segunda-feira, 28 de janeiro de 2019

Set & Setting - VIII - The Thief Class

Part of an ongoing reinterpretation of the game’s character classes, complete list and accompanying design musings contained here.

Unnecessary Introduction to the Thief Class (design notes)

Thieves are urban specialists, the kind of class that requires a deft touch, subtlety being the watchword as thieves are less about toe to toe and rather more tick to toe to tack to a blade in the back.

This one required deeper oversight as 5th Edition made the thief way too forgiving and thuggish: d8 hit dice, a ridiculous and mindboggingly easy to trigger “sneak attack” that puts the class as near equal to the fighter in damage output, a crass example of a feature designed to hold the player’s hand rather than demanding even the tiniest whiff of skill. Despite being one of the core archetypes, I see the thief as an advanced class option, one whose path to greatness comes about by slowly unpacking a matryoshka of versatility rather than measure who’s got the bigger die size to fall back upon. As such, this meant plenty of padding at the different levels, as the class is intended to slowly but surely gain in power though always as a second dish to flavour.

Crossing the decision point that made me halt my progress with the fighter, the archetype subclasses went the way of the chopping block, as I feel their features ought to be either integrated into the main class structure and fill up the inane “ability score improvement” dead space or else split into a separate class entirely.

Another early drawn conclusion was that the Investigation skill simply had to cease existing. Like the “dungeoneering” forebear of 4th edition, its undefined nature and lack of a grounded practical use makes its existence difficult to justify. At face value, it is like having a skill called 'playing DnD' baked into the charsheet.

The Thief

Proficiency Bonus

Backstab, Thieves’ Cant, Thieving Expertise
Deep Pockets, Dirty Fighting
Cunning Action, Fast Hands
Second-Story Work, Uncanny Dodge

Class Features

Hit Dice: 1d6 per level

Proficiencies: Thieves tools, Light armour, Simple weapons, hand crowssbows, longswords, rapiers, shortswords

Saving Throws: Dexterity, Intelligence

Skills: Choose two from Acrobatics, Athletics, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Investigation (Mechanisms), Perception, Performance, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand and Stealth 

Level 1

If the thief attacks a humanoid target unaware of his presence (or otherwise caught completely off-guard) the attack will have its damage multiplied by the thief’s proficiency modifier.

Thieves’ Cant
Allows dissimulated verbal, nonverbal and symbolic communication of simple concepts, urban or thieving related, to a speaker of the same language that is also fluent in the cant. Use of the cant will mark the thief as ‘someone in the know’, modifying the reaction roll from other seedy elements by 1, if they are nonhostile.

Thieving Expertise
A thief always counts as trained in the relevant skill when attempting the classic thieving suite of lockpicking, pickpocketing, climbing, stealth, finding and removing traps. If already proficient, this feature doubles his proficiency modifier.

Level 2

Deep Pockets
Objects concealed on the thief’s person resist casual detection: small items numbering up to the character’s Intelligence modifier may be stashed (minimum of 1) in the inventory, their slot number determining the DC a visual inspection or casual patdown must beat to reveal them; concealed weapons deduct the weapon’s damage die from the searcher’s DC.

Dirty Fighting
An enbattled thief is constantly angling for whichever chinks, joints, soft spots and vital organs he can exploit. Whenever an attack made at Advantage hits with both rolls add the proficiency die to the damage inflicted.

Level 3

Cunning Action
The thief can Dash, Disengage or Hide as bonus actions in combat.

Fast Hands
Adroitness becomes the thief, who once per turn may draw a light weapon or another small item from his fast access slots as a free action. He algo gets Advantage on rolls to access the inventory.

Level 4

Second-Story Work
The thief becomes inured to heights, climbing faster than normal as he ignores extra movement costs on simple aided climbs and gains Advantage on climbing rolls. In addition, when making a running jump, the distance covered increases by a number of feet equal to the thief’s Dexterity modifier.

Uncanny Dodge
The thief may use his reaction to dodge an impending attack he can perceive, forcing it to be made at Disadvantage.

sábado, 19 de janeiro de 2019

Set & Setting - VII - The Fighter Class

Part of an ongoing reinterpretation of the game’s character classes, collected list and accompanying design musings contained here.

Unnecessary Introduction to the Fighter Class (design notes)

Fighters are masters of the battlefield, starting at the individual and rising through the ranks to the tactical and finally the battlefield level. They are the quintessential martial class and the most straightforward one can get. 

