Thursday, November 26, 2020

Blood Silver

To a mundane eye, silver gleams the same as any other precious metal. Its luster arouses a deep-seated yearning in our minds, an innately human drive to seek beauty—and covet it.

But to other beings, silver is something different. All metals have qualities beyond humans' base understanding, but by far the most formidable, and most feared, is silver. 

To some it scalds like hot iron, to others it enfeebles like a disease. To some it doesn't even bring pain, but instead has a sort of narcotizing effect. To these beings its touch brings forth indescribable sensations somewhere in the range between feverish nausea and maddening ecstasy. 

Ironically, silver possess an additional, unique quality that makes it sought after by the very beings affected by its hidden potencies: it can trap and contain living souls. 

It is, of course, one of the gravest mortal sins to capture souls and prevent them from passing on. But those who know the occult properties of silver and the esoteric means with which they can be employed often pay little heed to what is and isn't sinful. 

A soul is a useful thing, made all the more scarce by its ephemeral nature. Having reliable means to store and trade souls is invaluable to those who could make use of such a thing. It is so cherished, in fact, that many would be willing to suffer the ill effects of silver just for the sake of possessing a soul.

Any amount of silver that contains a soul is known as "blood silver." The smallest amount of silver that is capable of holding a soul is equivalent in size to a standard coin. 

There are several dark and esoteric methods of creating blood silver, the most common being the most straightforward. It goes as follows: place a coin in the victim's mouth and stab them through the heart with a ritual knife. As the victim breathes their dying breaths, their soul will be trapped in the coin.

Blood silver is indistinguishable to humans from normal silver. It can only be recognized through identifying magics. Demi-humans can recognize blood silver on sight, and demons, fey, intelligent undead, and certain planar outsiders can sense its presence even without even seeing it. 


Blood silver coins function kind of like the coins from John Wick, but for magic users and beings of chaos. Most demons/fey/etc. can only carry 1d4-1 blood silver coins per HD at one time, but more powerful entities often have large stores blood silver and use their thralls to handle it when the need arises. Chaos entities, who typically have no use for mundane currency, can be bribed and persuaded with blood silver according to their disposition just like common folk with normal currency.

For spell research purposes, one blood silver coin is equivalent to 100 GP. Depending on your alignment system, using blood silver this way is considered a chaotic or evil act.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Doing Combat Maneuvers & Improving Fighters

This is how I do combat maneuvers and make fighters suck less in B/X (or whatever).

When you want to do any sort of combat maneuver, you and your enemy both roll 1d6 + your level/HD. Fighters have a WARRIOR’S INSTINCT which allows them to to add their attack bonus to the roll. If you roll higher than your opponent, you succeed in whatever you were trying to do (within reason, of course). 

Fighters can use ADVANCED TACTICS to attempt a combat maneuver while simultaneously making an attack. The success of either is independent of one another, so a Fighter can miss an attack but still do something like disarm their opponent and vice versa. They can do this a number of times per battle equal to their level. 

As a special bonus houserule-of-a-houserule (in that I haven’t tested this substantially enough to say if it enriches the original rule), if a Fighter misses their attack but succeeds on the maneuver, they can forego their maneuver and add the dice result (no modifiers) to the attack roll. This probably would get pretty broken at higher levels when a Fighter could just get a +d6 bonus on every attack so maybe this only works once a battle. SO FAR it has not been much of a problem, though. 

Examples of combat maneuvers:
Grapple: Grappled creatures can’t move, both you and the grappled creature get a +1 bonus to hit each other, and the grappled creature can’t target other creatures. The grappled creature can forego an attack to attempt another contested d6+HD roll.
Disarm: If you beat the contested roll by 1-3, the weapon simply falls to the ground. Beating the roll by 4 or more means you knock the weapon 10’ in a random direction. Creatures cannot pick up a weapon and attack on the same round.
Shove: Beating the roll by 1-3 means the creature is knocked 10' straight back, whereas beating the roll by 4 or more means that you can heave them left or right as well.
Knock Prone: Melee attacks against prone creatures get advantage but ranged attacks get disadvantage (like in 5e). Getting up counts as your movement for the round. 
Stagger: Knock the target off balance, giving them -2 AC until next round.
Intimidate: Force a morale check against a single opponent.
Called Shot: If you succeed on the roll, the next time you successfully attack the opponent you can target a specific area on their body.


