Monday, March 8, 2021

Downtime Activity: Gathering Intelligence and Spying


Often players will want to gather intelligence about something during downtime from other people. This can take many forms, from gossiping over drinks, to the use of stool pigeons, or casing a joint, or more daring activities like spying or going undercover. The DM has a strong interest in enabling this activity, because good intelligence is an opportunity to introduce hooks that interest players, and also allows meaningful player choices. 

These downtime activities takes inspiration from Robert Parker's masterful Savage World of Krül rules, with which Robert ran one of the legendary games of G+. I will have more to say about that game on another occasion. For now I just want to let you know that the basic idea (although not the details) of these rules came from Robert's wonderful system of downtime activities. 

A note on hiring people to do things. The general thrust of downtime activities has been no "outsourcing". But my thinking has been evolving here. The new principle is "if you want to do something right, do it yourself". I also try to fold in the whole issue of "hirelings" into the system of cultivating relationships with people. You want lackeys. FINE. Build the relationship. 



Gathering Intelligence (Rumormongering)


Suppose a player wants to chase down some information about something, like a group, or location, item, etc. This is the downtime action for them. 

The player first specify what they want information about. They next specify the group from whom they want to try to learn something. The DM will say whether that group might know something or whether there's no point in talking to them about. (There is no such thing as wasting this action by asking the wrong people.) The player will then say how they go about trying to elicit the information. 

Do they share war stories and buy the mercenary outfit free rounds of drinks to learn about a certain enemy they've faced? Or maybe they want to track down rumors about a traveling caravan by bringing trade goods to an outpost?  

The player may also use this downtime activity to turn up something interesting, in the spirit of "Dm throw something fun my way." In that case, they no longer have to say what they're trying to learn about, but they still have to say who they're trying to get the information from and how they're doing it. 
 
To perform the downtime action, spend 1d6 x 25 gp and roll 2d6. Apply modifiers from the following list up to a max of +3:

  • Add 1 for each relevant relation (at the level of acquaintance or higher) you have who might help you chase down information with the relevant community
  • Add 1 for each relevant fictional advantage you have, for example, being well-loved by a given faction you are gathering information from, or having some juicy gossip they'll love to hear.
  • Add 1 for each additional 100 GP you spend to grease palms.  

On a 6-: no useful intelligence gathered. 

On a 7-9: the player turns up real information, but the DM has the option of inserting some sketchy material, either by making the information somewhat ambiguous or misleading, or by mixing truth with a bit of outright falsehood. The DM shouldn't say whether they have or have not exercised this opiton. 

On a 10+ solid intelligence.

One problem you might have with this system is that the players will know from their roll when the intel might be shaky. But I like the idea that players have a sense when there might be something dubious about the information they got. 


Spying


Sometimes you don't just want to chase down information. You want to infiltrate an organization, or case an establishment, or spy on an ambassador. This is he downtime action for you.

The player first proposes a target to spy on and a goal in terms of what they're trying to learn. They say how they will be pursuing that goal. 

The DM then sets a tracker to get the relevant information. The tracker, will usually consist of successive layers of information to be unlocked, but sometimes it might just have a single payoff at the end. The tracker should be longer the more involved and difficult the job is. 

If all you want is to case a joint, then it's likely a one step tracker. If you want to infiltrate the inner circle of a mob boss or king, the tracker might have 7 steps. (You could also use a modified version of this system to handle sabotage or assassination. Instead of information, the result would be the desired outcome.)

Spend 1d6 x 50GP on expenses for the operation (more if high society infiltration is involved). Then roll 2d6 and add the following modifiers up to a maximum total of +3. Here's a version for Jorune and for D&D.

Jorune Version:
  • Add disguise skill modifier if relying on a false identity. 
  • Add culture skill if relying on high society, etiquette, or specific cultural knowledge.
D&D Version:
  • Add 1/2 your assassin level (rounded up)
  • Add 1/3 your thief level (rounded up)
For both Jorune and D&D: 
  • Add +1 for each relevant contact
  • Add +1 for each fictional edge you would have given the details of your plan and your capabilities

6-: Failure with complication. No progress on the tracker. Roll on the Spy Troubles chart below to see what complications have arisen from your failure.
7-9: Success with complication. Advance one step on the tracker. Roll on the Spy Troubles chart below to see what complications have arisen from your failure.
10+: Success! Advance one step on the tracker.

This kinda generic chart is written with infiltrating a powerful organization in mind. You might need custom tables for different sorts of jobs.

