Sunday, 4 May 2014

Repost: Heroic achievements

Today's post is a repost since I have a pretty busy schedule lined up today.

What follows is an extremely simple system for "stunts" in OSR games.

This is very similar to the "heroic abilities" system I have previously presented here and the two can be used together or individually.

Any time a character uses a class related ability, he may attempt to be heroic. This succeeds on a 1 in 6 chance.

For spell casters, this permits the character to get some sort of additional benefit. Examples might include unusual spell parameters (such as an oblong fireball blast), increased range or duration, a small penalty to saving throws (-2 versus a simple target might be reasonable), increased accuracy and precision or similar benefits.Another option may be to permit the caster to retain the spell in memory.
Note that if the roll isn't heroic, the spell must still be cast, though it could be aborted part way through the casting. In this case, the spell is still lost.

A heroic use of a thief skill would permit a particularly death-defying act to be carried out. Note that since the heroic chance is almost always going to be lower than the actual thief skill, a heroic roll will probably negate the need for testing the thief's regular skill chance. Note however, that if the thief is not heroic, he is still committed to the action, unless it's lengthy enough to abort part way.
Examples of thief heroics include scaling an almost completely sheer and featureless wall, picking a magical lock or disarming a trap so complex no mundane thief could do it.

Warrior types (and based on DM decision, other characters) may attempt stunts in combat. Examples can include pushing, disarming, changing position during a fight, inflict a critical hit and similar.

Characters with ability scores of 14 and above may also attempt heroic achievements for those ability scores. Examples include a superhuman feat of strength, memorizing a long text (intelligence) or feats of acrobatics for dexterity.

The system can be extended to other features as well, and is ultimately up to the DM to adjudicate. The chance of success is intentional kept low, to keep this from dominating the game.
I deliberately shied away from assigning a "failure" aspect. On a roll other than a 1, the heroic attempt simply does not work. Alternatively, you could make it a gamble by assigning "something bad" on a roll of 6.

Comments always welcome!

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Are OSR gamers conservative?

There's a general feeling in some of the larger RPG community that OSR and retro D&D gamers are "conservatives", stuck in the past. (And I should clarify that I don't mean conservative in a political sense, I've met OSR gamers that are conservatives, libertarians, progressives, anarchists and socialists)

However, using the entirely unscientific method of looking at my own blog and what posts get the most +'s on Google, I am not so sure that's the case.
Both the "EXTREME OSR" post and the Spell Stealer class did very well in that regard.

I think one of the driving factors of OSR gaming is less a desire to do the same thing over and over, and more a desire to do new things without starting from scratch every time.

One of the benefits of OSR style gaming is that almost anyone that sits down to play has some basic idea of how it all works. D20 high to hit and save, hit points when you level up and so forth.

You can usually run down the differences in a pretty short time. "okay, so only fighters improve attack rolls, wizards roll on this table to cast spells, and the halflings are nazi's" and you're pretty much set to go.
What really matters is the adventure.

So I am curious: What is the most extreme and "radical" OSR game out there, in terms of new ideas and drastically different assumptions? How far can the style be pushed? How far do you want it to be pushed?

Is a game about space marines transported back in time more interesting than yet another dungeon crawl?

Let me know.

Thursday, 1 May 2014


Being a teenager in the 90's, I remember when everything was EXTREME. So with that in mind, here's a few somewhat light hearted suggestions for making your OSR and retro D&D games EXTREME. Use with caution (or with characters that aren't meant for a long, serious campaign).

All damage dice "explode" if they roll the highest possible number on the die. When exploding, count the score, then roll the die again and add that. Keep going until no dice score the maximum. This applies to all sources of damage.

For example, if a character falls off a tower and takes 3D6 damage, the dice might come up 3,5 and 6. Roll the 6 again and score a 4. Total damage: 18 points.

All attacks cleave. If any attack kills it's target, the character immediately gets a free attack against another target. For missile fire, the new target must be in roughly the same direction of fire while melee targets must be within 10 feet.

If the new target is also killed, another attack is triggered.

Magic causes chain reactions. If a character is slain by a spell, another opponent within 10 feet will take 1D6 damage. This can trigger multiple times and targets killed by the chain reactions will trigger chain reactions themselves.
If no enemies are within 10 feet, the chain reactions will target friendly characters as well.

Any character scoring a natural 20 on an attack roll or saving throw, or a 1-5 on a thief skill, immediately recovers 1 hit point per level of experience (Confidence Boost).
This can bring the character over their normal maximum hit points, in which case excess points wear off at a rate of 1 per day.

Any character scoring a natural 1 on an attack roll, saving throw or a 96-100 on a thief skill immediately loses 1 hit point per level of experience (loss of confidence or embarrassing fumble).

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Rolling in the open or behind the screen?

Conventional wisdom in roleplaying games is that the GM should always roll behind the screen. This way you can conceal information from the players about how easy or hard a time the enemy is having at hitting them and so forth.

It also goes that by concealing the rolls, you can fudge them easier if you need.

Over time, I have generally come down on the no-fudging side of things. I am fine with GM fiat deciding a situation. If you don't want the party to die from a trap they happened to stumble into on their way back, that's fine.

