Wednesday, December 11, 2019

If It's Thursday, We Can't Fight the Evil Baron: Regulating Times of Medieval Violence / Cultural Performance of Character Alignment

So you're running a sandbox, the PCs are closing in on an evil baron, and then they blow a Pursuit roll and can't catch him by Wednesday night. Oh well, they can try again in a few days; no combat allowed until Monday.


Bear with me for some foolishness - a thought experiment. How might PCs respond to cycles of time treated as sacred by society, in ways that evoke real Medieval Europe more than the Modern/Wild-West-American-frontier-with-knights-vs-hobgoblins pastiche that D&D often ends up presenting, whether consciously or otherwise?

[EDIT: I had only just drafted this post this morning and left it to stew for a bit, and then later in the day saw that B/X Blackrazor's post today explores some very similar stuff. We're talking about completely different subjects, but both posts raise the issue of character alignment in light of pre-modern cultural sensibilities. Worth a read in tandem, if this interests you.]


Let's start with the "Peace of God/Truce of God" movements that grew up across western Europe (primarily France) during the central Middle Ages, especially during the 11th century. In a nutshell, the late Carolingian empire had fragmented, feudal society was becoming particularly chaotic, violent, and unruly, and various social groups (centered around the church but also reflecting popular initiatives) started pushing for controls on the violence tearing apart what was supposed to be a unified Christian society. This process led to things like local militias supported by "clerics" cracking down on feuding nobles; voluntary oaths by which aristocratic warriors pledged to restrain their intra-Christian killing; and calendrical restrictions, whereby fighting was prohibited from Thursday through Sunday, and only allowed Monday-Wednesday. These comments only scrape the tippy-tip of the iceberg; Pax Dei scholar Richard Landes offers a deep dive here if you're interested. A key point I want to stress is that the Peace of God aimed, at least, not only to reduce violent incidents, but to introduce multiple days-per-week as a kind of Sabbath from violence, the institution of a millenarian 'peaceable kingdom' through the manipulation of social time, reinforced by social peer pressure or even (when necessary) by the 'legitimate' violence of popular militias.

[AN IMPORTANT CAVEAT: these movements also ended up contributing to genuine awfulness, as violent people agreed to less killing of Christians and then transferred those energies onto non-Christian populations - leading both to pogroms and crusades. To be explicitly clear, I am neither endorsing nor equivocating about such horrors, nor am I calling for their inclusion at the gaming table. I mean only to ponder the game-effects of ritual constraints on violence for groups like NPC-fighting PCs. In fact, this idea only has gaming utility to the extent the PCs' society recognizes the innate value of NPC lives].


So you've got a sandbox setting chock full of those 'points of light' surrounded by villains and brigands in a chaotic wilderness (this works best, of course, if humans/humanoids with valuable lives have a key role as potential antagonists). Ponder seriously for a moment a social response that severely restricts WHEN "good guys" are supposed to draw swords and have at their enemies. Implementing some kind of ritual, social regulation of violence in a fantasy setting could have nuanced effects on gameplay. Let me elaborate.

+ If the PCs are the kind of people who are expected to honor "days off" from fighting for the good of society, this would introduce an interesting periodicity to campaign play. Well, I suppose this could become a boring periodicity, but if handled well it would interweave opportunities for exploration, intrigue, diplomacy, and other non-violent options (not to mention 'domain management' in general) among high-intensity days suited for bashing enemy heads. It also would force multi-tasking and creative problem-solving - or require players to accept the consequences; all good OSR principles.

+ Ponder cycles of sacred time in a campaign setting. At most RPG tables, I suspect, DMs and players alike think of TIME in wholly modern ways. Gary Gygax had his famous dictum about how essential proper time-tracking is; for most RPG heroes or knaves, we may play at roles we think evoke the "days of yore," but we (and by extension our characters) consider time a neutral, impersonal commodity entirely at our disposal in a game of 'resource management' - an attitude grounded in our modern Western context and very, very alien from many pre-modern settings (not the least, Medieval Europe). If we are content that way, then great - but what might it do to start inhabiting a more pre-modern view of time through our role-playing, a view in which time is ordered and highly ritual-bound, not a commodity purely at our disposal but a sacred process into which we are invited; something with its own rules and patterns and proper seasons that we can ignore only at our peril, and which we can follow to find our proper place in a 'timeless' scheme of things...

Pettie, The Vigil (Public Domain)

It would be a different psychological experience, I think, to play characters capable of as much murderhobo-ing as any group, but who regularly face social/cultural constraints that demand that the characters fit into the setting rather than always remaking the setting in their own image. I'm not talking about railroading player choice, but presenting clear, setting-appropriate constraints within which player choice can operate. By using constraints of time to influence PC behavior, one still allows the shenanigans typical of RPG 'heroes,' but forces players to think critically about those behaviors and adapt them to social or even supernatural responses. Imagine how these would affect a campaign:

+ canon law clearly states that dungeon-crawling is acceptable any day of the week, but fighting humanoids is off-limits on weekends. Deep within a dungeon, PCs suddenly face a moral-practical dilemma - clear out these Duergar, or risk that old rope-bridge to go around them for now and come back if needed? Of course, violating the Peace has its own risk, because...

+ Imagine that paladins lose their powers if they break the Peace by fighting on the wrong day. Clerics lose access to offensive powers on specific days of the week (but perhaps they can use those powers more frequently than usual on the 'ok days'). More extremely, Peace-breakers are supernaturally branded, visibly marked as agents of Chaos.

+ Beyond such supernatural measures (or responding to them), social consequences abound. Those known as Peace-breakers are ostracized or even hunted by the forces of law and order, but also sought after by highly unsavory types. Much as "alignment languages" once offered a (rather weird) social collective for alignments, the basic question of alignment/non-alignment with the Peace becomes a defining factor for PCs' social relations. This leads to many further dilemmas. Does self-defense violate the Peace? If not, can canny PCs provoke a villain to attack them at the wrong time? If the enemy base absolutely, positively must be infiltrated today, are PCs willing to accept the long-term consequences of branding themselves as Peace-breakers to provide 'undercover' legitimacy that gets them inside the base? On and on.

As something of a sweeping generalization, pre-modern Mediterranean and European religious life tended to emphasize practice over intellectual belief (much more so for the ancient period, but even much of Medieval Europe looks this way compared to modern society). This principle offers food for thought about alignment systems; in a practice-oriented society attuned to questions of honor and shame, what are the social consequences of Lawful or Chaotic behavior? How do social expectations fundamentally constrain the types of actions - or at least the timing of actions - that PCs can get away with?