Spy Troubles 1d10


  1. Bad reputation. Other people have seen you with the organization, and you are starting to get a bad rep with factions that don't like it. This may be hard to shake. 
  2. Mixed up with the wrong people. You learn that someone you know or love is somehow mixed up with this organization in a way that troubles you and may, possibly, threaten your cover. 
  3. Expensive proposition. Owing to a looming disaster, you suddenly need to come up with a lot of funds to keep the operation going. 1d6 x 100 GP or no further progress is possible on the tracker.
  4. All the wrong friends. Someone from the organization is getting too close for comfort. Maybe like an affectionate puppy they followed you home and now know something about you, or maybe they romantically propositioned you. Whatever it is, they are trying to insert themselves into your life in a way that is risky. The DM may bring them in during a session to introduce complications.
  5. They are getting suspicious. You slipped somehow and someone is harboring suspicions. Unless you take care of the problem, for example by doing something to prove your loyalty, or discredit the suspicious person, a second spy troubles result will result in serious trouble (50% frozen out, 50% cover blown).
  6. Moral quandary. To prove you bona fides you must do something your character would rather not do. The DM will tell you the choice you face. If you choose not to do it, no further progress on the tracker is possible. The DM may or may not allow clever workarounds.
  7. You're not the only one! You and another spy have made each other. Their purpose is not the same as yours. This is a delicate situation that may need to be addressed. Until it is resolved, further spy troubles involve the DM picking a result that is produced by the rival spy.
  8. Blackmail. Someone knows what you are doing, and is trying to shake you down. Pay your level x 100 GP per session until the tracker is completed. Or maybe they want something more interesting.
  9. Frozen out. Someone got suspicious and you are now frozen out. Ghosted. No further progress possible.
  10. Cover Blown. You've been made! The group stages a confrontation. This could be anything from a kidnapping to a bitter discussion. You can play this out, or make a second custom 2d6 roll to see what the result is, given the nature of the organization. 

Procuring a Spy


Suppose a player wants to do this, but doesn't want to spy themselves. In order to procure a spy, they must first do so through cultivating a relevant relationship. Normally, you can only get someone who you can trust and is able to do the job if you have cultivated a relationship with the person through downtime activities. 

The player must spend a downtime action trying to recruit someone and setting up a mission. Roll 2d6 with the following modifiers to see if they're willing to take the job. You may proposition as many relations as you want for a single downtime action. 

  • Acquaintance -1
  • Associate +0
  • Friend +1
  • Intimate +2
  • Dangerous Mission -1
  • Very dangerous mission -2
  • Double pay +1
6-: No thanks.
7+: Yes. 

The cost is twice their level x 100 GP per downtime, and triple their level if they are an assassin. If they are 0 level, then it costs 50 GP. 

Have them make a roll each downtime as if they were a PC, with a -1 penalty. (You can still apply modifiers if they have the relevant skills, but the max positive modifier is +2.)  If you want a job done right, then you have to do it yourself! Generally, the DM should involve the PC who is hiring them in any problems that result from spy troubles, i.e. they come to the PC for help with the problem, and in the worst case scenario (cover blown!) the organization has a 50% of tracing the rat back to their employer. 

Friday, March 5, 2021

Animal Terror


In response to my last post, Gus wrote that a good test for a grappling system is how it handles animal attacks. This post is about using grappling and unarmed combat rules to model animal attacks. I also explain how we might use it to model animal taming. 

Gus' further elaborated his point by saying that a bear should be able to tear any PC to pieces. Part of his complaint about my system was that it didn't seem to deliver this result. I demur from his proposed test only a little. Think about the above cover Savage Sword of Conan, where Conan grapples desperately with some great beast. The design space I'd like to be in is one where a Conan, an advanced adventurer (4 HD) at the outer limit of human strength (+2), can try something like this, but only by stepping onto the knife's edge, i.e. at great peril. But I agree that animal attacks need further treatment, and I also propose some emendations to my grappling system at the end of the post to address his critique.


Animal Terrors


Creatures that pounce are frightening using these rules because they can ignore PC armor and get past bigger weapons. This already gives them a real edge. Here are a couple of further animal tags that I've developed for truly fearsome predators. If you have other ideas, drop them in the comments. 

Maul: In grappling, automatic damage from natural weapons is not subject to disadvantage. Furthermore, on a success and the choice to wound, a mauling attack has advantage. 

Drag: In grappling, on an immobilize result, the attacker can drag the victim half of their move. Good for hauling someone back into a cave, or snatching them up into a tree, or the air, or pulling them underwater.

Ferocious: In grappling, on a successful opposed grapple roll, the attacker choose to may deal damage against all who are grappling with it. (This makes it dangerous to try to mob the creature.)

Constrict: In grappling, one may deal damage to immobilized foes. One may grapple 1 foe of the same size, or up to 3 foes of smaller size, by grappling them on successive turns. 

Swallow: With 2 successive immobilize results, the animal may swallow the opponent. A swallowed opponent takes 1d6 damage a round. They can only be freed by slaying the beast or otherwise cutting it open.

 


Sabre Tooth Tiger

If we return to Conan vs. the smilodon from the comic at the top, we might stat it out like this (this is also a glimpse of part of what a statblock might look like for Jorune: Evolutions).

Sabre Tooth Tiger HD4 AC:Lt Str+2 Agl+2 Sz:L Mv18 ML7 Special: Maul, Ferocious

When this animal pounces on a normal sized PC,  they'll get one stab at it, and then will face a grapple with an opponent that has a +3 to their grapple check (+2 for strength, +1 for size). On a (very likely) success by the sabre tooth tiger, they will face a damage roll with advantage. Even on a failure, they'll take 1d6 damage. Devastating in a system with low hp and no variable weapon damage.

Conan has a strength bonus of +2. In the picture he has a close weapon drawn. So, although Conan is overmatched and will suffer a lot of damage, it is not impossible that he will prevail. Right on the knife's edge! 