But in that case, simply don't have the trap trigger or just declare a few points of damage. Enough to make a point, not enough to kill anybody.

Some will argue that by still rolling the dice, you preserve the feeling of uncertainty but I am almost willing to guarantee that your players very quickly figure out if they are likely to die or not.

A few years back, I adopted a practice of simply rolling all my dice where the players can see them. Occasionally if a die rolls too far away, I'll even let one of the players report what it rolled, rather than looking at it myself.

I find that it creates far more tension in the game as they'll watch that accursed D20 roll across the table, and they know whether they scraped by with a bit of luck or if the monster was just having bad dice that day. It all adds to the fun and enjoyment of the game in my opinion.

Most notably, it also means they know you didn't fudge anything. The trick is, you still have plenty of scope to adjust difficulty on the fly.
Encounter is going too easy? Add in a few reinforcements, give the orc leader a magic potion or just beef up the next fight a little.

Looks like the heroes are getting trounced a bit early? Do a morale check for the monsters or have a third party show up and interfere with the encounter. Good opportunity for more chaos or more adventure opportunities.
Suddenly a rampaging owl bear crashes into the rear ranks of the hobgoblins. The heroes take the opportunity to disengage from a losing battle but now they have to contend with the owlbear later.

Do you roll in plain view or in secret? Share your practices and experiences in the comments.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Revised Commoner class

Today we go way back to one of the very first posts I ever did on here, namely the Commoner Class.

This is essentially the "peasant boy done good". Whereas others of his humble origin turned out to be great warriors, knights and wizards, he never managed to quite shake his roots.

Instead, he or she serves as a grounded backing against the other characters.

The original class was intended for Labyrinth Lord but the below version should work for most OSR games. As always, it is meant to plugged into pretty much any OSR or TSR-era D&D version.

Commoners are treated as Fighters for the purpose of attack rolls, saving throws, experience and levels and magical items. They use Constitution as their prime requisite.

Their weaponry is limited to simple, militia type of weapons, including clubs and maces, slings, daggers, spears and staves.
Converted tools may be used as well. The DM may elect to replace maces with simple axes or to remove 2 weapons from the list to add short bows.

Only leather armour is permitted until the character reaches level 5, upon which they may use shields and chain mail armour.

While they most resemble fighters, commoners are not actually warriors, and do not receive any special benefits that apply to warrior classes, such as stat bonuses dependent on class, multiple attacks or special weapon maneuvers.

A life of backbreaking labour will make you hard as the earth itself. On all even numbered experience levels (2, 4, 6 etc) add 1 additional hit point to your total.
In addition, when making saving throws against Death, Poison and any type of diseases, apply a +1 bonus to the dice throw.

Common Sense:
Sometimes a lack of appreciation for the finer things in life can keep you grounded in reality. Commoners receive a +2 bonus to saving throws against charm, hypnosis, fear and other mental manipulations or intrusions.

Just another commoner:
In a crowd of people, if the commoner attempts to fit in with the crowd, they have a 25% chance of being overlooked and ignored. This is increased to 35% if no visible weapons are carried.

Fools luck:
When you have neither swordsmanship, divine faith or deadly spells at your disposal, you need luck to survive.
Once per level of experience, a combat blow that would kill the Commoner will instead leave him or her unconscious. If not saved by fellow adventurers the character may still end up being eaten by monsters.
Luck cannot be "saved up" over multiple levels, but a Commoner that levels up without having used their luck receives a bonus of 1 additional hit point added to their total.

If the Commoner prepares the party's meals and has at least half an hour to do so, the player may roll 1D6. On a 1-2, they've managed to save 1 ration's worth of food.

This version changes the Cooking ability to be less clunky and adds a Luck ability to help our peasant hero get by in the big, grim world of fantasy adventures.

Let me know what you think in the comments. This will probably be the last character class for at least a little while.

If you like the article, please share it or leave a comment and as always, consider tipping a small donation with the paypal link.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Death Slayer - variant class

Death Slayers are men at arms specializing in hunting down and putting to rest the dead that will not dwell quietly. Whether they are clearing out zombie infestations or taking on a vampire or lich, the Death Slayer is perpetually delving through fetid dungeons and dank caverns.

Death Slayers are a variant of the Fighter class but receive some pretty powerful abilities. This is made up for by their fairly limited focus. In a campaign with very few undead opponents, this class may be somewhat disappointing to play.

The class is treated as a Fighter for the following purposes:
Attack rolls.
Ability score bonuses (such as exceptional strength)
Experience and levels.
Non combat skills and proficiencies
Hit points.

They do not receive multiple attacks per round and do not receive any benefits of weapon specialization or special Fighter-specific combat maneuvers.

Under most circumstances, they take saving throws as Fighters do. However, when facing Undead threats, they may use the better saving throw of a Fighter or Cleric of the same level.

In combat, they may fight with any melee weapon but a life of delving into horror-ridden crypts have disinclined them against using any ranged weaponry. They may wield any armour but do not use shields.

They may use magical items permitted to fighters, as well as any item with special attacks or benefits against undead.

They may not hold an Evil alignment but may otherwise follow any moral path. Lawful Death Slayers are more likely to be part of an organization or order, while Chaotic ones tend to be lone wolves.

