Wednesday 25 October 2023

That Feeling of Glaive on Gambeson

First of all, go and follow Mythic Bastionland on Kickstarter

Okay, onto the post.

What use is an RPG if it doesn't have a giant list of weapons and armour?

After all, this was one of my favourite pages of my first D&D book.

Not to mention this beauty.

In the process of writing Mythic Bastionland I've done a bit of deep-diving into medieval weapons and armour, so the red flags in those pieces leap out at me now.

Still, I remember loving those spreads because somehow the art makes it all feel very real. 

But what does it matter? That's for D&D, a fantasy game, so who cares if the weapons favour style over historicity or practicality?

Mythic Bastionland is also overtly Myth not History. I have that phrase written at the bottom of my notes doc for this game. So why have I been spending so much time thinking about authenticity?

Let's break this down into weapons and armour. 

Weapons in Mythic Bastionland largely follow on from Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland. You've got single handed weapons that do d6 or d8 damage, then two-handed weapons that do d8 or d10, though the larger die types are a little easier to get hold of in this setting. Swords get special treatment, rolling multiple dice, which in this system results in you keeping the single highest result, so they're more reliable and have some extra benefits when you dig into the Feat and Gambit systems. 

Bulky is gone. Since you're all Knights with, at the very least, a steed, it's easier to justify extra load. You might have a Squire to carry even more stuff, so let's just not bother tracking it at all. 

There's also much less focus on hauling treasure back from dungeons, so fewer interesting decisions to be had about what stuff you leave behind. 

Instead, the interesting decisions around weapons in this game are:

  • What do I use in each hand? Two-hander? Dual weapons? Weapon and shield? It's not super complex but there are definitely times you might consider switching up for a particular situation.
  • If my weapon does something fancy, like the Talon Knight's hookhammer (bonus when leaping down onto the enemy), how do I set that up?
  • Am I going to be fighting somewhere that makes certain weapons especially appealing or awkward to use?

Now that last one not have lots of rules support in the game. There's a mention that long weapons are impaired in tight spaces, and you've got things like skeletons being resistant to piercing attacks, but looking at the weapon list there's zero difference between a Spear (d8 hefty) and Axe (d8 hefty). 

Except that Spear is obviously going to be longer than the axe, so you can probably use it to fight over a barricade, or from behind an ally. 

And of course the Axe is better at breaking down doors. Obviously the spear is no good for that.

So the book doesn't present rules for these things because you already know those rules. I suspect this might rub some readers the wrong way, but I do hope that in most at-the-table situations these things just sort of... work naturally. 

In terms of building a weapons list that's appropriate to the implied era of Mythic Bastionland, I'm clearly drawing on the medieval period. 

But which bit of it? Early-medieval makes sense as the setting for Arthurian Myth.

So javelins and bows rather than longbows and crossbows. Spears and axes rather than swords and halberds.

Except... Arthurian myths very often take a more generous approach when it comes to equipment. Most images of a Knight are drawing on late-medieval or even early-Renaissance stuff. So we throw those fancy weapons back in, but just make them rare. Only very few of the Knights actually start with a sword. That guard can have a halberd though, it just looks right. 

So as with so many before me, I'm walking a tightrope of wanting some of that historical feel while also wanting that mythic freedom to pull in things that feel right stylistically, if not realistically. The focus on rarity rather than cost should help with this, as owning a sword isn't about getting enough money. There isn't even a price listed for each weapon. Instead, you've got to actually find somebody who wants to sell one or can make you one from scratch. At this point you might as well just kill another Knight and take theirs, perhaps grab their Holding while you're at it. 

That still counts as Protecting the Realm, right? I mean it's probably safer under my watch. 

Armour also follows the same baseline of the previous games in the series. Armour gives you a point of armour, a shield gives you another. 

Except now I've added helms and plates (extra armour worn to battle) as two other ways to grab armour points, giving a fully armoured Knight Armour 4, something unfathomable in Into the Odd

Part of this is balanced out by the general increase in damage output, but that's not really the whole point. Again it comes down to creating interesting choices.

Let's say you own the full set of armour: coat, plates, helm, shield. You aren't just walking around suited-up all day every day. The general assumption is that helms and plates are removed when you're travelling or socialising, and we all know that shields can be shattered. 

Here armour is less about permanently etching the highest number you can onto your character sheet, and more about considering the situational nature of your protective gear. 

If you really want to kill a Knight then facing them in an open battle means you're facing the full wall of steel. Why not just come at them with daggers when they're out riding in just their gambeson? Or invite them into your home and kill them there... wait, what sort of game is this again?

Again, I want gear in this game to feel more nuanced than "when can I buy that fancy gear", instead looking at the actual decisions somebody would need to make about their equipment. 

