Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Tiny, scratch-built CHAOS DEATHWHEEL for Epic 40k

 One of life's small pleasures: imagining a fun scratchbuild or kitbash, and then seeing it come to fruition. This little thing is a tank-sized "Chaos Deathwheel" that I plan to use as a proxy ("counts as") Land Raider variant in my tiny Iron Warriors army for playing Epic 40k. 

Monday, May 20, 2024

Scenes from an Epic: 40,000 smackdown (Chaos vs Imperium)

 The long weekend for Queen Victoria Day gave the kids some extra time off school, and gave us a reason to ponder the scope of imperialism - and what better way to do that than by diving back into Epic: 40,000? As it's been close to a year since we ran Epic, we went slowly and I messed up a few special rules, but we had fun. We ended up calling a draw in Turn 3 (real life beckoned) but I think next game should go faster. 

No Legions Imperialis for us; we play the old 3e Epic: 40k rules. Some deride 3e as too simplistic but we find it offers plenty to manage, and allows satisfyingly grand tactical movement. This was a 2500-pt Planetary Assault battle, with about half my foe's army arriving via drop-pod. Scenes from the carnage follow. 

A worn, colossal imperial monument overlooks the field of battle

Center-frame, a shuttle prepares to evacuate staff from the Imperial Cathedral. 

My kitbashed Traitor Knights finally see action, sweeping Astartes dogs from a hilltop objective

Yes, that's better now. However, see all those scratchbuilt Dark Elder bikes and barges at top of frame?

A drop-pod landing by ~half a company of Marines shattered my Drukhari detachment, boo-hoo...

Battle rages elsewhere. "Is that Daemon Primarch Perturabo advancing on our position?" "Yes - and unpainted, too! Keep firing!"

In the Grim Darkness of the 41st Millennium, there are big stompy robots. 

A double-drop landing surrounds my primary Iron Warriors detachment, but I throw most of them back in a fierce shootout. 

Friday, May 10, 2024

Ruined Obelisk/Monument scratch-build

Deep in the Accursed Wastes, at the heart of a ruined city forgotten by all but the most learned, there stands a fading, azure monument to the glory -- or was it hubris? -- of an ancient, mythic conqueror. The arcane texts that frame that obelisk are said to recount his (mis)deeds ... or, perhaps, they reveal the only spell sufficient to keep the blood-soaked, Chaos-chosen ravager sealed in the Underworld. Centuries have passed ... and now it is time to renew the ritual, lest the lands drown again in blood...  

I just finished the newest scratch-built terrain centerpiece for my gaming table. I'm pretty pleased with this one! 

The statue on top isn't painted yet, but the obelisk/base is separate, so I can swap out different statues for different settings or scenarios. 

For example -- switch out the statue and some surrounding scenery, and now it's a monument to the cruelty of a long-fallen Dark Eldar warrior -- whom the locals have mistakenly assimilated to an early imperial Saint. 

This started life as a humble, semi-rigid plastic popcorn tub. I mounted it on a "foundation slab" of EVA foam, and then built up hand-cut foam blocks around the base.

I then cut up sections of corkboard to make the crumbling outer "veneer" layer, and added a plasticard slab to cover up some annoying modern plastic texture on top. 


Basecoated the whole thing with spraypaint...

Then stippled darker gray to 'texture' the lower layers, and drybrushed everything with ivory/bone craft-paint (drybrushing heavily on the cork layers). 

I used a gold-ink art marker to apply the 'arcane texts' along the sides, and then applied Army Painter "Magic Blue" speedpaint (their 1.0 version) to the off-white cork layers. A bit more cleaning up, grass tufts here and there, and I was done. 

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Back to the Fighter, after playtesting

 I got in some playtesting for my evolving ideas about Fighter stunts, maiming strikes, etc. Design is an iterative process; what I've got now is streamlined even more (so: apologies to anyone getting frustrated with how much things are evolving here!). But I think this is the version I like best so far. I'll spell out the rules themselves first, and then offer some discussion again below. 


Any character may spend their combat action to attempt a combat stunt, a maneuver that does not deal direct damage but otherwise disadvantages a foe (tripping them, disarming them, chucking flour in their face to blind them for a moment, etc.). A successful stunt may grant advantage to follow-up attacks vs. the foe, or disadvantage to their attacks (but the foe might negate that circumstance soon with an action of their own). To attempt a stunt, first discuss what you want to achieve with the GM. If they approve, you may attempt the stunt. 