Death Slayers tend to do their work alone and may not take on hirelings until level 3. They may have Henchmen provided they are Fighters, non-Evil Clerics, Paladins or Death Slayers.

They receive the following advantages:

Soul Strike:
All attacks against an undead target receive a +2 bonus to attack rolls and may reroll any 1's rolled on damage dice.
Death Slayers may strike undead requiring silver, +1 or +2 weapons with any weapon they are proficient in.

Path of Vengeance:
While a Death Slayer suffers level drain just like any other character, they recover faster. Until the Death Slayer has regained their original Experience Level, all experience awards are doubled.

Repel the horde:
When fighting undead that are no more than one experience level above the Death Slayer, the character may perform a melee attack against up to three such targets if they did not move significantly this round. (A character that is not charging or moving more than 5 feet or so qualifies, such as characters beginning the round in melee)

Deny the unholy:
If wielding a weapon in hand, the character and any comrades within 10" receive a 15% resistance to any spells cast by the undead or any spell caster using undead minions.
The character must be aware of the enemy and cannot be attempting to hide.

Death Slayers tend to be a somewhat grim and fatalistic bunch, and unless they are fighting undead, hiring followers for such a task or otherwise dealing with their "mission", they count as having a Charisma score 2 lower than normal.

They will never consent to being raised from the dead or otherwise resurrected. If they are raised against their will, they will become an ordinary Fighter until they have slain the guilty party.

Design Notes:

The idea of an "undead hunter" is not a new one, but I wanted to give him / her some pretty beefy abilities since undead can absolutely destroy a party with no cleric. The power of his abilities will hopefully be tempered by the limitations elsewhere. Once you get into the campaign, a conventional fighter will have the edge when fighting regular foes.

Hit Points as a resource?

A few weeks ago, we talked about Stamina points as a resource players can spend. Today, we're going to look at a different method, namely burning hit points for effect in more heroic games.

One of the oldest topics of D&D is what Hit Points actually represent, and while it's inconsistent and imperfect, it's generally accepted that it's a vague mix of health, luck, endurance, luck and general good fortune.

Under these rules, characters can elect to sacrifice hit points to obtain rerolls and other benefits. By definition this will mainly benefit more experienced characters but it serves to give players another, mechanical, escape valve in a bad situation and it presents an interesting decision. While losing a hit point is almost always preferable to losing a saving throw, it will still leave you worn down by the end of the adventure.

These all reflect things that can come about through extreme efforts, whether pushing yourself physically or presenting a supreme effort of will.

Only one option from the below list can be selected in any given combat round. DM's discretion if they must be spent before or after actions are resolved (in the case of rerolls)
Please note that you could assign higher costs to some items. I elected to keep it simple.

By spending 1 hit point, a player may do any of the following:

Make an additional melee attack.

Move an additional 20% of their movement rate.

Leave a combat without taking a "free swing" from the enemy.

Reroll a failed saving throw.

Take a hit for a comrade in the same melee (or adjacent if missile fire)

Reroll a failed thief skill.

Act before any other characters in a combat round (and simultaneously with characters that magically act first)

Negate the effects of surprise for 1 combat round.

Inflict 2 additional damage with a successful hit (melee or ranged).

Reroll the damage dice or healing dice for a spell.

Reroll any skill  or proficiency check.

Get one clue from the GM regarding a puzzle or situation.

Reroll a reaction roll.

Negate the effect of a critical hit.

Too radical? Not radical enough? Other things that should go on the list?
Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Moons of Law and Chaos

When it turns night time, roll a D6 and consult below:

1: It's a Bad Moon. Evil omens and restless dead abound. All Chaotic creatures receive a +1 bonus to attack rolls for the duration of the night.
Lawful characters and creatures do not regain HP from rest after a Bad Moon though other sources of healing still apply normally.

2-5: No particular effect. Carry on.

6: It's a Sacred Moon. The crusaders of order push back the horrors of the night.
All Lawful creatures receive a +1 bonus to attack rolls and Chaotic creatures do not regain HP from resting.

In games using 2 part alignment (law/chaos and good/evil) reassign them to Evil and Good or change the titles a little (Moon of Law / Moon of Chaos?)

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Spell Stealer. New variant class for OSR and AD&D games.

The Spell Stealers were originally an order of warriors specializing in the destruction of evil and dangerous magic users. Over time however, the order fragmented as some felt all magic users were suspect while others stayed more pure to the original ideals.

As more and more spell stealers gained the ability to imitate the sorceries of their enemies, the order eventually fragmented from in-fighting and was destroyed. Their secrets have lived on however, and occasionally, a solitary wandering spell stealer will teach their tricks to a promising young warrior.

The Spell Stealer is a warrior class and is treated as a Fighter in your game of choice for most purposes including:

Attack rolls
Ability score bonuses (such as exceptional strength)
Number of attacks per round
Saving throws
Non combat skills or proficiencies
Experience and levels.

They do not receive any benefits of weapon specialization or special Fighter combat abilities however.

