quarta-feira, 26 de janeiro de 2022

Them Bones of Adventuring XXVII - Short Procedure for Chases


My bid for captaincy of HMS Obvious meets a new chapter, with yet another hat throw unto the ring of marginal mechanics. As the totally predictable follow-up to the topic on better parts of craveness here is a dustup on rules for chases.

From combats where the tide has ebbed low to the branching fortunes of the downheeled thief, chases should be infrequent but consequence-laden events, important enough so as to need rules detailing them. T’is already distasteful when the would-be heroes are forced into a hasty retreat but to then have them pursued really takes a slice. Tightly coiled along with the concept of morale for NPCs, chase rules are important to defuse acute afflictions of ‘fight to the death’ syndrome and allow the possibility for PC and NPC alike to extricate themselves from harm's way as well as the means for them to be chased and put down like the cowardly dogs that they are.

My previous draft didst turn out much too finicky as reiterated sums and subtractions of distance do not invite the kind of fast-paced resolution one aims to get from a chase. Just as with the revising of Stealth the slant has gone toward the mind’s eye and away from mapped situations as I’ve come to conceptualize chases less as neat yardstick measurings and eased into the minimalism of abstract uncertainty the better to represent those desperate bursts of blurred progress.

Design Constraints – On Group Checks and Rooting for the Little Man

Chases are presumed to deal with two parties moving at roughly the same speed, an assumption that doesn’t always square with the realities of play; Or ever, if one accounts for the shorter stature of some races or compares physically fit warriors and rogues to frail casters, to speak nothing of the vagaries of exhaustion and encumbrance.

One should also pause when conceiving of chases as an extended series of rolls as I’d been guilty of doing, considering that the more rolls are performed during a given contest the more normalized the results will become, accentuating the tendency for the stronger party to emerge victorious and thus defeat the purpose of rolling in the first place. Despite this seemingly pointing to the elegance of single roll resolution, I must dig the heels in the sand somewhat as the matter of chases do present a problematic Z-axis: the distance covered as the pursuit unfolds. This begets some drilldown as certain opportunities for player action and narration alike can present themselves as ground is treaded in a pursuit.

Finally come the classic pitfalls of having an “every man for his d20” situation, the variance of which will invariably doom at least one escapee to flat-footedness at the most inopportune of times, turning chases into a “which of us is gonna faceplant first” circling of the sarlacc pit. Whereas on stealth I’m the first to posit individual checks in accordance with a principle of niche protection the same thinking doesn’t quite hold when applied to chases being that there is no class whose primary field of competence consists in running away the fastest.

The procedure should thus:

- Be a group check that doesn’t totally obliterate the chances of underperforming cogs in the fleeing machine (this having been done at the outset by adopting 5E’s decidedly forgiving movement rates for those shorter of stride).

- Key off of movement rate alone, given that creatures in AD&D boast abridged statistics.

- Limit excessive rolling, additions and subtractions, keeping to small numbers translatable to greater distances as needed, aiming for resolution before the adrenaline rush subsides.

- Allow a quantum of player input beyond the algorithmic. Painting chases as rich with pondered decision-taking doubtlessly casts them in a false light as people running for dear life at lung ejecting pace tend to rely on little past their gut flora for decisions but it is to be assumed the tomatoes are halfway set to ‘pulp’ over here.

In sum, this is out to champion the view that chases should either be short and sweet or short and sour, the short bit being the one that’s actually important, with the possibility of running away to be regarded mostly as something to be prepared for in advance, parties needing to be mindful of their weight distribution and gear loadout while exploring (including what can realistically be discarded at a moment’s notice) if they wish to keep their options open should an unsurmountable challenge be encountered.

The Chase Procedure

As an encounter evolves into a chase determine the procedure’s adjustment and roll on the following table until one of the two obvious results is made manifest.