As a side note, I do get a small pleasure from including layers of armour here. Coats represent flexible protection that you can generally wear all day (mail, gambeson) while Plates are the hard stuff layered on top for battle (plate, brigandine, splint). Then you've got the self-explanatory helms and shields. There's definitely a sort of paper-doll appeal where I can visualise very clearly how a character looks different based on which combination of their armour they're currently equipped with, slotting the paper armour on top of their outline. I think today... the hauberk under the brigandine, the great helm on top. 

I guess I'm just not used to the novelty of considering what an individual character looks like in various grades of protection. In so many games it can feel like they're welded inside their harness of choice.

While I'm not looking to provide an accurate simulation of the weapons and armour of a particular period of history, I want the players to look at their gear and interact with it in a way that makes it feel real

Even if it's all just a myth. 


This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon. 

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Fire from Sparks

EDIT: Oh, I messed this up and posted this week's Patreon post instead of last week's! That means you'll get last week's post... next week. Hope that makes sense.

It's a busy week over here! Just 21 days till Mythic Bastionland goes live on Kickstarter. 

With me being somewhat pressed for time today I've decided to use this as an example of just how quickly Spark Tables can help you to generate an interesting location and the people within it.

This can be done ahead of a session to add to your notes or returned to when improvisation is needed.

For fun, let's use all 18 of them, focusing in on a single hex.



LAND 1/2 - Barren Heath

Simple enough. So you'd normally see lots of shrubs but even for a heath this is quite sparse, bordering on a wasteland if not for the patches of grass and heather.

SKY 2/6 - Violet Mist

Even the low-hanging clouds here have a hint of lavender to them, perhaps melting into the heather in places.

WATER 5/4 - Cobalt Churn

Despite being barren there are brooks and streams, babbling violently in deep blue, like the water can't wait to get out of here. 

WEATHER 8/7 - Solid Thunder

There's a constant low rumbling in the air, the violet clouds darkening to black in the distance, as if thunder waits on every horizon. 

FLORA 5/12 - Towering Roots

Breaking up the open areas of heather are huge, archlike, exposed roots, not visibly part of any nearby tree, presumably remnants of a time when this was all primordial forest.

FAUNA 5/3 - Mischievous Canines

Packs of small wolves lurk amongst the roots and shrubs, generally living as scavengers, but also known for stealing food from travellers . Their bark can imitate a human scream, using it to lure travellers away from their camps, leaving their meals unguarded. 

FEATURE 8/2 - Veiled Seat

The most prominent natural landmark is a thronelike rock formation atop a lone hill, the violet mists normally concealing it behind a lavender veil. 

WONDER 9/10 - Temptation Wind

On especially windy days it's said that the violet mists stir up aromas to mislead travellers. Scents of home, fresh-baked bread, fermenting mead, or sweet fruit stewing. 

OTHERWORLD 1/7 - Acidic Cavern

Rumours claim a cavern lies somewhere among the roots, leading down into a warren of caves dripping with corrosive bile. Prized by alchemists, but a deathtrap to explorers. 

Okay so what about the Holding that sits in this place?


HOLDING 4/8 - Ancient Dome

The domed keep of this place has always been here. Some say it was coated in gold in its original purpose, but now it's cracked, bare grey stone.

BAILEY 1/4 - Filthy Fountain 

Within the walls, an at-first impressive fountain trickles dull, grey water. Once it was prized for its healing qualities, but now nobody dares to drink from it. 

KEEP 10/12 - Cauldron & Shields

Within the Keep, the ruler still keeps the great cauldron at the centre of the hall, a relic from the dome's lost purpose. The walls are lined with the shields of Knights who died fighting here, whether they were attackers or defenders. 

PERSON 11/8 - Soft & Cynical

The portly ruler recently took to the throne, and is a rare example of a non-Knight taking up a position of rulership. Sceptical of the old ways of Seers and Knights, this ruler seems less enamoured with the traditions that surround his position. 

AMBITION 3/12 - Status (because of) Hatred

It goes further than that. He outright hates Knights. He thinks a commoner like him should be on the Seat of Power, and in fact every Holding would be improved by the rule of somebody who understands normal folk. He knows he has to play the political game, but misses no opportunity to undermine the authority of Knights. 

RELATIONSHIP 10/7 - Sworn Rival

Here a neighbouring ruler goes beyond just being a rival, it's sworn on something. Perhaps this ruler felt a nearby Knight was so dangerous that they visited a Seer, swearing to defeat the Knight in return for the Seer's blessing. Quite why this cynical man would want that is unclear, but we can work that out as we go. 

