where do all the magic items in the magic item tables come from? 

Well, the only way mentioned in BX is through clerics, magic users and elves at name level. Much is left for the GM to decide (how much time, gold and reagents does the item need to be completed) though as a guide, a scroll/potion/item that mimics a spell requires 500 gp and one week per spell level. For other items, there are no instructions: just some examples that can work as guidance:

All right. Now I ask myself: Do all of these items we found in the depths of a labyrinth come from a name-level caster's hand? 
In my view, I always imagined that +1 swords were the forgotten weapons of heroes, imbued with certain powers depending on the battles that their wielder's fought, and that +1 is an extra strength that the sword gained alongside its wielder, or maybe "from" him, as if a part of the warrior's soul had remained in the blade. I wanted to put this in game terms: not so much to add interesting gameplay, as to explore the naturalism of the game world through its most tangible part (procedures!)

Whenever a PC dies, roll 1d20 equal or under his/her level: on a hit, add a +1, a small effect or a bane (+bonus against a specific monster) to any part of your gear. Keep on rolling until you miss. Caster classes can give the object an effect equivalent to a spell of their appropiate level

There are times, though, in which characters don't die to create a magic item. But the moment in which they imbue their essence into an item (knowingly or not) is a moment in which they forfeit personal action in favor of another hero. For example, a warrior who retires and gives his armor to his son. Or a magic user who, for the sake of saving the kingdom, must expeditiously imbue a sword with powers to arm the parting chosen hero. These imbuements do not require significant time, but they require a scene in which they are gifted to their new wielders, alongside an oath, an advice or a farewell.

In this occassions, the creator of the magic item takes a step back from the action. Magic items are never created this way for oneself, but to invest power into another. I think that level drain works nicely for this purpose: too stupid to use for oneself (the level will always be better than the sword effect) and so costly that nobody will ever use it in practice, but will always be available in the theory to explain how a given item might have been created.

Whenever a PC wants to gift an item charged with power to another, add a +1, a small effect or a bane (+bonus against a specific monster) to it. Caster classes can give the object an effect equivalent to a spell of their appropiate level. Then, you lose a full level: your XP is set to the minimum required for the previous level you have at the moment (If you are at level 8 and have +2000 XP towards level 9, you lose the 2000XP and all the XP needed from level 7 towards level 8)

Other times, magical items are just mundane gifts, with powerful intentions behind, but made by people that have no levels whatsovever. This is the case for the amulets exchanged by lovers. These can work as one-use bonuses: one re-roll, or maybe turning a failed save of any type into a success. These are an equivalent of a person that might be far away, but cares for you. So, how are they done? And how to prevent PCs make gifts amongst themselves all the time? Well, there are some under-used mechanics in OSR that more or less represent bonds to other people. Let's work with that:

Whenever a PC wants to give an amulet to another character, specify when it will trigger. It will grant a re-roll or an automatic success once, or once per level of the user (not sure yet). It will only work in absence of the giver. The giver loses a hireling slot permanently (which in case of an NPC won't matter much, but a PC will think twice before losing any resource permanently, even if its a marginal one. Amulets shared amongst the party will be mostly useless as they dont work if the giver is present)

Of course, all of this variants do not rule out the original path to the creation of magic items. They are just alternative paths. However, the time+money+ingredients way can also cover another case: That one in which a blacksmith or another artisan wants to make a magical version of his usual work. This is how dwarves, despite not having any magical abilities, achieve to make their masterwork or magical items.

All of this rules are probably never to be used. They are irrelevant notes which do not add much to a session. But if something is present and ubiquitous in the world I at least need some mental guidelines to know how a PC can interact with it. These rules main point is to provide a better understanding of the game world logic. 

Thursday, July 13, 2023

D&D without damage dice (my own take)

 AKA current houserules, july'23

 Since I read this and this at the Homebrew Homunculus blog, I have been playing that way, barring ocassional spin-offs. It works. I think it also suits my GMing style (if there is such a thing) and combines perfectly with other personal houserules. But as I use the concept, I don't use it exactly as he devised it, nor as I did at first. It is thus necessary that I codify my own formulas and tables in this traveler log for the next pilgrim in need.