Anyway. Thought experiment.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

My Highlights from the Big DriveThruRPG Sale

For any Americans out there, Happy Thanksgiving! is now running their big annual Thanksgiving sale, with deep discounts and even deeper ones hinted at for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The Web has responded with various calls for good sale links or recommended sale items. Looking over my DriveThru pages, here are a variety of items that I've either picked up recently and would recommend now that they're on sale, or items that I’m strongly thinking of buying now while they’re cheaper. [Please note that the URLs here are affiliate links]. Some are big-ticket items and some are fun little things that pack a whallop but cost a few bucks. 

FIRST - I’d be silly not to plug my own product on sale! BRAZEN BACKGROUNDS: Character Backgrounds for Bronze-Age Settings is on sale for a bit over 3 bucks. Released earlier this year, it’s already gone Copper seller (thanks so much folks…tbh, this is why I’m able to think seriously about paying for a number of other gaming products this Fall ;-). It is suitable not only for Bronze Age settings but (with minimal tweaking) for many sword-&-sorcery or low-magic settings. The DriveThru publisher page tells me that over 80 people have it a wishlist; if it looks appealing, please consider snagging it while it’s even cheaper than usual. The product page includes a customer's link to a very postive and quite informative review podcast. 

Enough about my stuff - other things that have caught my eye are: 

Useful Supplements:

GAZ1 - The Grand Duchy of Karameikos. This was on my shelf years ago as a teen, so there’s a nostalgia factor here, but I’m also currently running an old TSR module set in Karameikos and I think a bit more background would help (though I’m very much ripping and cutting to make things my own - our Karameikos is an ancient, Iron Age land closer to Scythia than the medieval Slavic land imagined here). I remember this being lots of fun in years past and look forward to ransacking it for ideas again. 

An Echo, Resounding from Sine Nomine: Ok, this one is apparently not part of the big sale, but I’ve been hankering after it for awhile. This "sourcebook for lordship and war" contains the eminent Kevin Crawford’s methods for simple, abstract domain-level play including domain management, mass combat, and heroic abilities suited to those activities. 

What IS on sale and possibly entering my shopping cart is Crawford’s Sixteen Sorrows: A Handbook of Calamities, apparently a set of random tables for quickly generating problems, threats, and plots. I hear very positive things about it from the few voices talking about this one online. Although I’m fairly comfortable coming up with things like problems, threats, conspiracies, etc. when I have time to reflect, I find that for pickup games or when responding to players going off-map, it helps to have some nice material to joggle the brain into action like this. 

Of course, another way to do so is with pre-written adventures. I like having things laid out for me when I’m in a rush, but I also don’t want to waste time with the chaff on the market, so I tend to want some pretty good stuff from a module. Here’s what I’m thinking of this time around: 


Two possible candidates currently on sale from the Advanced Adventures line particularly catch my eye: Stonesky Delve & Shrine of the Sightless Sisters. There are many others, but these are both quite well-reviewed and look to fit a useful niche in my modules stable. 

Moving over to old TSR modules, I recently bought and am currently running in play-by-post the sprawling, quite good B10, Night’s Dark Terror. Part sandbox, part plot-driven module, this turns out to be really enjoyable if one is willing to make a few personal modifications and make the structure serve YOU instead of the other way ‘round. With that caveat, this is highly recommended. It has lots of room for making its Karameikan sandbox your own and weaving in other content, or taking out bits you don’t want to run. 

XI - The Isle of Dread. No intro needed, I imagine…this was in my Mentzer Expert-level Blue Box back in the day, so nostalgia is a huge pull here. Do I plan to run it soon? Probably not…though I can see GMing as my kids run all over the Isle someday. Who am I kidding? This is mainly a nostalgia purchase, which makes ‘wait until a big sale’ the right answer.  

Megadungeons by Greg Gillespie: Barrowmaze Complete and Forbidden Caverns of Archaia. (Note separate OSR and 5e versions exist). Two huge, sprawling, themed, very well-produced, gorgeously illustrated, fairly expensive megadungeons. If you want to run a megadungeon, either one should be a great buy. If you don’t want to or don’t have time/group space to run a megadungeon, these are still useful because of their structure - instead of one giant sprawling complex, each is broken up into smaller segments that are geographically nearby or connected (a field of burial mounds with connected tunnels beneath in one case, a series of canyons with a ruined city and separate dungeons in the cliffs in the other). This means that even though I have no serious megadungeon plans, these offer a library of lairs, dungeons, barrows and other individual sites I can pilfer for one-shots and side-missions even if we never use the megadungeons strictly as written. I splurged and bought .pdfs of these both in recent months. While I don’t regret the purchase, it would have been really nice to pick both useful long-term resources up at the deep sale price now available…hint hint. :-) 

Game Systems: 

Old School Essentials Rules Tome: I don’t plan to run it anytime soon, as I’m currently working with OD&D/Swords & Wizardry variants or oddball, small, delightful games like Knave or Into the Odd. But the odds are really good that at some point I’ll want an up-to-date B/X text to run. In that case, this one seems like the obvious choice. 

CRUSH the Rebellion: years ago I was into Dungeon World and the narrative games movement for a while, before reflections on that experience led me off into the mysterious land of old-school rules. For years, I’ve still had my eye on this narrative-influenced game, which looks wonderful to run for a little bit as a stand-alone. In a sinister space empire suited for Star Wars, 40K, or Dune, players are COMPETING as rival agents and officials of a dark galactic emperor. It just looks ridiculous and awesome and for a few bucks, I’m planning to pick it up at last in this sale. It looks like the kind of thing well-suited for one-offs and quick play; my understanding is that you construct the specifics of the setting as you play each time. Probably a great party game for uber-geeks. 

Happy gaming, all! 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Design Journal: Mercilessly Killing Words in the Dark

Two days ago,  I posted about a dungeon module project I'm working on, and included the adventure background and a sample room. Some intrepid allies on the r/osr subreddit were kind enough to offer critical, constructive feedback on the room description. As is so often the case in OSR-land, their feedback emphasized a real need to CUT WORDCOUNT FOR PETE'S SAKE to make the thing immediately more usable at the table.

Urk. I constantly badger my college students to trim needless prose from their History papers, making every word fight for its it feels all too appropriate to get the same medicine advised on my own hobby writing! ;-) In my defense, this was just a very first-draft run at things, but their useful feedback should help me be more strategic about the way I write other room descriptions as I proceed. [My sincere thanks to  u/jacksonbenete and u/Alistair49 ]

At any rate, I did accept their challenge and - with their input, I should note - took the plunge and trimmed what were originally 789 words in a prose room description down into a lean, 345-word bullet-point room description. Here it is.