Chase Roll (2d6)



Rout – as per (3), but any unlevelled NPCs attacked must pass an immediate morale check or be killed outright


Rear Attack – escape fails and melee breaks out. Each pursuer gets one free charge attack from the rear, picking targets from among the slower characters first


Caught in a Fighting Retreat – escape fails, pursuers win initiative as melee combat is joined


Pursuers Close the Gap –  the chase ends with the quarry being stopped by an obstacle, hitting a cul-de-sac or simply being outperformed; one last round of action is granted before this happens


Chase Continues – no clear outcome, the parties move the appropriate distance and another round is rolled


Still Lurking About – escape succeeds, encounter chance increases by 1. If an encounter occurs by that margin within the next three checks the eluded pursuer will have found the quarry again


Lost Equipment – escape succeeds, each character randomizes a slot from the inventory and loses any items in it


Exhausted – escape succeeeds, characters check CON or increase exhaustion (automatic -1 to rolls if NPCs)


Unscathed – quarry escapes untouched

Chase Roll Modifier: this number is mostly fixed for the procedure’s duration, changing only if one of the reference characters is switched or otherwise gains or loses speed, be it from shed equipment, magic item activation or some other circumstance

·      Speed Difference: the roll receives an 1-point adjustment for every 20’ difference in movement rate      between the fastest pursuer and the slowest fugitive, the adjustment being negative if the pursuer is          faster and positive if the comparison favours the quarry.

o   A character who breaks into a run quadruples his movement rate per round, as determined from his speed adjusted for encumbrance and exhaustion

·       Initial distance between parties: a d6 is added to the roll for every six units of encounter distance (60 feet in the dungeon, 60 yards in the wilderness, etc.). The roll is then made using the highest two results. Every round beyond the first will remove one of the extra dice as distance is closed

·      Unwieldy Groups: once a side exceeds 10 elements then for every time it outnumbers the opposing group the pursuit roll is adjusted by 1 in favour of the smaller party

Space Traversed – this keys off the main roll and will vary according to the environment in which the chase takes place:

·         highest d6 for number of rooms in a dungeon/indoors

·         lowest d6 for streets in a city

·         roll's total * 10 yards in the outdoors

·     one notable geographic feature for long distance overland chases in the wilderness (or highly abstracted cities) 

Sometimes a chase may have a conditional escape condition set into it requiring nothing but keeping up the pursuit without getting caught – ‘if a sallying party can make it back through the drawbridge, they’re in the clear’ – for which the distance can be an important factor to keep in mind.

Actions during the chase – between rolls, characters may be presented with the chance for minor or movement-related actions other than negotiating direct obstacles, as allowed by the surrounding environment, be it attempts to hide, splitting the chase (whipping up a parallel procedure), shedding equipment to alleviate encumbrance or setting up obstacles for pursuers. Ranged attacks or spells are generally not possible, hit-and-run tactics requiring iterated use of the procedure (meaning a successful escape for every missile discharge).

Random Encounters – when in places subject to random encounters a check is prompted every time a double is rolled, to account for the noise and distance covered.

Note that a successful escape will by no means represent the end of a party’s woes in a closed environment such as a dungeon but often merely a reprieve from immediate danger unless it be followed by further distancing efforts from its source.

Closing Thoughts - Chasing Tails

Everything proposed above is of course highly abstracted but past the basic elements of the act itself, a protracted chase – especially one in an urban environment – should get its flavour from the finishing point and whatever is encountered along the way. In this the early editions leave anything past the dry procedure to the individual ref’s discretion whereas 5E offers up a few toothless random tables of mishaps. Both approaches miss the mark, in that a chase needs decision points for player input (and it’s rather difficult to produce instances that are not ultimately reducible to the PCs making a blind choice) and a background reel that will provide some sort of context and avoid the whole thing coming off as an asseptic exercise in dice rolling.

This problem can be tackled by descriptive abstraction (embracing minimalism), explicit mapping (urbancrawling), pre-planned chase setpieces, emergent accrual of details through random tables or simply wholesale improvisation. I don’t as yet particularly lean in favour of any approach and have a strong suspicion that the answer could lie in an outright mixture of all of the above as dictated by the rythm demands of the running to keep things fresh, avoid the polyhedral tug-of-war and allow for setting arabesques to crop up.

segunda-feira, 26 de abril de 2021

Them Bones of Adventuring - XXVI: Revising Stealth


The title's actually not a typo. We’ve gone a few more times around the sun since I last poked my head into adventuring rules and my bookending post before burning out like a motherfucker back in twenty-nineteen had been precisely on systems for stealth and just as I was grinding the axe for another go at it, fancying myself full of new ideas, I went back for a refresher course on my own thinking on the matter. Surprisingly, the prose was impenetrable, the style was insufferable, the pictures were pretty… and the ideas were mostly all there already. Talk about being one’s own wet blanket.