The stunt mechanic: opposed 2d6 roll + HD/Level.

Combat Stunts: Roll 2d6 and add your Level (you may add a STR or DEX bonus if you have one); the GM rolls 2d6 and adds the foe’s HD. High score succeeds; defender wins ties. If you succeed, the stunt takes effect; if you fail, it doesn’t, but there’s no consequence beyond the wasted action. 

Time to apply damage across multiple targets!
Larry Elmore


(FYI: this is written with Swords & Wizardry core/complete in mind. The old core remains free, and the new Complete is here - affiliate link).

FIGHTERS have the following special abilities (Replace S&W’s Multiple Attacks and Parry). 

Attack Bonus: A Fighter’s attack bonus = +1 per level, capped at +14. 

Killing Blow: when a Fighter’s attack roll is a Natural 20, or when the combined attack roll (d20 + bonuses) exceeds the target’s AC by 10+, the target must Save or die. From level 14+, trigger the Save on a Nat 19-20, and if the Fighter’s level exceeds the target’s HD, add the difference to the target’s Save TN. 

Flexible tactics: when a Fighter’s attack roll hits, the Fighter may apply one of the following additional special effects, after rolling for damage:

+ Hit harder: add your level to the damage inflicted. [Alternate version that I like even better: multiply your rolled damage by 1d3. If you roll a 3, you over-exert yourself, and may not Hit Harder again for the rest of this combat]. 

+ Tempest of Blades: if your target’s HD = 1/2 your level or lower, you may apply the rolled damage to a number (up to your level) of additional targets within reach/range, which may not have HD or AC higher than the primary target’s. 

+ Free Stunt: follow up with a free Combat Stunt.

+ Maiming Strike: attempt a special Combat Stunt that can deal direct damage, as described below. 



Maiming Strikes for Fighters: 

Note that Fighters (and only Fighters) may attempt a riskier but more decisive kind of stunt called a Maiming Strike after hitting a target with a normal attack roll. A Maiming Strike is a stunt that deals direct damage, physically disadvantaging the target in a way that can’t just be shaken off, or which even nullifies a target’s special ability. Examples could include hacking off a giant scorpion’s venomous stinger, slicing an ogre’s wrist-tendons to hinder its attacks, impaling a cyclops’ eye to blind it, or hewing off an owlbear's left forearm to reduce its number of attacks or negate its bear-hug ability. 

Maiming Strikes are resolved like normal Combat Stunts (opposed 2d6 rolls, +Level/HD), but they add a risky consequence: if the Maiming Strike attempt fails, the initial attack's damage is canceled, and the Fighter is Staggered (off balance, distracted, and flustered) until they spend an action to recover. While Staggered, the Fighter suffers Disadvantage to their own attack rolls and grants advantage to attack rolls made against them. 

So, to spell it out really clearly: 

Maiming Strikes: Roll 2d6 and add your level (you may add a STR or DEX bonus if you have one); GM rolls 2d6 and adds the foe's HD. If you succeed, the target is Maimed as proposed to the GM. If you fail, you deal no damage at all on the attack, and you are Staggered until you spend an Action to recover. 

Globnaz! Try a Maiming Strike against that venemous stinger!
Art: Rodney Matthews



Ok. I like this version because it retains much of the spirit of what I proposed earlier, with streamlined procedures, while better fitting use-cases observed in actual play. 

At the table, I found that some of my earlier ideas (including escalating damage risks for failed Maim/Killing Blow attempts) just made such attempts to risky to be appealing. Against weak targets, a normal attack vs. HP remained the logical choice; against stronger targets, the potential consequences made trying a "hail Mary" stunt inadvisable. This newer version, therefore, makes regular stunts consequence-free (apart from wasting an action if it fails), and the consequence for a Maiming Strike is tactical, rather than, well, medical (you don't take damage, but you put yourself in a really bad spot - one that your team might be able to mitigate if they can pull you back to cover to give you a round to collect yourself). 

And what about that Killing Blow? 