Room C1. Teleporting Chamber

GM Highlights: 

+ PCs in (C1) are attacked after 1 Turn by Crypt-Script from (C2), unless PCs have adequate light. 
+ Paired bronze teleportation tables connect levels A (A9) and C (C1). 
+ PCs teleporting from (A9) appear by the bronze table here. 
+ If a PC teleports here without a light source, omit visual cues from First Impressions.

First Impressions: 

+ Mid-room, solid bronze pedestal (with a finger-sized object floating above it) stands in a bronze circle on the floor.
+ Four massive creature long-bones form support pillars in the corners. 
+ Everything looks singed by fire.
+ Sound of running water through South doorway; any light shimmers off water there. Whispering sounds through doorways to North and East.

Looking Closer:

Teleportation Table: 
+ Identical to teleportation table at (A9).
+ 3’-high, 2’-wide bronze pedestal in 6’-wide bronze circle carved with geometric patterns. 
+ Table-top engraved with Third Empire glyphs: “Behind the Empire of Arms Stands an Empire of Knowledge.” 
+ Final glyph – “Knowledge” – hovers 6 inches above pedestal as separate, finger-length bronze piece. 
+ Hovering glyph will not move to side or higher than 6 inches, but is easily pushed down. If lowered to pedestal, anyone touching bronze circle immediately teleports to (A9). Knowledge glyph returns to levitating position.

Crypt-Script Attack: 
+ Appear as wraith-like human shapes formed from flowing, ink-like ribbons of written script. 
+ 1 Turn after PCs enter (C1), 1d4 Crypt-Script gather at each entrance from (C2) to North and East. 
+ If PCs do not have adequate light, Crypt-Script will attack.
+ Will not come closer than 5’ to light source as bright as a candle. 
+ Treat a group of 1d4 Crypt-Script as 1 amorphous group attacker. 
+ Attack by wrapping themselves around a PC. Their touch is deadly; PCs must Save vs. Death or perish.
+ Immune to damage, but can be turned as 3-HD undead. 
+ If cornered without room to retreat from light, are destroyed (50% chance) or attack despite the light (50% chance).
+ Will not enter or cross water.

I think this would work. Some part of me sighs internally, missing the classic flow of prose, though cutting wordcount was clearly, non-negotiably a good idea.

What do you think about the best format for this sort of description? Does the speed and utility of the bullet-point format outweigh the aesthetic appeal of traditional prose?

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Back to the Dungeon I Go

[EDIT: Please note that this post's content has been significantly improved through editing for concision, as discussed here]

I've been typing away on a dungeon adventure that I may try to self-publish.

Recently, I'm glad to say, I've had lots of productivity on the professional research and teaching fronts, and I've been enjoying GMing a new play-by-post campaign using the old B10 module, Night's Dark Terror. With the teaching semester buzzing etc., that all involves a good investment of energy, however, so I've decided that in terms of writing new gaming content in this season, what interests me most right now is revising a dungeon I created a while ago, and trying to make it even better. 

[Thanks to those who offered feedback recently on Settings with Strata, by the way; your experiences have helped me identify ways that the product doesn't need a ton of work in some areas, and does need more thought in others. That project remains firmly on my personal radar]

Meet Beneath the Burial Wells

This is just one level of the place, and it's the old version; the revised version has a bit more going on. Key design goals are to make something filling a niche like Tomb of the Serpent Kings, playable in a night or two with low-level characters; weird (but not gonzo) fantasy; interactive, rewarding exploration and interrogation of mysteries; non-linear and vertical, with 3D loops to navigate and even multiple possible goals within the dungeon; and deadly in select places, but not a hack-and-slash fest. 

I thought I'd offer a glimpse at some rough-draft content from this current free-time-project. Here's some background info and some recommended hooks for gold-grubbing heroic PCs. Feel free to leave some feedback - in fact, please do! I'd rather learn now if this sounds boring or lame. Everything is still drafty (especially the room description), nothing here is set in stone. At any rate, it's fun to work on. 


For generations, mourners have carried their dead up to silent cliff-side ruins in the high hills above the town Olvad. There at the Burial Wells, where somber carved courts encircle well-like shafts, the dead are released into shafts, back to the earth.

Over those same generations, some in and near Olvad have succumbed to a weird illness, a chronic weakness and literal fading that ends in the near-transparency and then death of its victims. Terrified of this malady, Olvad’s council has banished the afflicted from the town. Today, a group of Fading occupy hovels beside the Burial Wells, as outcast as lepers but still feeding their nearly-invisible dead to the mountain.


Centuries ago, a league of arcane scribes serving the Third Emperor built way-stations — protected libraries where traveling scribes could rest, research, and pass messages through magically secured means. These soon became conduits for secret lore from across the empire, firing the envy and suspicion of rival orders. It was not without satisfaction, then, that those rivals presented the Third Emperor with evidence of a great betrayal. A master of the league’s way-stations, over-steeped in ancient arts, had twisted language itself to create an unsanctioned weapon: a text that could spread like a disease, bind the wills of men, and bring down an Empire. The response was swift and brutal. The league was banned; fire and sorcery purged the way-stations; imperial archivists scrubbed all mention of the league from historical texts — or so they thought.

The Burial Wells above Olvad are actually the top level of a league way-station – the very site where an ambitious master brought down an empire’s wrath. After securing six reptilian fossil skulls which still bore the spark of keen wills older than humanity, the station-master used power forced from these artifacts to animate a written text capable of enslaving minds. Even as the Third Empire’s magical assassins brought retribution, the station-master hid his text on a secure message-wall. It still waits there today.

So do six reptilian skulls, brooding and bitter at their servitude to humanity. Too weak now to project much power, they can only force a few tendrils of spite through the rock around them – just enough to curse a few humans in the area with the fading sickness. Were the skulls ever brought back into the heat and energy of the daylight world, however, their capacity for vengeance would be terrible.


Several different ‘hooks’ might draw your player characters (PCs) into adventure beneath the Burial Wells. Note that the options described below point to different goals within the dungeon; further, some hooks may work better for different play styles (one option may fit more heroic motivations, while another will suit a plunder-and-run expedition). For these reasons, GMs may want to familiarize themselves with the full adventure and consider their desired play style before choosing a preferred hook. If in a hurry, however, any of these hooks should lead to adventure, wealth, and probably trouble beneath the Burial Wells.

