Serial Numbers Filed Off: Super Soldier Serum

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D&D: The Last Avengers

Though it has only been a few years, it feels like forever ago that the lich lord rose, his bloody skull becoming a nightmare throughout the lands as his army of monsters emerged to support, and then to supplant, the purely mortal soldiers of the Iron Kingdoms. He wielded great magics and led forces regarded only as fictions from the Age of Myth.

The ancient elven adept, Brahim, master of the Ur Skein, had spent years unraveling history through magic. He had learned that an age of great wonders had ended long ago, and sought out ways to restore the heroes of the past. The man who would become the lich lord captured him, stole his notes, and proceeded too quickly on his quest for the phenomenal might of legend. His first spell cursed him with undeath and drove him mad, and he has created more and more variants of his bastardized ritual, transforming men and beasts into twisted monsters meant only for war.

Brahim escaped and reached our side. He worked for months to improve his spells, to eliminate the terrible flaws that had made monsters rather than heroes. We were specially selected to be the first to receive the gift: a company of heroes in the style of old. In a world of adepts, we would practice true sorcery and channel the full might of the gods. In a world of warriors, we would become fighters, rangers, and paladins. In a world of experts, we would become rogues, bards, and monks. He chose us for our honor and our conviction, not for our power… but augmented by his spells, our new might would allow us to strike at the very heart of the lich’s empire.

We were meant to be the first, but we were the last. Moments after we were raised up, Brahim was struck down. A storm of fire from a lich’s pawn consumed him and his notes, his knowledge lost. It was our small company left to lead the armies of men against the foul horrors our enemies had become.

It feels like forever, though it has only been a few years. I have seen friends struck down and lost, and others raised again and again to return to the battle. Our presence has turned the tide, for we have the might of whole armies amongst our small company. But we lose more and more beyond hope of resurrection every year. It is now time… time to make one last desperate strike to destroy the lich once and for all, scatter his notes to the wind, and break his army’s ability to make monsters.

Though we might not live to see it, we can give the last great empire of men the chance to win this war and once again push back the darkness.

Savage Worlds Fantasy: Magic Items, part 1

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I have a vague and unformed intention of using Savage Worlds as an engine for a Paizo adventure path at some point. My primary interest is the utility of squishing down the power levels: Savage Worlds seems to map pretty easily to the standard language of leveling up, without drifting power levels by orders of magnitude the way D&D does at higher levels. I’m running Curse of the Crimson Throne now, which is a module series that takes place in a single city for the most part, and it’s even more of a hurdle than normal D&D in avoiding conceptual dissonance as to how the threats to the city always seem to be keyed directly to the strength of the PCs at any given moment (I’ve actually taken to just giving the luminaries of the city some degree of metagame awareness; they assign the PCs to tasks that seem to be roughly within their power level to free up higher level NPCs to deal with higher level threats).

So, all that said, a big task is to add in support for D&D tropes that the Savage Worlds fantasy rules don’t already cover. The biggest one is magic items. As noted above, my goal is to use this as a lower powered replacement for D&D, so part of that is to avoid having too much escalation of itemization: you might swap out an item for one with a wider set of capabilities or for one more tuned to your character style, but you won’t feel the urge to replace a +1 item for a +2.


Many weapon types grant “bonus damage” in certain circumstances. In this case, the weapon effectively adds a Wild Die for damage: add a d6 to the damage roll and drop the worst die result. If multiple traits of a weapon add bonus damage at the same time, roll a bonus die for each element that counts, and then drop low dice equal to that number (effectively, never keep more dice than your normal damage total). Some powerful items might add a bonus die larger than a d6, and these will be explicitly noted.