They are treated as Clerics for hit points (although they do count as Fighters for the purpose of Constitution bonuses such as AD&D).
They may use all melee weapons. The only ranged weapon permitted is a throwing knife or dagger. In games using weapon proficiencies, Spell Stealers may not begin the game knowing this skill but may acquire it later in the campaign.
They may wear any type of armour and may use any magic items permitted to Fighters.

Their alignment must be Neutral as concerns good or evil, but may be lawful, neutral or chaotic neutral.

Spell Stealers receive a few advantages:

Arcane Reflexes:
When subjected to an attack from a magical device or trap, the Spell Stealer receives a +1 bonus to any relevant saving throw.

Enduring Will:
A Spell Stealer subjected to a magical or magic-like effect that overrides their will and control, such as fear, charm, hypnosis and hold effects, the effect is delayed by one combat round. The Spell Stealer is always permitted one action after the effect resolves or the saving throw is failed.

During this action, the Spell Stealer is aware of their impending fate and may take any actions desired before succumbing to the spell effect as normal.

Spell Stealing:
When delivering a melee killing blow to a magic using opponent (whether through spells or spell like effects) the Spell Stealer has a percentage chance equal to the defeated opponents level/hit dice of stealing a random ability from among those possessed.

To count as a killing blow, the Spell Stealer must have delivered one of the last 2 blows that killed the creature and the blow must have been delivered in melee combat.

For example, defeating a level 8 magic user would give an 8% chance.
The GM should make a list of magical abilities the enemy possessed by reviewing spells memorized and spell-like abilities and select one at random.
Only magical abilities can be stolen, not physical abilities. For example, a Spell Stealer cannot steal the ability to fly from a winged monster.
If in doubt, the GM will decide.

The Spell Stealer must rest and practice for a week before the ability is usable, and may then use it once per day, taking an action to do so.

Only one ability can be stolen per level of experience and the Spell Stealer has no choice in which enemies to roll for. If an enemy with magic-like abilities was slain in melee, the test must be taken.

Spell Stealers do not generally hire servants. At level 5, a single first level henchman may be obtained and may level up normally.This henchman must belong to a non-magic using character class.

Thoughts? Concerns? Wicked awesome or way too prone to abuse? This one takes an alert GM but could become a really unique class to play.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and if you really liked the post, please consider tipping me through paypal.

If you feel that the chance of spell stealing is too low, you can consider some alternatives:

One is to let the player select, once per level, when he'll use the power.
If you still want a random chance, maybe use something like 30% plus twice targets level.
Additionally, once per level, let the player discard an existing power so it can be replaced.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Three Alternate Thief skills for OSR and D&D characters.

After a bit of a break to deal with work, we are back with some options for Thief characters.

Essentially if you use these options, they will replace thief skills on a one-for-one basis. The player may select which skill to replace, and if the GM permits multiple of these to be used, multiple could be selected.

Note that backstabbing is considered a thief skill for the purpose of these rules, while thieves cant is not.

These have a bit of a combat focus, if you want your thief to get scrappier.

Knife throwing:
While a thief prefers keeping out of sight, occasionally a target must be disabled and doing so at a comfortable distance is always preferable.

A thief with this skill is able to throw daggers before any other character may act in the combat round (but after other characters able to magically strike first in the round) and receives a +2 bonus to attack rolls when throwing daggers.

If the thief conducts the attack from a place of concealment, they may throw an additional dagger in the first round, and receive a +1 damage bonus to each attack.

Deft avoidance:
The thief has practiced their reflexes and ability to dodge to perfection.
A thief with this skill receives a +2 bonus to their armour class against all incoming attacks they are aware of, as well as a +2 bonus to saving throws against attacks that can be physically evaded (the GM will have to judge each saving throw).

Lightning reflexes:
The only thing better than striking quickly is to be gone before the need to strike occurs at all.
In games using individual initiative, the thief may roll twice, picking the better result.
In games using group initiative, the thief may roll separately, and use their own result if it is better than the group.

Leave comments if you like these, have more ideas or would handle any of them differently.

If you like these suggestions or want to see more, please consider throwing me a tip through the paypal link on the side :)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Something a little different

If you like science fiction, check out my little short story on Amazon

If it turns out to be popular, I have an idea to write a series of shorts, all set in an apocalyptic far future setting.

Give it a look and if you do buy it, please give it a review. Thanks!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Give the player the deathblow

Today is just a quickie but one rule I adapted from a friend of mine is the "player deathblow" rule.

This is simply a narrative device but whenever the party is fighting something big and mean, when the death blow lands turn the table over to the owner of the character that did the final hit.

That player get's to describe in full glory exactly how he or she dispatches the fiend.

No rules advantage, no extra mechanics, just a moment to shine after a tough fight and a way to help encourage a little extra roleplaying in a campaign.

Do you use any similar narrative devices in your games?

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Beefing up the fighter.

The humble fighter can often seem a bit overlooked in the grand scheme of things. Clerics can fight almost as well and get cheaper level requirements and magic, magic users at high levels can bend reality to their will, and in AD&D,the Ranger and Paladin can fight as well (or better).

While things like weapon specialization and similar help put the fighter a bit more in focus, if the GM feels they need a little extra help, here's a few suggestions suitable for most pre-D20 D&D editions as well as most any OSR game.