1. A rumor is flying: the Bloody Jacks mercenaries have learned the location of an abandoned Third Empire way-station, which may hold lost lore worth a small fortune. As it happens, the PCs are in Olvad when they encounter a drunk, talkative servant sent ahead of the Bloody Jacks to make logistical arrangements…who lets slip that the Burial Wells above Olvad are the way-station! The Bloody Jacks are only days away, but the PCs realize they could clear out the ruins first. This hook works even better if the PCs are heavily in debt to very unpleasant persons.

2. Dame Joran, matriarch of a prosperous merchant house in Olvad, has a secret: her grandson has come down with the fading sickness so feared by the town’s citizens. On pain of disinheritance, Joran has forbidden the family to reveal this situation. Keeping her grandson hidden, she has spent enormous sums investigating everything known about his weird malady. She has realized that known cases cluster more densely near the Burial Wells. On a hunch, she discreetly hires the PCs (paying very well for their silence) to investigate beneath the ruins and determine whether they have some connection to the fading disease. If the PCs can offer clear answers - or even neutralize the curse - they will be paid a small fortune.

3. The PCs are agents of a king or other important patron, who learns that a reptile-worshiping cult seeks the location of a specific Third Empire way-station. Since the patron’s library identifies that way-station as the ruins above Olvad, the patron deploys the player characters to the Burial Wells. They are to find out why the reptile-cult is interested and neutralize any threats.

4. Alternately (see Hook #3), the player characters’ influential patron learns that an enemy faction is sending a team to Olvad to recover an ancient “weapon word” lost beneath the Burial Wells. The players are to find and neutralize (or, perhaps, secure and exploit) this unknown weapon before the enemies find it (this is a similar hook to option #3, but the hooks will point to different goals within the dungeon itself).

Here's an example of what a relatively more complex room would be like: 

Room C1. Teleporting Chamber

GM Highlights: A teleportation table allows movement between levels A and C. PCs arriving by teleportation from A9 appear next to the teleportation table here. If PCs linger in C1, they will be attacked after 1 turn by Crypt-Script from C2, unless the PCs have adequate light; if a PC teleports into C1 without an active light source, they are in particular danger. If a PC teleports here without light, do not describe any visual cues from First Impressions; use the First Impressions In the Dark instead. This room has no treasure.

First Impressions: A solid bronze pedestal (with something finger-sized floating above it) stands in a bronze circle on the center of the floor. Four massive long-bones of some giant creature stand as support pillars toward the corners of the chamber. Everything visible has a slightly singed, burned look. Through a doorway to the south, PCs hear running, splashing water; any light source will shimmer off water in that direction. Through open doorway exits to north and east, PCs hear faint whispering sounds.

Special Note - First Impressions in the Dark: PCs who arrive by teleport with no light source active have different first impressions. Everything suddenly goes pitch black! You still feel the solid mass of the bronze pedestal before you, but you now hear the sound of running water somewhere in the dark ahead of you. Behind you and off to your left, you hear moaning and whispering…getting closer.

Looking Closer:

Bronze Teleportation Table: This table is identical to the one on Level A. In the middle of a 6’-wide bronze circle carved with geometric patterns stands a 3’-high, 2’-wide bronze pedestal. The pedestal has a flat top engraved with Third Empire glyphs in a circle, which say: “Behind the Empire of Arms Stands an Empire of Knowledge.” The final glyph – “Knowledge” – is a separate, finger-length piece of bronze hovering six inches above the pedestal. No amount of force will move it to the side or higher than six inches above the table, but it can easily be pushed down. If it is lowered to touch the surface, completing the sentence, any persons on or touching the bronze circle will immediately vanish and teleport to A9. 

Upon teleportation, the Knowledge glyph immediately rises back to its levitating position. A character arriving by teleportation from A9 will feel the pedestal to their front, but unless they have or produce a light source, they will have to feel around in the dark to find the floating glyph (if they tell you they are looking for it!). I suggest a 35% chance per round to find the glyph in the dark, or auto-success if a full turn is devoted to the search.

Crypt-Script Attack: By the end of one turn spent in this room, 1d4 Crypt-Script will have gathered at each of the entrances from C2 to North and East. They appear as wraith-like, black-cloaked human shapes formed from ink-like ribbons of written script, which flow and writhe in the air. They repetitively whisper hateful threats and random snatches of archival lore (1d6: 1-2, “flames took our tongues…give us yours…” 3-4: “flames took our breath, give us yours…” 5: “Lo’at, Court Huntsman begat Su-ripak, Second Emperor…” 6: “Su-ripak, Second Emperor begat Ris-Apan, Third Emperor…”

What happens next depends on whether the PCs have light.

With light: The Crypt-Script come no closer than a few feet to any light source as bright as a candle. If PCs cluster around their light(s), allow each single light source to keep up to 4 PCs safe. If kept at bay, the Crypt-Script will fall back to the shadows and continue whispering hatefully at the PCs.

Crypt-Script may be Turned as 3-HD undead. They are otherwise immune to damage, with one exception. If PCs advance on the creatures with light, they will retreat. If cornered with no room to retreat beyond 5’, Crypt-Script menaced by open light will be destroyed (50% chance) or attack despite the light (50% chance; see below).

Without light: If the PCs are not adequately protected by light, the Crypt-Script will attack. Grant PCs automatic initiative and make it clear that something horrifying is approaching, even if the PCs are visually blinded. If the Crypt-Script catch PCs in the chamber, treat each group of 1d4 creatures as a single, amorphous attacker. Each attack is an attempt to wrap ribbons of dark script around one PC. Their touch is deadly; PCs must Save vs. Death or perish.

Crypt-Script will not move onto water, so flight into the flooded hallway at C3 may save PCs without adequate light. Any PC rushing blindly toward the sound of water will fall down the steps to C3 and take 1d6 damage.


When I ran this dungeon a while ago, one player got himself teleported down into this room. Unfortunately, he had no light. What he did have, however, was ALL the party's rope and climbing gear, which was a bit unfortunate, since the folks with the light either needed to teleport after him or climb down two levels to come find him. But the hireling porter who saw him teleport was shrieking his head off, screaming "He just vanished! He just disintegrated!" So there was not an immediate rush to repeat the experiment. 

The PC did, in fact, rush off into the darkness, fall downstairs into the flooded corridor, and turned out ok in the end. Running this dungeon taught me that sometimes the really really silly thing that the PCs obviously won't do (like setting free a mysterious psychic reptile skull that promises to be nice to you and tell you where to find some treasure) is exactly what the PCs are going to do

 Thanks for reading, and happy gaming! 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Looking for Feedback: Anybody Made a Setting Using My 'Settings with Strata' Method?

Hi folks!