Weapon Materials

  • Steel/Wood: Most weapons are made of common ingredients, though mystical ones might be made of very high quality versions of these materials. Unless otherwise noted, a weapon is assumed to be made of steel, wood, or something else appropriate.
  • Silvered: Weapons designed to fight lycanthropes and certain other monsters often have silver alchemically bonded to the surface of the weapon, giving it an almost Damascus-like patina of silver and steel. These weapons deal wounds that ignore any monster protections (armor, immunity, invulnerability, regeneration, etc.) that are weak to silver. Silvered weapons are of functionally identical strength to normal weapons, but this process is complicated and expensive. A weapon made of pure silver is equally effective at bypassing monster resistances, but will likely do reduced damage due to softness of the metal (GM’s option) and is easier to break than steel weapons (having half the Toughness).
  • Cold Iron: Many faeries and demons are weak to weapons made of “cold iron;” this term generally refers to iron worked in a way that preserves its elemental purity… by the time it’s become steel, some vital mystical element is lost. Thus, wrought iron generally qualifies, and weapons made of the stuff are often heavy, brittle, dull, and ugly compared to their steel counterparts (but may be cheaper to create). Cold Iron weapons bypass certain monstrous defenses in the same way as silver vs. lycanthropes. They weigh twice as much as standard versions of the weapon, generally do one die step less damage for cutting/piercing weapons, and are easier to break than steel weapons (having half the Toughness).
  • Adamant: Iron mined from fallen stars and deep in highly magical areas is often classed as “adamantine.” Steel forged from this metal is generally harder and stronger than even the best normal steel, can be sharpened to a razor edge, and tends to cause lesser materials to shatter more easily. Effectively, these weapons gain bonus AP equal to the size of the bonus damage die/2 (e.g., a Str+d4 weapon has 2 greater AP than normal, a Str+d10 weapon has +5 AP, etc.). Additionally, these weapons may bypass monstrous protections possessed by golems and other constructs. These weapons have twice the toughness of steel weapons and apply their AP to attempts to break other items. At the GM’s option, these weapons may also be easier to enchant.
  • Ironwood: Elves, druids, and other forest dwellers have a secret process of oils and resins that can turn a weapon made of wood as hard as steel. Ironwood weapons behave like steel weapons, but maintain their natural properties (effectively, they are not conductive, do not offend druidic sensibilities, and can be used against creatures vulnerable to wood). Their major limitation, other than the expense of the process, is that they are harder to mend if broken than a steel weapon.
  • Mithral: Also known as “truesilver,” mithral is found deep within the earth and combines the best elements of silver and steel. Weapons made of mithral are half the weight of a steel weapon, count as silvered for purposes of fighting monsters, and are harder to break (at the GM’s option).

Weapon Traits

The following are common enchantments found on magical weapons.

  • Magic: All enchanted weapons have the “magic” trait, and, for some, this is the only trait possessed. A magic weapon is more able to resist breaking and magical effects that would destroy or ignore mundane weapons (treat Toughness as +5). Most importantly, certain highly magical creatures resist mundane weapons, and magic weapons bypass this effect (as silver bypasses lycanthropic defenses). Finally, many magical weapons emit light (with a high variation on the strength of the glow and whether the wielder can deactivate it).
  • Bane: Many weapons are given a purpose to defeat a particular type of creature. When fighting the creature, the weapon gains a bonus damage die and AP +2. Additionally, if the creature type is vulnerable to a material, the weapon will almost always be made of this substance (e.g., lycanthrope-bane weapons are typically silvered or mithral).
  • Elemental: A common weapon enchantment is to make the item coruscate with energy. The most common types are flame (fire), frost (water), and electricity (air), but some weapons have also been known to secrete acid or thunder on impact (earth). The wielder can often turn this effect on and off with a command word, and the weapons tend to automatically disable their effects when not in a wielder’s hand (sheathed or dropped). These weapons deal a bonus die of damage and all damage dealt by the weapon is considered of the energy type if the target is weak to that energy in some way.
  • Ghost: Undead hunters often enchant their weapons to be able to strike ghosts, spectres, and other ethereal beings. These weapons are considered fully present on both the physical and spirtual planes, allowing them to wound creatures through which normal weapons pass harmlessly. However, these weapons can sometimes be a risk: spiritual beings that normally cannot affect the physical plane can wield these weapons as easily as can mortals.
  • Keen/Impact: Magic can be used to sharpen a blade finer than is physically possible or to focus the impact of a blunt weapon to a much smaller point. Attacks made with such a weapon raise on every 3 degrees of success instead of every 4.
  • Ethical: Certain weapons are tuned to support the ethos of a religion, cutting down all that oppose it. In practical terms, these weapons are Bane against any being that is considered a core enemy by the tenets of the religion. For “good” religions, this is often a broad swath of amoral creatures and blackhearted men, while “evil” practices hurt the innocent, the just, and the virtuous. Ethical weapons almost always bypass the defenses of outsiders loyal to opposing deities (much as silvered weapons harm lycanthropes). At the GM’s option, bad things happen to wielders of such a weapon that it would consider opponents.
  • Disrupting: Another great aid to those that oppose the undead, disruption weapons weaken the target’s connection to the energy source that powers it. These weapons are automatically Bane against undead. Undead creatures incapacitated by such a weapon are automatically destroyed (typically in a dramatic blast of decay), and this almost always overcomes the abilities of creatures such as vampires and liches to reconstitute themselves when destroyed. Undead can always sense the presence of such a weapon within 5 feet times the die size of their Notice (e.g., an undead with d10 Notice can sense Disrupting weapons within 50 feet), and will respond typically respond with fear or anger.