Great Endurance:
Due to their hardiness and training, for the first three levels of experience,the fighter may roll their hit dice twice, picking the better result.

Weapon of choice:
At level 1, the fighter may select a single type of weapon as their weapon of choice. When attacking with a weapon of choice, apply a +1 bonus to attack rolls. Weapons of choice may be switched with each level of experience.

Resist pain:
When at (or reduced to) less than 10 hit points, any hit taken will cause 1 less point of damage to a minimum of 0.

Applied strength:
When knocking down doors or performing other feats of strength, the fighter gets a second attempt immediately in the same round, if the first attempt fails.

Arms specialist:
Any level where the fighter rolls a 1 or 2 for their hit dice, they may add an additional weapon proficiency to their total.

Let me know in the comments if you have other suggestions or ideas.

Of course, if you think fighters are totally fine as they are, let me know that too! 

Thing of the day:

If you use miniatures, sometimes it's fun to simply get a little pile of random beasties to pick from. On occasion, a miniature have inspired me to include a critter I'd rarely use otherwise.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Stamina points. A resource for AD&D and OSR games

I haven't forgotten about doing reviews, but it's getting a little difficult to juggle with my job, so I am only getting in a little bit of reading each night. Soon my friends, soon.

For today, I wanted to give you a quick sub system for OSR games, namely a Stamina system. Many modern RPG's utilize resource systems where the player can expend a given resource to get benefits in the game.

There are good arguments both for and against such systems, which I won't go into here. My intention with this blog has always been to enhance and push what is possible in a D&D or OSR game, and this is one more option towards this goal.

To use this system, each character will have a pool of Stamina points, from which they can draw to achieve certain effects.

Base Stamina is calculated by taking the dice type of the characters class hit dice (if hit points are rolled on a D8 for the characters class, they start with 8 Stamina, for example), adding or subtracting any Constitution modifier to hit points the character has, and adding the characters level of experience.

If the game system used has minimum ability scores required to play certain races, any race with a minimum required Constitution of 8 or higher receives 1 extra Stamina point.

Stamina points may be expended on a number of options. Note that the GM should review these options and only utilize those that seem suitable to their game.

Dash - Cost 1
The character may add 10 feet to any combat movement. This can be done repeatedly in the same round.

Adrenaline Dodge - Cost 3
The character may roll twice for any saving throw based on avoiding a threat that can be physically evaded, such as jumping out of the path of a rolling boulder or dodging a lightning bolt.
A single save can only be rolled twice.

Desperation strike - Cost 3
The character may perform one additional attack this combat round. Desperation strikes are possible even for characters undertaking other actions, such as after finishing a spell for the round, while parrying or otherwise preoccupied.
The strike is made as a regular attack and may be made in melee or with a ranged weapon.
Resolve the attack as normal, but the attack is subject to no bonuses to attack or damage rolls, due to weapon skill, specialization, close range or ability scores.
Bonuses from weapon quality, positioning and magical enhancement apply as normal.
Multiple desperation strikes can be attempted at any time, by paying the Stamina cost.

Power blow - Cost 2
The character may add a +2 bonus to both attack and damage for a single melee attack.
Not cumulative on the same attack.

Power throw - Cost 1
The character may add 20 feet to the range and +1 to the damage for a single thrown weapon attack.
Not cumulative on the same attack.

True grit - Cost 3
If a blow would reduce the character to 0 hit points exactly, the player may select this option to remain at 1 hit point instead.
This may be used any number of times, as long as the Stamina cost can be paid.

Determined push - Cost 1
The character may reroll a failed feat of strength, such as knocking down a door, lifting a heavy obstacle or similar. This may be attempted multiple times.

Stamina is recovered by resting up. A full turn (10 minutes) will recover 1 point of Stamina. At the GM's discretion, a single Stamina is regained at the conclusion of any victorious combat, as the characters rest up and gain a small morale boost from their victory.

If using these rules, time limits should be observed, for example by checking for wandering monsters.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Beast Handler. A new OSR class

From popular request, I'd like to offer up the Beast Handler class.
Seeing the different suggestions made was fun, and I will definitely try to go back and cover a few more of the suggestions that came in.

This is a variation on the Fighter, with some Ranger elements. It should be usable in most any game using OSR rules, such as Swords&Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC as well as of course original D&D, AD&D and "Red Box" D&D.
Some of the rules elements are set up intentionally to refer to a parent game (such as hit dice, attack rolls and saving throws) as these factors can differ based on the rules you use. Feel free to adapt this as you need.

While humans and demi humans train a variety of animals for tasks such as sentry duty, search and companionship, a few such trainers achieve a much greater level of connection with their animals. While these are traditionally large dogs, due to their general level of intelligence, response to training and combination of tracking skills and loyalty, other animals have come into use too, whether in their regular or giant varieties.

The GM will have to make judgement calls on what types of animals are appropriate. In general, the Beast Handler is about being on a roughly equal footing with the animal, and this is not a cavalry class, so the animal selected should not be a riding animal or beast of burden.

Pick animals that have obvious utility and are at least reasonably intelligent. In a higher level campaign, or a more high powered game, you can experiment with things like dire wolves or bears. Just be careful that the choice of animal does not overshadow the remaining characters.