Starting here is obviously easy-level fare, as the features presented already conform with a workable vision of the fighter class, the first two levels requiring only a little tuning. I did tweak each of the features, streamlining dissociated mechanics whenever possible. The biggest change being the expansion of the fighting styles: instead of most options being reduceable to a solvable damage output equation (one that ends up favouring two-handed weapons by a fair margin, once multiple attacks join the tally), I wanted each fighting style to become as a tool for a specific situation while allowing for some minor sinergy, generalist options kept for those happy with numerically stable boredom.

The Fighter

Proficiency Bonus

Fighting Style, Second Wind
Action Surge
Class Features

Hit Dice: 1d10 per level
Proficiencies: All armour types, shields, all simple and martial weapons
Saving Throws: Strength, Constitution
Skills: Choose two from Acrobatics, Animal Handling, Athletics, History, Insight, Intimidation, Perception, and Survival

Level 1

Second Wind
The first time each day that the fighter would be reduced to 0 hit points or less he immediately gains back one HD + level Hp, negating exhaustion or dismemberment rolls, if any. This feature will not activate again until a long rest is completed.

Fighting Style
Character learns fighting style of choice. Each option can only be picked once.

·         Archery: +2 bonus to attack rolls with ranged weapons.

·         Defensive: +1 bonus to AC while wielding a melee weapon.

·         Dueling: While unencumbered and armed with a single one-handed melee weapon may perform the Feint, Disarm, Shove or Trip combat maneuvers as a bonus action.

·         Great Weapon Fighting: Attacks with two-handed melee weapons deal +5 damage against creatures of Large size and above.

·         Shield Fighting: Can use reaction to extend shield’s AC bonus to adjacent ally. Shield bash attacks are made with proficiency and inflict d6 damage.

·         Two Weapon Fighting: Adds ability modifier to off-hand attack roll and does not expend bonus action for additional attack.

·         Unarmed: Proficient with unarmed strikes, inflicting d4 damage. May stage combat maneuvers as attacks of opportunity.

·         Weapon Mastery: +1 bonus to attack rolls with melee weapons.

Level 2

Action Surge
Once each turn a fighter may take an additional physical action (or reaction, if in combat). Doing this more than once without resting requires a DC 15 Constitution saving throw to avoid exhaustion.

Level 3

Work in progress…

segunda-feira, 7 de janeiro de 2019

Rules Musings - Restrictive Skill Checks


“All character classes play the same” – thus framed is one the main recurrent criticisms levelled at various editions of the game.

If we draw a blind around abilities relating to the subject of combat, where the meat of the gameplay is implied to reside judging by the glut of rules, it isn’t hard to perceive why the criticism stands as valid. Non-combat challenges and the abilities that affect them, when they exist, are generally powered by handwavium or reduced to montages whose finality is merely to mediate the transition from one combat encounter to the next.

Being understood that combat swings with the biggest odds riding on it and is also where the most cinematic light displays take place one can scarcely advocate that lesser levels of attention and detail be granted to such a decisive facet of play. However, for referees and players alike wishing for meaningful structure outside of it the air quickly becomes rarified indeed, as the published rules leaves those few to fend for themselves, being quite content to let everything devolve into sameness.

Fifth Edition and the Doctrine of Enableism

Nowadays the ethos is to bend backwards to allow pretty much any class indiscriminated access to the same gameplay, even if the means of ingress vary superficially. Coming back to the post’s opening sentence: faced with a distant ledge atop a cliff-face, it doesn’t really matter if the wizard tests arcana to be beamed up by telekinesis while the fighter rolls athletics and the thief tests acrobatics, they’re each just doing their own thing while en route to the next CR-appropriate setpiece.

A prospective reading of the AD&D ruleset to learn how it handled tracking brought along an eye-opener: barring any optional rules, only Rangers were allowed to track, period. DnD was ever a game to shine the light on niche protection, which makes sense if one wants a disparate ensemble of characters to be able to contribute to more than just the swelling of the party’s number and have the group coalesce into something greater than the sum of its parts; But whereas this was once enforced by some rather draconian (if arguably justified) strictures, with swathes of gameable content both accessed or walled off by a party’s play skill and the composition of its membership, the mainline currents of today’s no player left behind push for zero wasted “content” and are quite anxious that no detail, area, challenge or interaction be out of reach or missed amid the shuffle, so that a party should never fret for its lack of specialists: no one’s life is hanging in the balance, everything is perfectly and safely cordoned towards bringing you a warm, linear and comfy play experience.