Giant Python

Giant Python HD3 AC:Lt Str+1 Agl+0 SizeL MV9 ML6 Special: Constrict, Swallow

This is a nasty bugger. It can immobilize and constrict multiple foes by attacking each in succession. It can also choose to swallow immobilized foes. I think this would be a lot of fun to run.  

Animal Taming


These rules can also be used to simulate animal capture and taming, the breaking of horses, and so on. In the absence of a trap or a limilate (poison, drug) that might sedate the beast, the only alternative is to try to wrestle the animal into submission, bind it, get it to accept a saddle, etc. 

To capture a beast, the party must immobilize it for 3 successive rounds of melee, using multiple grapplers to bind it: a net, shackles, rope, a saddle, etc. Keep in mind that multiple grapplers add to the total modifier on the opposed grapple check. 

To break a rideable beast, use the same system but allow the grappler to test against strength or agility. Treat an immobilize result as staying on the beast. If the beast wins they will always break the grapple, throwing the rider as if the beast had chuko (i.e. for 1d6 with disadvantage damage). On the subsequent round after throwing the rider test the animal's morale. If they fail they will flee, and if they pass they will melee attack (trample) the rider. On three successive immobilize results, the beast is broken and will accept the saddle--at least from this rider. 

Revisions to the System

Gus made some other helpful suggestions, having playtested related grappling rules (my rules are based on his, but have not yet been playtested). He suggested that I make damage from close and natural weapons automatic and not allow them to be nerfed by immobilizing a foe. If you grapple with a bear, you just will get mauled. Wayne Roberts also suggested being able to use agility (i.e. this system's dexterity) to wriggle out of grappling. I liked that suggestion too. Here are the changes in bullet point form, followed by a restatement of the rules. 

  • You can now choose to test against agility instead of strength, but if you do the only option you can take if you win is "break grapple"
  • If at the end of a round someone has a close and natural weapon, and they haven't done damage yet, they can automatically do damage with disadvantage if they want to.
  • If you have a close, or natural weapon, or know brazz juju, if you opt to wound you can do 1d6 damage without disadvantage.
  • I've also added much needed rules for attacking grappling foes with melee or missile weapons. 

Grappling

A player can only grapple a foe that is at most two sizes larger than them. On their turn, a PC who can close with such an opponent can initiate a special grappling attack sequence. It works like this:

  1. If the opponent subject to the grapple attack is armed, they may melee attack the grappler as they close. 
  2. The grappler rolls to hit as though the opponent is unarmored. 
  3. If the attack hits, the two are now grappling. Neither may act for the rest of the round except to resolve the grapple.
  4. The grapplers now must make an opposed check using either strength or agility (2d6 + Mod). If one side is a size larger they receive advantage (+1), and if two sizes larger they receive great advantage (+2). Tied results are a stand-off. 
  5. If testing strength winner chooses 1: damage, disarm, immobilize, or break grapple. If testing agility the winner may only break the grapple.  
    • Damage: If unarmed, do 1d6/3 points to your opponent. If armed with a close or natural weapon, or using brazz juju, do 1d6. One may draw a close weapon for these purposes, provided one drops any other weapons one was carrying. One cannot otherwise draw a weapon while grappling.
    • Disarming knocks a weapon far enough away that it can't be used by the grappled foe (1d4x5 feet away).
    • Immobilizing the foe allows others to melee attack them without danger of hitting the grappler, or to join the grapple on them without needing to make an attack roll.
    • Breaking grapple ends the grapple. 

      6. If either side still has a close or natural weapon at the end of this sequence, and hasn't done damage yet, they deal 1d6 damage with disadvantage to their opponent. 

 

Multiple Grapplers

Once someone is grappled, other people can pile on by using their attack to grapple as normal. 

  • If they are immobilized then no addition attack roll is needed.
  •  Each additional grappler adds a bonus of 1 to the grappler with the highest bonus to the grapple check (strength or largest size). 
  • When multiple people grapple a single foe, then they can tie up the foe with two immobilize results on subsequent rounds if they have a rope or other bonds handy. 
  • If a single grappler wins against multiple foes and chooses to do damage, they may select to whom to apply the damage.   

Making Melee or Missile Attacks into a Grapple


This is a dangerous business. If the grapplers are of the same size you have a 3 in 6 chance of hitting each. If one grappler is a larger size, you have a 4 in 6 chance of hitting them. 

New Grappling and Unarmed Combat Weapon Proficiencies

Note that these unarmed proficiencies can be combined and stack. For example, someone might use chuko to reverse the strength bonus of an opponent, and when winning the grapple, use braz juju to inflict 1d6 damage with disadvantage on them.

Mantis Boxing

This is a catch-all standing in for many different techniques, from brutal street brawling learned in the gutters of Ardoth to disciplined martial arts like mantis boxing.

  • Those proficient in brawling do 1d6 damage with disadvantage in unarmed melee combat. 
  • This proficiency does not affect grappling. 

Chuko

This elegant fighting art involves using your opponents strength against them to toss them like a rag doll. 

