Burnt Offerings, Part 7

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Within is a larger goblin, better dressed and with a pet giant lizard, being entertained by a goblin bard and three goblin commandos. He quickly tries to get the group to parley, inviting Haggor (the least armored and, theoretically, the most vulnerable) closer to talk. Haggor and the goblin chief spring their attacks at the same time. The chief takes a swipe at Haggor and then charges across the room on his mount towards Taeva. The commandos take aim at Haggor only to have one of three successful attacks contemptuously flicked away by the monk. The bard begins a rousing tune and then does her best to run away.

Taeva takes a swipe at the chief’s lizard mount, but has her attack negated by his superior riding skill… for all the good it does him as Haggor jogs across the room and begins crushing him to death. Veshenga impales the lizard that Taeva missed, and Balekh strides across the room to draw fire. And draw fire he does, as the commandos move to attack him, getting a few hits in and making room for the bard to flee. The chief struggles for freedom, but remains trapped. Taeva and Haggor decide not to take another prisoner, and he holds the chief while Taeva vivisects him from beneath with her twin swords. Balekh then smashes a commando to death with his staff, Veshenga staples the second to the door of the chief’s bedroom through an eyesocket, and Haggor drops the dead chief to crush the third’s head through the wall. The bard, meanwhile, rushes out and away, flicking off the bound druid as she goes.

Doused in goblin blood, the party cleans up and begins piling loot in the middle of the room. After thoroughly searching the bodies and the chief’s bedroom, they make a search of the remainder of the fort. Cautiously examining the courtyard, they find two goblin bodies trampled to death in front of an outbuilding. Throwing caution to the wind, Haggor rips the nailed-shut door open, revealing a starved but majestic looking warhorse. Veshenga manages to calm the rearing beast, and Taeva gathers food for it from a previously uncovered storage closet.

The horse taken care of (and identified by his bridle as “Shadowmist”), Taeva and Balekh explore the last hallway. Besides an empty room and another stairway down, they notice that the latrine doesn’t take up as much room as it should based on the dimensions of the other walls. Allowing Haggor to do the honors, they dive aside as he batters down the crudely constructed wall and reveals an old sea chest. Taeva disables its old, rusted trap and opens the trunk, revealing thousands of coins and other loot. They stash it in the outbuilding with Shadowmist, leave him plenty of food, and prepare to explore the dungeon below.

Tarrasque Hold’em (Yet another card-based game system idea)

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Originally posted December 2008

This idea is meant primarily for games like D&D 3e that expect PCs to have a quantifiable average challenge to party resource ratio. That is, the party will generally be able to be successful in X encounters of Y difficulty per day. It uses Poker card hands and a variation of the Texas Hold’em flop method to create drama, while largely free-forming the actual rules.

At the start of each game day, each player draws randomly from a standard 52-pack of cards, being dealt, face-down, one card for each average challenge the party is expected to overcome in a day (e.g., four cards if the average fight is supposed to consume about a quarter of the party’s resources). Adjust accordingly for more or less than five players.

These cards represent an abstracted idea of the player character’s potential. While they drive the actual impact on encounters, players and GM should strive to describe the actions taken in line with the character’s actual stats (e.g., a high-level mage playing a high card might cast a fireball, while a rogue would be backstabbing up a storm).

For each encounter, the GM draws five cards from the remaining deck and plays them in a line, face down. The number of cards played is adjusted based on the threat of an encounter (e.g., a party of seventh level characters facing a fifth level challenge would only face three cards, while the same party facing a level eight challenge would face six).

For each exchange of the combat (which might encompass multiple rounds, and is, instead, a measure of dramatic give and take), the GM flips over one of the cards. The players must then consult amongst one another and choose one of them to play a single card to add to the party’s hand. The group then determines whether the GM’s or party’s hand is superior (this will likely be a matter of high card or pairs for the first few exchanges).

If the GM’s hand is higher, he gets to describe the slow erosion of the party’s fighting stamina, or how the party is being pushed into a dangerous situation. If the party’s hand is higher, the player that just played the new card gets to describe the awesome stuff that her character did that round to bring the party ahead.

Once all of the GM’s cards are played, a final tally is made of success or failure for the party, based on the best hand that can be constructed by either side. If the party’s hand is better, they win, with a final description of how they were awesome by the last player to play a card. If the GM’s hand is better, he gets to describe their loss (which may be having to flee, being captured, or having one or more characters die depending on the gravity of the situation).

Over the course of a day, the players should be able to judge what is left in the GM’s deck based on their own cards and what has already been played. They should also have to judge whether to use up their good cards early, or risk setbacks to save good cards for later. They could even get the sense that “today is an off day” if none of them have very good cards (of course, it’s hard to have nothing that can make a good poker hand with nearly half the deck to choose from).

This system should serve to create drama, rising and falling action, and a fair rules framework, while still vastly simplifying conflict in an RPG. It is reliant on players having a fair assessment of their capabilities based on stats, but not minding much that they’re largely decorative.

Burnt Offerings, Part 6

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Goblin Teenagers at Camp Thistletop

The party, satisfied at having cleared the thicket, regroups at the rope bridge across to the island proper. Cautiously proceeding across the bridge, the group expects but encounters no resistance. Taeva crosses last, and notes that the bridge supports on the far side were designed to buckle and drop the bridge and all its occupants if too much more weight than a group of goblins tried to cross. She ties down the quick-release trigger, making the bridge far more stable, and keeps it in mind if a hasty escape is needed.

After a brief discussion over the morality of bringing along a goblin shield, and whether they can trust him to take his friends and leave, the group ultimately binds, gags, and blindfolds the captive goblin druid and leaves him near the edge of the island cliff to be recovered later. While the group thinks they hear goblins on the far side of the island, opposite the poorly constructed goblin fort, they don’t notice any immediate threats, even on the two guard towers. Even the large front door of the flotsam stronghold is ajar. The party proceeds inside quietly.