Too Many Cooks

Skills as presented in Fifth Edition are a fairly anemic inclusion.

In a strange paradoxical display, the game comes saddled with a system that nominally endorses the notion of skills and yet simultaneously undermines it completely by, in practice, ascribing to unskilled play.

The premise already starts out simplistic: a character either has training in a skill or hasn’t. The only impact this carries is of a modest bump to the margin of success, hardly what one would call efficacy training. The books then go on at pained lengths about ways to grant automatic success, ways to allow the application of proficiency bonuses to situations not directly covered by the skill (the better to have players always rolling to their strengths) and ways to mitigate circumstances by allowing a referee to shore up a marginal failure into a “success with a consequence”, painting even the thought of failure as obscenity.

Since skill proficiencies merely qualify a character as “particularly good or focused” on a given aspect of the associated stat, the presumption of basic all-around competency becomes resolutely implied and never challenged. A whole party can swim, ride and wield a bow with a naked d20’s shot at success ensured, the game sweeping under the rug any shortcomings derived from lack of proper training or task familiarity, no matter how removed an action might be from a character’s expected sphere of experience, doubling as a kind of generalist manifesto against specialism. Consider: if everyone in the group is invited to roll to try and track a roe deer through miles of woodland, statistically speaking, chances are actually pretty good that the specialist trained in survival will slip in his effort and it’ll end up being one of the five accompanying wetnoses to save the day. Put that in your pipe to smoke, mister specialist.

Trying to decide how to go about it, going full-on third edition, with its unfoldable catalogue of cornercase secondary skills and ever-climbing ranks of bonuses seemed a fairly dismaying way around the bush, compromising the current edition’s redeeming quality of simplicity to little gain. In the end, despite not really hitting a satisfying note, it simply wasn't reasonable to continue to treat skill and training as just “having a 15% better chance to succeed at an action” and that in that rejection lies a good inroad to character differentiation.

What a character can and cannot do - Skills and Action Types

Accepting that there’s little to gain by drawing up the itemized listing of all the things any given character knows, one must be willing to concede to a semi-extrapolated coverage of expertise, subject to the behest of referee discretion, hinging as it does on not just the nature of the tasks themselves but also the character’s expectable sphere of knowledge, shaped foremost by one’s class but conceivably also background, age or even race (allowing for such classics as dwarven propensities for stonework, smithing or caving, elven affinities for nature and outdoorsmanship and the like).

The numeric quantitative difference between a character being trained or not recognized as laughably insufficient, the simplest and least disruptive proposal is to suggest an additional qualitative layer. What is wanted are a few defining guidelines to categorize tasks according to their exclusivity, dividing them on the basis of requiring airtight knowledge of a subject, rigorous training or simple practice. This was already situationally implemented on previous Bones’ posts, but the idea is to expand this thinking into a more wide-reaching perspective. Here follows a tentative (and far from exhaustive) categorization of actions or skill uses:

Instinctive Actions

This covers the standard 5th edition understanding of a skill check: Any character possesses at least an instinctual grasp of the principles and there’s little to no need for formal training or mentorship to attempt them despite their being obviously augmented by practice. Most physical (including usage of the senses) and social checks fall under this category. Oftentimes these won't even count as a skill until they are honed into one: most anyone can talk, but not everyone is a silk-tongued seducer.

Sample actions: Deception, Intimidation and Persuasion, Stealth, Climbing, Running and Jumping, Perception, Melee weapon use.

Example: A runner practiced in the Athletics skill will boast a clear edge over one that doesn’t, but that fact can just as well be overshadowed by the opponent’s sheer physical potential.

Trained Actions

Already specific and precise enough to necessitate structured training to flourish and not just coverable through sheer latent talent. These can be attempted by the unitiated though always at a penalty of Disadvantage.

Sample actions: Manual Crafts, Ranged weapon and Armour use, Riding a steed, Performance, Sleight of Hand, Tracking, Hunting, Lockpicking, Swimming, Pickpocketing, Acrobatics, Forgery.

Example: one can justify the small difference between handling a melee weapon skillfully and otherwise as a compromise of gameable simplification. When it comes to missile weapons, however, mine ceases being a buyer’s market. Someone who hasn’t ever picked up a bow or trained the hurl of the javelin isn’t going to be just slightly handicapped (exceptions allowable for crossbows, for which lack of practice would come to the fore on the loading stage rather than firing).


