Tuesday 30 October 2018

Ritualising D&D Spells

I like the idea of spells that draw upon more concrete requirements than "Wizard, Level 4" or "3 uses per day".

Imagine Spells that any character can attempt, provided they learn about it and jump through the required in-world hoops.

I'm taking the spell list from Swords & Wizardry (from here because it's the easiest for me to work through) and seeing how they could be turned into Rituals.

The main consideration here is that this changes the spell by:
  • Making it usable by any person, no level restrictions.
  • Giving it a method or other means of restricting its use.
  • Keeping things system agnostic.
  • Making the spell more outright interesting while we're in there.
Here are some examples. I'm drawing on with spells beginning with A, but this is in no way a commitment to me re-writing every spell this way. 

Waking the Servant (Aerial Servant)
  • Ring bell of pure silver in the smoke of plants grown on a grave
  • Whisper a passage from a tome dependent on the current phase of the moon.
  • Command the bound spirit to fetch one thing up to the weight of a Horse. 
  • If the spirit cannot bring the object, the object is not the commander's legal property, or a command is not given within a few seconds, it goes insane and attacks whoever rang the bell until they are incapacitated (d10 crushing grasp, 5hp, immune to physical attacks). 
Feral Rebirth (Animal Growth)
  • Gather a number of creatures of the same breed equal to twice the normal litter size.
  • Pack the creatures into a wicker cage with no space left.
  • Cry out to the creatures in their own tongue. 
  • Shower the creatures in the blood of their predator or prey. 
  • Light the cage on fire.
  • The creatures will spring forth twice as strong and resilient and utterly feral until death. 
Invasive Species (Animal Summoning)

  • Wear the skin of a creature native to this area.
  • Use the blood of this creature to draw a symbolic representation of another animal on a natural surface (tree, cave wall etc).
  • The ritual calls forth a chosen creature not native to this area. The limit is one creature larger than a man, or three animals smaller than a man.
  • They burst out of the surface marked with the symbols. The animals obey the caster’s commands and nothing else, having lost all their natural instinct.
Death Spirits (Animate Dead)
  • In a graveyard, or site of a massacre or battle, perform an hour long poem and dance, remaining hooded and uninterrupted throughout.
  • Note that the site need not actually contain corpses.
  • After the initial hour, d12 Skeletons burst from the ground, and another d6 every hour left uninterrupted. If a 1 is rolled then no more corpses will appear and the site is dry of death energy. 
  • These creatures are minor spirits of death, not actual reanimated corpses, so they will serve you as long as it involves death.
Imbue with Soul (Animate Object)

  • Take one inanimate object that serves a function in a house, ie a chair, rug, or grandfather clock. 
  • Combine the entire hair of a crafts-person skilled in making that object into the wax of a candle. 
  • Light the candle and loudly chastise the object for not serving well. 
  • The animated object follows any commands as long as the candle burns, after which they return to inanimate. 
Stone Child (Animate Rock)

  • An area of natural, unshapen rock must be cleared of any loose stone, debris, gravel. 
  • A stone formed in the last day (commonly from magma) is ground to dust, formed into a paste with milk and spread over the area. 
  • The name of one of the Stone Children (there are twelve, guarded by druids) is called out repeatedly, then the ground struck with a pick to form a crack.
  • A shambling, 10ft tall stone elemental is born out of the ground. The elemental acts like a confused toddler, but has great strength. They can be easily influenced, but you have no real control over them. 

Scare-Circle (Anti-Animal Ward)

  • Lay out a 10ft circle of copper sticks during daylight and splash with clove-steeped alcohol. 
  • No animal (normal or giant) can enter the circle unless being carried by a human or similar. 
  • Animals within the circle cower and submit, and cannot leave without being carried. 
  • Non-animals can pass through the circle without effect, and removing even a single stick breaks its power. 

Saturday 27 October 2018

Electric Bastionland Character Preview

Do you long for raw unedited sneak peeks of your most anticipated game of 2019? 

Today's your lucky day. 