Within is what appears to be some kind of trophy room, the walls adorned with pelts of various dogs, horses, and even a pair of large leathery wings. Taeva sneaks down the rightmost hallway and soon notices snoring in what must be a goblin barracks. Gesturing to Haggor to initiate the fight, he kicks in the door and assaults the half dozen sleeping goblins. The first is crushed to death and thrown as a lethal missile at the second, the next two fall to a flurry of blows, and the final pair is also taken out without a scratch to Haggor (though one does manage to scream for help). Within moments, a pair of goblin commandos that had been playing cards at the top of the guard tower charge down the stairs only to find a hallway full of enemies. The first is impaled by Veshenga’s arrows and Taeva’s swords as he stares dumbly through the door. The second is quickly put down by a tumbling Haggor. With eight goblins put down in about half a minute, the party doesn’t hear any other sounds of alarm.

Climbing up the now vacated guard tower, the party gets a good view of a group of goblins and goblin dogs playing a cruel game with a seagull on the opposite side of the island. Veshenga, Taeva, and Balekh decide to see who can take out the most, and begin raining arrows and crossbow bolts down upon the unaware sporting team. Haggor decides to check on the other guard tower while they play with their victims. Before they notice what’s going on, nearly half of the goblins and their pets are dead, with only a single goblin rushing to the other tower to bang out an alarm. Unfortunately, just as a pair of pickle-thieving guards are waking from their ill-advised nap, Haggor pops up between them. One is flung bodily off the tower and manages to skip off the edge of the island and into the surf below. The other is picked up and dropped thirty feet onto the other screaming goblin, crushing both into a goblin paste. Balekh is just rushing out to deal with the last, fleeing goblin dog, and begins to square off with it as Haggor jumps and tumbles down the wall of the tower, smashing the dog with a falling elbow drop.

What could barely be called a combat over, the two men look over the edge of the cliff and note that the first goblin has already sunk into the surf. Haggor kicks a few more bodies into the sea, and notes that they are grabbed and pulled beneath the water, likely by whatever creature inhabited the sea cave beneath the thicket. Deciding not to worry about it for now, the group joins back up and takes the central route down the stronghold, kicking in a large door.

D&D Lite

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Originally posted October 2008

I got bored yesterday, and started to put together an unholy hybrid of D&D 3rd and 4th edition, Fate 2 and 3, Mass Effect, and the LARP system we were working on. The ultimate goal is to feel like D&D but be as easy to run as Fate, while being simple to convert when running 3rd edition modules.


Each statistic equals the total number of talents within the statistic. A character cannot have more talents within a statistic than his or her level+2.

New talents cost the character’s current level x 500 exp. Characters can always buy basic level talents, but must have at least two instances of a basic talent to buy the advanced talent linked to it (e.g., a character cannot buy the Defend talent Aegis until he or she has at least two instances of the Armored talent).

A character can choose to increase his or her level with a brief training session whenever at least one statistic is at least equal to the current level.

Characters gain a new skill rank each level. Characters gain a new craft rank every three levels. Skills and crafts must form a pyramid (a character cannot have a rank 2 skill without at least one other skill at rank 1, a character cannot have a rank 3 skill without at least one other skill at rank 2 and one at rank 1, etc.).

Characters are automatically proficient with light armor of up to rating 2 and simple ranged and melee weapons. Talents improve these proficiencies.

Starting characters have five talents, two feats, one apprentice craft, and three basic skills (or one intermediate skill and one basic skill).



The Defend statistic represents a character’s ability to avoid blows, move quickly, and roll with attacks to reduce their effect. Many that train in Defend become tougher, as well.

  • Armored: Increase the armor level you are proficient with by +1.
    • Aegis: If you still have armor levels remaining, a 6+ wound fills all your remaining armor levels instead of automatically incapacitating you.
  • Dive: At will, as an attack interrupt, increase your defense by 2 by going prone (requiring you to use a move to stand on your next turn).
  • Evasion: Add +1 to Defend vs. AoE attacks.
  • Intercept: At will, as a damage interrupt, treat an attack against an adjacent ally (from an attacker that could have attacked you) as if it had been an attack against you.
  • Mobility: Add +1 square of speed when in combat.
    • Dash: Once per fight, double your movement rate for one turn.
  • Rally: Once per fight, remove your least wound.
    • Revive: Once per fight, remove your greatest wound.
  • Riposte: Once per fight, gain +2 to attack an enemy that attacked you since your last turn.
    • Revenge: Once per fight, immediately deal an identical wound level to an enemy that just hit you in melee.
  • Rock: Once per fight, a wound rolls down instead of up.
    • Roll: Once per fight, a wound does not roll at all.
  • Shift: Once per fight, ignore movement penalties from moving past enemies.
    • Slide: Once per fight, move one square when an enemy moves adjacent to you.
  • Toughening: Add +1 wound level. Extra wound levels progress like armor (e.g., the first extra wound level is an Incapacitated, the second is a Crippled, etc.)
    • Immunity: Once per fight, add one to each wound level as extra armor. These levels disappear on your next turn, but any damage in them disappears as well.


The Strike statistic represents a character’s ability to land telling blows on an opponent, both in melee and at range. Most characters use melee or ranged weapons to use Strike attacks, but mystical characters can manifest their ranged attacks as arcane or divine blasts.