To play as a Beast Handler, the character must have a minimums of 9 Strength, 9 Constitution and 11 Wisdom.
All races may play as Beast Handlers, advancing to the same level they could achieve as Fighters.

Combat and dice rolls:
Beast Handlers use the Hit Dice progression of Clerics, make attack rolls and saving throws as Fighters and advance in level using the Fighter experience charts and progression.
They do not receive multiple attacks in melee, unlike Fighters, and do not take advantage of any class specific ability score benefits (such as exceptional strength or higher hit point bonuses for Fighters)

They may use any single handed melee weapons, and may use "light" missile weapons (Sling, Short bow, Light crossbow).
Beast Handlers may use a shield, and may wear armour up to and including Chain Mail or equivalents.  Many Handlers are rustic types, preferring natural materials such as Leather and Hide armour, but this is by no means the rule.

If using skills or a proficiency system, treat Handlers as Rangers (if available) and Fighters if not.

The Companion:
Handlers get their companion animal at level 1. If the animal dies, it may be replaced during the campaign, but will generally take 1D6 weeks in a suitable locale to replace the animal. The GM may let this happen between adventures or set up a small side adventure to locate and befriend the animal.

While the Handler will begin the campaign knowing a single animal type, at every 3 levels of Experience (3, 6, 9 and so forth), a new animal type may be added to the list of possible animal companions.

At levels 5, 10, 15 and 20, the Handler may increase the number of companions at one time. Hence, at level 10, a Handler may have up to three different companions, whether the same or different animal types.

When rolling hit points for a Companion, any hit dice that score a 1 or 2 may be rolled again, guaranteeing the Companion at least 3 hit points per hit die.
While Companions do not generally accrue experience points, when the Handler levels up, each Companion increases their maximum hit point total by 1.

The Bond:
Handlers form close bonds with their animals. In general, the companion is treated as a type of Henchman largely under the control of the player. While the companion should generally be treated as a very intelligent member of it's species, it is worth remembering that it is ultimately still an animal. Overly complex instructions will be unlikely to be followed, and the companion is still subject to distraction when the Handler is not around.

During combat, if both Handler and Companion are in the same battle, they each receive +1 bonuses to Armour Class and Melee attack rolls.
While fighting alongside it's Handler, the companion is not subject to normal morale rules, and receives a +2 bonus to saving throws against magic that attempts to influence, control or scare away the animal.

Other Skills:
Handlers generally have good working knowledge of animals. If approaching an animal on their own, or slightly in advance of a passive party of adventurers, the GM should roll two reaction rolls, applying the better of the two. This applies for regular as well as "giant" varieties of animals but not for monsters and magical beasts, unless the GM decides otherwise for a given creature.

If taking a few minutes to examine an animal after a battle, the Handler may cause any animal (not just a Companion) to recover 1 hit point per hit die of the animal in question. This cannot recover more hit points than was lost in the battle or encounter.

If using proficiency or skill systems, Handlers receive a +1/+5% bonus to any skill based on animal handling and training, increased to +2/+10% for animal types available as a Companion.

Handlers tend to seem somewhat distant from other humanoids, limiting them to no more than a single henchman at any one time. They may acquire hirelings for short tasks, but are unlikely to commit to long term contracts beyond a single expedition or task.
They do not attract followers at high levels, and while they could construct a castle, they'd receive no special benefits from doing so.

What do you think?
I aimed for a fairly minimalist approach, to make it easy to insert this class both in "basic", "advanced" and "zero edition" OSR games or TSR games.

If you feel more features should be added, put in a comment and let me know.

Lastly, an appeal: I tend to post on the days I do not work. I'd love to post more, and I am trying to transition into more writing, but that will require a variety of income streams.

If you like what I do on this blog, help me out by sharing a post you found awesome on G+, mention them on forums etc.

If you want to help out more directly, and ensure more regular (and longer) content, any paypal donations would be deeply appreciated, as would using the Amazon Affiliate links on some posts.

Thank you in advance!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

You decide a class

While reading up for reviews, we're going to do a bit of interactive interwebs blogging.

Namely, you guys come up with ideas for a character class you want written, and I'll write it. It'll be in two formats (Labyrinth Lord and OD&D/AD&D) and can be something serious or silly. If enough results come in, I'll look at what was most popular, otherwise I'll just pick one I like the sound of.

So, sound off in the comments and on G+. Share to appropriate communities and hopefully some cool ideas roll in.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Freebie Magic Item: The Sword of Vengeance

Been working on a collection of 20 magic weapons for OSR games, that will hopefully end up for sale in a week or so.

Thought I'd throw one at you as a freebie

The Sword of Vengeance

These weapons tend to show up during particularly bitter wars and eras of strife. Whether planted there by deities of war and hatred, or spontaneously reacting to an overflow of emotions, they become sought after devices of war.

While most are long swords or bastard swords, they may take the shape of any sword. In combat, they strike with a +1 bonus to hit and damage.

However, whenever the wielder is hit during melee combat, the wielder immediately receives a free attack in retaliation against the enemy that struck him.