Why do it this way and not like one of the many hundreds of other fighter fixes that have been proposed before?

This method is more interesting than piling on static bonuses, less situation-dependent than just giving fighters cleave (or an equivalent feat-like ability), and makes combat more interesting with minimal extra crunch. Early D&D is not a tactical game and shouldn’t be treated as such, but giving players more options reason allows for more dynamic combat without sacrificing speed and flow. 

Instead of making the numbers higher or letting Fighters do a specific thing in a specific situation, I want players to feel like they have effective options beyond just heaping on damage. Allowing more viable options for how players can interact with the enemy in a combat situation benefits the game overall. 

All combat maneuvers can be adjudicated by DM fiat, but when you prescribe discrete mechanics it serves as an impetus for players to actually try them out, because they become “part of the game.” 

And while letting Fighters execute combat maneuvers and normal attacks at the same time may seem like a hefty bonus, I found that when you just give players the option to bring a monster closer to death or do some other thing that might or might not make it easier to kill, players would choose to just do damage nine times out of 10. So instead of making the alternatives to attacking better, just let them do both at the same time. Simple as.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

D8 Tools of the Metal Waste Scavenger

The Metal Waste is a wasteland in a literal sense, where the inscrutable refuse of a time-lost culture (advanced far beyond our own) accumulated over untold centuries. The Waste was inevitably abandoned after the civilization fell, and has since been left to the whims of time. 

As the ages passed, strata gathered atop the refuse like paint on a canvas. The land is harsh and gray, barren due to the chemical slag it covers. The only evidence of the long-buried refuse are bits of metal and glass found among the pebbly ground, and a faint charge in the air that makes your hair stand on end. 

At least that is the common story. But anyone who’s been to the Metal Waste knows that the truth is much stranger. Crooked spires and pylons protrude from the earth, hinting at the larger mysteries buried below.

Inconceivable discoveries have been made by those brave enough to venture into the wasteland’s decaying heart: beneath the strata of gray, ashen earth lie labyrinths of maddening geometry; organized structures far bigger than any known today, built by methods long lost to mankind. And hidden in these structures are said to be strange and terrible things: legions of ancient men preserved in crystal coffins, fetal stars bound in adamantine cages, and treasures whose very nature lies at odds with our understanding of the world. Of course, that is what these scavengers claim. 

Most of what is found in the Metal Waste is trash. Dangerous trash, but the danger is manageable as long as you know how to deal with chemical burns and radiation poisoning. Even trash can have its value. There’s enough scrap metal buried down there for an eager scavenger to earn a king’s ransom, and even better are the baubles and curios, always broken beyond repair, that are given new life after being deconstructed and repurposed. 

These become the tools of the scavengers, which are used to delve even deeper into the wastes and discover even more decrepit wonders. 

Each tool can be used 1d6 times a day, after which they must recalibrated the next morning. If a character is skilled with machines, their Intelligence or tinkering bonus gets applied to the 1d6 roll.