  • Double strike: Once per fight, you can attack two enemies that are within your range and adjacent to one another. Make one attack, and compare the result to both targets’ defenses to find the result.
    • Cleave: Once per fight, if an attack incapacitates your target, apply the attack result as an attack to an adjacent target that is also within your range.
  • Dual Wield: Once per fight, when wielding two weapons, you can make two attacks against one target (one attack with each weapon).
    • Florentine: When wielding two weapons, you may treat the offhand weapon as a shield.
  • Hit and Run: Once per fight, after an attack, you may move a number of squares equal to the amount your attack exceeded the target’s defense.
    • Charge: At will, you may attack a target within your basic movement rate (counting movement through threatened spaces normally) at a penalty equal to the number of squares moved.
  • Knockback: Once per fight, instead of attacking for damage, you may declare that you are attacking to force your opponent back. You can force the target to move a number of squares away from you equal to the difference between your attack and the target’s defense. The target can be knocked into hazards, traps, or falls (but may receive an Athletics check to catch himself at the edge).
    • Tide of Iron: At will, you may make a Knockback attack. Unlike the normal Knockback, you must use your move action to follow the target, remaining the same distance away. The target cannot be pushed into a hazard, trap, or fall.
  • Martial Arts: Treat unarmed and improvised attacks as simple weapons (i.e., roll 1d6 for attack instead of the lowest of 2d6).
  • Melee Critical: Once per fight, declare a melee attack an automatic 6 instead of rolling.
    • Melee Training: Increase your melee weapon proficiency by one level (from simple to military, or from military to superior).
  • Ranged Critical: Once per fight, declare a ranged attack an automatic 6 instead of rolling.
    • Ranged Training: Increase your ranged weapon proficiency by one level (from simple to military, or from military to superior).
  • Sneak Attack: Once per fight, against a target that is unaware of the character or threatened by another ally, make an attack at +1.
    • Twist the Knife: Whenever a Sneak Attack is successful, the character deals an additional wound of the same level to the target.


The Lead statistic represents a character’s ability to direct and support his or her party. The actual capabilities granted are determined by talents within this statistic, but even without talents, a strong leader is a morale boost to his companions: adjacent allies use the character’s Lead statistic as their own when resisting debuffs.

  • Armor of Authority: Once per fight, as a normal action, you or an adjacent ally may use your Lead statistic instead of Defend to resist all attacks until your next turn.
    • Iron Will: The target of your Armor of Authority also gains an additional armor rating equal to your Lead rating.
  • Bolster: Once per fight, you may use your normal action to heal an ally within line of site (or yourself) of his or her least wound.
    • Brink of Death: Once per fight, you may use your normal action to revive a character that was struck unconscious since your last turn. The target heals his or her greatest wound.
  • Inspiring Presence: For each instance of this talent, the area that is considered adjacent to you (for purposes of resisting debuffs and other Lead talents) increases by one square radius.
    • Bulwark: Once per fight, as a move action, any squares that are adjacent to you for the purposes of Lead are also adjacent to you for the purposes of reducing enemy movement (i.e., threatening). This protection stays in effect until you move again (or are forced to move).
  • Leader’s Standard: Once per fight, the character may add +1 to a statistic and +3 to a skill until his or her next turn. This statistic and skill must be chosen when this talent is purchased, and represents the character’s deity or lord.
    • Channel Authority: At will, the character may expend a use of Leader’s Standard to strike fear into the hearts of a group opposed to the character’s deity or lord. Make an AoE attack (and the character can charge the AoE normally) using the character’s Lead statistic instead of Control. Treat the results of the AoE as a debuff rather than damage.
  • Shield of Faith: Once per fight, as a move action, automatically cancel a debuff that is afflicting an adjacent ally or yourself.
    • Sanctuary: Once per fight, as a normal action, automatically cancel all debuffs that are afflicting all adjacent allies and yourself .
  • Strike True: Once per fight, make an attack against the target using Lead instead of Strike. Instead of dealing damage, your margin of success on the attack is a bonus to an adjacent ally’s weapon (as if it were magic, or of increased magic) for his or her next attack.
    • Lead the Attack: Once per fight, make an attack against the target using Lead instead of Strike. Instead of dealing damage, your margin of success on the attack is a bonus to the next attack of all adjacent allies using the same method of attack as you (ranged or melee).
  • Transposition: Once per fight, as a move action, you may switch spaces with an adjacent ally.
    • Direct the Fray: At will, as a move action, you may give an ally in line of sight additional combat movement to overcome threatened spaces and difficult terrain. The ally may move your combat movement in additional squares, but cannot move more total squares than his or her own movement rate.


The Control statistic represents a character’s ability to control the battlefield by distracting the enemy and damaging multiple foes. Characters can use Control with magic or any other explanation for how they are hindering foes and affecting an entire area.

  • Burst: Once per fight, your AoE describes a point-blank burst around you, with its size indicating distance in all directions (e.g., a 2×2 AoE becomes a 5×5 AoE with you in the center).
    • Hedge: Once per fight, you can cause an AoE to ignore friendly targets within its area.
  • Domination: Once per fight, you may make a debuff attack instead of a normal attack against the targets of your AoE.
    • Confusion: Once per fight, as an attack interrupt, a target you have successfully debuffed attacks one of his or her allies in range instead of one of your allies.
  • Dragonbreath: Once per fight, you may make an AoE attack that fills a straight line of squares with a length equal to the total area the AoE would normally fill. One end of the line must be adjacent to you.
    • Wall: When you use Dragonbreath, the end of the line does not need to be adjacent to you, only part of it.
  • Explosion: Once per fight, any targets wounded by your AoE are also pushed one square away from the center of the effect.
    • Vortex: Once per fight, any targets wounded by your AoE are also pulled one square closer to the center of the effect.
  • Frequency: Once per fight, you may adjust the energy or method of an AoE to an enemy whose weakness you are aware of. You attack at +1 against the enemy type targeted.
    • Pierce: Once per fight, you may cause an AoE attack to ignore physical armor.
  • Reach: Once per fight, as a ranged attack, you may make an AoE attack as if a distant square was adjacent to you. You may move the origin of your AoE a number of squares away equal to your Control rating.
    • Innate Reach: For each instance of this talent, you may automatically extend any AoE attack, as a ranged attack, one additional square (e.g., with one instance of this talent you may anchor your AoE two squares from you).
  • Zone: Once per fight, your AoE has a persistent effect on the targeted area, making it difficult terrain for the remainder of the fight.
    • Storm: When you create a Zone, you may spend your normal action each turn to renew the original AoE attack, targeting all individuals in the Zone with an attack equal to your original roll. If you cease to use this every round subsequent to the original attack, you can no longer maintain the effect.