Despite turning up late for my own party I’ve nevertheless come to embrace a different stance on the rules and believe it is time to dust off and readress the systems governing these actions now under a more minimalist and mature perspective. My most recent post featured a few instances of numeric bonuses to stealth, either in the shape of Hide in Shadows or Moving Silently so this post seems appropriate, as what I’ve intended for these systems begets some explaining.

The Elusive Nature of Stealth

I stress the topic of stealth as much as I do because, along with the trusty companionship of the chase rules, it is one of the bulkwarks of old school play, a vital fallback position for when things don’t go so well and forty orcs appear where the manual for precious softball throws would suggest no more than four, so as not to cause undue heroic indigestion. Because if one is serious about doing away with artificial encounter pre-calibration or storygamey godly foists of salvation (and this to say nothing of the slimy matter that is fudged rolls), one is behooved to have credible rules to support all those better parts of valour. Looking at it another way, I love me a good heist, seeing stealth as a prime ground for sowing tension, later to be reaped and squeezed for gaming juice through the vise-grip of uncertainty, oftentimes on deceptively low or controllable stakes: will or won’t the protagonists be found out, and if so, when?

Mirroring the AD&D book, I embrace the separation of Stealth into two sub-headers – Hide in Shadows and Move Silently – , which despite not being by any length an absolute conceptual necessity, do come in handy for partitioning possible racial abilities, item bonuses and thief skills without supercharging a character too quickly. On the other hand, in a clear move of mechanical compromise with the new school, percentile roll resolutions are eschewed for thief skills (many of them generalist adventuring fare), their resolution to rely instead on either attribute checks or other rules where appropriate.

Ultimately, stealth to me is a process in search of the right mix of abstraction, agency and procedural flow. Whereas my previous proposal advocated witholding all information from the player here you’ll find me experimenting with a bit more transparency, something which might pluck an unrealistic chord but could turn out fruitful in terms of player engagement. I also want things to flow smoothly in the abtract mind’s eye, avoiding reliance on mapped situations or exhaustive description of spaces whenever possible, something which can tax a referee, especially in an urban setting, and end up acting as a subconscious driver against strealth attempts.

Shy of stating that I’ve hit upon a simple rules solution, I can only say that I’m limping along the path to simpler solutions overall.

Approaching a target by stealth

If a character attempts an approach that relies mainly on visual avoidance it is classed as an attempt to Hide in Shadows; if it’s noise that’s the deciding factor, then Move Silently is what gets checked. This has implications on the spotting distance thresholds and possible penalties, as hiding in shadows is of use to remain undetected while stationary and on approaches reliant on cover while moving silently is called to the fore when trying to gain the last few feet on an unwary target.

Whether ambushing or trying to escape undetected – witnesses, victims, guards or monsters – all are classed as “targets” to a stealth attempt. A check is only called at a point from which proximity or dispersion of cover is such as to require skill to conceal one’s presence.

Moving Silently

The rationale for silent progress is that anything beyond the bare essential applies penalties and little short of skill training will grant bonuses. The penalties are deliberately made stringent, as the lightest scrape or rattling noise from carried objects or wielded weaponry can give away one’s position.

·         In order to move silently, a character may move no faster than half his walking speed

Spotting Distance

·         The standard spotting distance for noise is 3d6 * 5 feet

·         The above can be modified by floor surface, the wind’s direction or the level of background noise (the crash of seawaves, spatter of rain, a street’s bustle, etc.)

Check Penalties

·         -1 per point of AC bonus

·         -1 per size above d4 of the largest weapon carried  (or other cumbersome object)

·         -1 for each inventory slot filled beyond the hands


Hide in Shadows

This skill applies to all attempts at visual concealment involving cover of any sort, be it shadows, rainfall, fog, building nooks or foliage. It can only be attempted away from onlookers, after which the character’s capacity for movement without compromising his stealth will vary from bursts of speed from cover to cover to inching at a slow crawl, depending on the situation.

Spotting Distance

The efficacy of hiding in shadows is determined by lighting and abundance of cover. Unlike with hearing, visual spotting distances are prone to varying greatly due to circumstances, shifting the distance pool’s number of dice, unit of measurement or die sizes accordingly: the greater the density of cover and the worse the visual conditions, the shorter the overall spotting range.