If a natural 20 is rolled on any attack roll (regular or in retaliation) with a Sword of Vengeance, the blade will emit a piercing shrieking sound. The wielder immediately loses 1 hit point per hit die, and every enemy within 5 feet takes the same damage (typically melee range)

 For example, a fourth level Fighter would lose 4 HP, as would the targets, in addition to any regular damage inflicted.

Let me know in comments what you think.

Some simple equipment tweaks

Some equipment types can seem a bit underwhelming. If you find the players are always selecting the same weapons, it might be time to shake things up a little.
Particularly in AD&D/OSRIC and similar.

I've examined a few below:


Crossbows are potent weapons, or at least they would be, if the base damage wasn't so low.
Using the weapons vs armour tables in AD&D 1st edition remedies this some, but with their slow rate of fire, they're just no match for an archer in most cases.

My suggestion is that crossbows ignore the AC bonus from using a shield, and may reroll any damage dice that score a 1.


Shields giving +1 AC is a tradition that goes back to the original game, but some players may feel disappointed that the shield only provides a 5% difference in the chance of being hit. Particularly if the campaign uses two weapon fighting, the humble shield seems a far worse option.
Magical shields can help remedy this significantly, but if you need a little extra, simply give shields an extra +1 AC against ranged attacks. (if combined with the above crossbow rule, shields would be +1 vs crossbows and +2 vs bows, slings and so forth)


I don't remember when I last saw a player using a spear. If you want to encourage their use a little more, a simple rule to take into account the extended reach of the spear is to give enemies a -1 penalty to hit a spear-wielder, in any rounds where they were hit by the spear.

As written, there's not much reason to take a warhammer over a mace. To emphasize the armour piercing abilities of the hammer, give it a +1 bonus to hit against any enemies wearing rigid armour (banded/splint or better, and monster equivalents)

Monday, 31 March 2014

A different take on miniatures.

Reviewing Open Adventure turned out to be a bigger task than I expected, in a good way, so for now, here's a quickie to keep you guys entertained.

Last rules article we did was about knocking enemies backwards and today we will talk about unusual ways to move around during a battle.

Movement in OSR combat tends to be fairly basic. You move up to your movement allowance, until you are in melee, at which point you mostly stay there. Some people envision the melee as a big, sprawling affair, while others tend to keep the combatants fairly stationary. This can work with or without miniatures as well, though I find that using mini's will encourage the "static" view of melee combat. I.E. your miniature represents fairly accurately where you are physically located.

Here's a few tricks to keep miniatures fun and exciting, without getting too bogged down in their use.

You'll need to determine a good ground scale. Since movement is in increments of 10 feet usually, 1" = 10 feet is usually decent, but you could do 5 feet without too much trouble either.

In most cases, you can simply translate distances and movement rates without issue, and most OSR combat rules will work as is, with no modification.
Some movements will be exaggerated a little, to make them more interesting when using figures.

What we are concerned with here is how to do the fun stuff. You could probably incorporate some of these options in a game not using miniatures as well.

Note that as is usually the case, I aim towards simplicity. Some groups will want to add additional modifiers to the process, to get the experience they want.

Push backs - We already covered this in the Knock Back article. When using mini's, I rule a knock back as 2", with the attacker having the option to "follow up" 1 ".
This makes it a fairly dramatic move to attempt, and also serves to separate the combatants from melee in most cases.

The target can be pushed backwards diagonally or straight away but must move "away" from the attacker.

Slam - A more aggressive version of the Push, a slam occurs at the end of a charge, instead of conventional attacks.
Roll 1D6, on a 1, the attacker stumbles and is knocked prone adjacent to the target. On a 4+, the target is knocked 2" out of the way (determine direction randomly or as appropriate by the GM) and the attacker may continue moving past the target.
Heavier / Lighter figures in the same size class (a fighter in metal armour knocking past a mage) is a +1/-1 modifier.
Each size class (small, medium, large) is a +1/-1 modifier.

Targets knocked away must make a Save vs Paralysis or be knocked prone.

Needless to say, the target of a slam will have any spell casting interrupted.

Maneuver - A combatant in melee may maneuver up to 1" in any melee round, for each melee attack made. Any combatants in physical contact may follow up, remaining in contact.
Maneuvering cannot displace an opponent, unless that opponent is a smaller size class.
For example, an Ogre could displace a human.

Force back - Any combatant losing hit points from melee attacks, without inflicting damage on the attacker will be forced back 1".
The attacker may elect to follow up, or let the melee be broken.

Slip through - A character wearing no metal armour may attempt to slip through the space occupied by an opponent. Against opponents of the same size, this is a difficult prospect, requiring a D6 roll of a 1-2.
Apply a +1 for each of the following conditions: If the target lost hit points this round, is surprised or has been knocked back/forced back/slammed.

Slipping through the space occupied by a creature one size larger receives a +2 bonus to the roll.
Creatures two sizes larger (a man sized creature slipping through a Huge creature, like a dragon) can always be done, with no roll required.

The character slipping through can take no attacks as they do so, and may not end their movement in melee contact with the creature they are slipping through.

The above should give you some basics to work with. Let me know what you think.

Leave a comment if you want to see more of this stuff, or combat mods/rules in general.