Skills are useful abilities that anyone might possess but which adventurers rely on constantly. Skills have multiple levels:

  • Basic (+3)
  • Intermediate (+6)
  • Advanced (+9)
  • Mastery (+12)

Truly experienced characters may progress even further in their skills.


Academics is used when a character wishes to recall information from studies of the arcane, historic, religious, or other fields that makes sense for his or her background. Typically, the DC for useful information about a subject is equal to its level; a roll 3 lower than the target points the characters in the right direction, while a roll 3 higher than the target gives detailed information about the topic.

DC Challenge
3 Know something everyone knows
6 Know something commonly available but not commonly taught
9 Know something requiring extensive study
12 Know something limited to true scholars
15 Know something that’s a secret to all but a few


Athletics is used when a character wishes to climb, jump, swim, run, balance, or tumble.

DC Challenge
3 Run on an uneven floor, climb a ladder quickly, long jump 1 square
6 Run on a slippery floor, climb a knotted rope or easy wall quickly, swim in rough water
9 Run on ice, climb a rope or hard wall quickly, long jump half your combat move, reduce a fall by 10 feet
12 Climb a very hard wall quickly, swim in icy water
15 Climb on a ceiling, long jump your full combat move, reduce a fall by 20 feet


Heal is used to treat injuries and long-term disabilities. A wound’s Heal DC is equal to its rank (e.g., 5 for Incapacitated) plus the subject’s level. It takes a normal action to attempt to heal a wound: the target heals the worst wound that the healer successfully treated (e.g., if the healer rolled 5 against a level 1 target, the worst wound of Crippled or less would be healed). The level of the target serves a shorthand for the kind of attack that could wound such a character; wounds a lesser healer could easily treat are often simply ignored by a higher level character. Healers can also treat long-term ailments.

DC Challenge
3 A common toxin or illness
6 A serious toxin or illness
9 A designer toxin or virulent illness
12 A terrible venom or plague
15 A bane that few have ever survived


Perception is used to notice sneaking enemies. It can also allow the character to make out details too distant or too precise for normal people to notice.

DC Challenge
3 Hear whispers in your ear and read small print at arm’s length
6 Hear whispers five feet away and make out small details across the room
9 Hear whispers across a quiet room and identify a face across a battlefield
12 Hear nearby whispers through noise and track a falcon on a cloudy day
15 Hear whispers that should be impossible and track an enemy’s progress from miles away


Social is used to set the tone of a negotiation or conversation, typically as a contested roll with circumstance bonuses. In diplomacy, the winner can demand more of the loser. In a bluff, fast talk, or seduction, the winner can make an untruth seem plausible or out a single lie as the falsehood it is. Additionally, if the character’s Social is higher than his or her Debuff, he or she rolls 2d6 and keeps the highest when using taunts or intimidation to make Debuff attempts.

DC Challenge
3 Pass a white lie, get help from a friend, or stare down a peasant
6 Hide a single fact, get help from an acquaintance, or warn off a guard
9 Spin a web of lies, get help from a stranger, or make a knight afraid
12 Sell a mark on a dream, get help from a rival, or scare off a noble
15 Get someone killed, get help from an enemy, or give pause to a dragon


Stealth is used to hide, move silently, and tail targets without being noticed. This is typically done as a contested roll against a target’s Perception+4 (see Combat, below). Sometimes, stealth might be used to get a general idea of how noticeable a character is, or to maintain a disguise.

DC Challenge
3 Blend in with a crowd of the same race
6 Hide in the dark or thick woods
9 Blend in with a crowd of another race
12 Hide in broad daylight with a bit of camouflage
15 Avoid notice by standing behind the target at all times


Survival is used for tests of a character’s resourcefulness in both the wilderness and the urban jungle. It is used to know things about the terrain and environment, forage for food and scavenge for items, and to track targets. Sometimes, Survival will be used in contest with a target’s Stealth or Survival.

DC Challenge
3 Thrive in a garden or track a mammoth in the snow
6 Thrive in the forest or track a lizard on the sand
9 Thrive in the winter or track a deer through the woods
12 Thrive in a scrubland or track a goat across a mountain
15 Thrive in the desert or track a thief along a city street


Thievery is used for tests of guile and mechanical aptitude. When used to perform sleights of hand or to pick pockets, it is typically used opposed to the target’s Perception. When used to pick locks or disable traps and other devices, the difficulty depends on the complexity and danger of the device.

DC Challenge
3 Disable a simple trap or open a stuck door
6 Disable a tricky trap or pick a very simple lock
9 Disable a difficult trap or pick an average lock
12 Disable a wicked trap or pick a good lock
15 Disable a fiendish trap or pick an amazing lock


Crafts represent trades and professions a character might practice for money or to handle life’s little problems. Crafts typically have four ranks:

  • Apprentice (+3)
  • Journeyman (+6)
  • Master (+9)
  • Grandmaster (+12)

Characters may use crafts to create goods or earn money in play or downtime. Common crafts include:

  • Alchemist
  • Bowyer
  • Brewer
  • Carpenter
  • Engineer
  • Leatherworker
  • Locksmith
  • Lumberjack
  • Miner
  • Musician
  • Orator
  • Painter
  • Potter
  • Sailor
  • Scribe
  • Shipmaker
  • Singer
  • Smith
  • Stonemason
  • Tanner
  • Trapmaker
  • Weaver
  • Woodworker


Initiative and Surprise

If one group is trying to sneak up on another, as soon as they are within perception range, the sneaking group rolls Stealth plus applicable modifiers vs. the highest Perception+4 in the targeted group. This roll may be repeated once per round if the group moves closer but does not immediately attack. As soon as they are noticed, combat begins and the sneaking group acts first (in some cases, the sneaking group may lose initiative if they do not realize they have been spotted). Depending on the light, terrain, and state of the target group, combat may automatically begin at a certain point, forcing the attacking group to use combat movement to reach their targets.

