Wednesday, May 31, 2017

New Race: Awakened Animals

I'm starting up a new Swords & Wizardry / Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles campaign which will be a 1-on-1 game with my wife.  She asked to have a companion that's a panther with human-level intelligence.

I've written up a race for an awakened panther so we can use the standard character rules to make this companion.  Below is the new race for awakened great cats.

Awakened Animals

Awakened animals are regular animals that have been granted a human-level of intelligence by magic, divine intervention, the sheer power of nature, or some other form of magical change.  They can advance in class levels like any other PC race, and follow all other associated rules.  While they have the knowledge needed to understand the use of tools, weaponry, and other humanoid creations, they are restricted in their use by their physical form.  Each type of animal has it's own set of racial abilities.

Awakened Great Cats

Great cats, such as lions, panthers, and tigers, which have been granted a human-level of intelligence by magical intervention.

Thick Hide: While unarmored, an awakened great cat has an armor class of 6 [13].  When factoring armor class while wearing armor, start from the standard base armor class of 9 [10].

Natural Weaponry: Awakened great cats are capable of attacking with claws and bites.  The cat may make 2 claw attacks as an action, each dealing 1d4 points of damage on a hit.  If both claw attacks hit, the cat may pull the enemy in for a bite attack, which deals 1d6 damage on hit.

Darkvision: Awakened great cats can see in the dark out to 60 feet.  This ability does not penetrate natural darkness.

Keen Senses: An awakened great cat is only surprised in a roll of 1 on a d6 in combat.  If the Referee calls for a skill check associated with hearing or vision, such as the Notice and Search skills, the cat increases his or her skill die by one step.

While written specifically with Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles (an S&W variant rule set) in mind, this race will work perfectly in S&W or other compatible OSR games.  You'll have to either ignore or adapt the skill bonus from Keen Senses.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Played some Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles this weekend!

My wife and I played a one-on-one game of Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles this weekend.  We played through Church of the Goblin Lord, which is the sample adventure that will be included in the core rule book.  We started out the day with character creation.

Ready for adventure!
Sarah went for broke and created a rashka fighter/mage/thief named Zowena.  I made an NPC human fighter named Alair to accompany Zowena on her adventure.  We used the 4d4+2 method for rolling attributes, which creates higher averages than 4d6 drop lowest, which is perfect for small group play like this.  

Alair took less than 15 minutes to roll up, but Zowena took considerably longer.  For one, Sarah couldn't roll above a 10 on 4d4+2.  Multiple times.  It wasn't until she ditched her original set of dice for some others that she rolled much, much better.  Zowena also has 3 classes, which was a lot more like making 3 characters adding up all the class features and determining spells, etc.

Zowena: Level 2 rashka fighter/mage/thief; HP 14; AC 5 [14]; Atk flame blade +4 to hit (1d6+4) or magic missile +2 to hit (1d4+1); Move 12; Save 13; AL N; STR 13 DEX 15 CON 15 INT 16 WIS 12 CHA 14.
    Special: Darkvision 60ft, nine lives (reroll failed save 1/day), rashkan grace, cull the weak, weapon expertise (flame blade +1 hit, +2 dmg), dueling (+3 AC based on Dex), spellsword (empowered flame blade), backstab, luck (3 points, 1d4), acrobat (1/day 2 luck points to avoid lethal damage).
    Skills: Burglary 1d6, Deceive 1d6, Diplomacy 1d6, Search 1d6, Notice 1d6, Athletics 1d6, Disable Traps 1d6, Stealth 1d6.
    Spells: Lesser: flame blade, magic missile.  1st (3): color spray, detect magic, faerie fire, illusory disguise, read languages, cause fear, charm person, detect law, ray of enfeeblement, sleep.

Alair: Level 2 human fighter; HP 15; AC 1 [18]; Atk longsword +3 to hit (1d8+3) or short bow +4 to hit (1d6); Move 12; Save 13; AL N; STR 15 DEX 18 CON 13 INT 13 WIS 14 CHA 16.
    Special: Uncanny adaptability (1/day roll save with advantage), cull the weak, weapon expertise (longsword +1 hit, +2 dmg), dueling (+5 AC based on Dex).
    Skills: Athletics 1d8, Deceive 1d6, Stealth 1d6, Performance (dance) 1d6

Overall, the adventure was pretty easy for two 2nd level characters with above average capabilities.  I would expect it to be pretty straightforward for a larger group of 1st level characters, which is probably about right for an introductory adventure such as this.  I'll probably add a sidebar explaining this and recommending some additional monsters to each encounter to up the difficulty if running for experienced players.