Thing of the day:

Snazzy translucent dice always seem to roll better for me.
Go ahead, grab a set, and help keep the blog going.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Broad class knowledge

I often find myself assigning broad knowledge groups to characters based on their class. If a situation falls within the realm of knowledge for a given character, I will provide them with additional information, or give them a dice roll to understand something, depending on how challenging or obscure the situation may be.

This can be used in place or, or in addition to a formal skill system such as ones we have discussed before:

Some examples you can use:

Fighters -
Tactics, evaluate weapons and armour

Clerics -
Religious symbols and orders, knowledge of various deities

Magic users -
Sensitive to magic in the area, knowledge of languages and ancient history

Thieves -
Knowledge of city layouts, evaluate loot, city contacts.

You can extend this to other classes and even the various races.
I tend to rule that elves are sensitive to magic (being able to identify that an item is magic if investigated on a 2 in 6 roll), while humans tend to be the only ones who are familiar with the various nation states and political situations in the campaign.

Do you use anything similar?
Do you use a formal or an informal system?

Let me know in the comments.

Thing of the day:

Today's crass consumerism is one of my favourite collections of stories ever, by one of my favourite authors ever.

The Dying Earth series by Jack Vance. While Vance is generally a fantastic writer, with a sprawling vocabulary and an outstanding command of the English language, for D&D fans in particular, it is hard to overestimate the contributions he made to the D&D game.

The most obvious is the magic system of course, but spells, creatures and arguably even the writing style of Gygax has heavy influence from the works of Vance in general, and the Dying Earth in particular.

The Dying Earth stories are also a good example of an "evil" character (Cugel) that can act as an adventurer.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Roll 'em later

Conventional GM'ing wisdom is that if the player is not yet aware of the outcome of a dice roll, it should be rolled secretly, and not revealed yet. This comes up often with things like stealth and similar.

I've slowly come around to two other trains of thought when doing these, however.
1: Let the player roll anyway. This may seem counter intuitive, but in many cases, I think it is acceptable to simply let the player roll now. In particular for thief characters, a highly skilled character can be argued to often have a pretty good sense of their surroundings.

If the thief fails a roll to hide in shadows, it can be interpreted as hiding without success, but it could just as well be applied as not finding a suitable hiding spot. 

This has the benefit of driving the player to make another choice: Look for a different spot, find a different tactic, flee, prepare to fight and so forth. Thieves often get treated somewhat harshly by the GM, especially when it comes to failed thief skills, and this can help soften that a bit, by making the thief class feel more competent and possibly realistic.

  2: Let the player roll, later. A favourite option of mine is to not actually make the roll until the result would become clear.

If the thief is sneaking into the castle, describe the sneaking action as you normally would.
When the moment comes that the ogre guard stomps over to the corner the thief is hiding in, to relieve himself, hand the player the percentile dice and ask them to roll at that moment.

 The same can work for things like traps. For a bit of extra fun, give the roll to the player about to move through the trap that the thief attempted to disarm.

The methods above have a few benefits: They increase the players involvement in the game, can increase tension even for simple situations, and they reduce the amount of dice rolling the GM has to do (and more importantly, keep track of)

Give it some thought, and see how it goes.

Today's thing:

There are two types of OSR players: People who like to invent their own games, and people who have a strong affinity for the "history" of the game.
If you are in the latter category, or just like old fashioned fantasy, you could do much much worse than giving "Three Hearts and Three Lions" a read.

It's one of the foundational stories that D&D was based on (In particular, you will find things like early references to law and chaos, many of the paladins abilities, the quest spell and famously, the D&D take on trolls here), as well as being a simple but very fun read.

It's not overly long or complicated, being essentially an adventure tale, so you can get through it in a few days, on lunch breaks or whatever.

And hey, if you do, you can help support the blog too. It's almost like charity except it probably won't make you a better person

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Knock 'em about!

Combat in a fantasy roleplaying game should be more than simply lining up and trading blows. However, many tactical subsystems end up being far too specific, too complex to remember or too fiddly to use in a fun and engaging way, and a dull rule is a rule ignored.

Here is our first take at increasing the options in OSR combat: Knocking enemies backwards:

Any character may forego one of their melee attacks to knock an opponent out of the way. They must be in melee range of course.

Knocking an opponent away requires the same roll used for knocking open a door (in the system of use). In "Classic" games, this is usually a D6 roll of 1-2 modified by Strength.

If achieved, the opponent is knocked backwards. If exact measurements are wanted (for example, when fighting on a bridge), the knockback is 1D6 feet.
The recipient of a successful knockback also suffers a -2 penalty to their next attack roll.
Otherwise, simply assume it's enough to enable someone to slip through or past the combatant, or even disengage from melee. DM discretion is obviously needed for specific situations.

A character with multiple attacks may attempt multiple knock backs on the same or different targets.

Targets larger than the attacker can be knocked back, but it is less likely. On a successful roll, the target is "staggered", inflicting a -2 to their next attack roll. The attacker immediately rolls again, and on a second success, the target is also knocked back the normal distance.

The DM should judge when a target is too large to be knocked at all.

Knocking back a smaller target is not any easier (they're slippery little blighters) but the knockback distance is increased to 2D6.

Give it a shot next time you game, and let me know how it fares!