If neither or both was surprised, initiative is determined with a coin toss or other 50/50 method.

No matter which group won initiative, after the first group acts, the second group acts, then the first group, and so on until the combat ends.

A group decides the order in which its members act. For player characters, this order can be based on player tactics, or simply proceed around the table.

Players can choose to forgo an action, but cannot hold or ready an action.

Movement and Actions

In combat, each turn characters receive a move action and a normal action. The character can forgo the normal action in order to take two move actions.

Move Actions

Most characters can move up to six squares (30’) with each move action; this is the character’s speed rating. Talents, race, and other abilities and conditions may modify this number. If the character uses two move actions, he or she may move double this speed as a double move. Diagonal moves cost the same as orthogonal moves, and a character can move diagonally around corners.

Enemies are considered to “threaten” squares to which they are adjacent. The first threatened square a character enters in a turn does not cost extra. Each additional threatened square through which the character passes costs 1 extra square of movement for each threatening enemy, and the character cannot enter squares that would cost more movement than he or she has remaining.

A character can move through an ally’s square but cannot end in it. A character can move through an enemy’s square with a successful Athletics check against the enemy’s Strike+4; this counts as moving through a threatened space.

Difficult terrain and barriers may require additional squares of movement (and Athletics checks) to traverse.

Some other miscellaneous actions may require a character’s move action.

Normal Actions

A character can use a normal action to make an attack (or multiple attacks with certain talents). Additionally, certain complex skill uses may require the character’s normal action.


Melee and Ranged attacks: If the character is wielding an appropriate weapon, he or she rolls 1d6+Strike against the target’s Defend+4. If the attack equals or exceeds the target number, it is a successful hit. See Damage, below.

Area of Effect attacks: By default, an AoE’s area must include at least one square adjacent to the character. Before making an AoE attack, the character can spend one or more normal actions (up to his or her Control) to increase the size of the AoE by 1 step per additional action spent. An AoE’s area is 1×1 squares (2×2 after one extra action, 3×3 after two, etc.), and affects all squares in this area unless modified by another ability. The character rolls 1d6+Control and compares this number to the Defend+4 of all targets within the area in order to calculate damage. See Damage, below.

Debuff attacks: A debuff is an attack made to weaken or distract a target. It can represent mystical curses, grappling, pinning down a target, or plain, old-fashioned insults and taunts; the type of attack determines the targets available and the weapon used. The character makes a roll of 1d6+Control against the target’s Lead+4 (or the target’s ally’s Lead; see Lead, above). If successful, the character chooses a statistic or skill. The target reduces his or her skill by the margin of success until the character’s next turn. A character can choose to expend a normal action to maintain a successful debuff in subsequent rounds, rather than rolling again, as long as the conditions that allowed the debuff are still in place.

Unarmed and Improvised attacks: When caught without a weapon, a character may punch and kick, swing or throw pottery and rocks, and, if a mystic, manifest unfocused magical energy. These are treated as ordinary melee or ranged attacks, but instead of rolling 1d6, the character rolls 2d6 and keeps the lowest die.


Characters have one level in each category (more with Defend talents). When an attack hits successfully, it deals a wound to the category equal to the amount the attack exceeded the defense. If there are no more wounds remaining at that level, it rolls into the next higher category that still has a wound level available. When the character has no more wounds in the Incapacitated category, or takes a wound that succeeds by 6+, he or she is knocked unconscious.

Armor provides extra wound levels that are the first lost to damage. Armor levels count from the bottom and wrap if they provide more than six points (e.g., Armor rating 3 adds an extra wound to the Maimed, Crippled, and Incapacitated levels while Armor rating 7 adds two extra wounds to Incapacitated, and an extra wound to all other levels).

All weapons do one wound level on a successful attack. When wielded by a trained user, military weapons roll 2d6 for attack (with either Strike or Control), and keep the best result from the two dice. When wielded by a trained user, superior weapons roll 3d6 for attack (again, with either Strike or Control), and keep the best result from the three dice.

When a character is wearing magic armor, he or she cannot be harmed by lesser weapons. Count simple weapons as 1, military weapons as 2, and superior weapons as 3, and then add the weapon’s magic bonus. If the total does not equal or exceed the armor’s magic level, the attack can only harm the character if it rolls 6+.

When a character is wielding a magic weapon, he or she bypasses lesser armor. Add the armor level to its magic bonus. If the total does not equal or exceed the weapon’s magic level, all damage from the weapon ignores the target’s armor and armor-related talents (such as Aegis).

Damage Track:
0 Scratched
1 Bruised
2 Hurt
3 Maimed
4 Crippled
5 Incapacitated


Simple Melee Weapons
  • Farming and Hunting Implements (Light Flail, Javelin, Scythe, Sickle, Spear, Wood Axe)
  • Light Blunts (Club, Mace, Quarterstaff)
  • Short Blades (Dagger, Long Knife, Shortsword)
Military Melee Weapons
  • Axes (Battleaxe, Greataxe, Handaxe, War pick)
  • Heavy Blunts (Heavy Flail, Maul, Morningstar, Warhammer)
  • Polearms (Glaive, Halberd, Longspear)
  • Swords (Bastard Sword, Falchion, Greatsword, Longsword, Rapier, Scimitar)
Superior Melee Weapons
  • Exotic (Spiked Chain)
  • Racial (Dwarven Urgosh)
Simple Ranged Weapons
  • Hunting Implements (Sling, Slingshot, Light bow, Thrown blade)
  • Initiate Mystical Tools (Orb, Symbol, Tome, Wand)
  • Mechanical Bows (Crossbow, Hand Crossbow)
Military Ranged Weapons
  • Adept Mystical Tools (Rod)
  • Martial Bows (Longbow, Shortbow)
Superior Ranged Weapons
  • Greatbows (Daikyu)
  • Master Mystical Tools (Staff)


Characters wearing larger armor than they are proficient with reduce their effective Defend score by the difference between armor rating and proficiency rating.