  1. Extend-o-hand: A skeletal metal hand connected to a series of thin, interlocking strips of metal that fit on the back of the forearm like a bracer. The metal strips can unfold and extend up to 10’, and the fully articulated hand can be controlled by an intricate wire system controlled by the wearer’s fingers. This increases the reach of one of your hands by up to 10’, although you can’t use it to lift heavy things or effectively use a weapon. The hand can support the weight of a fully grown man and not much more, despite repeated attempts by tinkerers and artificers to modify the design.
  2. Spring boots: Actually clockwork components that strap over regular boots. Clicking the heels together primes the mechanism, launching you 10’ into the air 10 seconds later. Leaping with the launch sends you 20’, and a running jump launches you 30’. The boots are a lot of fun to use, although many ankles have been sprained and knees dislocated by foolish scavengers who got too carried away.
  3. Glide pack: A slim backpack that can deploy two membranous, wing-shaped parachutes. The parachutes negate the first 100’ of fall damage, and allow the wearer to move 5’ horizontally for every 10’ of falling. Despite the value it has for preventing tragic falls, relatively few scavengers bring them on their excursions because they can’t wear a normal backpack with it on. Given a decision between safety and the potential for bringing home more loot, the choice for most scavengers is clear.
  4. Light belt: A thick wire belt with two luminiferous gaslights mounted on either side. Both lights together have the same illumination as a torch, and they leave your hands free. Both lights can be shuddered and adjusted to only shine forward like a hooded lantern. One usage lasts 30 minutes. Scavengers frequently decorate these by hanging small trophies and mementos found off of them.
  5. Multiform implement: A small handheld device, about the size of a deck of cards, made up of several rectangular sections. The sections can shift and unfold to reveal various tools and mechanisms, like a steampunk leatherman. Functions as thieves tools that grant a +15% (or +1 in a 1d6 system like LotFP) bonus to picking locks and disarming traps. It can also do everything a typical multitool or Swiss army knife can do. No two are exactly alike.
  6. Magnet grenade: A dark metal ball with two shiny bands crossing its surface. When triggered, it creates a pulse that draws all magnetic objects in a 30’ radius. Can only be used once a day, and has a 2-in-6 chance of irreparably breaking each time it is used. They are generally frowned upon in the Metal Waste as they can cause unintentional damage to the buried megastructures and occasionally lead to catastrophic collapses.
  7. Crowjack: A cross between a crowbar and a car jack. The wedge expands as the handle is cranked, allowing stuck doors to be opened and heavy loads to be lifted with ease. Has a 5-in-6 chance to open a stuck door, and generates no more noise than someone walking around in chainmail. On a 1, the door breaks and is unable to be closed again. Only recently invented, many older scavengers scoff at them and claim that they take some of the spirit out of exploring the ruins. 
  8. Grapple claw: A claw-like grappling hook connected to an arm-cannon by a length of thin chain. Works like a hook shot from Legend of Zelda. The claw can be shot up to 60’; if it latches to something heavier than you, it pulls you closer. Vice versa if it latches to something lighter than you. If it hits something fragile, the object will break it. The chain can also be set to raise or lower slowly, so you can use it to climb and lower yourself safely. It can support the weight of a fully equipped full grown man. These are the most coveted tools in the scavengers arsenal, but also the hardest to get ahold of.

For pricing, any one tool would go for 2d4x100 SP (silver standard) except for the grapple claw, which is twice the price. That being said, scavengers rarely sell their tools and would rather trade for something useful or valuable.

For murderhobo purposes, treat scavengers as Thieves/Specialists with 1d6 HD and two random tools, plus a 50% chance of an additional tool for each HD above 1.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Generate Everything and Die Trying

Part 1: Generate Everything

I have a vision, a dream if you will, of a campaign created fully and exclusively from rolling on random tables. And not just for the obvious stuff— I mean every detail, down to the finest grain of gameworld minutiae. 

I realize that this probably isn’t the most unique of dreams, as I’d put money on the fact that some “blogger” or “forum denizen” must have had a similar notion in the past but let me explain at you why my vision is superior in scale and scope.

The year is 2020. D&D was born into this world in the hoary past of the mid 1970s. After it’s conception, a community of enthusiasts sprung up and the popularity of the game spread. This was in part because of the agency players had to manipulate the game to their taste and create their own material. The internet was wrought upon this earth before then, but was made public in ‘93. As the popularity of the game increased, so too did the ubiquity of the web, and after the Open Game License dropped in the year 2000 entire communities of people from around the (mostly English speaking) world sprung up, dedicated to making and sharing material for D&D. By the mid 2000s there were a decent number of established D&D communities, and as the decade drew to a close brave pilgrims made their way to Blogspot. In the following decade, the OSR blogosphere popped off, G+ rose and tumbled Babylon-like, 5e came out and made D&D popular again, a bunch of other stuff happened (I mean, have you read the news?), and all the while more and more content was being written for the game. 

And what do we all know to be the essential lifeblood of homemade D&D material? What would remain if you distill the swirling nebula of D&D material into the barest, most essential unit? The random table. 

So there are near 50 years worth of random tables being written and dispersed since the hobby began, spanning veritable epochs of cultural drift. Never before has there been this many. 

When I say random tables, I mean as inclusive a definition as possible. Anything with multiple discrete results that you’re supposed to roll on. Doesn’t matter if it’s player-facing or DM-facing. If it’s a numbered list, it’s a table.

Tables for modules, for splats, for supplements. For hacks and spinoffs and homebrew. For posts, for jokes, for fun and for profit, for theorizing and figuring and showing off and shitposting and for actually being useful, or at least a little interesting. Tables for things you would use all the time. Tables you would only use once, ever. Tables for building up the basics of the game world, and tables for stuff to fill it. Tables for new rules that posit conflicting alternatives to the existing rules. Tables that wouldn’t make a lick of sense out of the context that they were created in. Tables scrawled on the backs of receipts and loose paper and lost forever. Grocery lists that are written out to kind of look like a random D&D table if you don’t look at it too hard. 