  • Those proficient in chuko turns the strength bonus of their opponent into a minus for the purpose of the grapple check. 
  • When winning a grapple check, they may opt to break the grapple by throwing their opponent 10' and doing 1d6 damage with disadvantage.
  • This proficiency does not affect unarmed melee combat.
Braz Juju

This ancient vicious fighting style involves coiling about your opponent like a serpent and inflicting the maximum pain. 

  • Those proficient in braz juju who win a grapple check and opt to damage their opponent do 1d6 damage.
  • This proficiency does not affect unarmed melee combat. 

Secret Fighting Techniques

It is rumored that there are other fighting techniques suited to the specific capabilities of different post-human species, but they are either obscure or positively proscribed in Ardoth. 


   

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Unarmed Combat!

 


Unarmed combat and grappling is a poor fit with the main combat rules as written in early editions of D&D, which are focused on armed opponents striking their weapons against armored opponents so as to wound them. They do not speak to a situation where someone unarmed tries to get past a weapon, or disarm someone, or wrestle them to the ground and immobilize them. And yet this kind of thing comes up all the time in my experience, enough that there really need to be rules for it.

Where they have been developed as add-ons to the combat system, they have tended to take absurdly complicated forms, like Gary Gygax's bizarre grappling mini-game in 1E AD&D, perhaps the most sui generis and complex of the many crunchy sub-systems introduced in the wonderfully incomprehensible 1E Dungeon Master's Guide. People who have taken the time to understand and use Gygax's grappling system tell me they love it. But I, who even use segment initiative with casting time, look at it and think: what the actual fuck Gary.

So I want to develop a simpler system for grappling that fits with the weapon rules and stat-check system for Jorune: Evolutions. As I see it, there's a tension here with trade-offs, in that one needs a few options that are more granular than melee combat options, since grappling is often about wanting to do something that breaks the trying-to-wound-an-opponent mold. So you want some complexity, but without introducing a grotesquely granular grappling mini-game. Hopefully, the system below walks that line, keeping things simple enough while allowing a little granularity in.

The system draws on my simple 2d6 stat check system, as well as my rules about weapon types (particularly "close weapons" that can be used in grappling), and some new unarmed combat proficiencies explained below. I remind you about those rules as I go so as to not lose anyone who is interested in this as a discrete topics. It presupposed non-variable weapons damage and low stat modifiers.

I'm sure that many people have created good systems for unarmed combat that are OD&D or B/X friendly. If you know of a good one, please drop it in the comments! My system is builds, like so much of what I'm doing, on that masterpiece of OD&D-inspired rule design, Gus' HMS Apollyon Player's Guide. 


Unarmed Melee Combat

Unarmed melee combat is just like armed melee combat, except that when you strike you do 1d6/3 points of damage rounded up (i.e. 1-2). Someone who is armed gets no special bonus against someone unarmed except that they will do more damage to them if they hit. 



Grappling

A player can only grapple a foe that is at most two sizes larger than them. On their turn, a PC who can close with such an opponent can initiate a special grappling attack sequence. It works like this:

  1. If the opponent subject to the grapple attack is armed, they may melee attack the grappler as they close. (They may make this melee attack even if they have already attacked this round.)
  2. The grappler rolls to hit as though the opponent is unarmored--agility mods to AC still apply. 
  3. If the attack hits, the two are now grappling. Neither may act for the rest of the round except to resolve the grapple.
  4. The grapplers now must make an opposed strength check (2d6 + Str Mod). If one side is a size larger they receive advantage (+1), and if two sizes larger they receive great advantage (+2). Tied results are a stand-off. 
  5. The winner chooses 1: damage, disarm, immobilize, or break grapple. 
    • Damage is 1d6/3 points unless one has a close weapon (or some unarmed combat proficiencies see below), in which case it is 1d6 with disadvantage (2d6 discard the highest). If one chooses damage, one may draw a close weapon for these purposes, provided one drops any other weapons one was carrying. One cannot otherwise draw a weapon while grappling.
    • Disarming knocks a weapon far enough away that it can't be used by the grappled foe (1d4x5 feet away).
    • Immobilizing the foe allows others to melee attack them without danger of hitting the grappler, or to join the grapple on them without needing to make an attack roll.
    • Breaking grapple ends the grapple. 
      6. If the losing side still has a close weapon drawn and are not immobilized                they automatically deal 1d6 damage with disadvantage to the winner. 

In a round where both parties enter it already grappling, resolve the grapple after melee weapon attacks. 


Multiple Grapplers

Once someone is grappled, other people can pile on by using their attack to grapple as normal. 

  • If they are immobilized then no addition attack roll is needed.
  •  Each additional grappler adds a bonus of 1 to the grappler with the highest bonus to the grapple check (strength or largest size). 
  • When multiple people grapple a single foe, then they can tie up the foe with two immobilize results on subsequent rounds if they have a rope or other bonds handy. 
  • If a single grappler wins against multiple foes and chooses to do damage, they may select to whom to apply the damage.   


New Grappling and Unarmed Combat Weapon Proficiencies

Note that these unarmed proficiencies can be combined and stack. For example, someone might use chuko to reverse the strength bonus of an opponent, and when winning the grapple, use braz juju to inflict 1d6 damage with disadvantage on them.