·         The standard spotting distance is 3d6 * 5 yards

·         Hiding attempts will only get a character as far as cover allows, ending where the treeline does, regardless of rolls

·         If hiding in close proximity to a target, the character must keep almost entirely still to avoid detection, being allowed only slow, careful gestures (such as drawing a weapon)

·         Vision-blocking cover supercedes the above considerations (unless sound comes into play)

Check Penalties

·         -1 if wearing garish clothing (-1 per 2 points of AC bonus for metal armour)

·         -1 per other exposed metal item carried (weaponry, etc.)

·         -1 if carrying a large (two-handed) weapon or similar object

·         -1 per level of encumbrance

The Standard Procedure

1.       Player declares an attempt to approach a target through stealth, if it is deemed possible

2.       Referee classes the attempt as either Hiding in Shadows or Moving Silently and evaluates a rough spotting distance, as well as any check penalties, communicating these conditions to the player

3.       If the player proceeds, referee secretly rolls the spotting distance pool along with a single d20, organizing the distance dice into decreasing tiers, each constituting a sensory threshold at which the character may be detected

4.       Every time the character reaches a spotting threshold, referee informs the player of the remaining distance and asks for further action, checking the character’s stealth at increased difficulty if he decides to get closer

a.       The outermost threshold (highest spotting die) corresponds to a check made at standard difficulty, meaning the d20 is compared to the character’s Dexterity attribute

                                                   i.      A character that crosses this threshold and then decides to attack has initiative and target must roll for surprise (1-3 in d10)

b.      For the second threshold to be crossed, the check becomes difficult, as the d20 is compared to half the character’s Dexterity attribute

                                                   i.      As above, but target is surprised on 1-5 in d10

c.       When the third threshold is crossed, the check becomes very difficult, and the d20 is compared to the character’s halved-again Dexterity attribute

                                                   i.      If still undetected and no more thresholds remain, the character may come as close as he will to the target, and attempt a take-out or assassination, being assured of complete surprise

d.      If any distance thresholds remain past this point, it implies a minimum distance that cannot be overcome by stealth alone (this may happen in certain circumstances of cover scarcity as well as if trying to approach a monster or animal with a keen sense of smell or other exotic sense)

e.  Certain protracted attempts may shift at midpoint from being Hide in Shadows to being Moving Silently. Either fold them under one or the other or, if too egregious to ignore, calculate new penalties and take it from there. The dice roll itself should remain untouched. 

- When a character is found out, simply roll Initiative and play out the aftermath from there (not to imply that there will be a combat, as the sneaking character may be found out quite a distance away from a target)

Alternate Procedures – Fading from sight

On discrete instances where no one is specifically paying attention to the character and immediately hiding under nearby cover is all that matters, a single difficult check rolled by the referee can determine if a character manages to make himself scarce, either when slinking into the deepest shadows in time to avoid a guard patrol, dissolving into a crowd after cutting a purse or leaving an inn’s common room without being noticed.