DRAMA 8/2 Revelation & Poison

A plot to poison this ruler was recently foiled! The traitor was revealed and executed, perhaps a council member, leaving an opening for ambitious player-Knights. 

WOE 7/1 - Mysterious Disease

The commoners of this domain have their own problems, people falling ill seemingly without a common link, a sickness of the lungs that can appear anywhere and strike anyone.

QUEST 10/10 - Salvage Holding

With his own resources tied up in the Drama and Woe above, the ruler is missing out on an opportunity. A nearby fort has lain abandoned for a generation now, sitting atop land of no worth, the commoners having long-since moved onto other domains. Anybody who swears loyalty to the ruler of this hex will have his blessing in going out to reclaim this Fort as a new holding. 

And so the d12s have spoken.

See, that gives us plenty to work off all within a single hex. 

Check out the Mythic Bastionland Quickstart and try them out for yourself.


This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon. 

Wednesday 11 October 2023

The Myth of Balance


This has everything you need to run the game, the full rules section, and 12 Knights and Myths to get you started. Also filled with amazing art from Alec Sorensen. 

This one accurately shows how it feels to return to Twitter in order to promote an upcoming Kickstarter


As I previously wrote, balance isn’t about making things equal, it’s about preserving interesting choices.

So I’ve been doing a lot of balance tweaking to Mythic Bastionland recently, especially in the use of Feats and Gambits.

Feats are special things that Knights can do at the cost of losing d6 points in a specific Virtue. When you hit zero in any Virtue you’re Exhausted and can’t use Feats.

Gambits are special combat actions that an attacker can perform by discarding an attack die showing 4 or higher. Stuff like disarming, dismounting, pushing, pinning, or just an extra point of damage.

For Feats, a few things came up in testing that I wanted to try to fix:

  • Some Feats felt  extremely useful, especially the one that lets you discard attack dice against you. You basically needed to learn to use this one if you wanted to stay alive, and in some cases there were very clear situations where using this Feat was a no-brainer decision.
  • Some Feats felt very niche in their use. One granted an indiscriminate Blast to your attack, making it essential against Warbands and large groups but you’d never use it in a duel. Because each Feat is tied to a specific Virtue, which are rolled at random, it can feel bad when you realise your high score is in the super-niche Feat, and your low score is in the absolutely essential survival Feat.
  • Having a very low score in any one Virtue meant that you were at a high risk of becoming Exhausted and losing access to all of your Feats, even if you had a high score in the Virtue that Feat used.

So here’s what’s changed:

  • The defensive Feat that previously removed enemy attack die now rerolls them, keeping the new result. Now it’s a bit more situational, best used when that enemy d10 rolls a 9 or 10, instead of an absolutely essential cog in the system that every player would expect to use multiple times per battle.
  • The Blast effect has been rolled into the Smite Feat that grants extra damage, giving you the choice of which effect to gain. So now there’s just one Feat for both variants of “do a big attack”. Replacing this is a new Feat that interacts with the Gambit system (see below).
  • Dropping to 0 in a Virtue now only prevents use of that particular Feat, and comes with an additional downside. 0 Vigour is now Exhausted meaning you can’t attack after moving. 0 Clarity means you’re Exposed. 0 Spirit means your attacks are Impaired. You still really want to avoid dropping to 0, but doing so doesn’t prevent you using the other Feats.

Gambits raised some of their own issues in testing.

  • By throwing a Smite onto your attack, granting an extra d12 attack die, it was quite easy to dismount or disarm somebody, both things that can be hugely impactful on a combat. In a joust the former might even end up earning an instant victory. Similarly, it felt a bit too easy to just shatter a wooden shield at the start of a combat.
  • Sometimes players want to try a disarm or dismount manoeuvre, but their specific weapon just wasn’t very likely to cause the result. They could Smite to increase their chances but it felt a bit at odds with the idea of a Smite as a more powerful attack.
  • It felt a bit odd using Gambits to push or pin strong enemies. Naturally the GM can just say “no, the ogre is too big to push” or grant the target a Save, but I wanted some stronger guidance in place.

And again, here’s what I’m trying out:

  • Gambit effects that directly affect the enemy give the target a Save, and weapons and shields are just trapped, not disarmed or broken. However, if you use a die showing 8+, instead of the normal 4+ required for a Gambit, then it’s a Strong Gambit and you bypass the Save or attempt a stronger effect such as breaking shields and disarming weapons. This means large weapons are much more suited to perform strong gambits, especially if you add in a Smite, but even then it’s not something you can count on occurring. A Smiting Knight with a Poleaxe (d10) is just below 60%.
  • A new Feat, Focus, lets the attacker use any die to perform a Gambit, instead of requiring 4+, giving a Clarity Save to avoid Fatigue. This means the high Clarity Knight is more effective at spotting and exploiting the more subtle opportunities, but the high Vigour Knight is still more effective at smashing shields and dismounting enemy Knights.
  • Even with the added complexity of Gambits I think it helps that none of these effects feel essential and you only really need to think about this little subsystem if you want to do something fancy, otherwise taking the Bolster effect to cause extra damage when it makes sense.