Intellectual pursuits and tasks requiring a great pool of learning, whose fruits are firmly locked behind the barrier of long hours of study and memorization, to the complete and utter exclusion of those left out. This category covers the knowledge of things that simply cannot be scared up by improvisation nor tolerate shortcuts.

Knowledge checks might conceivably not be rolled for at all, being reliant on inherently passive recollection, though that would require adjusment of the standard difficulties (and return somewhat predictable results, as 7-17 would be the workable range of DCs).

Sample knowledges: magic and the occult, religion, herbalism, languages, medicine, navigation, identification of exotic creatures, appraisal of wondrous items, geography, heraldry, history.

Example: A frieze of runes can’t be bent into making a whit of sense if no knowledge of runic script (through the history or the religion skills) inhabits a character’s mind, the player being prohibited from rolling as it is simply beyond him.

Closing Thoughts – Finer Grain

Even the above distinctions stand to some further hairsplitting in the case of more specific training within a skill’s domain: should a character with Animal Handling be expected to know how to ride any and all mounts, including flying ones? It feels possible to delve into an approximation of skill ranks through requesting a given combination of skills, attributes or levels (Animal Handling & Wisdom 13+, Animal Handling & Athletics or Animal Handling & level 9+) allowing for the emulation of levels of mastery that should be required to unlock particularly rare and valued skills.

segunda-feira, 24 de dezembro de 2018

Them Bones of Adventure - XXI: Tracking

An ongoing exposition on table procedures for common exploration feats and rules, which began here with part one.


Of marked interest to outdoorsmanship, here is a mundane (if not exactly common) exploration feat which, parsing across different iterations of varying mechanical complexity, invariably leaves too much of its weight to be girded by narrativistic convenience for this referee’s tastes.

The act itself is notable in that it twists the usual encounter logic of “the players and element X are suddenly thrust upon each other” into the interesting variation of the party seeking out and becoming someone else’s encounter. It is eminently an hexcrawl event but it also has a dungeoneering facet so here it is presented as part of the more widereaching adventuring toolbox.

Tossed about in my mind several times, the act of tracking can well be considered mechanically adventurous as it presents scenarios where the notions of space and time cross the beams in a running and defining these requires reaching into the tangled confluence of encounter mechanics, timekeeping, weather and the hexcrawl structure and drawing something coherent out of it.

Rabbit Holes

Tracking isn’t about linear pursuit from one muddy hoofstep to the next, as only the understanding gained from knowing the quarry will allow a tracker to guess at its direction and make the necessary leaps of intuition to enable him to keep true to trails with a sparse amount of tracks, to know which places to look for signs that can provide even just occasional confirmation that the right track is being kept, to distinguish between similar types of spoor left by different animal types or even individuals within the same species and to turn a scant handful of seemingly disconnected markings on the scenery into information sufficient to betray a mark’s current whereabouts and likely destination.

Typically, spoor occurs either as consequence of an in-game event or systematically through an appropriate result in the encounter die. Mechanicswise, it comes with a bulging load of circumstancial baggage attached as it has to reckon with the nature of the quarry, its behaviour, the passing of time, the terrain and the weather. But one question looms larger above the rest: once tracks are found, where do they lead to and for how long do they run?

Incoming, untested and rough around the edges, are some mechanics that attempt to systemize a workable answer. These are meant to intersect into a greater hexcrawl structure but the module stands on its own. Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that the act of tracking is an interaction with a past that is still unfolding, meaning that there’s both some information that must be determined at the outset and then a fair part that’ll depend upon a lot of abstracted “ifs” down the road, as the tracker progresses along the trail to find his quarry.

Breadcrumbs (what is being tracked and why it matters)

The event generative of the tracks (i.e. the encounter leaving them) needs to be minimally defined so as to inform the referee of the difficulty of following them. This'll mean number, creature type, size, travel speed and typical behaviour (as understood by the referee and communicated to the players if they manage to identify the creature they’re following). Seamlessness is best served by having a small pool of prerolled encounter details in store. As typical behaviour goes, for animalia one can brush up on biology and for mythical creatures either lean on the closest natural analogue or devise something befitting and that can be kept consistent.