Monday 22 October 2018

Three Step Dungeons

I recently ran a group through the start of the Tomb of the Serpent King, and thoroughly enjoyed it. My dungeons often end up as ultra-non-linear piles of weird toys with a notable lack of anything that's an outright hazard or reward, and definite lack of a climax.

Sometimes it's nice to pull yourself a little closer to sanity, so I'm going to write a small dungeon that teaches players about its more unusual concepts as they are introduced, with a focus on leading towards a challenge for a reward, and multiple opportunities for an end-of-session climax.

In doing that I created a sort of procedure, because of course I did.

The Three Step Process:
  1. Introduce First Concept
  2. Introduce Second Concept
  3. Challenge involving both concepts and an additional twist, typically with a reward. 

First think of a bunch of interesting concepts you want to include in your dungeon. They can be monsters, items, hazards, or anything between.

You don’t really need to include things that are dead simple like “skeleton warriors” or “pit traps” but if you plan on putting a twist on them then add them in too. You can also skip out anything that has no real element of danger, say a crystal ball that lets you see other areas of the dungeon.

For this example let’s steal some fun stuff from other dungeons. Forget making a coherent theme for this, we’re just looking at how we would introduce these concepts.
  • The Green Devil Face
  • Wraiths
  • Portal Gun
  • Crossbow Snipers
  • Smoke Elementals
  • Reserve-Gravity
  • Quicksand
And we’ll be introducing them two at a time. This could be a small dungeon that only introduces two new concepts, or a sprawling dungeon comprised of smaller sections that each focus on two concepts.

The Introductions
Ideally this is an opportunity for the players to get information about the concept in a mostly safe way before it really challenges them. It needn't even be a direct encounter, the common example being a statuary that introduces the presence of a Medusa.

For the Reverse Gravity example you’d have a Reverse-Gravity room with one majorly obvious hazard so that they can get used to how it works, and the Sniper would be introduced as a lone sniper in an area with plenty of cover, and make them immediately visible (even if not immediately accessible). The Intro and the Challenge could even feature the same individual monster encountered in two separate environments, if the Intro leans towards a non-hostile introduction.

I lean pretty heavily into giving lots of information, so you may find that less works for your group.

The Challenge
Sometimes just combining the two concepts is enough, but usually it’s better to add something else in. Some ideas could be:
  • A beefed up version of the regular concept. 
  • Adding an “opposite” element to the monster, such as a hyper-intelligent variant of a previously dumb monster, or a pacifist version of a hostile monster. 
  • Adding a load of basic monsters.
  • An environment that makes things more difficult for the players. 
  • A restriction on how the players can act.
  • Removing a safety net that was previously in place.
  • Remember to put a reward in there, Treasure being the most obvious but even just passage to a new area would work. 

Adding Extra Stuff

If you go straight from concept one to concept two to a combination of both it can end up feeling quite game-y, like you're playing a Megaman level that's built around new enemies rather than a real place you're exploring. This isn’t a bad thing if that’s what you want, but if you want things to feel more organic then consider that a Three Step Dungeon need not be a Three Room Dungeon:

  • You can have simpler areas in between that don’t require introductions or just give some clues for the larger dungeon. 
  • You can include basic elements that don’t require explanation or previously introduced concepts. 
  • You can have nonlinear layout but keep the Introductions on the “main path” as best you can. 
Example- Wraiths in the Quickbog