As Zowena and Alair explored through the dungeon filled with murdered goblins, skeletons, zombies, and a returning goblin patrol that blamed them for their dead friends (random encounter), Zowena took a few hits and got down to 6 hit points (after expending a prepared spell to heal herself) and she motioned for Alair to take the lead.  The final fight with the ghoul was almost a TPK for such a small group - Alair was paralyzed by the ghoul on the first round, and it moved on to attack Zowena.  She succeeded on her saving throw (thankfully) and fortunately finished off the ghoul with her next attack.

Final battle with the ghoul

Overall, I had a really fun time running this adventure!  I would have loved to have played it with a few more players, but then I wouldn't have played this weekend.  I look forward to more one-on-one adventures with Zowena!

Church of the Goblin Lord will be available in the next playtest release of Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles, which is coming soon!

Zoe snuggled with a giant d20 while we played.
She looks like a sleeping fuzzy dragon!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

New spin on a classic spell: Tesherit's Hysterical, Contagious Cackling

Quick post to share a spell I wrote up for +Sarah Gilman.  She sorta asked for it a while ago, and I thought about it the other day and decided to write it up.  My take on the classic spell that causes fits of uncontrollable laughter, I give you:  Tesherit's Hysterical, Contagious Cackling.

Tesherit’s Hysterical, Contagious Cackling

Spell Level: Chaos 2 (or Magic-User 2 for other OSR games)
Cast Time: 1 action
Range: 30 feet
Duration: 5 rounds

This spell afflicts a target creature with loud, hysterical laughter.  The spell only works on creatures that are capable of laughter, and a saving throw is allowed to resist the effect.  The spell last for 5 rounds, and has an increasing effect per round:

  • On round 1, the target begins laughing uncontrollably, drops any items held in hands and can do nothing but laugh.
  • On round 2, the target continues to laugh hysterically, falling to the ground and takes 1d4 points of subdual damage as the laughter is so deep it causes physical pain.
  • On round 3, the target continues to laugh hysterically, takes another 1d4 points of damage, and any creature within 15 feet of the target must make a saving throw or also be affected by the spell.
  • On round 4, the target continues to laugh hysterically, and takes 1d4 points of physical damage as the pain of the laughter intensifies to the point of causing bodily harm.
  • On round 5, the target’s laughter hits its pinnacle, dealing 1d6 points of damage as the target screams out in pain, which ends the laughter and allows the creature control of its body once again.
It is possible for a creature to become infected again by the contagious laughter of a secondary target’s round 3 effect.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Spell Alignments, Spell Lists, and Raising the Dead

I talked a bit about magic in Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles last year, but I only briefly mentioned the concept of spell alignments.  Basically, all spells belong to an alignment category that matches the character alignments: Law, Neutral, and Chaos.  Mages gain access to Neutral spells and either Law or Chaos spells, which is chosen at character creation.

I originally had paladins with their own spell list, but as I got further into writing the magic chapter, it become pretty obvious that just giving paladins access to all of the Law spells was pretty close to what I was already giving them and was much, much simpler.

Why Spell Alignments?

Spell alignments are largely a design byproduct of removing divine magic from the game world.  The gods are gone, so there’s no divine magic to be had.  This meant the cleric went away as well (I never liked the cleric as a default divine spell caster anyway), but I wanted a lot of the spells that clerics have access to in S&W to still be available.  My first draft combined the magic-user and cleric spell lists and gave access to all of it to the Mage, which was just flat out ugly.

I spent a lot time milling over ideas on how to limit the spells the Mage had access to without breaking it back out into two classes that would otherwise be very similar.  Ultimately, I decided to split it into three groups – one universal and two that the player had to choose from.  Associating them with the game’s 3 alignments was a perfect fit for both the mechanical tone of the categories and the lore of the game world.

Making the Spell Lists

Organizing the spells into the categories was mostly pretty easy.  A lot of spells were just plain obvious as to where they belonged.  I had decided on 6 spells of each alignment for each spell level, and I was determined.  Some spells had to be cut, and I added new spells to fill in where there were gaps.  There are also spells that I had to make hard decisions on where they went.  The best example being Raise Dead.

I originally added Raise Dead to the Law alignment very quickly.  I clearly wanted “good-guy” priests to be able to help PCs out with resurrections.  But… raising someone from the dead clearly disrupts the natural order of things.  A creature lives, it dies, and goes to the afterlife.  It doesn’t come back.  So, isn’t raising the dead much more a domain of Chaos?