I noticed that Swords & Wizardry Continual Light offers a one-sentence variant class to turn a Thief into an Assassin, giving them a killing blow ability of their own: once per day, if the Assassin has snuck into position where they could attempt a backstab, they can force the target to Save or Die.

Well, I thought, that sounds a LOT like a much simpler version of my Killing Blow idea. 

However, "once a day" didn't really fit with what I had in mind for the lethal Fighter. Additionally, the single Saving Throw numbers for Swords & Wizardry escalate significantly (technically they deescalate since they get smaller, but you know what I mean, I hope).  At lower levels, a targeted foe still has a pretty good chance of failing a Save. Once you get up to about 12 HD+ monsters, however, you're looking at Saves around 2 or 3 - which means that there is very, very little chance of a Save or Die effect working most of the time.

In other words, my Killing Blow effect is a lot less overpowered than it might look. 

DANG IT! Since I'm on the cover of the Basic book, there's barely any chance I pull this off even if I do trigger a Killing Blow with a Nat 20 ... why couldn't I be on the Companion Set?

So, I decided to marry some approaches. I gave the Fighter the ability to trigger a killing blow randomly, so that they always have a reason for excited hope as they roll the d20. But they'll also trigger a Killing Blow when they blitz way past the target's AC. The general idea here is that as fighters level up, they should get better at just obliterating lower-level threats. 

Since I'm suggesting an attack bonus equal to level for Fighters, but capped at +14, the higher levels from 14 on presented an opportunity to make the Killing Blow a bit more effective against weaker targets (but not peers) from that point onward. 

If I'm doing my math right, an epic level 20 Fighter still has only a 1:200 chance of one-shotting S&W's version of Orcus with this rule. (Cue Dumb & Dumber: "so what you're saying is there's a chance!?"). But that level 20 Fighter has a real shot at beheading dragons with a single hit - which is not bad, given what Level 20 is meant to represent. 

So I think this should scale well enough. 

By moving the Killing Blow to a randomly triggered event, I'm focusing stunt choice on more tactical maneuvers. I like this version of the Maiming Strike; it should still feel risky but not overly punitive.

Oh, and about Hit Harder: I vacillated between just letting Fighters add their level to damage they inflict, or giving them a small possible damage multiplier. I might be crazy but I like multiplying the damage by 1d3:
Rolled 1: no effect - 1/3 of the time, this choice is wasted!
Rolled 2: awesome, doubled your damage
Rolled 3: epic blowout, triple damage, but now you've lost this option for the rest of the fight.

This may lead to some pretty wild moments, letting a Fighter end a combat with one very lucky 8-on-d8 multiplied by 3-on-d3 (to me, this actually helps me swallow limiting the Killing Blow, because we're moving more fight-ending stuff back into the realm of the normal hp-ablation procedure, which is technically how the game is supposed to work anyway). 

Although these ideas are based on playtesting, now I guess I need to playtest the newest iteration again. Sigh. Any feedback is welcome, as usual.


When/Where/Why would these things help?

Well ... I think these offer a nice way for a contemporary gaming group (usually quite a bit smaller than many old-school modules actually envision) to run big old-school fights; still not loading up too much 'feat bloat,' still focused on the play instead of 'build choices,' and yet having a bit more survivability. It should definitely give you more to think about than just hitting again, but it leans a bit closer to allowing fast turns where the Fighter attacks and then exploits a bit more if it becomes possible. 

These do strain the power-balance a bit between classes - perhaps? (One of my initial motivations was to push back against the old linear fighter-quadratic wizard imbalance). Were I to integrate this as an actual hack to S&W, for example, I'd probably say that Clerics also get the ability to Turn not only undead but unholy/infernal foes, AND when they attack such foes in melee, they don't have to roll to hit - they just roll straight to damage. And maybe Wizards would get a 1d4 Usage die for Magic Missile, auto-dealing a little bit of damage until they roll that 1 (and upgrading to a d6, d8, d10 during level-up progression). 

Ok, I'm done rambling for now. Please let me know if you have any strong pro/con feelings. Happy Gaming!

Monday, April 22, 2024

Leaner, Cleaner ... still Mean. Lethal Fighters 3.0, now using X-in-6 rolls.