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Assassin!

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Not exactly a whole campaign idea this time, but certainly something that could fill several sessions of a Mist Cloak and Vibro-Dagger style game.

Fading Suns: The Urther

No, no, don’t explain it to me. Part of hiring a Scraver information broker is that I don’t ask you why you need an untraceable, concealable, long-range weapon that can kill a target through an energy shield. I’ll just assume that you’re upstanding folks and there’s some big evil that you can’t take out any other way. Maybe a Sathraist that’s got thralls, or a demon possession, right? Right.

Anyway, you’re in luck. Right here on this very planet of Severus is the answer to your hopes. They call him the Urther. Because he’s from Urth. Real creative, right? It’s apparently a big deal for someone from the holy planet to join the Engineers, much less turn that training to becoming a hitman feared across the Known Worlds. I hear he was bad news during the Emperor Wars, and kept going for a while after that.

But he’s more or less retired now. His last mission went wrong, and he’s been laying low. So all you have to do is find an aging Urthish assassin somewhere on the planet. That’s not entirely sarcasm: he does stand out, and I can give you some leads.

The catch is, he’s paranoid as all hell, and with good reason. The Imperial Guard would love to bring him in for war crimes, a bunch of Muster have been trying to get him since the last job, and the Jakovians want to take him out to make sure he doesn’t let slip any Decados house secrets. If you come straight up to him, you’re likely to get shot by one of the best assassins in history.

But it’s not hopeless. He loves nature, so he doesn’t always stay cooped up in his bolt hole. He’s too much of a romantic and has a thing for the ladies, which is part of why his last mission went so bad. Plus, he loves a challenge, so if you can give him something interesting to make, he might be willing to deal.

So, to sum up… wish I could just get you hooked up with your weapon, but for what you want, there’s really only one choice. He’s the best mechanic of death I know of. Good luck.

D&D: New Poisons

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I’ve been rereading A Song of Ice and Fire lately (in order to prepare for the whirlwind tear through A Dance with Dragons that I just finished), and one of the many cool things in the novel is the breadth of poisons.

D&D 3e’s poisons are kinda lame. Almost all of them are a small amount of ability score damage dealt a couple of times after a couple of minutes (Pathfinder increases the chance that they’ll do more, but not by a lot: almost all are done after 1-2 successful saves). That minute is forever in combat. More importantly, their reliance on ability score damage makes them next to useless for PCs, as the ability damage is really only useful in a long fight against a significant foe (even then, boss enemies are likely to save out). Against PCs, poisons are merely a mounting annoyance requiring recalculation of ability score bonuses. Major toxins with high save DCs are a threat, as is a dungeon full of poison-users where the failed saves eventually stack up, but most poison situations aren’t a real threat.

So below are a handful of new poisons that are, foremost, intended to be attractive to use… either by the PCs, or by their enemies. Since there’s no useful guideline for pricing poisons, I’ve made my best guess. A lot of these are probably the purview of secretive cabals of assassins that are given away or used only sparingly.