First: there are no hit points, only hit dice. 

Magic Users and Hobbits start with one hit die
Fighters and Elves start with two. This makes them relativelly tougher than their original counterparts, which seems very welcome to me.

I don't use more classes (I might cover this decision on another entry in the future)
Constitution bonuses add or take HD from this amount by their modifier (you cannot have less than 1 HD)

Everybody gets 1 HD every level. 

If you're reduced to 0 HD, you get a special save vs death. See below.


Saves are more or less unified, and rolled with d6. In order of descending hardness, they are Spells (6+), Death Ray (5+) and Death at 0 HD, which works like this: 

On a 6 you are as fresh as ever, you regain your last HD.
On a 5 you are wounded and might suffer penalties to actions, and cannot roll this save until you recover.
On a 4 you are unconscious and will probably die if abandoned
On a 3 or less, you're dead or as bad as the situation demands.

This last save emulates the uncertainity of the last hit points and your opponent having to hit you, then rolling enough damage to take you down. Though the HD progression by level might be just a little under the BX one, the fact that the "save vs death at 0" increases with levels, just as any other save, makes more than enough for it. 

You might have noticed that Magic Users are just 1 HD behind Fighters during all their career. I don't think it's too bad, either. MUs also need much more XP to raise levels, so this will keep them another HD under them most of the time, and cannot use armor.

Table of save comparison (hasn't changed since the last time I wrote my houserules there)

Third: All weapons take 1 hit on a hit. They have different critical ranges and do different damages on critical hits. But in HHs calculations, he doesn't take into account the fact that monsters were effectivelly using d6 hp per hit dice, so when he compared his damage outputs vs the BX ones, the damage output is below the relative actual damage vs those monsters. I reworked the table taking this into account, using an AC of plate (16) for calibration. Better criticals equal greater damage dice the better AC the opponent has, and I love how organically this system gives so much variables with so little machinery.

"Roll to attack: If you hit, deal 1 hit. If you roll in your weapon's critical range, add your critical damage"


A critical hit normally does an extra hit of damage. Excess damage is transferable to an enemy of equal or worst AC, so if you deal 2 hits to a goblin (with a single hit) you can deal that damage to a nearby goblin, representing how you managed to slay both of them in a single turn.

Daggers and other similar tier weapons crit on a 20 (1/20 of the time). When compared to B/X raw, they actually deal d7 damage. This dagger improvement is one of the greatest changes of the system. In a single attack, it will still kill easily a Magic User, but more rarely a Fighter. 

Swords and other similar one handed weapons crit on a 19+ (this is 1/10 of the times) and they are almost an equivalent to a d9 (a little improvement from the BX d8 longsword)

Greatswords and other similar greatweapons crit on a 18+ (1/7 of the time), which in damage output it means its equivalent to a d10

Unarmed attacks are at -2 to hit and do not normally crit (unless the STR bonuses are applied, see below). For an average STR character, it does an equivalent to a d4. A -4 to hit would put it on par with the 1d2 unarmed damage of the original, but I actually like to improve the output a little.

Edit: Spears work as daggers when using one-handed, and as swords when using two-handed. In both cases they give you +1 AC due to their reach. But once you are hit in melee, your opponents will close range, negating this bonus. When this happens, you also lose all crit possibilities until the distance is kept again. To do so, you must spend one turn to regain the original position. 


HH made criticals deal more damage depending on class (fighters deal x3 damage and other classes x2) but didn't factor strength into the equation. Strength is incredibly powerful in BX, as each modifier increases both the to-hit and damage by one. Normally each extra point of damage is worth about a +2 to hit bonus in power, so each point of strength actually raises the to hit bonus by three. This is also roughly equivalent of increasing the size of a damage die by 1'5 (so a d4 would become a d7, for example) 

I did apply strength like this: For each bonus modifier, you take an extra HD on a critical hit, with the modifier capped at +2 for this reasons
I like a lot of things about this rule, the first is that it rewards the strongest guys in the party to use 2-handed weapons, but the benefit is greatly reduced for fighters with average strength, or below average, which makes "gamist" sense and feels genre-appropiate. I also like that the damage output comparison with BX looks very good to me. Even the parts where it departs a little, I like how it does. AC 16 is the point of reference, with extra critical damage mattering more the highest the armor is and viceversa (references provided for 14 and 18)

Enter table:

The three or four numbers in a row mean: damage at str+0 / at str +1 / at str +2 / at str+3 when applicable. Damage is measured in damage dice, converting to hit bonuses into damage equivalents.