A while ago, I introduced my 'Settings with Strata' approach for quickly designing a campaign sandbox (or sandbox-able) setting with historical depth and coherence. Since then, I've returned periodically to a series on how to flesh out the more complex background concepts one might bring to that straightforward approach. I have a number of ideas about ways to flesh this series out even more, including possibly releasing an inexpensive published tool laying out the method and offering various supports to make it even more effective.

But first, I would really love to get some more specific feedback on others' experiences actually using my method. It works really well for me, but that's no guarantee of how it fares for other designers. And I've had lots of positive feedback about the series (thanks!) but it's one thing to file away a cool technique, another to put it into use! (no worries of course - we've all got cool blog tips coming out our ears).

So - if any of you has direct experience putting my method into practice - if you've actually tried making a setting within an afternoon using my approach - could you please offer some quick feedback in the comments? Any success stories? Anything that turned out to be more challenging or vague than you'd hoped? Were you comfortable supplying rich concepts to get the process rolling? (As a professional historian, it's pretty easy for me to find good historical concepts to inspire something in a setting, so this is one of the things I think about as I ponder tools to add to the series).

Thanks! And of course, if anyone's just bored right now, you could always grab an hour and just create a brand-new setting right now! :-) 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Executors of the Royal Will, or ‘Hi, We’ve Inherited Your Kingdom’: Another Alternative Framework for Adventure or Domain Play

Followers of this blog know I like developing historically-inspired alternative frameworks for why PCs are out adventuring - perhaps as semi-free agents of collapsing royal powers or as leaders of a desperate ‘barbarian’ refugee exodus. Nor are those suggestions alone; Dreams & Fevers, for example, has recently done neat work inspired by (among other posts) the medieval diplomatic/exploratory travels of Ibn Fadhlan. Today’s post adds another idea to the pile - this time based on a curious set of events from the second century BCE, in which a dying king literally gave away his kingdom to the Romans in his will. What happened next, I suggest here, could inspire all kinds of great RPG shenanigans. 

There’s nothing new, of course, about using inheritance through a will to spark adventure.  As one recent example, Gavin Norman’s adventure Winter’s Daughter (aff) suggests an alternative adventure hook in which a PC inherits an estate with an ancient burial mound on the property. So I’m not looking to establish some big original insight here, but to enrich existing possibilities with a few fun ideas and a dynamic real-world illustration that could inspire some new paths to domain-level play.


To begin with, the Roman way of handling individual inheritance - if woven into a campaign culture - could be more flexibly game-able than the traditional “turns out you had a noble uncle…” I mean, at some point, footloose PCs ought to run out of suitably endowed but conveniently deceased relatives. In Roman society, however, inheritance normally passed within family units, but could - and often did - involve adoption of a more distant relative, or even a non-relative. Making things still more useful, it was perfectly legit for an adult male to adopt another already-adult male (in a different context, of course, men don’t need to do all the inheritance-managing…) - and to do so posthumously, through a last will. This could also be a surprise announcement; after the assassination of Julius Caesar, the dictator’s will was read out in public, including the surprise announcement that J.C.’s young nephew, Octavian, was designated as Caesar’s heir and adopted son. This out-of-the-blue move suddenly handed the young Octavian influence over Caesar’s loyal troops, and set that teenager on the path that would make him Rome’s first emperor. Talk about advancing from level 1 to domain-level play! 

For a campaign society this custom offers an established way for NPCs to hand over their hook-laden properties over the course of a campaign, but lets the ties with endowed NPCs develop organically. Instead of discovering that your 5th-level Rogue has a noble uncle, this allows a way for the rich noble you’ve been rescuing and buttering up for the past three levels to suddenly name you in his/her will as their (posthumously) beloved child. And why might they do such a thing? Several ideas. First, because they have no surviving heir. Second (more on this below), because they do have other options, but something is wrong or undesirable with those other options. And third, as PCs become more powerful and influential in the setting over time, some NPCs might start currying PCs’ favor by suggesting before death that they are considering leaving something tasty in their will for the PC). [On the other hand, bully NPCs might start pressuring PCs to name them in their wills, too…heh heh].  

So, some options. Alternately, you could go big and just give away the entire kingdom. 


What happened in 133 BCE in the ancient kingdom of Pergamon (in what we would now call western Turkey) was on a whole other level to the family inheritances above. 

Pergamon (sometimes spelled Pergamum) was a Greek-speaking kingdom in western Asia Minor (today, western Turkey). Under its Attalid dynasty, it was powerful, rich, and regionally influential during a good part of the Hellenistic era - the period between Alexander the Great’s death and Rome’s conquests of the eastern Mediterranean, after Alexander’s generals had gone all Game of Thrones on each other, carving up his world into a feuding patchwork of culturally-mixed Greek and eastern kingdoms. 

By the 2nd century BCE, the Roman republic was a growing power in the East; Rome had broken most of Carthage’s strength in the West by ca. 200, had then turned to fight a series of wars against Macedon, and now became progressively more and more involved in the never-ending political struggles of Greek kingdom vs. kingdom. As time passed, Rome’s eventual domination looked more and more likely (especially after 146, when Romans sacked Carthage and Corinth in the same year); but powerful eastern rivals still held out for a long time, and even Rome’s allies clung to their autonomy for many decades. 

Throughout the 150s-130s, Pergamon faced local rivals around its borders, but also paid close attention to the desires of the Roman Senate, allowing Rome to shape most Pergamene foreign policy decisions. The Pergamene king Eumenes II Soter (“Saviour”) died in 158, leaving a young son (Attalus) too little to reign; power passed instead to Eumenes’ brother, Attalus II Philadelphos (“he who loves his brother”). Attalus II reigned until 138, at which point his death cleared the way for his nephew - little Attalus, now crowned (and confirmed by Rome) as king Attalus III Philometer (“he who loves his mother”). 

Little Attalus was all grown up, but was Pergamon ready for him? He was a king of a different sort, given to interest in natural science and physical experiments - more of an eccentricity in his day than this might sound to us. But our ancient sources blame him for deeper problems. Supposedly…

as soon as he came to the throne, [Attalus] began to manage affairs in a way quite different from all the former kings; for they by their clemency and kindness to their subjects, reigned prosperously and happily themselves, and were a blessing to the kingdom; but this prince being of a cruel and bloody disposition, oppressed his subjects with many slaughters, and grievous calamities. Since he suspected that the most powerful of his father's friends were plotting against him, he resolved to rid himself of them. To that end he picked out some of the most brutal and rapacious ruffians from among his barbarian mercenary soldiers, and hid them in certain chambers in the palace; then he sent for those of his friends and kindred whom he most suspected, and when they appeared, he had all their throats cut by these bloody executioners of his cruelty, and he promptly ordered their wives and children to be put to death in the same manner.