Mantis Boxing

This is a catch-all standing in for many different techniques, from brutal street brawling learned in the gutters of Ardoth to disciplined martial arts like mantis boxing.

  • Those proficient in brawling do 1d6 damage with disadvantage in unarmed melee combat. 
  • This proficiency does not affect grappling. 

Chuko

This elegant fighting art involves using your opponents strength against them to toss them like a rag doll. 

  • Those proficient in chuko turns the strength bonus of their opponent into a minus for the purpose of the grapple check. 
  • When winning a grapple check, they may opt to break the grapple by throwing their opponent 10' and doing 1d6 damage with disadvantage.
  • This proficiency does not affect unarmed melee combat.


Braz Juju

This ancient vicious fighting style involves coiling about your opponent like a serpent and inflicting the maximum pain. 

  • Those proficient in braz juju who win a grapple check and opt to damage their opponent do 1d6 damage with disadvantage.
  • This proficiency does not affect unarmed melee combat. 

Secret Fighting Techniques

It is rumored that there are other fighting techniques suited to the specific capabilities of different post-human species, but they are either obscure or positively proscribed in Ardoth. 



A Grapple Example


Round 1

Our party of four tauthers consists of Ling and Max (humans), Leenda (woffen), and Tomar (muadra). An unnerving parlay with a band of three ramians in chiveer, huge thin humanoid aliens undergoing a period of cruel rage, devolves into combat beneath the jungle canopy. While two of the ramians wear only leather cuirasses and wield spears, their leader wears strange metal armor and wields a giant sword of alien metal, with a knife sheathed in his belt.

The ramians win initiative and attack. The two spear wielding ramians attack Ling and Leenda respectively and the leader strikes at Tomar. Only the leader hits,  but it's a devastating blow, because the weapon has the tags "two-handed" and "sharp", and the leader has +2 to damage because of the size difference with his diminutive muadra target. He rolls 3,5 and as a result, he does 7 points of damage total! Tomar reels under the blow, almost going under with 1 hp remaining and losing the dysha he was sculpting. Now it is the player's turn.

Max's player sees a bad situation. The leader is well-armored and will be very difficult to hit, and capable of dealing great damage. He needs to be taken out of the equation if the party is to have a prayer of surviving this brutal assault. He draws his knife and he decides to charge in for a grapple, hoping his close weapon and strength modifier (+1) will give him an edge. 

The first step is that the leader gets an attack roll on Max as he charges, even though the leader has already attacked this round. Max is wearing boiled leather armor, in which he is proficient, so his AC is 13. The leader's weapon has the tag sharp and so receives +3 to hit, and he needs to roll a 10 or higher on 1d20 to hit Max. Max's player holds his breath: this is a big roll that may determine whether he lives or dies in the subsequent struggle. Max is in luck, and the leader misses on the attack with an 8! 

The second step is to see if Max hits with his grappling roll. Ignoring the leader's armor, his AC is 10. Max's strength bonus of +1 means that he hits on a 9+ on 1d20. He rolls an 11! Closing he slips past the leader's weapon and is on him. 

The third step is to make an opposed grapple check. The leader rolls 2d6 adding 1 for the advantage of his greater size, and Max's player rolls 2d6 +1 for his strength modifier. The ramian gets 5 (2d6 roll) + 1 (moderate size advantage) + 0 (strength modifier)=7 and Max gets 3+5+1=9. Max wins the grapple, overwhelming the ramian for now. 

He may now choose whether to damage, disarm, or immobilize the ramian. Max's player doesn't want to immobilize him, because  the party needs to handle the other ramians and so won't be able to take advantage of the immobilized leader. He could do damage, but he worries that if the leader breaks the grapple next round, they'll be right back where they started. So he chooses instead to disarm the ramian, batting the alien weapon from his hands and knocking it far away, so that if he breaks the grapple the leader won't be just able to attack the party with it again. 

Tomar grabs the leader's sword and ducks back behind his compatriots for cover taking it out of the combat. Ling strikes one of the two remaining ramians with a sword and takes a serious blow in return. Leenda and the other ramian unsuccessfully trade blows.

Round 2

In the next round, the two grapplers make another opposed grapple check. This time the ramian wins rolling 3+6+1+0=9 against Max's pitiful 2+1+1=4. The ramian works his knife free, hoping in his blood lust to slaughter the human. Close weapons have disadvantage and he rolls 2, 5=2 modified by his size bonus to damage (+1) for 3 points of damage total. Max has 6 hp remaining.

Since Max's has a close weapon drawn, as the loser Max now automatically does damage to the ramian as well. Rolling 2 six-sided dice he gets 3, 4=3. Max gives as good as he gets in this brutal and bloody exchange, as the two cut each other with knives. The leader now has 12 hp remaining.   

With the leader occupied, the fight is going considerably better for Max's companions, who slay one of the two ramians with a mix of swordplay and a deadly dysha from Tomar. 

Round 3

In the third round, Max and the leader face off again. This time the leader prevails with an 6+4+1=11 against the Max's 4+4+1=9. The leader has a close weapon drawn, so he does damage to Max, rolling 3,6=3+1=4. Max is now at 2 hp. 