We’ll assume this is a branch off a larger dungeon, linear except room 4 which branches off from room 3 as a dead end.
  1. Wraith (Intro 1) patrolling a hedge maze. 
  2. Precarious ladder. 
  3. Ghouls (let’s say these are civilised Ghouls, so more NPC than monster) hanging around Quickbog Patch (Intro 2). It's quicksand but gross and boggy. 
  4. Ghoul shrine (mostly just some fluff and to give the Ghouls a bit more territory to roam)
  5. Flooded cavern
  6. Treasure being guarded by three Wraiths, surrounded by Quickbog (Challenge)
This is all very vanilla so go back through and add another layer of detail on top. A nice trick is to add an unexpected or opposite element, rather than just adding another layer of the same coloured paint.
  1. Wraith patrolling a hedge maze is a pathetic lonely outcast looking for friends, but can’t help inflicting its chill touch. 
  2. Precarious ladder leads down a shaft, Ghoul Graffiti covers the walls and it’s mostly terrible poetry. 
  3. Ghouls hanging around Quickbog patch. They’re having a banquet, half sunk in the bog themselves, and arguing over which of them is going to give themselves up as the main course. 
  4. Ghoul shrine. The altar has a valuable crystal skull and the Ghouls say anybody that takes it is cursed. 
  5. Flooded cavern. A ghoul is chained to the bottom, doomed to drown forever. If rescued they reveal themselves to be a life-worshipping Ghoul-Heretic. 
  6. Treasure being guarded by three Wraiths, surrounded by Quickbog. The treasure is a helmet being worn by one of the Wraiths, the other two are jealous. 
Now what's happened is the Ghouls have almost ended up being too interesting to count as a basic element, but I figure they're fine if they're mostly interested in their own affairs, not hostile to the characters. 

Knock out a handful of these Three-Step Dungeons, have them branch off a hub area or lead into each other, and you've got yourself a decently sized dungeon ready for your next game.

It might look like this:

I messed up some of the labels in that diagram, but you get the point.

Each boxed-off section represents a Three Step Dungeon, with our example being D2. The hubs and "fluff" sections in between can still be fun, but they should either be safer areas or deal with simpler concepts that don't need introduction.

Oh and I should write up those monsters at least:

10hp (immune to physical damage). Chilling Touch (d10, ignores Armour)
  • Repelled by light or fire. 
  • Mostly want their tombs to be left alone. 
  • When a victim takes Critical Damage they will continue to drain them until they reach STR 0 and become a Wraith.

Civilised Ghoul
3hp, Claws (d6. Critical Damage: Bite to paralyse and drag away), Surprisingly Fancy Clothes. 
  • Revel in the macabre.
  • Fetishise death but have no appetite for killing. 
  • Try to maintain their humanity in spite of their horrible lives. 

Thursday 18 October 2018

D&D Magic Supercharger

Earlier I wrote about applying Into the Odd's Decisive Combat to D&D 5e, so it's only fair that magic gets the same treatment.

Art by Luka Rejec
Into the Odd has Arcana/Oddities in place of Spells, but they fill the same niche. Weird powers that break the rules. They have a few major differences, though.

  • They're tied to items.
  • No level/class restrictions for use.
  • They're often unlimited in use.
  • Usually their effects "just happen" rather than calling for a Save. 

5e's Spells are pretty tame by comparison, but rather than a total rewrite you could focus on the final bullet point and make everything feel a bit more impactful.

Spell Supercharger

  • Any spell that allows a Save to completely negate its effect now automatically succeeds. 
  • If there's a complication (typically something that gives the target Advantage on their Save) the target gets to make their Save as normal. 
  • Saves that allow the target to "shake off" the effect afterwards are applied as normal.
  • Accept that this a super dirty solution and is going to mess up the careful balance of spell levels. 
  • Cantrips are the real danger here, but I don't think it would be a massive issue at the table. The mild-option here is to keep Cantrips are they are but I can't bring myself to recommend that. 
  • If you're worried about the boost in spellcasting power, remember it works for enemy casters too. 


Charm Person now automatically charms somebody as long as you're not already hostile towards them. The more interesting payoff here is that the target still knows they were Charmed by you, so you've got to brace yourself for the consequences of Charming a powerful individual.

Fear this works, because they still get their Save to shake it off when they get to safety, after which they're presumably coming for you.

Acid Splash d6 damage to two nearby targets isn't all that bad, smart opponents will break formation.

Unaffected Spell Examples

Sleep is based off hp, so no change here. There's still the chance that nothing happens here, but it's relatively low if you plan correctly.