I still see it belonging in both places.  I think the solution is to introduce a new spell.  Raise Dead stays as a Law spell, and can be used to coax powerful beings in the afterlife to allow the spirit of the target to return.  Mages who have chosen Chaos spells can get access to a new spell, Dark Pact, which allows them to make bargains with the forces of Chaos to rip the soul out of the afterlife and revive the target.

Dark Pact

Spell Level: Chaos 5 (or Magic-User 5 for other OSR games)
Cast Time: 1 hour
Range: Special
Duration: Instantaneous

Much like Raise Dead, Dark Pact allows the caster to raise a corpse from the dead, provided it has not been dead for longer than 5 days.  After finishing the casting of this spell, the caster communes with a powerful being of Chaos, such as a demon or powerful undead creature.  In exchange for some kind of service or offering, the being rips the target’s soul from the afterlife and returns it to their body, bringing the target back to life.  The target’s body must still be intact for this spell to succeed, though the body need not be present during the casting.

Which being is contacted, and what the creature asks for in exchange for bringing the target back to life is up to the Referee.  Demons have been known to bargain for allegiances, favors, items of magical power, and for the caster’s soul.  They’ve also been known to leave their mark on the body of the target, and sometimes the caster.

The Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles Fantasy Roleplaying Game is currently in open playtest and is available as a free download with no login or registration required.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What is Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles, and how does it differ from Swords and Wizardry?

Over this past weekend, I started the open playtest of the RPG I’ve been working on, titled Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles.  I wanted to spend a few minutes talking about what this game is and how it differs from Swords and Wizardry and other OSR games.

What is Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles?

In short, Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles is an OSR game that represents how I want to play.  I took the Swords and Wizardry rules and hacked out the pieces that don’t work for me, and replaced them with my own versions.  I added a skill system, because I like skill systems.  I’m not a fan of skill systems where the player drives the choice of mechanics to use for a situation, and I try my best to address that in the rules.

A secondary objective is that the game better fits my campaign world that I’ve been publishing adventures for over the last couple years.  I plan to continue to publish adventures set in this world, and they will continue to be fully Swords and Wizardry compatible.  Looking at it from this angle, Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles is a variant ruleset of Swords and Wizardry that is designed specifically with playing these adventures in mind.

Where does it differ from Swords and Wizardry?

  • HotSC has a default setting – Acteos.  There are references to this setting throughout the book, such as which races are available and how magical travel works in the setting, but the bulk of the setting details has been segregated into its own chapter near the end of the book.  I have plans to use these rules for games set in other worlds myself, so I didn’t want the setting to be so heavily implied that it felt mandatory.
  • Attributes are a little more meaningful than in Swords and Wizardry, but less so than in Third Edition.  Attribute bonuses are a little more standardized, and go up to +3.
  • HotSC presents a different list of races in the core rulebook.  Humans and dwarves are present, but elves get an entry in the monster chapter.  Players can also pick Kavarli, which are sort of half-giant like stone-kin, the monstrous Liontaurs (which are exactly what they sound like), the feline Rashka, or the Sylvans, which are kind of like wild-elves with antlers.
  • There are no racial restrictions on level.  Humans get a couple of racial traits to compensate.
  • Four classes are presented – The Fighter, the Mage, the Paladin, and the Thief.  Each class has a specialization to pick from, which allows for a small amount of customization.
  • A skill system has been added.  Thieves get a couple extra skills at first level, but otherwise everyone has the same progression.  The system has an emphasis on the Referee calling for skill rolls, deciding which skill is applicable and which attribute modifies it depending on the description of a player’s actions.
  • The equipment lists have been bolstered with a few more options.
  • Due to the increase in the size of Dexterity bonuses to AC, Dexterity bonuses only stack with armor up to a maximum of -6 [+6] (plate mail allows for no Dexterity bonus).  Any magical bonuses or shield bonuses apply afterward.
  • Combat uses a simpler format.  Group initiative is rolled, the group with initiative goes first, resolving all effects to completion (including spell casting), and then the party that lost initiative goes.  This is how I’ve always played.
  • Magic is broken down into alignments.  Mages can cast Neutral spells and either Law or Chaos spells (a choice that has nothing to do with the character's alignment).  Paladins cast Law spells only.  There is only one master spell list, instead of a different list for each class.  6 spells per alignment are presented for each spell level (18 spells per spell level, 5 spell levels).
  • Mages have access to lesser magic, which are weaker spells that can be cast an unlimited amount of times per day without preparation.
  • Mages can swap out a prepared spell to create healing or destruction effects.  They can do one or the other, chosen at character creation.  As such, there are no healing spells on the spell list, and the few damage spells are weaker and have a secondary effect.  For example, Flame Strike deals 6d6 damage (where a 5th level spell converted into an area damage effect would deal 10d6) but also blinds targets that fail a saving throw.