The initial encounter roll having determined the nature of the creature leaving the trail, that information will then shape the encountered spoor for the remainder of the interaction:

Flying creatures: dropped objects, recent kills, feathers, vertical smudges of meal remnants or detritus (flyers are not trackable per se, but the remains they leave behind may serve to identify their presence in the area as well as indicate a nearby lair);

Unintelligent beasts: territorial markings (claw scratches, musk or urine), excreted and moulted refuse, hoof or paw prints, prey remains, chewed leaves, animal trails, scuff or drag marks, burrowed earth or an abandoned den;

Mankind/humanoids: Footprints, snapped branches and foliage, trampled plant growth, discarded tools, butchered animal parts, deserted campsites, cairns and other artificial pathmarkings, man-made cut trails, improvised shrines to dark gods or columns of smoke from burnt farmsteads.

The Crunchy Bits

Track age, trail bearing and length, quarry behaviour

To determine the age of the encountered tracks, the referee starts by rolling a d6 to determine how many days old they are, with a ‘1’ meaning they’re from the same day the character comes across them.

This part bears attention, as tracks that are more than a day old may immediately conjure up interactions with past weather events, notably if it rained or snowed within the time-frame dictated by the die and when.

The number of days elapsed influences the tracking DC and the die-size on a distance pool comprising two dice – 2d4, 2d6, 2d8, 2d10, 2d12 or 2d20 – to be secretly rolled by the referee, determining:

Where the current leg of the trail leads, either determine a random destination hex for a pointed course or, for the more roving approach, set a rough approximation to one of the eight cardinal bearings within the hexmap as found through tracing an imaginary line from the highest to the lowest die result. Whenever a double is rolled this presumes that the quarry spent some time at the current location in a manner appropriate to the encounter type being followed, which for animals could mean hunting for a meal, seeking for water or courting a mate in heat, while for humanoids it might be the setting up of a campsite to face the night, the staging of an attack on prey of opportunity or the rushed digging of a bolt hole for valuables.

The distance covered by the tracks, as dictated by the pool’s total, in miles; As regards terrain difficulty, it is assumed that whichever movement modifiers are affecting the party must have likewise affected their target and will equally modify the trail distance, unless the quarry had some special movement type to counteract difficulties.

The quarry behaviour, is determined by the initial roll, if one of the dice comes up a ‘1’ it is given as “cautious”, whereas it will instead be “rushing” if one of the dice comes up with the maxed result. The behaviour is then kept for the whole interaction unless given motive for otherwise. All other results default to conveying ground traversed by creatures while moving at a winding and unhurried pace.

A referee pending towards the corner-cutting side of the force can use this roll in order to improvise the tracking difficulty, for when not keen on rolling up the encounter details too soon, hammering out the weather postcast or delving into the following table’s complexities. To do so, simply add 5 to the distance pool rolled and use that as makeshift DC, varying per each leg of trail. It’s quick, it’s dirty, but in the heat of a running keeping momentum can be an artful virtue.

No need for a ranger to know where this leads

The Tracking Procedure

1 – Party finds tracks through the enriched encounter die, consequence of gameplay or some other source;

2 – Referee secretly determines encounter specifics and age of tracks (entwining with weather patterns if applicable);

3 – Depending on the age of the tracks the initial bearing, overland speed and distance of the trail's first leg are then produced by the referee;

4 – Party may at this point attempt to perceive elements of the encounter’s nature;

5 – If the party commits to follow the tracks and passes the check this will initiate the tracking proper;

6 – Once the end of the first leg of the trail is reached, the referee rolls a new pool to establish the bearing for the next leg, reducing the die-size employed (at the end of a 2d10 mile trail, a 2d8 mile leg is rolled, etc.);

7 – Doubled rolls prompt the referee to immediately roll a new pool with a reduced size, unless the quarry had reason to forgo stopping, in which case the double will simply mean that the previous bearing is kept. If the new roll is once again a double, it means the quarry’s lair or camp has been found (see 10);

8 – A tracking party that is forced to suspend their efforts for any reason, if the weather turns for the worse (to the point of the adjusted DC now exceeding the rolled check) or if the trail crosses a stream, a new roll will be called to resume the tracking effort. If a day passes by, not only is a new roll called, the referee must also adjust the difficulty and increase the distance pool by one die-size.

9 – Though a trail may come to exceed 2d20 miles, the tracking attempt will eventually fail due to weathering of the tracks, unless taking place on a truly static environment such as a frozen desert or dry pan. Simply add additional d20s when accounting for such outliers.

10 – Conversely, once a trail is down to 2d4 miles the quarry will be close at hand and an encounter will be imminent, with distant sightings being a possibility, given a clear day and nonobstructive terrain. If a double is rolled at this point, it means the tracker will have found a lair (or the lair percentage is rolled, if the flat 25% does not suit the purpose).