Due to strength being so important, I have ruled that PCs can attempt to raise one of their scores by +1 every level up, if they roll over their actual score on 1d20. More on this here.

Fourth: Monster conversion is done by converting all their HD into their number of Hits. Monsters with HP added to their HD just take an extra hit. Their damage dice is converted to a similar weapon if possible (dealing 1d4/1d6 is equal to dagger, for example) or with some creative solutions: A T-Rex dealing 6d6 damage now deals 6 HD damage on a hit, and 7 on a critical hit (as they are d6s, they work as dagger so he crits on a 20 only). 

Monsters may not be able to spread their extra damage amongst the party if they are not martially trained or their type of attack is not suited to. 

Monsters that attack in group do not get a save vs death at 0 if you don't want to, but their leaders or named NPCs might.

The original table from which the above's was calculated. Here for posterity:

fuck, man, I'm so sleepy. I am going to publish this, I am forgetting some small things but this is the core of it

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Prime Requisites, or Ability Scores are not important

"In the OSR, ability scores are not important. They are deliberately so because it would be bad design to put too much weight on attributes you roll randomly"

This is something I read a lot on the internet, when skimming blogs and forums up and down, reading things about my favorite games. And I want to make an argument against it, because it's not really true.

They are not big in protagonismt on OD&D's "mechanical" side. Their uses on proper gameplay are but hinted; a numerical descriptor of the character so you can imagine it better, and for the GM to be used as he sees fit. But they are decisive on a crucial part: the prime requirements. 

A correct ability score can allow or veto a class. Not only that, it can put two characters of the same class at disadvantage, by allowing one to advance faster than the other: having the correct score on the correct ability allows you to progress a % faster . It's not like its a dealbreaker, but if you think about it, what's the point on it?

I guess its because it felt genre appropiate: You want to incentivize strong fighters in your game. You want to incentivize intelligent wizards. But if that is the reason, it feels like the lamest way to push that. If your low STR fighter cannot hit hard in melee and relies more on the bow, it's not too bad. But that the same low STR fighter receives less XP its a dissociated mechanic. It doesn't exist to reinforce the world or a reality, it is just an empty punishment. 

It's not really 3d6 in order if you must reduce attributes with that point buy, and get the appropiate one (providing that you can pay the amount of attributes in a 2:1 proportion) just to not play a gimped character. 

If its for being genre appropiate, I can think on much better ways. For example, allowing one re-roll, and just telling fighters that strength will help them performing their class role (even if its by a small +1 to hit). 
The ability score could also be dismissed, and, if its something needed by the class, just implement it in the class. For example, in the case of strength again, just get rid of it. Then declare "being strong" as a fighter base ability. Yes, I know its sounds so bad, but I am assuming you need strong fighters because genre fidelity.
Another method is what I am doing at the moment: I don't do XP increases for anyone: the prime attribute must be useful by itself, or not exist. Strength already powers up your attacks, so it is a good thing to have by itself. So, I allow characters to increase their prime requisites during the game: every level up, roll 1d20: if you roll equal or over your desired prime requisite, you can raise it by +1. 

This makes fighters a little more strong, mages a little more intelligent, hobbits a little more dexterous. I could probably extend this to any chosen ability instead of choosing the prime requisite, but as the specific abilities are what help the characters to fill their class roles, they would naturally gravitate towards STR, INT and DEX, probably.

Instead of using requisites as a dissociated punishment, I use them as an associated reward (that still creates the genre appropiate tropes). I feel that its also nicer for a fighter to feel he might get that precious +1 someday than to accept that it is gone from his hands in the very moment the character is created.