By way of example

Let us take for example a narrow moonlit street, slightly ascending and ending at a gatehouse to the city’s inner defensive wall. Heurgon, a 4th level assassin, wishes to make his way up the length of the street, climb the wall of the gatehouse and ultimately plant a dagger between the shoulderblades of the sentry manning the battlements before lowering a rope to his confederates. Having stated this intent, the referee identifies the first part of the attempt as Hiding in Shadows and adjudicates a spotting distance of 3d6 * 5 yards for the bored sentry’s occasional glances at the street. Upon some questioning from the player for further means of access, it turns out that a jutting wooden balcony on one of the houses adjacent to the gate provides a sizable blindspot that can be worked with, as it will block the view of roughly the last ten yards of the left side of the street from the sentry’s position. Heurgon decides to advance along that side of the street, prompting the referee to secretly roll the sentry’s spotting distance – 3, 5 and another 3 come up: 55 yards. The referee detains the character at this distance, revealing it’s total (but not the pool’s roll) to the player and informing that the assassin has sneaked as far as possible without requiring a check and asking if he wishes to continue, to which the player replies affirmatively. A d20 is equally rolled in secret, coming up a 7, well within Heurgon’s dexterity of 16 (minus 1 for being burdened with the rope and a few other items, plus 2 for his level) – the referee pours some description on the table as the character negotiates the dim street, flitting from shadow to shadow, stopping at a point, thirty yards from the sentry (and twenty from the balcony), where it is to become yet more difficult to proceed while avoiding detection. Weighing his chances, the player chooses to continue. The referee now compares the rolled 7 to the assassin’s halved dexterity rate of 9 (8-1+2) and shaves a further fifteen yards from his silent trek, explaining that it takes a fair bit longer to traverse this distance, as Heurgon is forced to pause time and again to make absolutely sure that he hasn’t been found out. Finally, the referee states that the assassin is now peering from behind a resting cart at a distance of roughly 15 yards from the sentry, five yards shy of the desired cover, which to be reached will unfortunately require a new difficulty increase (that would allow unfettered access all the way to the wall itself). Weighing his options, it soon becomes apparent that the penalties for low visibility and the protection of the crenellations make a killing shot from his crossbow highly unlikely at this range, leading the player to state that he feels like Heurgon’s going to have to back out. Now, since our referee has a soft spot in his heart for eaters of hemp and the matter can be framed as one of crossing a short amount of ground to hide in the immediate surroundings, he points to the alternative of an attempt at Fading from View (see above). The player takes up the chance, and is prompted by the referee to roll the check himself, given that the result will be immediately apparent to the character. The player rolls a 3 and so Heurgon manages to slink under the balcony right as the sentry unleashes a full-bellied yawn. Reaching the foot of the wall below the unwary guard, the assassin proceeds to hug it as he crosses the street, so as to attempt the climb at some distance from where the sentry stands, fearful that the noise might give him away. As he does this, the grating sound of a throat being cleared is heard from above, followed by a plump wad of spit landing heavily at Heurgon’s feet with a rich thud (DMs need their fun, too). Unfazed, the assassin sagely waits out for the guard to exchange his quarter-hourly shoutout with the sentinels from the neighbouring towers before starting his ascent. From here, this little fable could go a number of ways, from a completely successful infiltration to the assassin dislodging a loose piece of shingle on his way up and getting a crossbow bolt through the windpipe for his troubles. But what matters is the stealth portion was resolved on the back of a single roll of 3d6 + d20 for the referee.

A note on Collective Checks

In the above example, if a whole party wished to follow suit, all it would take would be to compare the individual dexterity attributes and respective modifiers with the exact same standing numbers. No matter how many characters attempt to approach a target, the same set of rolls is used as comparison against their stats. This is crucial in protecting a party from variance, as multiple different checks, no matter how easy, would invariably lead to one of them being blown and the game being up. If a target is somehow distracted or circumstances change in any substantial way, a second roll may replace the first, providing it is lower (if the conditions improve for the stealth attempt) or higher (if the attempt becomes more complicated).

Variance for groups of characters collectively attempting stealth, long a splinter in the shoe, is thus finally adressed to my satisfaction as, by rolling just one die independently of the number of participants in a group, the procedure organically tests only the weakest character involved: if he passes the check, all others necessarily do as well.


Ambushes are a mixed bag in terms of adjudication, mostly hinging on the balancing of two factors inherent to each attempt: concealment and ambusher field of vision.

A high-field of vision, low-concealment ambush would be one in which the party can clearly see the approaching enemy and coordinate their actions unimpeded but that relies on cover that does not guarantee perfect concealment, such as trees or undergrowth. Here a standard Hide in Shadows attempt could be made, which would work exactly like an inversion of the usual mechanic, with the characters remaining stationary as their target approaches.

On the other hand, a low-field of vision, high concealment situation would be something as presented by an alleyway’s cramped quarters with a good lookout spot to signal the attack, such as a small hole in a wall, and plenty of solid cover to keep the remaining characters fully out of sight until the attack is called, something which would mechanically be abstracted directly to an initial surprise attack round plus an additional surprise roll (which, if failed, would lead to a second unopposed round), heavily adjusted for circumstances. The catch would be that information on what the ambushers are about to face would be witheld until the fight is joined and each character would have to declare beforehand his course of action for the initial round, as they wouldn’t have any sensory input beyond the lookout’s shout for attack. If the ambushed party happens to boast something completely unexpected, such as a brace of vicious attack dogs or an enslaved troll, the surprise roll could turn mutual and things might very well backfire.