 After more work, and a very helpful feedback session on the NSR Discord, I come back to you now (at the turning of the tide?). My Lethal Maneuver rules to make Fighters more bodacious still use the same logic, but they've moved from the d20 to a simple X-in-6 roll on 2d6, measuring 0, 1, or 2 Successes. This sets it apart as a distinct, plug-and-play subsystem that is simple and feels distinct from normal to-hit rolls (this is meant to be fairly system-agnostic, something you can plug into most OSR-adjacent systems that might like a cooler Fighter). There are various little changes, too, but I think this is the best iteration yet among my recent proposals. 

If you're familiar with my recent posts, you can probably skip down past the "Terms" section, but I've fleshed things out there to clarify what I'm up to. The actual procedure, once you get into it, is pretty lightweight. To reward you for making it to the bottom of the page, we'll look at some specific examples, with pictures.  Ooooh shiny.  

Also: I removed the bit about slaughtering many much weaker foes with a single dice roll. I still love that idea, but rather than keeping it in and adding complexity to my Lethal Maneuvers (where it becomes an all-or-nothing storm that kills a ton of mooks or just gets you hurt) - instead, I suggest simply adding multi-attacks as a separate Fighter ability. Doing so makes fewer changes to the normal combat loop. So, to build a more generous version of the ol' Swords & Wizardry multi-attacks rule....

+ All Fighters may make multiple attacks per turn (equal to the Fighter's level) against targets with HD at or under 1/2 the Fighter's level (round up).

+ Also, all Fighters may make Lethal Maneuvers (see below).

When facing diverse foes, the Fighter must choose whether to spend their action attacking a foe once, attacking much weaker foes multiple times, or attempting a game-changing Lethal Maneuver. (Simple) choice is good for game design. 



Combat Stunt: a maneuver to gain positional or contextual advantage in combat, but without causing direct damage to a foe. Often, Stunts will inflict the Staggered condition on a target. Stunts must make fictional sense (per GM determination). Any character may attempt such a stunt; doing so takes a combat Action and is resolved per your system’s normal task resolution procedure (e.g.: PC rolls an Ability Check; target makes a Reflex Save, etc.). If your system does not include a procedure that you like for resolving combat stunts, you can use the X-in-6-chance maneuver roll described below (but only rolling once for binary success/failure). 

Lethal Maneuver: a stunt that causes direct harm to its target, beyond and with more narrative specificity than mere HP loss. These include Maiming Strikes and Killing Blows. Only PC Fighters may attempt Lethal Maneuvers. Lethal Maneuvers must be attempted in melee - not by ranged attacks. Like other stunts, Lethal Maneuvers must make narrative/contextual sense (per GM’s discretion). Players should clarify intended results with the GM before rolling. Such maneuvers require risky engagement at intimate range - if an attempted maneuver is failed or poorly executed, the consequence for the PC can be very dangerous.

Staggered: a target unable to fight to their full potential; mechanically, an NPC target at 1/2 max hp or lower, OR that has been affected by a suitably discombobulating combat stunt. Often, an affected character may recover by taking a suitable action. The Staggered condition makes a target more vulnerable to special Lethal Maneuvers by Fighters. Per GM discretion, Staggered targets also may grant advantage when being attacked via normal to-hit rolls, and/or suffer disadvantage when attacking. NB: by treating targets at 1/2 hp as Staggered, at least regarding Fighters’ Lethal Maneuvers, the rest of the party can whittle down foes to help ‘set them up’ for a Fighter’s attempted maneuver). Teamwork! 

Maiming Strike: sever the ogre’s hamstring; hew off the giant scorpion’s stinger; stab out the cyclops’ eye; cut off Sir Ronald’s guilty sword-hand. These maneuvers (semi-)permanently change the target’s abilities, imposing the Staggered/Maimed condition, and (as narratively appropriate) limiting or preventing use of certain special abilities. If poorly executed, the attempting PC 

Killing Blow: these risky, one-shot maneuvers kill or incapacitate the target (player’s choice) with a single flourish of arms. 


Before attempting a Lethal Maneuver, check the Fighter’s level relative to the target’s HD. A Fighter’s predatory, intuitive gaze can read the battlefield well; after the start of combat, a Fighter may freely assess (free action) how a foe they can see ranks relative to them.