There’s definitely other changes than I’ve listed here, but these are the big ones that are in the current playtest release.  The current release covers all the player chapters, and is a free download (no login or registration required) if you’re interested.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Quick review of Pixel Loot: Overland Travel cards

Today I got in my physical rewards from Shane Butler's Pixel Loot: Overland Travel kickstarter.  I've been sitting on the digital rewards for a bit now without looking much at them (because digital cards don't do much for me).  This is the second of Shane's kickstarters that I've backed, and both were completed and delivered promptly and ahead of schedule.  I would definitely back a third.

Zoe likes them, your cat may too!

The Overland Travel cards are exactly what they sound like.  Draw a card when you want something random to happen out in the wilderness.  There's a bit more to it than that, though.  Each card has a daytime and a nighttime event, as well as a random number of hours, a random thought, and a bunch of icons that I'm not quite sure what they mean (looks like random sex/gender, race, monster, and attitude).  This makes a draw of the deck more useful that just to pull a random wilderness event.

Two test draws that seemed interesting to me.

The cards have a large variety of event types, from general feelings of being watched to encounters with greedy tax collectors.  There's a few that I'd probably redraw, like the peaceful invasion of a migrating butterfly swarm, but that's more just my personal tastes than anything about the cards themselves.

Zoe got possessive of the cards while I was sleeving them, so a word of warning:  Your cat might *really* like them. 
Overall, I'm very happy with them and can't wait to put them to actual use.  I do wish they were more like the Dungeon Maker cards by the same creator.  With the Dungeon Maker cards*, each draw is actually a draw of 4 cards - each card determines where the dungeon is, who built it, why it's there, and what happened to its last inhabitants.  I like this format a lot better, but that says more about how great the Dungeon Maker cards are (which I should probably do a review of too).

The Overland Travel cards don't appear to be available yet on RPGNow/DriveThruCards, but I'd expect them to be available soon once backers have had a chance to get their rewards.

* This article uses affiliate links which help support future articles.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

New Race: The Kavarli

I've been working on the races that will be available for play in Acteos.  The only of the standard non-human races I'm including is the dwarf.  Accompanying the human and the dwarf will be the Kavarli (detailed later in this post), Liontaur (centaur-like lion-humans), Rashka (humanoid felines), and Sylvans (sort of like wild-elves with antlers).

This doesn't mean the standard non-human races have no place in Acteos.  I can think of perfect spots for halflings, gnomes, and half-orcs.  I just don't have much interest in writing about them at the moment.  Elves, well... I've grown to prefer a less Tolkien-esque elf and love a more chaotic, mythological elf.  Indulging life in their hills while charming humans to life enslavement.  So, elves will get an entry in the monster section.  The Sylvans are my take on a playable race that's elf-like but not.

At any rate, I wanted to post and show off one of the races I've just finished up.  This is, as is usual for this kind of post, unedited.


The Kavarli are a massive, human-like people that are descendants of the elemental spirits of earth.  Their name translates to “children of stone” in their language.  They stand on average between 7 and 8 feet tall, and have rough, gray skin that feels like touching warm stone.  They value strength, honor, and combat prowess, but birthright rules above all else.  While Kavarli society is centered in the distant land of Ber’ruln, many Kavarli immigrated to Acral many generations ago.  Ber’ruln, which means “nature’s birth”, is an island that is said to be a major source of elemental power.

It is Kavarli tradition that their leaders be male, often the first-born son of the previous leader.  However, female Kavarli that prove themselves as warriors have no issues with taking roles of leadership and commanding the respect of their people.  It is more common for a female Kavarli to take on the role of their people’s shaman.  It is believed that the spirits of the earth share a special bond with female Kavarli.

Tough as the Earth: While unarmored, a Kavarli has a base Armor Class of 7 [12].  When factoring AC while wearing armor, start from the usual base AC of 9 [10].
Fearless Warrior: Kavarli gain a +2 bonus to all saving throws to resist fear effects.
Powerful Build: Kavarli treat all two-handed weapons as one-handed weapons.  This means that a Kavarli can wield, for example, a two-handed sword in one hand and gains a +1 bonus to damage when wielding it with two hands.
Child of Stone: While human-like, Kavarli are not quite human.  They are not susceptible to spells or effects that only affect human-like targets, such as Charm Person.

Art by Shaman's Stockart.  Used under license.