  • Layered cloth
  • Padded cloth or Flexible leather
  • Boiled leather or Flexible hide
  • Boiled hide or Light chain
  • Full chain or Brigantine
  • Ringmail or Scale
  • Banded mail or Breastplate
  • Full plate or Dragonscale

A character wielding a shield gains one extra Incapacitated level as armor. Any character may use a shield. This wound is filled before armor, and indicates the shield has been breached. The shield can subsequently be dropped and the filled wound level removed with no penalty: if the character re-equips an unbreached shield, a new and unfilled armor level is added.

Burnt Offerings, Part 5

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In the weeds

With help from Balekh’s healing skills, Haggor is up and around, if still stiff, within a few days of his overdose of paralytic toxin. The group sells off loot, trains, and heals over the next week or two. Eventually, Sheriff Hemlock returns with a dozen green soldiers from Magnimar (all the help they were willing to lend), and has his day even further ruined as the party explains what’s been going on in his absence.

Now that he’s back to guard the town, the party decides to pursue the root of the problem at Thistletop. The Nettlewood is only a couple hours’ walk up the coast road, and Veshenga leads them on a slow but safe path towards the known location of the goblin base. When they arrive almost to their goal, the natural thistle of the forest seems to have been grown up into a defensive maze. Haggor easily finds an obscured entry into tunnels cut in the thorns, but despairs to find out that the ceiling is only goblin size, which will make fighting within difficult for anyone but the gnome.

Therefore, Taeva goes in to scout, stealthily mapping part of the tunnels, noting a strange pit in the ground of an open area, passing what appears to be a makeshift kennel for goblin dogs, and stumbling upon a firepelt cougar in the next “room” of the maze. Unfortunately, the cougar is a little less oblivious than the dogs, and harries Taeva in a desperate run back to the entrance, pulling the dogs along with her.

In a furious battle at the entryway to the maze, Haggor holds the line against the cougar as the dogs leap and bound overhead, using their deformed but powerful back legs to fly over his head and land amidst the party. While this tactic does save them from helpless barking while picked off with arrows, it tends to land them in between the rogue and the monk, and they are quickly dispatched but not without getting in a few hits of their own. The last of the beasts falls, and the party decides that it’s no longer safe to send the slow-moving rogue ahead if more things are likely to chase her.

Checking the kennel, they find evidence that there were more goblin dogs here originally than the four that attacked them, suggesting that there are more on patrol within the dungeon proper. Attempting to also search the cougar’s room, they are too loud and alert the animal’s druid master. Before the party has much time to react, they are fighting off entangling vines and facing a serious-looking goblin with a fiery sword.

Unfortunately for the goblin, his entangle has little effect, as Taeva moves forward to pincushion him, Veshenga easily puts two arrows into very important parts of his anatomy, and Haggor not only rips free of the entangling vines but cartwheels over his head to flank. Already looking ragged, the goblin steps back into the thorns, which part around him. Unfortunately, beaten up and facing two warriors, he cannot risk moving too far or too quickly, and he misses with a wild swing after considering the risk of trying to heal himself on the defensive.

And that is pretty much the end for the goblin, as Haggor easily grabs him and yanks him out of the thistle for Taeva to stick his vulnerable spots. After the first sword goes in, the goblin pitifully calls for mercy… so Taeva reverses her thrust and bonks him with the hilt of the sword. Not quite unconscious, Haggor gives him a little squeeze.

While he’s out, the party wastes no time looting his body and identifying his many potions, magic leather armor, and cloak of resistance. When he wakes, he’s tied up. Amidst an ongoing catfight with the goblin-hating gnome, the druid reveals that he’s unhappy with the way his tribe has been behaving of late, which is due to the arrival of Nualia and her bodyguards (including the bugbear ranger Bruthazmus that they’ve heard of before). He claims the chief has fallen in love with her or something, and that is why the goblins have been making such dangerous attacks on the humans. He also mentions refugees from the Birdcruncher tribe that have been hanging out in the thicket and periodically being sacrificed to the hole or by Nualia.

Unfortunately, the plan to convert the refugees to their side fails quickly; the 10 goblins in the refugee camp seem to be more interested in killing the heroes to get back in favor than in siding with the longshanks. However, the party puts on a strong showing, and the goblins in a moment of clarity realize that they’re penned in against a superior force. They beat it out the back door, racing out down the coast to greener, safer pastures. The party only picks off three before the rest escape. The party then reconvenes to head towards the rope bridge that leads to Thistletop proper.

Unarmored Casters

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Originally posted October 2008

I had this idea for a magic/psychic damage system while playing Mass Effect tonight and thinking about how to differentiate all the Roman numerated weapons where the rating doesn’t seem to matter much. As a side effect, any setting that uses it has an easy time explaining why casters don’t just run around with plate and broadswords. On the downside, it may be somewhat unwieldy for tabletop play, as it uses a chart and multipliers.

The basic idea is as follows (and you can substitute psionics or some such for magic in a space opera setting):

  • Magical armors, magical weapons, and pure magic attacks and defenses are rated on a more or less traditional scale: +1 through +10.
  • The magical number does not add directly to damage/resistance. Instead, the attacker’s magic number is divided by the defender’s magic number to serve as a multiplier for damage. For example, an attacker with a level 4 weapon does double damage against a defender with level 2 armor. Conversely, an attacker with a level 2 weapon does half damage against a defender with level 4 armor.
  • Besides being expensive, wearing magic armor and using magic weapons is hazardous to the wielder. Each swing of a weapon or hit taken while wearing armor unleashes a surge of raw mystic force into the bearer: powerful items emit coronal displays with each swing or impact. The bearer takes damage proportional to the magic rating (e.g., 5 damage per swing with a +5 sword, 3 damage per impact when wearing +3 armor).
  • Characters can inure themselves to this effect by building up a magical tolerance (functionally equating to character level). A character with tolerance 4 could use +4 or lesser items with no difficulty, the magic rolling off his or her back, but would still receive damage from +5 or greater items (though less than an intolerant bearer).
  • Magic users themselves would find their spells limited or even crippled by developing a tolerance to magic. Thus, they constantly find themselves being shocked by even the weakest of items, as their systems eagerly absorb the raw energy.
  • Thus, mighty warriors bear blades of singing magic and armor girded by mystical runes, but true magicians must rely on spells to approximate such attacks and defenses without the feedback effect.