Tomar races over joining the grapple, aided by a length of rope he has pulled from his pack. Tomar makes an attack roll to join the grapple, needing to roll 10+. He rolls a 12. Since there are now multiple people grappling the leader, Tomar does not get a separate grapple check this round. Meanwhile their companions face off against the remaining ramian, trading blows.

Round 4

In the fourth round, Max and Tomar grapple the leader. Tomar adds a +1 to Max's roll. Max's player draws a deep breath: if he loses, Max may well die at the hands of the ramian. Max rolls 3+4+1+1=9, while the ramian leader rolls 6+1+1=8. 

As their companions drive the other ramian into flight with further injuries, Max and Tomar use their success in the grapple check to immobilize the leader, struggling to bind his arms with Tomar's rope. 

Round 5

Freed of enemies, the remaining companions pile on to the leader, not needing an attack roll to do so because he is immobilized. Adding their bonuses to Max (+1 for each), he now rolls 3+2+1+3=9 and the ramian leader rolls 3+3+1=7. Max chooses to immobilize him again, trussing him up like a turkey. Combat is now over as the leader is their captive. Max's derring-do, luck, and savvy use of grappling has snatched victory from the jaws of death, and likely saved his companions!
 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

A Simple 2d6 Skill System


Jorune: Evolutions uses a stat and skill check system that is different than the mechanics used in combat. Since Jorune: Evolutions is OD&D inspired, in another post I tried out a unified mechanic that employs the 1d6 that OD&D uses for most things. It was simple and the math was very transparent in a player-facing way. It also had a certain cleanness to it in that progression is linear and even a +1 opens up the ability to meet challenge levels that were previously closed. 

A possible downside is that it makes those low modifiers very significant, especially when it comes to opposed rolls where having an advantage can lead to stacked modifiers. This would have been OK, except for the fact that I'm using opposed rolls for grappling in unarmed combat and giving a +1 modifier for being large sized. (My next post will explain.) This would have resulted in each group having at least one unarmed boccord specialist in it, i.e. a half-giant professional wrestler. That game sounds amazing, but it's not the game I'm trying to design. 

The other possibility, with which I originally started, was to use a 2d6 system. This fits with the reaction roll mechanic and downtime system I'm using. Also, as Alistair mentioned in the comments on the 1d6 skills post, classic Traveller used a (janky) 2d6 skill system, so it has a nice pedigree for old school sci-fi gaming. That it picks up the PbtA resonance is a welcome result for me, and Cepheus system games use it as well. If you put a chart--like the one below--that shows the probabilities of success as a percentage chance on the character sheet, then you can make the math transparent enough to the players I hope. And as Tom Killion mentioned, it's fun and more dramatic feeling to roll more dice than one. 


Types of Checks


There are four kinds of stat and skill checks in Jorune Evolutions. A roll can be opposed or unopposed. Each of these kinds of rolls can be a straight roll or a mixed roll. The Sholari will tell the player which of these types the roll is, and what modifiers will apply, before the player decides to roll the dice. 


Unopposed checks are tests against the PC’s skills or stats where the only opposition are the circumstances of action, inanimate objects, or natural forces. Opposed checks are made when the PC is attempting something that is resisted by another sentient being.

Straight rolls are rolls with binary results: success or failure. (Almost all rolls in classic D&D are straight rolls, with the exception of reaction rolls.) Mixed rolls are made in circumstances where the effect of success is uncertain and feels narratively like it should be a scale of possible outcomes. Since Jorune Evolutions takes inspiration from classic D&D, straight rolls are the default.  




Unopposed Checks


Roll 2d6 + stat or skill modifier + difficulty modifier. (Note: it is always a stat OR a skill check. The modifiers do not stack.)


Results (Straight): 6- failure 7+ success

Results (Mixed): 6- failure 7-9 mixed result 10+ Success


Stat Modifiers


-1 Sub-par

0  Average

+1 Excellent

+2 Supreme (You can only reach this level through big ticket sandbox advancement)


Skill Modifiers

-1 Untrained
0  Trained
+1 Skilled
+2 Master


Difficulty Modifiers


+1 Easy                   
0   Moderate           
-1 Challenging       
-2 Hard                  
-3 Severe               
-4 Heroic
-5 Epic               

Automatic Failure Rule


A penalty of -4 or worse is an automatic failure. This caps absurd attempted rolls. 

The Math


The following chart shows the probability of making a straight check (7+) conditional on the difficulty and your stat or skill modifier. To see the probability of getting a success on a mixed roll (10+) simply move down 3 rows. (At the difficulty rating of severe and higher it is not possible to roll a 10+.)







Opposed Checks


To make an opposed check, each party roll 2d6 + advantage modifier + stat or skill modifier. The advantage modifier is applied only to the party whose situation is more advantageous. In a straight opposed roll, whoever gets the higher total number prevails. In a mixed roll, consult the winner’s roll to see whether it is a mixed result or a success. A tie always results in a temporary stalemate. (Check again next round.)


Opposed Checks: Each party rolls 2d6 + stat or skill modifier + advantage modifier


Results (Straight): Whoever’s results are higher prevails.