Distilled from the saliva of stirges, this poison prevents wounds from clotting, causing them to bleed freely.

Deeper wounds typically receive more of the toxin, thus the save DC is equal to 10 plus the amount of damage showing on the weapon damage dice (disregarding bonus damage). For example, a 6 damage hit from an attack that dealt 1d8+2 would be DC 14, and if that same attack crit for 13 damage (out of 2d8+4), the DC would be 19.

Unlike normal poisons, the durations do not stack. Instead, each poisoned wound is tracked separately.

Since forcing the wound to heal over will halt the bleeding, a healing spell that heals more than the original damage of the wound immediately ends the bleeding. For multiple wounds, track the healing total across all: if the character was poisoned by a 3 HP wound and  6 HP wound, both are cured after 9 HP are healed.

Type poison, injury; Save Fortitude DC [special]

Onset 1 round; Frequency 1/round until cured

Effect 1d4 bleed damage per round; Cure 1 save or special

Cost: 100 gp/dose


This poison is brewed from several hallucinogens and then distilled to isolate their more subtle properties. It has a sweet, distinctive flavor; since its effects resemble extreme intoxication, it is almost always mixed in wine or other strongly flavored alcohol.

In addition to its damage to Charisma, those under its effects find it almost impossible to remain silent when asked a question (particularly one phrased in a subtle manner). The subject must make a Will save (DC equal to the questioner’s Bluff + 10) to avoid answering. The subject is not compelled to tell the truth, but the damage to Charisma will make it harder to tell believable lies.

If the subject is reduced to 0 Charisma, he or she becomes unconscious and will not remember the period when affected by the poison (exactly as if blacked out drunk).

Note that this poison benefits strongly from the stacking effects of poison: each subsequent dose ingested increases the save DC by 2 and extends the period by 30 minutes.

Type poison, ingested; Save Fortitude DC 14

Onset 10 minutes; Frequency once per 10 minutes for 30 minutes (i.e., 3 saves per dose)

Effect 1d3 Cha damage and special; Cure 2 consecutive saves

Cost: 150 gp/dose


A close cousin to Nightmare Vapor, this toxin is distilled from certain jungle mushrooms. Those afflicted by the poison see phantoms and other threats all around them, and have great difficulty telling friend from foe.

Note that this poison benefits strongly from stacking to increase its DC and duration. It is often used against more powerful foes by gangs of murderers that cooperate to assist one another as they each attack with pre-poisoned blades. Others coat it upon a brace of darts, and render their target senseless before he or she reaches them.

Type poison, injury; Save Fortitude DC 14

Onset 2 rounds; Frequency once every 2 rounds for 6 rounds (i.e., 3 saves per dose)

Effect 1d2 Wis damage and confused; Cure 2 consecutive saves

Cost: 1,000 gp/dose


A carefully brewed cocktail of toxins with a faint metallic taste, this poison provides an intoxicating euphoria in a conscious target. If the subject becomes unconscious (either through reaching 0 Wis or other means including natural sleep), the toxin takes advantage of his or her slowed metabolism to have a much more insidious effect. Those that are reduced to 0 Con die peacefully in their sleep, apparently of heart failure, likely never having realized that they were poisoned.

A victim of this poison will typically heal 1 Wis after 8 hours of sleep, and afterwards can be woken normally (and will likely wake on his or her own in 1d4 hours after healing). If the lucky subject has not been reduced to 0 Con by this point, the poison is quickly eliminated from the once-again-active system. The remaining ability damage may simply be regarded as the results of an ill-advised bender.

Type poison, ingested; Save Fortitude DC 18

Onset 20 minutes; Frequency once every hour until cured

Effect 1d4 Wis damage when awake, 1d4 Con damage after unconsciousness; Cure 2 consecutive saves or special

Cost: 5,000 gp/dose

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Aging Penalties

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D&D 3e: Gray

Godric Brightshield was one of the most effective adventurers we’ve ever had. He defeated witch kings, dragons. Hell, he toppled kingdoms. Yeah. He was truly gifted.

Why was he retired?

He got old.

But now he’s back?

Him and his whole party. Some moron decided that he was a threat to imperial security. Now they’re coming for us.