Player-facing System

The rolls detailed below all have a hidden DC, meaning the referee should simply ask for the relevant d20 check and inform the player as to what the character has ruled out rather than afford any firm certainties.


- Identification is a task requiring specific knowledge and as such can be attempted only by characters possessing either the Nature or Survival skills;

- Wisdom (Nature/Survival), Hidden DC, varying by Creature Type and Conditions (see tables above);

- The base DC is 10 for humanoids, 15 for animals and 20 for mythical beasts whose shape does not conform with the previous two categories;

- Success on the check reveals only the broadest strokes of information on number (“one” or “several”) and most abundant type of creature leaving the tracks ("humanoid", "animal" or "something else").

- For every point the roll exceeds the hidden DC by, additional elements are revealed or ruled out by the tracker:

1 pt.) Roughly how many days have passed since the marks were made;

2 pts.) Quarry’s movement speed if fast;

3 pts.) Quarry’s movement speed if normal or cautious (but without indicating which);

4 pts.) Approximate number of creatures in a group;

5 pts.) Accurate creature type (or types if a mixed group, including presence of mounts) and  ability to discern an individual quarry’s marks.

- If the Identification attempt fails, the player will lack the knowledge to effectively anticipate a quarry’s desirability and the likeliness of catching up to its movements and will have to rely solely on physical traces to do so.


- Tracking is a task that requires training; as such, if attempted by a character without the Survival skill, the check is made at Disadvantage and the tracker’s movement rate will be halved;

- Wisdom (Survival), Hidden DC, varying by Terrain Type, Conditions and Aids to the search (see tables above);

- A successful tracking roll's result should be noted down for it may become necessary at a later point;

- Once the check is made the character is able to follow the trail for as long as circumstances remain stable: an extended rest isn’t taken, night doesn’t fall, the terrain and weather remain constant or change only in a favourable way and no other extraneous circumstances intrude upon the tracking effort;

- A failed tracking roll will mean the trail is lost soon after the start and that two hours will have to be spent retracing the way if the party wishes to try again, the referee rerolling the distance pool and keeping the highest result;

- On a fumble, the trail is irredeemably lost and such failure is compounded by only becoming apparent once half the distance of the current leg has been covered.

These are, of course, extremely rough abstractions of bearing and distance, mirroring those of a large hex scale itself. Tracks are never in a straight line and certainly should not be described as such, a quarry being presumed to roam the wild in a winding fashion and at varying speeds as it goes about its business blissfuly unaware that it is being trailed, meaning that the fact of it being faster than a man won’t necessarily translate into a greater distance covered, as it can get distracted by any number of reasons along the way, its course shaped both by the terrain or previously established trails and the creature’s need for shelter, food and water.

Particularly as it comes to bearing, this method will doubtlessly be liable to return some pretty chaotic results, which the referee may then adjust into a semblance of sense both geographically and in light of the creature’s typical behaviour, be it migratory or territorial ranging. For intelligent creatures, a destination hex, randomized or otherwise, based on the encounter specifics and deduced motivation, is something worth considering.

As regards the finality of this whole procedure, a unique critter might be cleared from an hex’s encounter table, a fugitive may be pursued, certain types of hunting game might promise treasure, hides, ivory or sustenance whereas apex life forms might prove simply too dangerous to face if not on the players’ own terms and the tracking serve as a means of avoidance rather than pursuit. As the whole process is heavily occluded, it is left for the party to assess if the potential reward might be worth the tradeoffs.

Turning the tables

Just as a party can track, so too can it be tracked. Terrain liable to produce a trail could well see erstwhile hunters become followed and ambushed by third parties in much the same fashion as they would do unto others.

How exactly to go about it isn’t the point of this post, but a handy reverse engineering of the above process would seem simple enough.

Down in the Dungeon (Tracking, the abridged version)

Unlike the great outdoors, with their implied freedom of movement, conveniently deformable environment and sweeping abstractions, down to earth affairs as dungeons tend to require rules with a finer touch.

Rather than the overcrowded compounds usually presented in modules, I envision a dungeon as being the sort of place where little goes on for days or even months at a time and where a set of tracks can be aeons old and of complete irrelevance to the present. Even laying such considerations aside, simply following along a trail in such an alien environment can tend toward extremes: a place can be so populated and transited as to make tracking completely unsuitable or so shuttered and unstirred that any active denizens may creep, but cannot really hide.