The rest of his father's friends that either had command in his army, or were governors of cities, he either caused to be treacherously assassinated; or seizing them, murdered them and their families together. Therefore he was hated not only by his subjects, but by all the neighbouring nations; and all within his dominions endeavoured as much as they could to bring about a revolution and change of government.
Not a record to inspire confidence (though it is possible, as historian Christian Habicht suggests, that this negative tradition “may have been invented in order to make the [subsequent] Roman takeover look desirable.” We can’t be quite sure. We do know what finally resolved any (allegedly) bitter tensions between Attalus and his own people. He wrote a will, in which he gave away his entire kingdom (save the free autonomy of the city of Pergamon itself) as a gift to the Roman people. And then, in 133, he died. 

Mic drop. 

Rome was, ahem, willing to receive the gift. Back in Rome, a young noble politician named Tiberius Gracchus moved that the Pergamene royal treasury be redirected immediately for the financial aid of Rome’s struggling poorer classes (Gracchus would soon be murdered himself as Roman political tensions started getting out of hand). Five legates were sent by the Senate to inspect Pergamon and begin the administrative transfer. Not all Pergamenes (surprise!!!!) were enthusiastic about these events. 

A rebellion flared up, led by Aristonikos - a man who claimed to be an illegitimate son of old Eumenes II, Attalus’ long-dead (and much more popular) father. Whether true or not, his claim swayed many in the kingdom’s rural districts. Aristonikos assembled an army, its ranks swelled by an appeal to slaves, and this motley force managed to crush the first Roman army sent to destroy it. But the Romans kept coming, and Aristonikos was defeated in 130; by the mid 120s, Rome had pacified the kingdom, handed some poorer eastern districts off to new client kings, and incorporated the rich tasty bits into a new Roman province, “Asia.” The Attalid kingdom of Pergamon was no more. 


You can see this as the basis for a pretty gnarly RPG campaign, right? Actually, I can see the premise behind multiple types of campaigns. 

You like your grimdark? Fine, don’t change anything. You’ve got a fantasy kingdom; the last king was a monster; his cruel caprice and posthumous benefaction has handed his fractured realm over to an outside power; your PCs are agents of that outside power. You can go full Glen Cook Black Company with this if you want. 

My own tastes run closer to the gritty-but-still-heroic. Here’s the kind of campaign this story makes me want to run: you’ve got a fantasy sandbox kingdom. The place is torn by factions and threatened by some serious, subversive, hidden evil. The last ruler of Dynasty X (or what have you) knows that if he/she lets succession run its normal course, then The Bad Guys Are Going to Take Over the Realm. And this must not come to pass. So, regretfully, the last monarch signs a will handing their kingdom over to the care of a neighboring power, which seems to be led by a decent chap.  And with the will comes a warning about how the kingdom is not just a loot-rich toy box, it has a dark evil needing cleansed, yada yada yada.

Enter the PCs. They’re agents of the outside power. They’re like the legates sent in to check out the kingdom and prep it for transfer. So from session 1 they are dealing with a kind of domain-level play; it’s not theirs, per se, but they have some measure of authority to start directing its affairs. 

Only…it’s a mess. 

Part of the populace is frankly relieved that the outsiders are there. These folks will be a pool of support on which the PCs can draw for aid. But many others want nothing to do with The Bad Guys Who Threaten the Peace, but they also aren’t happy about these upstart foreigners showing up to usurp the place. This means the PCs' actions are going to push this demographic one way or another. Show strength, show compassion, solve this groups’ problems in a healthy way, and you can sway them over to the side of the new Law & Order in town. Act like jerks, or just get defeated too many times, and these masses will swell the ranks of whatever rebel or ambitious noble stands up against the new regime.

And oh, there will be rebels. Because behind everything, there actually is a Big Bad sowing seeds of destruction. Maybe it’s an evil cult. Maybe it’s a band of aristocratic lycanthropes. Maybe it’s just the jerkiest of noble alliances. But something not immediately visible really is planning to overthrow the kingdom themselves. Unless the PCs stop them.

And finally, there will be pressure from back home. Not everyone back home cares about the sinister problems the PCs are uncovering. They care about tax proceeds, or whatever other agenda moved them to accept the royal bequest in the first place. So PCs will have to negotiate demands from back home, weighing how far they can push the locals to keep their own masters happy - and vice versa. 

In this kind of setting, you can start out with a variety of low-intensity missions (bandits are seizing taxes! go stop them!) and wander through other types of jobs: the people in that town might support our cause - if we broke the ancient curse that flows from the necropolis beneath their walls! … We don’t know which of the kingdom’s five lords is a werewolf - can you find out? Etc., etc. And you can build up to a final confrontation with the BBEG. And (as I like to impose) you can have a meaningful campaign ‘victory’ or ‘failure’ condition - either the realm will get stabilized (preferably under your patron’s rule, but let us know if you come up with a better idea, PCs…) or it won’t. 

What do you think? Does throwing PCs into the fantasy equivalent of Pergamon, 133 BCE sound like a good premise for engaging play? 

Happy gaming - ‘Gundobad’ 

PS - this post contains an affiliate link (aff) to DriveThruRPG. Using such affiliate links helps support Gundobad Games. Thanks! 

Friday, September 27, 2019

Rear-View Reflections: My Design/Mechanics Thoughts after an "Into the Odd" Space Opera Campaign

And now the dust has settled. I recently discussed here the final sessions of our short-but-epic space opera summer campaign using Into the Odd (hereafter ItO), which ended in a TPK and a cataclysmic victory for the villains. Sigh. But I also promised in that AAR to summarize my thoughts on ItO's mechanics and the various hacks I used for this campaign. Here at last is that overview. I start broad, with thoughts on the open-table, timed-session, campaign-due-date model, and then turn to addressing specific mechanics and how they fared in play. 


I'd been wanting to run some games and introduce friends to old-school play-styles, and voila - a friend who DMs a 5e group but needed to take a break sold his players on giving me a try. The arrangement came with built-in constraints: I wasn't hijacking the group permanently, as my schedule wouldn't allow it and he would eventually want his group back - and we knew in advance that finding nights when all players in the group were available tended to be a challenge. I also didn't want to stay out too late at night, and one player normally started a night-shift after our games. 

We opted for:
+ an open-table dynamic (players vote on a night to play, whoever can make it makes it, and play proceeds with whatever quorum actually shows up). 
+ days before each session, I presented a 'jobs board' of different available missions, and let players vote on which mission to run next...
+ the sessions themselves were timed. We only trashed this rule once (more on that below) but a session's mission needed to be accomplished by a certain real-world time in the evening, or mission failure/TPK would result automatically.
+ the campaign itself was timed too; we knew we'd try to meet about twice a month over the summer, and I told the players up-front that they had until September 15th to achieve campaign victory goals - or the bad guys would win, and 5 billion + civilians would die (which ended up happening).  