I’m not worried. We’ll defend the emperor.

What level are you? 13? Yeah, you’re badass vs. the locals. These guys are into the epics.

But you said they were aging…

And let’s really hope that penalty makes a big enough difference in effectiveness… or we’re all dead.

Grittier D&D: Injuries


I had a “Why don’t they use a Phoenix Down on Aeris?” moment last week playing through Dragon Age: Awakenings. A dying soldier is encountered that’s “beyond healing magic now.” It reminded me how much of a hash HP plus an easy means of recovering them can make of verisimilitude and genre emulation. This system is designed for 3.x/Pathfinder, but probably works with 4e as well (and may be extra useful with the ease of HP recovery there that has recently been discussed by Harbinger). It’s similar in some ways to the Earthdawn wounds system except A) it allows some compensating benefits so it’s not entirely awful for players, B) it hopefully requires a little less bookkeeping, and C) I can’t call it Wounds because that would make the Cure spells confusing.

This system serves to make games grittier, for the most part, but does also allow low level characters some ability to avoid dying all the time from minor amounts of damage.

Injury Threshold

Each character has an Injury Threshold equal to positive Con Mod plus Base Attack Bonus.


  • A first level barbarian with 18 Con has an Injury Threshold of 5.
  • A first level wizard with 10 or less Con has an Injury Threshold of 0.
  • A Fighter 5, Rogue 2 with Con 14 has an Injury Threshold of 8.

Note: This threshold does increase when under a temporary Con or BaB increase (e.g., Barbarian Rage, Endurance, Transformation, etc.)

Taking Injuries

Whenever a character takes more HP damage (from a single source of damage) than his or her Injury Threshold, add an Injury to that character. Injuries have no specific identity, though some groups may wish to include descriptions for flavor. It’s the total number that’s important.

A critical hit that exceeds the Injury Threshold (as it hopefully will unless dice luck is against you), does its critical modifier in Injuries (so 2, 3, or 4 instead of 1).

Whenever a character would suffer an Injury or be reduced to 0 or fewer HP, the player can choose to take an additional Injury to make a Fortitude save (difficulty equal to the damage dealt). Success reduces the incoming damage by half or leaves the character at 1 HP (whichever results in the higher HP total), but does not retroactively reduce the attack below the Injury threshold (e.g., if your Injury Threshold is 5 and you took 8 damage, a successful save results in 4 damage and 2 Injuries).

This last effect is designed to make this system have some positive benefit for players so it’s not universally awful (and to model the brave dying ally that held out until magical healing was useless), but it can serve to make play drag. It is suggested that it only be used by major enemies and NPCs that have a tremendous need to survive (e.g., defending something they believe in, trying to get a message through, confronting someone hated, etc.).

Effects of Injury

For any use of Cure spells on the character, the caster must succeed at a Caster Level check with a difficulty equal to the total Injuries, or the spell is ineffective. Even if the spell is successfully cast, the effect is reduced by the number of injuries to a minimum of 0 (e.g., a Cure of 8 HP on a character with 5 Injuries only heals 3 HP).

Every morning, the character takes damage equal to total Injuries. (At the GM’s discretion, this may also happen to NPCs that took a large number of Injuries in pursuit of a mission immediately after a final conversation with the PCs). Natural healing is subtracted from this damage (and it will often simply reduce damage healed when total Injuries are less than Character Level).

Total Injuries may increase the DC for certain poisons, diseases, and environmental effects at the GM’s discretion.

If total Injuries ever exceed Con score + Character Level, the character dies.

Removing Injuries

Once per week (on the morning of whatever the religious day of rest is in the setting), a character can make a Fortitude save against a DC equal to total Injuries. Success removes one Injury. For each 10 points by which the roll exceeded the DC, the character removes an additional Injury. This occurs before the day’s Injury damage/natural healing is applied. A character that has been treated by a Healer that week can substitute a Heal check result for his or her Fortitude save (as with helping against Disease or Poison).