But enough with prime requisites, I want to go further. In OD&D at least the scores were not so important beyond that. I cannot talk about AD&D because I am not familiar with it. But B/X's strength modifiers are TERRIFYING

When talking about damage output in D&D, a +1 to damage is roughly equal in power to a +2 to hit. This means that every strength modifier you get, your fighter is getting a +3 to hit. 
And this means that a level 1 fighter with +1 strenght is attacking as a fighter as high as 8 levels higher than him.
It's not that its bad, but it is certainly a lot for a game in which ability scores do not really matter.
Imagine being that special guy who rolls a +2 or a +3. 

Constitution can also be a very desequilibrating attribute, but also Dexterity with the AC and Missile fire adjustments. Both are great examples on how a great roll or a couple of them can put your character several levels above their capabilities. 

Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma are not as decisive, I guess, though it can be because I dont usually feature much hirelings in my games and players do not seem to care about getting more than one or two, though I can see how a maxed out charisma can be exploited through encounter checks. There is not much more to add but for encouraging you, dear reader: should you be thinking on implementing a houserule (such as relying on "roll under" ability checks for something) and the idea of putting too much weight on the scores is holding you back, don't hold. They are already heavier than they look. 


Sunday, July 9, 2023

Dungeon Floor Level 1: The nameless city

Pitch: There is this ruined city up a forgotten road, where the rumors say there is a tower that is only visible at night, but vanishes during the day. They say it was the work of a famous magician that lived there when the settlement was alive. It will surely be ripe of magical trinkets, wonders, treasure and dangers.

The PCs won't find the tower unless they delve during the night, and their vision will be greatly improved if they choose a moonlit one. This might increase the paranoia of lycanthropes or vampires amongst the players, but there is not a single one of such. YET. Still working on the tower levels.


1. This house has no roof and it's full of reeds. They hide a small pool with magical propierties: Whenever the moon shines on it, the water glows with moonlike light, until the next day. Anything soaked on that water will glow as a torch as long as its wet. 1 in 6 chance there is a treant bathing in the water.

2. Five hobbits are housed here. They are adventurers who come for loot just like you did. Three have bows, two have daggers. They will give information about a random room (d20 + d6) for free. They will expect something in return for any other help. 120 sp are hidden under a pile of rags. The door is totally blocked and they get in through the window.

3. Door to the city. The trees right in front of you can be crossed, but it takes a full turn to get through the naked, twisted branches. This works the same on any other tree concentrations. If you spend a turn trying to burn it with a torch, it catches fire on a roll of 2 in 6. The whole tree will be on fire on 1d6 turns. 

4. This tower is completely empty, no floors or inner walls. There is however a nest of killer bees, and the entrance is partially hidden under some wooden beams

5. An old temple is so overrun with trees that it has almost eaten all the usable space on it. Eight acolytes still worship a female idol, with the classic emerald eyes that are worth 300 sp each. Their leader is a 4th level cleric.

6. Six snakes (spitting cobras). Will attack if the PCs open any furniture or stay for more than three turns.

7. 158 sp hidden on a cupboard. There is a window partially blocked by a tree.

8. There is a lush jungle into this room. Plants seem to vanish like smoke when touched, but instantly reform. It is, obviously, an illusion. You can see an overture into the wall that can be accessed through a stairs and that leads to a small bridge/balcony. You cannot see, however, a box with 350 sp plainly put on the floor, because the illusion covers it.

9. This stairs lead to the top of the tower, Anyone fighting somebody who is downstairs has +1 to hit and +1 AC.

10. This is the floor over room (17) and it is accessed trough it. The door at north actually gets you in room (17) but I draw like that, so read it first. Anyways, room (10): A rope leads up into a darkened tower. If the players try to climb it, it will ring the bell of the old church instead (the rope leads only to the bell, which is worth 150 gp if somebody can transport it). The bell faint ring will last for fifteen minutes at least, and while its sounding, all nearby illusions will vanish. Also, four orcs from the guarding point at (14) will come to check who is touching shit at the bell tower. 