Burnt Offerings, Part 4

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Dungeon Crawling for Great Justice

The town of Sandpoint is in an uproar after the murder of one of its chief citizens by his own son, and the revelation of an impending attack. As the party trains and sorts out the spoils from its recent adventures, Ameiko tries to sort out the glass business that has fallen to her. When the sheriff shows no sign of returning soon, the heroes of Sandpoint decide that they need to clear the worrisome dungeon beneath the town before it disgorges its promised attack.

Descending into the smugglers tunnels beneath the town, they enter an ancient section, formerly blocked off. It was clearly a much older ruin, likely Thassilonian, and is in surprisingly good repair for the thousands of years it must have rested. Before they have even entered the dungeon proper, a strange guardian beast creeps from a cave, obviously waiting for intruders. The horribly warped but vaguely man-shaped thing attempts to devour Taeva, but is quickly dispatched.

The party follows the tunnel, passing up one side passage and then entering what appears to be an old antechamber. A statue of a beautiful but enraged woman wields a wicked-looking polearm. The weapon or statue does not seem magical to Balekh’s divinations, but the entire dungeon is obviously full of magics, including a significant helping of Transmutation. They cautiously take the door to the north, and surprise two more of the guardian creatures in a run-down prison room. These guardians also fall quickly, as they were surprised in their own bickering.

The prison leads to a flight of stairs, and the party proceeds quietly and cautiously, emerging into a large room with a terribly deformed goblin moaning over a series of covered, groaning pits. Stealthing into the room, they assassinate the broken creature before it can act, and then set to destroying the zombies within the holes. Inspection of the dead mutant leads Balekh to believe that this was the goblin hero Koruvus that had disappeared into the tunnels beneath Sandpoint. He even had his famed magical longsword.

Further travel leads the party to a set of blocked stairs and a strange spherical room that appears to have no gravity: a parcel of strange items float in the middle of the room as angry words in Thassilonian script flicker around the walls. The party carefully retrieves the items that seem valuable in here, then head back to the antechamber with the woman’s statue.

Proceeding south, the party finds an old, destroyed storeroom, then enters what appears to be the altar of an evil church. Unholy water sits upon the altar, and Balekh is certain that this is a shrine to Lamashtu, mother of monsters. Likely drinking the water is what mutated poor Koruvus. Haggor notes, however, that Koruvus was bigger than expected for a goblin, and considers drinking the water to mutate himself into a bigger specimen. He saves a vial of the unholy water for later, just in case.

Finally, the heroes kick in the door of the larger section of the evil church, and find themselves in a small cathedral, with an elegant, skull-filled pool and a glowing well of angry light. Within is a tiny demoness that shouts blandishments at them and then bleeds into the fiery well. Another of the strange guardians emerges, but Haggor notes that it also seems to have partially exhausted the well’s energy, to the demoness’ great chagrin. The demoness flies away and becomes invisible, and Balekh summons an obscuring mist around the party.

A stalemate begins, where neither side can see one another. Haggor rushes up to the well and eliminates the guardian quickly, and decides to spawn more of them to exhaust the well. The demoness tries to counter with a summoned serpent, but it cannot affect the monk through his protection from evil. At the fringes of the mist, Veshenga helps Haggor take out a series of these monsters, and the snake. Finally, the demoness can take no more as the light of the well is almost out, and she reveals herself by calling down a burst of sound upon Haggor and the recently-emerged Balekh.

This proves to be a crucial mistake, as a tiny creature is no match for a trained wrestler. Haggor uses her momentary reappearance as an opportunity, and flings himself through the air, grappling her and smashing back down into the fountain and mist below. The entire party moves in to take stabs at the hissing and spitting creature that Haggor has kept locked. However, the creature seems to resist earthly weapons and heal at an accelerated rate: numerous attacks barely seem to harm her. Meanwhile, she is slowly whittling away at the monk’s health with fang and claw, and he is barely holding out against the poisons coursing through him.

Finally, the monk can stay conscious no longer, and the demoness breaks free, terribly wounded and rushing for the door. The party moves to stop her, and she almost breaks free before Veshenga makes a desperate grab and catches her as well. Balekh and Taeva frantically stab as the beast clawing to be free as Haggor stiffens from paralysis at the edge of the pool. Finally, amidst furious and lucky strikes, the beast ceases to struggle and the party decapitates her. They retrieve the paralyzed and unconscious half-orc, and begin the slow struggle to the surface to make sense of what just happened.

The Long Con

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Originally posted August 2008

I’ve been watching Hustle, and I’m really enjoying it. In the course of the last few episodes, I finally realized why I love caper stories: it’s pure empowerment fantasy in a story style that’s normally dominated by disempowerment fantasy. There’s a substantial overlap between caper stories and typical crime drama, but in the caper the viewer can normally expect that anything that looks like the characters getting ground down is going to be revealed as essential to the plan. The disempowerment agenda of “wait until my favorite characters get back at you, you villain” is replaced by an empowerment agenda of “you villain, you’re just digging yourself in deeper as to how screwed you are, and you don’t even realize it.” It makes me happy.

And I’m wondering how hard it would be to replicate that feeling in an RPG.