Any spell or effect that restores ability damage allows an additional save at the time of the effect. In particular:

  • Lesser Restoration: Injuries must be specifically targeted by the spell (i.e., you don’t heal any other ability damage).
  • Restoration: this save is in addition to all other effects of the spell.
  • Heal or Greater Restoration: this save is in addition to all other effects of the spell and the caster can immediately roll Heal to substitute for the save as described above.

Serial Numbers Filed Off: The Rise of the Supervillain

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Yet another superhero concept: Behind the Mask

Oh, hey, welcome to my home! I’m glad you guys could make it out today. No, Mr. Nigma’s my father, call me Edward. Can I get anyone anything to drink? So Lex sent you guys to me, right? You’re looking to get into the game, and want some pointers… oh, you need the basic elevator pitch. Alright, let me get a Coke and we’ll get started.

The role of the villain is a long and traditional one. The first thing people tend to ask is what separates a villain from a common criminal. That requires a lot of unpacking. You really need to consider one thing: if you’re smart or powerful enough to be a villain, you could have a comfortable life way easier than going into crime. Have you seen the rates you can get from lots of private firms for any kind of ability to channel energy in ways physics can’t fathom? If you can sneak into a bank vault, you can make top dollar working as a completely legit courier for mega corporations or get the CIA to pay out the nose for you to contract. Hell, I have no powers other than my own towering intellect, and I could easily be pulling down millions a year from the markets or making triple-A video games. No, if all you’re interested in is getting rich, there are far safer and more lucrative ways for the gifted to pursue that goal than simple crime.

Being a villain, on the other hand, is a grand calling. It’s not about getting rich, it’s about becoming immortal. No, I don’t mean schemes like what al Ghul has going, though that’s a frequent side effect, I mean achieving such notoriety that your very image becomes legend in your own lifetime and beyond. We villains become iconic forces, defining our own myths by setting ourselves in opposition to those Campbellians in tights. Virtually every hero of any talent quickly becomes a legend, and we sort of, well, tag along. And it’s way easier than trying to be a hero yourself. As a hero, you’re at the beck and call of society, you’re constantly having to fight both criminals and villains, and you rarely make any money doing it. As a villain, you set your own hours, you often earn enough to live in fabulous comfort between visits to Arkham, and, most importantly, the only people you get in a fight with on a regular basis tend to have a deeply held aversion to killing. Seriously, look at me: run of the mill criminals are terrified of me, and the Bat has caught me dozens of times at this point and the worst I’ve gotten is a few broken bones when I really pissed him off. As long as you stay on the good side of the other villains in town, you have almost nothing to worry about other than sanitarium food for a few months a year.

So have I gotten you on board with the concept and you’re ready for the how-to? Excellent, let’s proceed…

Your first step is, of course, to find a likely hero to set yourself against. Ideally, you want someone just a little more skilled than you, and with something thematic you can do within your powerset that makes you a clear opposite. There has to be thematic resonance to get you into the myth, you see. Imagine if, say, Captain Cold and I traded places. The Flash would have me in jail in seconds, and the Bat would either accidentally be dead or have to call in the Justice League every time the Captain popped up. There’s just a power imbalance. Plus, thematically, there’s nothing I could do where my intellect proved a reasonable foil to a guy that’s all about speed, and, well, the Bat already has a cold-related villain with a much better backstory link to his own past. But against the world’s greatest detective, I totally have a niche. And freeze rays are excellent at making fast things slow down, so the Captain’s set as well.

Now, this step may be harder for you if you’re committed to being a team. You’ve got a few options. You could each pick a solo hero in the same region and make them team up to fight you regularly. You could set one of you up as the main villain and the rest as his lieutenants, then pick a more powerful hero. Or you could see if you can find a likely team to set yourselves against. Maybe the Titans or one of the minor League spinoffs as a start?

Once you’ve got a hero, you can come up with an identity. Part of this is a costume and name, but the biggest part is an agenda, methodology, and “insanity” that will really get the hero’s goat. (I highly recommend pretending to be insane, by the way, Arkham is way nicer and easier to escape from than Blackgate.) Take me as your example once again; my whole schtick is that I have to do crimes that prove I’m the smartest man in the world, and I can’t resist challenging the Bat to prove me wrong. The irony is that it’s more the other way around: he can’t help himself but to drop anything else he’s working on to make sure nobody can ever say I actually outsmarted him. You’re going to need to do some surveillance on your guy for a while, or at least make friends with the rest of his Gallery: you can’t be an effective villain if the hero, and the public, isn’t interested in your concept.