So how did it go, and what GM lessons did I learn?

This was a total blast, and I am holding this tightly as a preferred way to run future face-to-face campaigns. The open-table dynamic was quite helpful, allowing us to push through a good number of sessions even though not everybody could always show up. With my players' permission, I framed the mission parameters quite aggressively - although I let them vote on which available mission to run next, I defined the mission parameters and starting situations. For a short, focused campaign, this meant that even with an open table we maintained a coherent narrative flow to the sessions.

On the other hand, my aggressive mission-framing involved preparing situations, not plots - once play began in the sessions themselves, I leaned aggressively away from anything like railroading and tried hard to maximize player agency. This led to some wonderful and surprising events as the players tried out all kinds of cool shenanigans. Added to all this was the fact that the sessions each had a ticking time-bomb, needing to finish by a set time at night. This meant I could aim the players at a problem and set them loose, and the clock pressured them to make something useful happen. This combination seemed to work really, really well. 

There were exceptions. Two of them, in fact, both of which taught me useful lessons on GMing in this dynamic. During one mission, the PCs reconnoitered a tunnel network that later would lead them to the final BBEG showdown. I wound up facing a time-crunch preparing that session, and it showed in a fairly linear (but branching) tunnel network. There was lots of tension and some wild stuff ended up happening, but this session really highlighted how helpful it was to put the PCs in less-linear, more manipulable environments and see what they did in response. 

In contrast, the other exception came in Session 5, when the party set an ambush on an 'abandoned' university world in order to arrest a dangerous militia leader. This, ironically, was too open - or, rather, I mismatched the openness available in the setting with the mission parameters dictated for that session. In short, I gave the players a clear mission: travel here, be there when the villain shows up, shoot her bodyguards, and arrest her. All good. But I also had the players arrive early and island-crawl through a funhouse sandbox of mutant-haunted university buildings, replete with mind-controlling AI servers, escaped xenobio specimens, defective campus security droids, and feuding tribes somewhere between Red Nails and Lord of the Flies. It was awesome! It was fun! And it took way too much time, so that when the villain finally showed up and was available to be shot at ... we only had about half an hour left in our allotted time for the evening. And that was only because we ended up fast-forwarding through the last stages of campus-clearing, so that my players had to miss direct engagement with a liquid-metal-ooze, and I had to ignore some encounter information, just to fit things in. We all decided that THIS ONE TIME we would overlook the time constraints and let the mission run its course. ran its course. We fought out an epic, drawn-out gun battle, and I got home somewhere near 1 a.m. 

In hindsight, again, this mission had a clear mismatch between the central goal and the environment built around that goal. Just a romp through the sandbox would have been a rollicking good time, and just a tactical firefight for two hours would have been a good time, but because I designed a session without optimizing the layout for the intended mission, it didn't quite work. This was a valuable lesson to learn: running an open table with time limits requires special planning right at the session-design stage and not just during play itself. (smacks forehead...)

Finally, Heat...many of our missions involved some risk of the opposition catching on to you. I generally made a hidden roll of 1d4 + # of PCs playing before the session, so the players only knew approximately how much Heat they could afford to burn. Burning all their heat would put the bad guys 'on to them' and trigger bad stuff, but the actual specifics varied by mission; during a Heist, they could spend Heat to describe flashbacks in which they'd prepped for the mission (as in Blades in the Dark), while during an investigation and covert counter-piracy op an a smugglers' station, Heat measured the risk that the pirates would notice their surveillance and come after them, and could get burned if the players took too many risks pushing their investigation. This was a neat mechanic, worked well in play, and is likely to see more use in my games. 

But a great experience overall. 


ItO uses 3 stats, a roll-under-for-success check rule, and damage to the STR stat once hit points are depleted. You never roll to hit in combat, but instead just roll for damage. It is simple and works really well. In hindsight, if I ran the campaign again I might make two changes:

+ first, just as a matter of making calls as GM, I would lean harder away from calling for Save rolls in many cases. One of our characters was a Police Psychologist with wireless network hacking tools embedded in his noggin. He also had a very low WIL stat. There were a number of times that the low stat held him back from doing cool things that, in hindsight, I wish I'd just let him do - not to fudge results, but to honor the fictional background/equipment realities also listed on his character sheet. 

+  the ItO no-hit-roll system helps eliminate 'whiffs' - or does it? There are still plenty of times when a PC needs a big roll, and rolls a 1 on the damage die. The lack of a separate to-hit roll also can tend to erase some of the differentiation between characters of differing combat ability. We addressed this by granting weapon proficiencies or limited combat special abilities: 

Weapon Proficiencies: whenever you use a weapon you’re proficient with, you roll two damage dice and take the better result. There are four different proficiencies:

Weapon Proficiency: Unarmed (also grants advantage to grappling Saves)
Weapon Proficiency: Melee Weapons
Weapon Proficiency: Small Arms
Weapon Proficiency: Heavy Weapons

Calm the Troops: Once per Short Rest, call out some encouragement to your companions who can see or hear you; you and they each regain 1d3 lost HP.

Inspiring Speech: Once per Short Rest, name a companion and make a quick speech of exhortation. They either Enhance their next attack this combat (roll an extra d12 damage die and use the best damage result rolled) or they have Advantage on their next Save throws related to a specific task .

These did help (though the weapon proficiences were far more important than the other abilities, which got used surprisingly infrequently by characters who had them). I think, however, that I'd now rather try running combat using a different Chris M approach - the 5e supercharger - where you DO roll to hit, but don't roll separately for damage - even a miss does a little damage, and the higher you roll the more damage you do. This, I suspect, would more elegantly differentiate players with different combat bonuses, while still speeding up combat play. 

Backgrounds were a really big deal in our campaign. From the first session, each PC's two background professions immediately differentiated characters and invited them into the setting. Relevant backgrounds, of course, allowed rolling +Advantage on Saving throws. Our list was:

1 Aristocrat
2 Soldier
3 Police
4 Bounty Hunter
5 Pilot
6 Techie/Hacker
7 Mechanic/Engineer
8 Scout/Hunter/Survivalist
9 Scholar: Archaeologist/Historian
10 Scholar: Scientist
11 Doctor/Physician/Medic
12 Empath/Counselor/Psychologist
13 Clergy/Religionist/Monk
14 Performer/Entertainer
15 Criminal (tell us what kind!)
16 Swoop-Bike Delivery Courier
17 Government Official
18 Athlete (tell us what kind!)
19 Gambler
20 Merchant

I tweaked character generation a little bit, including a trade-off system for HP, extra abilities, and cool implanted cybergear. Here's an excerpt from the end of my character generation guide (the cyber-gear, by the way, = my personal edit but largely based off stuff in the Seattle Slicks/Slick Thames games):


Now roll 3d6 again.