Again, this is a bit of a call to action. Just because your game doesn’t lean into “game balance” in the traditional sense doesn’t mean there aren’t balancing issues you should be keeping watch for.


This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon. 

Wednesday 4 October 2023

Opt-In Creativity

Note: I've changed a few details of this post since it was published on Patreon, as I've tweaked some of the rules I'm talking about here and want to avoid confusion.

TTRPGs are innately creative. 

At the very least, even if you're playing in "pawn mode", seeing your character as a playing piece to push around the map, there's an expected amount of creativity above sitting down to play a videogame. You have to answer that question "what do you do?" quite often without having a straightforward answer on your character sheet.

BUT my personal tastes are that a moderate amount of required creativity can go a long way.

You know how some games do that thing where you deal lethal damage to an opponent and the GM says...

"Okay... tell me how you kill them!"

As a player, some days I enjoy that, others I don't. 

Some days my creativity is focused almost wholly on answering "what do you do?" and answering other questions like "how does your character feel about this?" or "what person from your character's background shows up here?" can feel like more pressure than I want out of a leisure activity.

It's part of the reason that some players gravitate to Fighters in old D&D, seeing the whole "all you can do on your turn is attack!" complaint as a feature, not a bug. 

But of course I'm not advocating for removal of all creative prompts for players. On other days I love answering those character questions, inventing gruesome attack descriptions, and luxuriating in a silly voice.

Which is why I try to design my games with Opt-in Creativity.

There are openings for creativity, but there's another road to take if you aren't feeling it. Even simple stuff like having a list of sample character names in the book can help here.

A recent Mythic Bastionland rule change got me thinking about this.

Previously, if you rolled the maximum possible value on your attack die (i.e. 6 on a d6) you got to describe an Onslaught, an additional effect to the attack, stuff like pushing, pinning, disarming, dismounting, smashing shields, but it was left open to player creativity within certain bounds.

This is not Opt-in Creativity, and I've seen the downsides of it in the flesh.

Some players cheer when they roll an Onslaught, carefully consider what to do, and describe how they drive the enemy onto the slippery ground as they fight them back.

Others freeze. They don't know what to do. None of the suggestions seem all that useful in this specific situation. Errmm... I don't know, I guess I disarm them if that's okay.

Well Onslaughts are gone now. Not entirely for that reason, but that's part of it.

Now, when you roll your attack dice you may discard a die showing 4 or higher to perform a Gambit, 8 or higher giving you an increased effect. It's the same effect as an Onslaught, but requiring you to think of a fancy thing you want to do you can always choose to just add 1 damage to the attack instead. 

After a few tests there are some nice benefits here:

  • Having that +1 damage option means there's never a situation where you roll a Gambit and feel like it's going to waste, or you're lacking the creative juice to think of something interesting.
  • They aren't just random windfalls, they'll often come with a choice. If you roll an 8 and a 6 then using the 6 for a Gambit is usually a no brainer, but what about a 5 and a 3? Are you willing to trade 2 damage now to make the long-term situation better by possibly dismounting that Knight? 
  • It makes weapons with bigger die-types more likely to trigger Gambits. That d10 billhook is going to generate Gambits much more often than the d6 handaxe, and more often at increased effect, so it really shows off those big weapons as having the utility that they should. If you don't want to get dismounted then don't go near those two guys with polearms!
  • While Shields (d4 damage) don't often trigger Gambits on their own, they mean a solo attacker can use their main weapon to perform a Gambit while still doing some damage. 
  • With dice used for Gambits being discarded it makes Smites more useful, as that adds a d12 to your pool, but it also makes Deny (formerly Foil/Deflect urgh, why do I rename things so often?) more useful, as you can use it to reduce the enemy's gambit die, or the remaining damage dice. 
  • Say you team up four against one, perhaps a few of you Smiting for extra dice. You're rolling a big pool of dice, and you're probably going to have a few spare 4+ dice ripe for Gambits. This might just lead to a high-damage attack, but it can create fun moments where one Knight shatters the target's shield, another surrounds them, cutting off their retreat, and the third delivers the wounding blow. 

So while there are lots of little decisions in there there's always an easy way out if you don't want to engage too deeply with the system. 

Oh, and we have a (non-final) cover now.

Expect the Quickstart doc with updated rules around the start of next week. 


This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.