That’s the next step, the public. You can’t just start doing crime like you’re hoping to get away with it. No, you have to regularly challenge the hero, in full view of the public. Start out messing with the police and politicians, maybe. Leave cryptic clues in the newspapers if that’s your thing. A lot of the newer kids are testing out blogging and social media. But, at the end of the day, you want TV cameras rolling on your latest atrocity and, if you can swing it, on the brutal melee between you and the local caped vigilante. These days, with the 24-hour networks, you might even go global on a slow news week. You ever notice that villains always burst out of the front of a bank, right into the police and news van blockade, just as the hero is flying up? It’s all about the free press.

Anyway, I’ve rambled at you long enough. If you’re ready to be a proactive entrepreneur in the field of immortality, this is certainly the gig for you. Questions?

Achievement-Based Leveling

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Harbinger returned my attention to achievement-based advancement as mentioned in one of my previous posts. Obviously, my original concept was designed for a video game that could track all the achievements for you, but with the correct phrasing of achievements you could allow your players to take on the role of the computer: there’s a ton of bookkeeping potentially involved, but it’s the fun kind of bookkeeping where players do it for you and it’s in their own self interest to keep on top of it.

Effectively, you’d need all the possible achievements typed up and printed out (potentially on several sheets of paper), kept with the character sheet, and checked off by the player as they’re fulfilled. You’d probably also want to have a blank line next to each achievement for the player to summarize when it was achieved in case the GM has doubts.

A lot of inspiration for this is taken from the Dungeon World variant of Apocalypse World.


The core intention of the system is to provide players lots of directed goals, accomplishing any of which will support the concept and intended playstyle of the game. Additionally, the intent is to reduce grind/repetition: each achievement can only be gained once, so repeating the same action has little further system benefit (unless there is a more difficult version of the achievement that incorporates the same actions as the easier version). To that end:

  • Each player character has a list of possible achievements. These are short phrases with a method of accomplishment that requires minimal interpretation by the GM.
  • Achievements are divided into groups based on similar theme. These groups might vary based on the kinds of actions incentivized by the current game and campaign.
  • All achievements completed in a category are totaled, as well as a global total of achievements completed. Achievements vary in difficulty to accomplish, but each contributes the same amount to these totals: there will be low hanging fruit that players can get early on, and harder achievements that will serve as higher level goals.
  • The total achievements are used to allow characters to level and to determine what classes they have access to when leveling.

Note: Any numbers below are purely arbitrary and used for illustration. Actual numbers used will depend on how many achievements you come up with and how fast you want the players to level. A game with a ton of achievements that expects several sessions between levels will need higher numbers than a game with fewer achievements and a faster leveling pace.

Level Up

A character’s total level is determined by total achievements across all categories. When a character accumulates the requisite number of total achievements for each level, he or she is eligible to level up. This level up can happen instantly, at the end of a session, or after training (however the GM would normally award a level up).

For example:

  1. 0 total achievements
  2. 10 total achievements
  3. 20 total achievements
  4. 30 total achievements
  5. etc.

Note that the achievement total is linear: in theory, as you level up you’ll run out of low hanging fruit and be left with the harder achievements, keeping the expected time between levels that normally is accomplished by a curved exp-to-level requirement.

Class Requirements

This system expects D&D 3-style multiclassing; some modifications should be required for versions where you’re less free to multiclass. When you level up, you can choose to take a level in a class that you meet the sub-requirements of. Level 1 in any class has no requirements: you can always multiclass into the first level of a new class. The subsequent levels have increasing requirements in specific achievement totals within different groups appropriate to the class.