Vs. Much Higher HD ( foe w/ 6+ HD beyond own level): 

  • may attempt a Maiming Strike against a Staggered target
  • May not attempt Killing Blows

Vs. Higher HD (foe 2-5 HD beyond own level): 

  • may attempt a Maiming Strike against a Staggered target 
  • may attempt a Killing Blow against a Maimed target 

Vs. Equal HD (foe +/-1 HD): 

  • may attempt a Maiming Strike 
  • may attempt a Killing Blow if the target is already Staggered/Maimed

Vs. Lower HD (foe 2 or more HD under own level):

  • may attempt any Lethal Maneuver


Roll 2d6 and check each die for Success (result will = 0, 1, or 2 Successes). 

Nat 6 = always succeeds; Nat 1 = always fails.

+1 to roll vs Staggered/Maimed foe;

+1 to roll vs poorly armored foe [AC 12-] (or otherwise highly vulnerable, in GM’s judgment); 

-1 to roll vs heavily armored foe [AC 18+] (or otherwise highly resistant, in GM’s judgment)

Target Number (d6) vs.:

+ Much higher HD foe … 6 

+ Higher HD foe … 5+

+ Equal HD foe … 4+ 

+ Lesser HD foe … 3+

+ 1/2 HD foe … 2+ 


0 Successes: on a Maiming Strike, reduce your own HP to next lower threshold (Full, 1/2, 1/4, 0 hp). On a Killing Blow, reduce by two thresholds. 

1 Success: reduce your HP as above, but accomplish your maneuver and inflict your normal combat damage. 

2 Successes: accomplish your maneuver and inflict your normal combat damage.

Once per day, the Fighter may declare their shield destroyed/sundered, negating one hp-threshold consequence (wholly absorbing a Maiming Strike consequence, and limiting a failed/complicated Killing Blow consequence to a single HP threshold lost).


Jeff Easley (from 1e's Monster Manual II)

Let's say this is a lvl 4 Fighter going up against a Hill Giant (8 HD). Hopefully he's got the rest of an adventuring party just out-of-frame, to help whittle down the beast's HP halfway. Until then, he can't even try any Lethal Maneuvers at all, unless he comes up with some really creative non-damaging combat stunt to put himself in a better position (slip between the legs and climb up the back of the loincloth!??!). 

Let's say he does have some buddies out-of-frame, who pepper the giant with arrows well enough to drop it to half-HP. Now (if he's still alive), our Fighter gains the option to try to Maim the Staggered Giant. So, he proposes to hamstring the thing, hindering its movement and giving it the Maimed tag. He needs to roll 4s, because the Higher-HD foe (5+) is Staggered, so he gets a +1. He rolls twice, getting a 5 and a 1 (1 success). Our Fighter successfully hamstrings the Giant, but with only 1 success, he also drops down to his next HP threshold. He was at 11 out of max 16 hp, so he drops down to 8 hp - half his hp - the next threshold. Now that the Giant is maimed, though, he can try again next turn to launch a Killing Blow. However, it may be prudent not to do so - if he fails that roll, or even only gets 1 success, he'll drop himself down to 0 hp. 


Frank Frazetta

Who needs an armored torso when you've got a shield and a dope winged helmet? Frazetta's unfrazzled hero is (let us say) a mighty lvl 7 Fighter (I mean, look at those poised reflexes). He's been jumped by ... let's call it a Yeti, mechanically (5 HD). Silly Yeti. Our armor-eschewing S&S swordsman has two levels on his ambusher's HD, so he can attempt any Lethal Maneuver he wants, and he's got places he'd rather be. More importantly, he knows well the lore about these Yeti pass-guardians - knows, in particular, how they can grab a man in a terrible bear-hug, their wretched breath paralyzing even hardened warriors with fear while they rend a man to ribbons. Rather than risk suffering the beast's horrid attack, he's just launching a Killing Blow right at the start of combat. He'll roll 2d6, needing 3s to succeed. He rolls a 3 and a 4, impaling the thing's heart even as it charges him. The beast is dead. Had the Fighter rolled a 2 and a 4, he still would have killed the "not-Yeti," BUT he also would have suffered nasty consequences in the process - dropping two HP thresholds (those are nasty claws!). That might be worth sundering his shield to reduce, if need be.