Results (Mixed): Whoever’s results are higher prevails. Consult the winner’s result: 9- mixed result 10+ Success



Advantage Modifiers


+2 Great Advantage 

+1 Advantage


Automatic Victory Rule


If the difference between the modifiers of the two sides is 4 or greater, the side with the higher modifier automatically wins. 


The Math


Let's consider the chance of winning for a PC based on the difference in modifier with their opponent. So start with their total modifier and subtract the opponent's total modifier from it. The result will range from +3 to -3. For example, if a PC has excellent strength (+1) and advantage (+1) and their opponent has subpar strength (-1) we get 1+1-(-1)= +3. Keep in mind that there is also the possibility of ties, so this doesn't measure your chance of losing, only your chance of winning:

+3 = 76%
+2 = 66%
+1 = 56%
0   = 44%
-1 = 34%
-2 = 24%
-3 = 16%



Friday, February 5, 2021

The Abandoned Sweet Works and Pale Echoes


Check out this amazing new piece of art by Dharia Khlebnikova that just came in!


Well, the Kickstarter for Through Ultan's Door 3 is off to a strong start. While of course I owe the greatest debt of gratitude to people who purchased the early issues and expressed the enthusiasm in the past that's kept me going, one of the things that makes me the happiest is that about half of all pledges are from people who are picking up the back issues as well, i.e. people who have never experienced (at least the print versions of) Through Ultan's Door. We have blown through a huge number of stretch goals. I wanted to tell you a little bit about what's to come. So far we've unlocked three sets of stretch goals that I'm super-excited about. 

#1 Expanded Maladies and Afflictions

Through Ultan's Door 3 presents a rules-light system for maladies and afflictions that includes ways of tracking the progress of a malady and its mechanical and narratival effects. In the zine I present six exquisite maladies and afflictions of Zyan, from furniture pox to shadow blight. The first set of stretch goals will produce an illustrated, folded pamphlet (also PDF) with the full Through Ultan's Door house dressing and printed on French Paper Co. paper. It doubles the number of afflictions covered in the zine from 6 to 12. Although this is subject to change if more ideas occur to me, right now the additional afflictions include: onoma ague, penury blindness, spin worms, ruinous anomie, tempest catalepsy, and speculo obsession. The good news is that I already have this 2/3 written since some of these were cut from the original zine for reasons of space. 


#2 Increasing the Pay of Artists and Graphic Designers


For the second set of stretch, I am increasing the pay of all seven artists and the graphic designer for this project. 


#3 The Abandoned Sweet Works

I expect that this will be the stretch goal people backers are most excited about. Through Ultan's Door 3 presents a sewer crawl that connections the dungeons of issues 1 and 2 with 7 other locations. For the third set of stretch goals, which just funded, I am collaborating with Gus to create an 8th sewer location in the form of a one-page dungeon. He will do the cartography and layout, and collaborate on the keying of this location, which we dreamed up together. It will be printed on French Paper Co. paper and included in all print copy pledge levels (also as a PDF). I want to share the capsule write-up of the location, which I jsut finished:

In Zyan, confectionery jostles poetry and opera for the title of highest art. From the tumblers and molds, the sugar torches and glazing racks of the candy works, pour traditional favorites, from elegant drop candies in flavors of horeshound or lilac brandy, to candied orchis, or the jellied meats in Zyanese delights, and rosewindows of stained sugar glass. The Sweet Works was an underground workshop that once poured its sugared waste into the sewer river. Its sunken garden provided the narcotic white honey for their once famous cough drops. Long abandoned, the garden has grown wild among the ruined works, drawing to it honey ghuls from Zyan, where gangs deal white honey to addicts. Having lost the manners and customs of humanity, the honey ghuls are now jealous slaves to the hive. 

Possible #4 Elspeth's Letter and Pale Echoes


But the truth is that I'm just as excited about what comes next--if we manage to unlock the next set of stretch goals. The next set presents an alternate frame for a mini-series or campaign set in Wishery. Instead of traveling through Ultan's door, the party receives an inheritance from a former dreamer that includes the recipe for potions of penumbral transmigration. These potions allow them to use the memories of the dead dreamer to fashion priaducts that take them through the Oneiric Sea to different locations in Wishery. 

If this set of stretch goals are unlocked, this will be only the beginning. For the last stretch goal (at present, more may be added) involves a commitment to work on a new, episodically released, zine called Pale Echoes. It takes its name from the term that the Zyanese use for the drab waking world, which they call derisively "Pale Echo". 

Pale Echoes will be a zine taking you the other way through Ultan's door to explore different campaign frames and premises for the waking world of your game. In addition to numerous different "campaign starters" and house rules that will connect Pale Echo with Wishery, I hope in its pages to present the waking world from own home campaign, i.e. the city-state of Rastingdrung, where Ultan's door first appeared in my own campaign. 

To be clear, even if we hit this stretch goal, this zine will not be included in the Kickstarter. This is rather a long-term commitment I will make, on the basis of the interest expressed in the Kickstarter, to launch this zine in the future.

So if you're thinking about jumping on board the Kickstarter, now is a good time! You can find it here.  Feel free to share it with those you think might find it interesting. If we continue blowing through these stretch goals, who knows what else might lie beyond the veil of sleep!