In the deep confines under the ground, tracking becomes less about physical imprints and more a matter of smells, sounds, near-sightings, intuition and small victories. It won’t usually be possible to pick a few footprints or dropped breadcrumbs from three days hence and follow across the whole length of a rocky subterraneum to home in on a creature’s present position but hints of its presence about the enclosed area may well turn an encounter into a matter of time.

Here be methods three:

- Whenever a set of fresh tracks is found the referee plots a course by randomizing a starting point (be it a room or an entryway) and a destination, the roll of the encounter die then doubling as a progress tracker of rooms traversed by the encounter, with the trail becoming cold once the trajectory has been fully completed.


- Randomize a room as being the critter’s present location or lair and enable successful tracking attempts to rule out intersections, rooms or whole portions of the dungeon by inference.

or, simplest of all,

- If the characters declare that they’re following the traces left by a creature and pass the corresponding tracking check, halve their exploration speed and any encounter thereon rolled will have a 50% chance of being the quarry, caught unawares.

domingo, 9 de dezembro de 2018

Set and Setting - VI - Death and Passing Rituals

Set and Setting is a series of posts intended as aid in fleshing out a world by way of setting-specific rule design and reinterpretation.


First disease, now death. The onset of Winter does prompt the morbid streak.

It is known that characters on the old school warpath constantly walk the line between the rewards of odds-defiance and the dregs of disposability. Superiorly played characters are made to thrive between these two extremes whereas others just end up as casualties. This post happens to be about the latter.

Even as one advocates rolling in the open, not cuddling up to players, not defusing hard choices and keeping the threat of death dangling at the front, back and general periphery of adventurers, there lingers this nagging awareness that, as one walks this talk, there's this one little snag that, statistically speaking, will eventually come to pass… *cue the drums*

The Protagonist Lies Dead

Verily a dismaying premise with which to begin a post.

As an all too natural consequence of repeated brushes with death, even on the players' own terms, someone is bound to eventually slip in the proverbial bathtub and ingloriously snap their gangly neck. Just ask Friedrich Barbarossa about his name-level sometime.

Dealing with the event of a cherished persona’s demise and having to say farewell to a storied survivor of many battles, no matter how glorious the final act, requires a level of maturity and upper lip starch that doesn’t come easy. A senseless death is always hard to stomach and the playstyle here endorsed forcibly presents plenty of chances for it to be just so. Speaking of a running where bleeding out is not regarded as something wholly unavoidable, a couple of questions then beg themselves: 

"When to introduce the replacement character into play?"


What is to be done with a character’s possessions and wealth once he leaves the mortal coil?”.

or even

How to silverline such a debacle without abdicating from the running’s core principles, mainly the one stating that a new character is to unfailingly begin play at first level?

Regarding the issue zero of character replacement, an agile generation process and swift inception into play are matters where a setting’s realism dial can be relaxed to the utmost. Having players who are real people with finite schedules twiddle their thumbs because the party has yet to travel enough miles to reach the nearest population centre and credibly recruit a worthy successor is the kind of stonewalling that is not conducive to good play. Whenever there is a need for a character to hold the torch aloft, conceding to a series of fortunate events short of coincidental teleportation is the soundest practice. However, what fate to reserve for the deceased one’s belongings is quite another matter. The gamist optic would point at the strange newcomer being expected to inherit everything for being under the control of the same player with not a peep heard from the rest of the characters, whereas the more realistic approach would sooner see these spoils declared as communal property of the party. What follows is an attempt to straddle the road.

The procedure, far from being a novel idea, was directly inspired by OSR readings, though the exact source eludes me. Working best with a more accumulative style of play, it is envisioned to serve the dual purpose of allowing a degree of in-setting mitigation for character death without compromising the running’s principle of new characters joining as glorified nobodies and introducing a way to shed wealth and gear off a party’s hands, shearing excesses that might come with successful adventure.

Raising a Horn for the Fallen

It is presumed that members of a party are conjoined by iron bonds of camaraderie, friendship and mutual respect, forged in the heat of braved danger, with nothing but a little less to be expected from among the respective players.

Having surviving party members merrily hand their departed comrade’s panoply to a new arrival is behaviour that is past enforcing. Sentiment, religious and moral ethics could presumedly conspire to prevent other characters from simply doing away with the fallen’s gear and treasure share, to say nothing of his inheritance and estate, but necessity lies at the heart of exploration and the heartless types are people too. Accepting that the world turns on incentives – games presenting an excellent microcosmos of this truism – just wishing for parties to care about their fallen isn’t garanteed to accomplish much, especially in a sandbox-type running.