-       Pick one of the results as your HIT POINTS. These reflect your ability to avoid damage, not to endure it.

-       You may discard one of the die results in exchange for a third character background or a second special ability.

-       If the remaining one or two dice total 6 or more, you start with an AUGMENTING IMPLANT. These are built-in and don’t take up an inventory slot.

Roll 1d8, and re-roll if another player already has the same result:
o   1  Scary retractable claws. Counts as Melee weapon (d8).

o   2  Retractable digital and mechanical lockpick kit in fingers.

o   3  Bionic arm. Counts as Melee weapon (d8); if used to wield other melee
    weapons, their damage is Enhanced.

o   4  Sensor-equipped eyes: you can see heat-producing objects in the dark.
    Can record visuals across the spectrum and broadcast them.

o   5  Inner terminal: built-in workstation allows you wirelessly to detect,
    contact and even try to hack nearby tech (may require INT Save).

o   6  Sub-dermal armor; counts as Armor 1.

o   7  Facial hologram. Maybe there was a terrible accident, or maybe you’re
    just weird, but your original face is now a blank holographic
    projection sheet, over which your ‘normal face’ is projected. With
    about a minute of prep, you can change your facial appearance at

o   8  Deployable nanite cloud, acts like a mini science lab within 10’ of your body, able to run chemical analyses, material stress tests, etc.


Yeah, so I just let players pick their equipment each time. This is because I also used a Knave-inspired inventory system where encumbrance mattered. 

As you can see, I assigned Ammo usage dice to all firearms but we actually ended up mostly forgetting to deal with them, which worked out fine. It just seemed too fiddly to care about every last pistol and carbine. The one exception was for the character with a Light Machine Gun. Now that was an ammo hog! (I borrowed and only slightly modified Automatic Fire rules from the Weird Vietnam War game Into the Jungle). The suppression rules were partly inspired by a minis wargame, Black Ops (in actual practice, I think we ended up ignoring the thing about WIL Saves and just making suppression fire damage automatically if you stood up to it). 



Anyone can fill up to 8 inventory slots without ill effect.
Filling more than 8, but less than or equal to your Strength (it it’s above 8), makes you ENCUMBERED - You must roll with Disadvantage on Saves.
Filling more than your Strength makes you EXHAUSTED - you automatically fail all Saves.
You can never fill more than 18.

What takes up inventory slots?
Small items that fit in a palm don’t take up space, unless they’re specified below.

Pistols and concealable melee weapons that do (d6): 1 inventory slot
Shoulder-Arms and longer melee weapons that do (d8): 2 inventory slots
Heavy Weapons: 4 inventory slots

Armor 1: 2 inventory slots (tactical impact vest, light helmet)
Armor 2: 4 inventory slots (body armor, combat suit)
Armor 3: 6 inventory slots (heavy armored combat suit, power armor, etc.)

Ammo: 1 inventory slot per reload (not per shot - see ammo rules). Ammo is standardized across ‘modern’ energy weapons.
Rations: 1 inventory slot per use.
Operational Gear: operational gear is identified ‘on demand’ - when you need something, say what piece of gear you’re pulling out and write that on a line that says ‘Operational Gear’.

Unarmed attacks: (d4) damage.
Pistols: (d6 damage; d6 ammo die)
Small, concealable melee weapons: (d6)
Shoulder arms: (d8 damage; d8 ammo die)
Large melee weapons (machetes, energy swords, stun hammers, etc.) (d8)
Heavy Weapons: see heavy weapons rules.

Ammo Usage and Reloading:
When a combat finishes in which you fired a reloadable weapon, roll its ammo usage die. On a roll of 1-2, degrade the weapon’s die to the next lowest.
During combat, at the end of any round in which you fired a weapon on SUPPRESSION mode, test the weapon’s ammo usage die.
When a d4 ammo usage die degrades, the weapon is out of ammo and can’t be fired again until it is reloaded. Reloading takes an action.

If you fire a full-auto weapon to suppress a specific man-sized area, anyone taking action other than cover or running away in your suppressed LOS takes your weapon’s Max damage first unless they pass a WIL Save (but they auto-lose 1 HP either way). To suppress a broad area, anyone taking action in that area takes Impaired (1d4) damage unless they pass a WIL Save (but they auto-lose 1 HP either way). Roll your ammo usage die at the end of every turn of suppressing fire.

When you use automatic fire on a weapon, you need to roll under the difficulty level in the table, to hit your target. This symbolize the recoil of the weapon and bullet spread. Keep rolling the die until you fail and roll damage each success. When you fail a roll, you are out of ammo. Reloading is 1 action. You MAY cancel automatic fire if you haven't failed a roll yet, but doing so automatically lowers your Ammo usage die. If you get a critical failure with 20, your gun jams for 1d4 turns.

Roll order         Difficulty On Success
1                under 18 Roll damage.
2                under 15 Roll damage.
3                under 10  Roll damage.

4                ≥ under 3  Roll damage.


Quite late in the campaign, I added Psionics (gave the players access to Secret Police potions that would unlock latent psionic abilities). I don't remember off the top of my head where I got this, but I basically stole the mechanic and tweaked it to taste. 

Each player randomly received 2 Nouns and 2 Verbs as power words. A PC could generate a grammatically correct sentence using those Nouns and Verbs to psionically manipulate reality, but they had to roll 1d6 per word in the sentence as a WIL Save. If they rolled over their WIL score, they either failed the psionic attempt or could make it happen anyway, but suffer damage equal to the score of their multi-d6 roll. 

It was a bit of a mixed bag; the players failed their rolls pretty often, and the whole thing required a lot of negotiation for not quite as much reward as I'd hoped to see. On the other hand, some of the keyword combos were pretty powerful, and I wouldn't have felt comfortable using this system in the middle of a longer, sustainable campaign. As some limited but OP weirdness near the end of our story, it worked, and helped further inspire my new-to-OSR players to think outside the box about ways to solve problems. 


This campaign fit more Into the Odd goodness in one place than I'd been able to run previously. I learned some helpful lessons about GMing, and discovered what I hope will be some great tools for future campaigns. Thanks for reading through; I hope this can all help you, too, with some HAPPY GAMING!