  • Barbarian: Combat and (Neutral + Chaotic)
  • Bard: Combat, Spellcasting, and Lore
  • Cleric: Spellcasting and (Deity’s Alignment)
  • Druid: Spellcasting and Neutral
  • Fighter: Combat and Adventuring
  • Monk: Combat, Lore, and Lawful
  • Paladin: Combat and (Lawful + Good)
  • Ranger: Combat and Defeat
  • Rogue: Adventuring and Neutral
  • Sorcerer: Spellcasting and Adventuring
  • Wizard: Spellcasting and Lore

For example, a Paladin’s requirements might be something like:

  1. None
  2. Combat 2 and (Lawful + Good) 1
  3. Combat 4 and (Lawful + Good) 2
  4. Combat 6 and (Lawful + Good) 3
  5. Combat 8 and (Lawful + Good) 4
  6. Combat 10 and (Lawful + Good) 5
  7. etc.

Note how this interacts with leveling up: a single-classed Paladin with 30 total achievements is qualified to level up into level 4… but might not have gained the requisite Combat or alignment achievements since the last level to take the next level of Paladin. In that case, the player would need to choose whether to hold off on leveling until the necessary achievements are completed, or to multiclass.

Example Achievements

All achievements are both things that characters might describe as learning experiences in character and also actions that the GM believes supports the style and goals of the campaign.


Each completed quest in the game counts as an achievement. These are not required by any particular class, but contribute toward leveling up. It’s the GM’s choice (based on overall number and difficulty of achievements) whether only large quests count as an achievement or even smaller goals might count. In the former case, players will often have the same number of Quest achievements, but in the latter there might be divergence due to personal quests.

  • Quenched the Black Flame of the Boneyard
  • Recovered the Princess of the Platinum Lands
  • Slew the Dragon Gygyragax


Combat achievements are devoted to doing interesting and dangerous things in physical combat. They are typically required by non-casting classes.

  • One-shotted a 1 HD creature (full HP to unconscious/dead) with a melee attack
  • Was attacked and missed by 3 different enemies in a single round
  • Hit a target with a ranged weapon at its maximum range increment


Alignment achievements are subdivided into Good, Evil, Lawful, Chaotic, and Neutral. They are required for several classes with alignment restrictions.

Note that a GM might choose to determine a character’s alignment based on achievements: Subtract the lower of Good and Evil from the higher, and then subtract Neutral; if the number is positive, the higher alignment is the character’s; if it’s 0 or less, the character is Neutral on that axis. Do the same for Lawful and Chaotic. For example, a character has achievement totals of Good 5, Evil 1, Lawful 1, Chaotic 0, Neutral 2; this character is Neutral Good.


  • Took damage while defending an innocent
  • Accepted the surrender of a repentant foe


  • Sacrificed an innocent to gain another achievement
  • Killed a surrendered and bound foe


  • Delivered a defeated criminal to the rightful authorities
  • Accomplished a city-based quest achievement without breaking any laws


  • Set a prisoner free
  • Accomplished a city-based quest while breaking laws without being caught by the authorities


  • Killed a dangerous and untrustworthy foe when taking it prisoner was an option
  • Allowed an innocent to die to accomplish a greater good


Spellcasting achievements are based around doing interesting things with magic, and are required for most casting classes.

  • Used a 1st level attack spell to defeat a target
  • Used a 1st level attack spell to accomplish a non-combat goal
  • Used a 1st level defense, heal, or utility spell to defeat a target


Lore achievements are based around learning more about the setting, and may often be similar to more general Quest achievements. They are required for certain educated classes.

  • Found a rare tome in a monster’s horde
  • Spent 100 GP at one time to buy books
  • Translated a warning in a dungeon


Adventuring achievements are more general actions appropriate to dungeon-delvers, and are required for classes of a more mercenary bent.

  • Possessed 1000 GP worth of cash and gems at one time
  • Disabled a level 1 trap (either intentionally or by blundering into it)
  • Defeated a 1 HD enemy during a surprise round


Defeat achievements are triggered based on getting in the blow that drops a creature unconscious/dead or by being the primary negotiator that convinces an enemy to surrender. As such, each defeated creature generally only contributes to one player’s total. They are used for hunting-related classes.

  • Defeat 5 goblinoids
  • Defeat 15 goblinoids (10 more)
  • Defeat 30 goblinoids (15 more)