Ultimately, the decision to avail oneself to the advantages of a ritual of passing is to lie with the player of the deceased character. The stark trade-off being that any prized possessions should follow their rightful owner on to the next life, that they may serve in battles and trials yet to come.

“Look Upon My Works, Ye Mighty,…”

Mausol’s Tomb, the Valley of Kings, towering Grave Mounds, portentous Last Voyages and Funeral Pyres to hold the very night at bay. These structures, these rites, they all exist to serve as a marker in time, to signal the point of a great passing and, on a world with fewer people, with the mark of greatness being more keenly felt, the erecting of a unique structure or the enactment of such momentous rites resounds as a clarion call for all sorts of questing hopefuls and minor would-be heroes across the land to go on a pilgrimage and come bear witness to a great departure, known faces from the character’s remote past as well as those met during a life rich with adventure. From among them, one may offer to join the fallen hero’s bereft companions.

The Crunchy Bits

The procedure consists of two parts, one being the practical effects that are mechanically formalized and the other being the ritual proper, which is abstracted and mostly freeform, open to player preference as it comes to the ceremony itself, meant to generate play that will fill downtime while a new character is rolled up and equipped.

‘Habeas Corpus?’ (Prerequisites)

- The fallen character’s body, if still whole, must be brought back to civilization, that it may be ritually displayed, mourned over and take its due part in the performance of the death ritual. If only bodily remains are left, these too must be brought back, though the experience total afforded by the ritual will be halved; If no body is present at all, the cheapened ceremony’s yields will be halved yet again;

- All of the vanquished’s personal possessions (armour, weapons, magical items) must be permanently removed from play, in whatever way deemed appropriate to the death ritual;

- Mundane objects (such as rations, rope and other sundry adventuring equipment) can be put to use however the party sees fit;

- Hirelings and Retainers associated with the deceased will disband upon returning to civilization unless a new mutually beneficial arrangement can be produced.

Rituals of Passing

How the preparations are to be made is entirely up to arrangement between the players and the referee. The mechanic cares only for fungible value, no matter if it be spent on professional mourners, incense, grave goods, commissioning bards, exotic scented wood for a pyre or on the act of putting people to death for service in the afterlife. Logically, the lower tiers of expenditure will correspond to lesser perishables and ceremonial expenses, whereas the upper reaches of value may allow the players to dot the landscape with an impressive monument.

What follows is a very raw table of generalist items, placeholding for whatever the appropriate in-setting representation of passing rites may happen to be. Regarding the part of retinal imprint: how elaborate the ceremony, how imposing the religious character of the event and how long it all takes to fully pan out, that should be strictly a matter shaped by circumstance and the flow of player investment.

A New Protagonist Emerges

Once the prerequisite issues have been resolved and the party finds itself amidst civilization, the group having decided upon what sum to devote to the ritual and plotted its general outline with the referee, comes the point where the final tally can be calculated:

- A new character will enter play with a corresponding number of starting Xp points equal to the number of silver pieces spent on the death ritual;

- If the new character has already joined play by the time the passing is enacted, the above amount won’t be awarded in bulk but will instead constitute a pool from which Xp will be drawn in a phased fashion, matching whatever experience the character gains with an equal amount from the pool, effectively doubling the Xp gain as long as the pool persists;

- Individual contributions made by companions of the deceased are likewise converted into pools that will increase their respective Xp gains.


- The new character must be at least one full level lower than the departed. Ritual expenses past this point will cease producing Xp benefits, though other, less intangible ones, may possibly be unlocked;

- Though a single character can foot the costs if he so wishes, players must be allowed to contribute at least an equal share.

This is meant to enable the occasional new character to join that isn’t a rank neophyte, though it is expectable that parties will hardly ever have enough wealth to uphold multiple such rites in quick succession should fatalities begin to mount. This could lead to a more strategic use of wealth in the form of reserve savings for the eventuality of an early demise.

Closing thoughts – Those that bid farewell

Characters that are simply retired from play are not entitled to pass on their gear beyond token gifts, as the act of retiring grants them NPChood and thus a will of their own, being that there is little way to conceive of a character handing over all of his hard-won possessions and fortune, even to former comrades.

On a more wishful long-term view, it might even be conceivable to have characters raid a funerary compound designed and built by another party in the same sandbox.