11. This bars can be bent just as a stuck door,  so you can access the sewer.

12. There are two guardians at each side of the door to room (13). They carry naginatas and no armor, just robes and a chinese-type wide hat that hides their eyes, no matter how near the PCs get. They have a very faint blueish hue. They are illusory, and its creator wasn't good at rendering eyes. They seem to breathe, but they won't talk or move otherwise. This encounter seemed stupid to me when I created it, but it's the one that my players struggled more with. They haven't made up their minds to cross that door, that is completelly unlocked.

13. There is nothing in this room of value, looks like an old granary.  However, there is very worn out illusion (each character has a 3 in 6 chance to actually notice it)  of a kid holding a woman's hand. Both walk through an illusory wheat field, and the woman holds the rein of an illusory horse.

14. Eight orcs guard the bridge: four have bows and are atop of the bridge itself. Other four have spears and wait beside the stairs.

15. The bridge leads into this tower, but orcs will avoid it. It has a spider crab on the roof, will fall over anyone entering the room by that entrance.

16. This is a mezzanine over room 15. You can see the spider from here. There are also some books on the shelves: searching for secret stuff will give you a magical book about birds that projects a faint flying hawk 40 cm over the pages when opened. Worth 200 sp to the right customer.

17. This was a church in better times. It is raining inside this room, but it doesn't actually soak you, because it's illusory. The old stairs are destroyed, but a rope will get you to the first floor (10). Use dex or str checks if you feel like it.

18. A stuck iron door will get you into the city through the sewers. Outside, there is a peaceful, rocky grassland.

19. A poisonous pink flower grows in here. 2 in 6 chance every turn for anyone to get sleepy: save or fall asleep to eventual death unless woken up. There is an iron door that will easy open, and will take you into the city.

20. Three lizard geckos live in this tower. They can access (21) easily by climbing, but PCs cannot do so. Its 10 meters high,

21. Stairs get into this inner balcony from the street. You find the body of a half- eaten adventurer. A silver dagger can be found with its point buried deep into the wooden floor. 
South of this tower, there is a bunch of trees that difficult access. It is scratched on the paper because my PCs burnt it.

22. This room is empty

23. A hobbit is hidden here, conveniently guarded by a door blocked by branches. He is devoted to paint the illusory tower every night, with a brush, a palette and a canvas. He is obsessed with the idea to capture its fleetingness, and its ethereal beauty. He is too hard on himself and his previous works (2d6 pictures stashed in a side of the room) but will trade them for any food supplies, or anything that can be made into pigments or a canvas. It's not related to hobbits at room (2). The window at south lets you watch all the panorama, with the tower in front of you. But you cannot see the orcs under it's shade. The hobbit will warn you they are there, though.

24. This room can be accessed by the bridge in the north wall. There is a trapdoor at the floor leading into (23). The wood around it is rotten and anyone approaching has a 2 in 6 chance to fall into said room. The fall will give you a penalty of -2 to hit and lower your MV by one unless you pass your save.

25. This part of the wall is easy to climb from the outside, but is is guarded by a treant. This is probably too big for the players to face but there he is. It should be obvious and scary

26. This room is accessed through the sewers. It contains a human corpse with 30 gp

27. Access to the tower. The ground floor of the tower has no walls, only columns. Amongst the darkness, there are some stairs hidden that lead to the first floor. There are also 9 orcs with spears and daggers and their leader (double HP, magical shield +1, spear and sword) 

28. Two orc lookouts will shoot with their bows to anyone that gets into their range, and blow the alarm horn if you manage to escape the first shots. Accessing this building is difficult because there are overgrown trees in the way.

29. Two more orcs with spears and daggers guard a big stash: 100 gp and 800 sp


1 in 6 chance of encounter for every turn the PCs are on the street, or 3 in 6 per rest assuming they rest in the city and make watch through a window or something. The first time the result is rolled, use the first noted encounter. All the other times, use the second.

1. A flock of blue illusory birds passing right through you // 1d6 Orcs
2. 1d4 Spider Crabs
3. Illusory princess, walking towards room 17, then dissapears // 1d6 Acolytes
4. 1d6 Antelopes
5. A Trader (human) // 1d6 Killer Bees
6. A small treant (5HD). Will not attack unless PCs scare him with fire, harm him or any plant on the city.