Thursday, January 28, 2021

I'm going to do my first Twitch stream!

 


In a first ever for me, I'm going to be taking Plus One Exp's crew through Ultan's Door to the sewers of Zyan on this Saturday, 1/30, at 730pm EST. Get a sneak peak of what's between the covers of the forthcoming Issue 3! You can follow the stream here: ttrpg.link/sewersofdreamland.

Through Ultan's Door 3 is an open-ended pointcrawl, so I faced the problem of how to get the players quickly in into it for a one shot. I didn't want them coming through Ultan's Door, since that would put them straight into the Ruins of the Inquisitor's Theater from issue 1, and I wanted to preview newer material. While I can't quite spill the beans, here's the premise I came up with and emailed to the players:

Elspeth was your godmother. She was a colorful character, a known adventurer, and renowned duelist in her youth. When you were a child, she brought wondrous gifts from her travels--exquisite moving dolls, gorgeous and frightening masks, a set of paints in remarkable hues--that she claimed were from Wishery, a land "beyond the veil of sleep", about which she told you many tales. Your mother told you the stories were just fairy tales, but you like to imagine they were true. After a falling out with your family, you lost touch with her, and were sad to learn that she had died. Curiously, there was no funeral held for her. But a sealed letter did arrive for you, in her unmistakable script, with cryptic instructions. It says that if you are receiving this, it is because she has died, and she wants you to know that she is proud that you have made yourself an adventurer. Her last wish is that you are to gather a party of your companions, outfitted for an expedition, and to come as quickly as you can to her house in the countryside.

I'm nervous for sure, but I think it'll be a lot of fun. I'm excited to play with Diogo Nogueira, who is one of the players who will be stepping through Ultan's door with me. Come if you want to catch a glimpse of the new opium dreamer class, or if you're curious what a potion of penumbral transmigration does, or if you want to meet the sewer wyrm Cephaia, Prophetess of the Muddle Waters. Or if you just want to see my grinning mug DM a session in the dreamlands. 

(Boring mandatory mention: if you want to follow the project and receive a notification when it launches, click here. Also, I now have a Facebook page for Through Ultan's Door Press that you can see here.)

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Cartography!

 This post is about the MAPS of Through Ultan's Door. It's a glimpse into some of the wonderful cartography in this upcoming trio of zines. It also tells you a little something about how I collaborate when things are going well.

The zine uses detachable covers with maps printed on the interior of sturdy cardstock covers that can stand up like little screens. Gus L has done all the cartography for the zine from the very beginning. His maps grace the interior cover of Through Ultan's Door 1 & 2. For issue 3, I sent Gus a pointcrawl map of the sewer river that just had a series of circles with words in them connected by a single line, along a capsule summary of each point. It was like a child's scrawl. Check out  this psychedelic, three-dimensional map, Gus came back with, which will be reproduced on the interior of the cover of Through Ultan's Door 3 Part I


One thing Gus said when he sent the map is: "You're obviously going to need to write the harbor up as a bigger site." To which I replied, "Yes, I will."  Truth be told, in fact, it's in part by staring at this map and thinking how my text could live up to this cartography that we ended up having a double issue for Through Ultan's Door 3. I thought, "I have to do this map justice."

My collaboration with artists works that way too. Once I have a working relationship and trust with an artist, I say, "Here's the text I'm hoping you'll illustrate. Here are some visual references. But actually what I'm most interested in is how YOU will imagine it. I'll rewrite the text to match what you draw." Zyan, in its published form, is an aesthetic collaboration. 

Next, take a look at Gus' delicious cartography for the wreck of the Verdant Purveyor, the base of operation for the Regulators of the Black Hand, dread sewer pirates led by Free Hand Hesock. It is reproduced on the interior of the cover of Gus' companion module Beneath the Moss Courts. He dreamed up the Verdant Purveyor and wrote the accompanying text, so this is all his vision. (Note: the area numbers haven't been added yet on this version of the map.)


This map has none of the slickness of contemporary digital maps. It is not a battle map. Rather, it's intended as an aid to be used at the table (physical or virtual) in describing the rooms for play in the theater of mind. Look at how lovely the exploded design is, with each deck and their inter-relations so clearly illustrated, and so much visual information about the contents right on the map. 

What is most striking though about Gus' maps is the way they bring alive and vividly evoke the sense of place. Note those decorative, weird, elegant sewer reeds reaching upwards, and the shattered, water-filled lower deck, or the weird repurposed rooms, like the one with a pentagram on the floor.  I have always thought that even without the keys, you could design great adventures just by staring at Gus' maps and letting your imagination roam guided by sense of place his maps conjure. 

You can learn more here about what, besides these maps, will appear in double-issue 3 and Beneath the Moss Courts. A pre-launch page for Through Ultan's Door 3 is now up on Kickstarter. If you are interested in following along with the Kickstarter and getting an announcement when it launches on Monday February 2nd, please click on this link: 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/through-ultans-door/through-ultans-door

In closing, here is the cover of Beneath the Moss Courts. This illustration of the wreck of the Verdant Purveyor is by Huargo. Obviously.