Tables are everywhere. Completely ubiquitous. You can find 50 different versions of the same kind of table if it’s on a topic that got a lot of traction. New tables, even new kinds of tables, are being created every month and have been for four decades and change. 

And I want to use them all. 

Or at least as many as I can. Let’s be realistic here.  

Here’s the point: This isn’t about using tables for all the campaign decisions that would typically be up to the DM. This is instead about using as many tables as you possibly can while maintaining at least some semblance of internal consistency. Which seems to me like a much bigger undertaking.

Here’s the real point: This is really about having an excuse to finally use all the cool, interesting tables and generators that never quite make it into your game. The things that make you think “that’s cool, maybe I’ll use it down the line,” but then inevitably you never do. There are simply too many good tables out there to use, unless you make some sort of inane concerted effort like what I am proposing.

Part 2: Die Trying

From the vast universe of D&D tables, I’m going to zoom in on a more localized area: the old-school DIY D&D community. It seems like there was an implicit joke among bloggers in the mid ‘10s to see who could come up with the most absurd random table that still had some semblance of utility. I don’t think there was actually a joke. It just seems that way. Because if you load up the blogspot of any big name blogger and check through their archive from, say, 2012-17, you’ll find tables for all kinds of bizarre stuff. All in good fun, but also with some actual utility too. Love it. 

Tables have two functions that everyone intuitively understands: the traditional function, to randomly determine an outcome from a list of possibilities, and the fun zany function, to juice for inspiration and add oddball elements to your game. The first function is largely the domain of tables you’d find in the style of the standard D&D encounter, treasure, and dungeon generation tables. The “classic” D&D table. The latter function is the domain of the independent creator, the blogger, the poster, etc. The Dungeon Dozen and the stuff the Elfmaids and Octopi blog put out are key examples of tables oriented toward the second function.

But being one to blatantly disregard guidelines (as I’m sure you, the reader, are too), it’s not hard for me to imagine the possibilities that could arise from using a table typically suited to one function for another function. That’s part of the fun of it. 

Even though tables present a list of options, their very nature you can only ever select one outcome at a time. That’s why we roll in the first place. But a table as a whole can still stand as a source of inspiration, most directly as a way to get you thinking “Man I want to use this table.” But there are countless other ways a table can inspire you.

In this way, what it means to actually “use” a table gets pretty fuzzy, definitionally speaking. If you find a list of d6 magic swords and give one to an NPC without rolling, did you actually use the table? Or were you just harvesting an entry on a list? 

I’m not here to bullshit you with sophistry, but the upshot is that in addition to the fact that there are essentially countless extant tables, there are also countless ways you can choose to implement a table into your game. I feel like this is the nut of a zen koan waiting to be made. 

Have a bunch of tables lying around but can’t find an excuse to use them? Take a bunch of them and then roll on this other table. 

  1. Roll once on d4+1 tables (or more). Use the results as the basis or theme of the next adventure.

  2. Use 2 or more tables next session. Invent whatever circumstances are required to justify their use, and alter any details as necessary.

  3. Roll on af table and build a monster out of the result. It’s HD is equal to its place on the table. Its intelligence is roughly proportional to the number of words of the result—more words means higher intelligence. One word (or less) means the creature is mindless, whereas a full sentence or two is equivalent to human intelligence. If the result is beneficial/creative/intriguing, the creature is Lawful. If the result is negative/lazy/boring, the creature is Chaotic. If you feel indifferent either way or if the result could fall in either category, the creature is neutral. (If you’re rolling on a random encounter table, just make up a new monster conceptually similar to the original result).

  4. Use a table for something other than its intended purpose next session. 

  5. The next time you need to roll on a table, roll on a random one from your collection. It's up to you to make sense of the result.

  6. Take two tables and swap around some of the results. Use them a few times next time you’re planning an adventure.

  7. Select one table at random. This table is now a book or artifact that several powerful NPCs are desperate to get their hands on. Why?

  8. Turn a table into a sort of meta statement about the nature of imaginative design and proudly show it off to your friends/players/family/coworkers/people on the street.