Grease is an interesting one, because its primary effect is to coat the ground in grease, with the DEX Saves for anybody passing through happening as a result of that. I'd leave it untouched, as even if nobody falls over, your Grease spell has still had some impact on the world.

Finger of Death for cases like this where the Save is to avoid half the damage, just leave it as-is. It's a bit weird when you've got other spells causing auto damage, but this whole thing was always going to screw with balance.

Monday 15 October 2018

D&D Combat Supercharger

So you want to use Into the Odd’s ultra-fast Decisive Combat, where every attack causes Damage, but you want to stick with your more traditional flavour of D&D, say 5e or LotFP?

But Why?
  • Missing with an attack is a lame way to spend your turn.
  • Hitting and then rolling 1 damage is potentially even lamer.
  • Combat just takes so long!
We can make this happen. Let's use 5e as a benchmark.

Decisive Combat for D&D

Roll to hit as normal:
  • Natural 1 is a Miss, no damage.
  • Miss becomes a Glance: Cause the minimum damage for the attack, but this cannot take the target below 1hp. 
  • Hit: Cause the maximum damage for the attack
  • Critical Hit (usually a natural 20) causes a Glance followed by a Hit
  • Secondary Effects like Sneak Attack Damage, Poison, Grappling etc only take effect on a Hit and they roll damage as normal if needed. 
  • Resistance, Vulnerability, and Damage Reduction are also applied as normal. 
  • Breath attacks and other attacks that do not roll to hit are handled as per the normal rules. 
An Orc attacking with a Greataxe (1d12+3) causes 4 damage on a Glance, and 15 damage on a Hit. On a Critical Hit it causes 4 damage followed by 15 damage.

Resting Changes
  • To account for the higher amount of damage flying around, you do not roll your Hit Dice when taking Short Rests, instead taking the maximum possible roll on that die. 
  • A Long Rest restores all Hit Dice
  • Other types of Healing function as normal. 
A Level 3 Fighter with 3d10 Hit Dice and +2 CON Bonus recovers 12HP whenever they spend a Hit Die during a Short Rest. They recover all of their HP and Hit Die with a Long Rest.

Preparing your Notes
Write attacks with their Glance Damage followed by their Hit Damage, so instead of 1d12+3 you’d write 4/15.

Missing Damage Rolls?
If a Feat or other special ability relies on the Damage Roll (such as letting you reroll 1s) then the GM either:
  • Applies the benefit to the Attack Roll, if it’s a good fit.
  • Presents an alternative.
This is Too Fast, I Want to Get Off!
If you want a milder effect, have a Hit cause Average Damage rather than Maximum, then have Critical Hits cause Maximum Damage. Who wants things to be mild, though? I warned you this is a Supercharger!

A Note on Magic
This all boosts regular combat in comparison to spell effects that grant a Save, so my next plan is to suggest a way to make Spell effects equally decisive.

Of course, it makes Monsters more dangerous in return, so don't you Fighters be feeling too comfortable.

Now all you have to do is decide how to spend all that time you've regained from drawn-out combats. 

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Life After Plus

With the news that Google+ will be gone in a year, there's a scramble for places to stay in touch with OSR contacts.

Have no fear! This is rubbish in the short-term, but I think it could be a good thing in the long run.

I suggest three things:

  1. Come over to the OSR Discord to keep in touch. We've got 600 members as it stands, but it's much more IRC than G+. You can talk about games, chew the fat, share ideas, collaborate on projects and arrange online games. Just be aware things move quickly and it's a different sort of feel to the trickling timeline of G+. 
  2. If you aren't blogging, start putting your long-form ideas there. They don't have to be perfect, just put them up. Add other blogs you enjoy to your blogroll and talk about them in the occasional post.
  3. All those blogs and other long-form content that you would link on G+? Start linking them on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, wherever you like. Google Plus was treated as a punchline by those that weren't already on the inside, so this is a chance for us to show some great content to a brand new audience. Your next favourite OSR writer might not even know what's happening on G+.