It would probably require a very careful agreement between the players and the GM: each character is going to buy similar skills related to crime and deceit, and yet somehow each fill a distinct role on the team, all while making sure to note that if it comes to an unstaged combat, they’ve pretty much lost. And then, on top of all of that, they have to be really really clever to set up plans and roleplay exceptionally. It’s no picnic for the GM to set up a valid challenge to interact with either.

I wonder if some of those latter difficulties couldn’t be mitigated, though, by using a system that allows dramatic editing. The GM lays out a general scenario/objective and then the players engage in generic on-screen setup actions/character building and farm drama points based on successes. As the caper goes down, the players spend these accumulated points to retcon in the off-screen results of their earlier setup (the traditional caper flashback sequence). Suddenly, a situation that looked like the characters would have a huge difficulty getting out of it turns around to enemies being in on the con, key props hidden in accessible locations, and actions timed to account for police intervention.

I wonder if it’d actually be fun played out, or whether it would just feel like a contrived exercise in shared narration. Maybe you could spice it up by making the setup phase an essential part of the game: each action to farm drama points uses up operating capital and time, such that the players may decide to make due with fewer points to get a bigger payoff.

Burnt Offerings, Part 3

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Drinking away the sight, the party is awoken with hangovers the next morning to a frantic knocking from the halfling barmaid at the Rusty Dragon. It seems that the proprietor, Ameiko Kaijitsu, did not wake up at her usual time to make breakfast. On checking her room, the halfling found that she had not slept in her bed, and appeared to have been lured away by her ne’er-do-well brother… a brother that the party had been narrowing their suspicions about being the half elf in the graveyard.

Hello, sis!

I hope this letter finds you well, and with some free time on your hands, because we’ve got something of a problem. It’s to do with father. Seems that he might have had something to do with Sandpoint’s recent troubles with the goblins, and I didn’t want to bring the matter to the authorities because we both know he’d just weasel his way out of it. You’ve got some pull here in town, though. If you can meet me at the Glassworks at midnight tonight, maybe we can figure out how to make sure he faces the punishment he deserves. Knock twice and then three times more and then once more at the delivery entrance and I’ll let you in.

In any case, I don’t have to impress upon you the delicate nature of this request. If news got out, you know these local rubes would assume that you and I were in on the whole thing too, don’t you? They’ve got no honor at all around these parts. I still don’t understand how you can stand to stay here.

Anyway, don’t tell anyone about this. There are other complications as well, ones I’d rather talk to you in person about tonight. Don’t be late.


Taking the time to have breakfast and let Balekh memorize his spells for a probable ambush, they head to the town glassworks. They find that it is belching smoke like any normal day, but the windows are shuttered and the locals say they haven’t seen the workers coming and going as they normally would. The doors are locked, so Taeva picks the back door (to some consternation of the locals), and the party sneaks in. Inside the main furnace room, they hear cavorting and breaking glass.

Bursting in, they find a band of goblins destroying the room and defiling the bodies of the murdered workers. Acting from surprise, they make quick work of most of the goblins, with the remaining two making a mad but futile attempt at escape… as the party entered from the room with access to the goblins’ escape tunnel.

Having dispatched the goblins, the party notes that the owner of the glassworks, Lonkiju, has been murdered and turned into a terrible statue of glass in an alcove of the room. They check the basement the goblins were obviously hoping to attain, and find a storage cellar with a wall that seems to have recently been opened into older tunnels. Within these, they find a room with a tunnel leading deeper into the underground. About to follow it, Balekh is suddenly jumped from behind, alone in the hallway, by the half-elf in question, Tsuto. However, he is not as much of a fighter as he thinks, and quickly finds himself surrounded and beaten unconscious by the party. On his body they find a great deal of loot, the most valuable of it gold and silver dust stolen from the glassworks which they decide to return to the family.

Also in Tsuto’s possession is a journal/sketchbook. It contains numerous battleplans seemingly detailing brainstorming for the original goblin attack at the Swallowtail Festival, and an upcoming attack featuring many more of the beasts. The book also contains a number of sketches of a beautiful woman, culminating in a sketch of the same woman as a succubus.

After the circled battle map:

The raid went about as planned. Few Thistletop goblins perished, and we were able to secure Tobyn’s casket with ease while the rubes were distracted by the rest. I can’t wait until the real raid. This town deserves a burning, that’s for sure.

After the last of the second batch of maps:

Ripnugget seems to favor the overwhelming land approach, but I don’t think it’s the best plan. We should get the quasit’s aid. Send her freaks up from below via the smuggling tunnel in my father’s Glassworks, and then invade from the river and from the Glassworks in smaller but more focused strikes. The rest except Bruthazmus agree, and I’m pretty sure the bugbear’s just being contrary to annoy me. My love’s too distracted with the lower chambers to make a decision. Says that once Malfeshnekor’s released and under her command, we won’t need to worry about being subtle. I hope she’s right.

Before the last illustration depicting the succubus:

My love seems bent on going through with it—nothing I can say convinces her of her beauty. She remains obsessed with removing what she calls her ‘celestial taint’ and replacing it with her Mother’s grace. Burning her father’s remains at the Thistletop shrine seems to have started the transformation, but I can’t say her new hand is pleasing to me. Hopefully when she offers Sandpoint to Lamashtu’s fires, her new body won’t be as hideous. Maybe I’ll luck out. Succubi are demons too, aren’t they?

The party explores the rest of the basement, and finds Ameiko bound, gagged, and locked in a storage room. Healing her, they inform her of what has happened. She takes it stoically, and explains that her brother had tried to recruit her to some strange cult on Thistletop, and had his goblins attack her and imprison her when she had slapped him in response. She identifies the woman in the sketches as Nualia, a beautiful half-celestial girl that was raised by Father Tobyn and assumed to have perished with him in the fire five years before.

Helping Ameiko leave the glassworks, the party began to make plans to deal with the mysterious tunnel in the cellar, and with the overwhelming goblin invasion likely coming soon from Thistletop.