Regardless of the method of resolution employed, it should be considered when dealing with sentient beings that, sometimes, a perfect ambush spot can be too perfect, prompting cautious approaches. Cunning enemies will tend to scout ahead and altogether avoid "dark spots" as NPC behaviour cannot always be predicted. The occasional reaction roll, with the distribution covering cautious, neutral and carefree behaviours can be used to ensure that not all inviting ambush scenarios pan out as expected.

Closing Thoughts – Keeping it flexible

Flexibility, flexibility, flexibility.

A fully realized running, especially one that’s urban-driven and boasting certain character classes (and classes of player), will feature many a situation temptingly faced on the tip of one’s toes; these will sometimes be simple but more often present as a hideous tangle. Breathing down other people’s necks won’t always be the stated endgame of a stealth attempt, as overhearing conversations, peering into a room where you’re not supposed to be, subtraction of objects or just plain reaching the nearest piece of hard cover all qualify as possibilities. As such, be prepared for the unexpected and to make hard and fast rule calls. This is the kind of thing that just cannot be covered wholesale on a page and where I feel your preferences as adjudicator when dealing with it, from smothering most situations at birth like so many kittens to allowing players to bind themselves on that long rope you’ve given them with a smile, will ultimately shape and dictate a personal style.

In any event it will demand exceeding care from a referee. Clearly place down the goal posts for any stealth attempt, keep your thinking out loud, inquire players as to what they think their characters are seeing and emphatically pin down whatever elements are particularly relevant to the resolution. A good situation framing is essential long before any dice are picked up.

terça-feira, 9 de março de 2021

Set & Setting - XII - The Races of Man Revisited


Again I peer into this corner of the fantastic conceptarium: mankind and the close analogues thereof, at once different yet all touched by the human condition, organized into a roster that recognizably calls back to the shared literary gestalt that underpins the entire genre (with later contributions from other media).

This most eminently unfashionable of topics is broached for aforementioned reasons two: immersion into another world, of course, but also as a means of adding variety to play through character details, by ensuring that a human ranger and an elven ranger don’t amount to quite exactly the same.

Here, more than ever, is a matter where holding fast onto mechanical differences will serve the game best, rather than waxing poetic over ornate psychological subjectivities that might prove apt for a literary study in character but that for the sake of play must come to be regarded as fully optional or left at the door.

Past establishing the above, it must be said that addressing it was decidedly not a strength of AD&D, whose draft of playable races is… lackluster, to say the least. And I don’t mean its selection per se, as these calques of humanity who some might find unbearably staid are perfectly palatable to me. It is the rules governing them that are rather lazily cut and pasted, resulting in a bunch of roses with different name tags. This exercise in redundancy sees five races be awkwardly brushed with uneven strokes from a repetitive set of mechanics: dwarves and gnomes forming one of the “ability groups”, half-elves and elves making up the other and halflings left to be squeezed in the middle, taking a little ballast from each. It feels like a collective identity crisis all the way, granting that a little of it makes sense due to shared heritages, but designwise equating an attempt to butter five toasts with enough butter just for two. 5th edition is afforded the benefit of having had three whole editions of fermentation since that time, yet it provides a deal that’s only a little better in this regard, having opted for minimization of the racial element to the point of vestigiality.

The big mechanical problem with races is that rather than lending variety and adding interest, their advantages simply funnel the canny player into a “perfect match” rut of sorts, giving us the rational stereotypes of the halfling thief, the half-elven bard, the elven ranger and assorted chestnuts. I’m to continue to strive for the platonic ideal, mostly within the constraints of the source material, to have each combination of race and class offer something a little different. Not as easy as it might first appear, this will undoubtedly see me return to the drawing board time and again as class writeups are touched upon. Granted, it is inescapable that a given race will always suit a given class best, the challenge lies in making it so that the deal isn’t a completely open-and-shut one.

The Limits of Exoticism

Time for a short detour before we continue.

I talk about wanting different play experiences and yet I’ll dismiss out of hand most of the catalogue of aberrations borne out of edition bloat, later to be enshrined in the cores of 4th and 5th, the lot of them undisputedly different and playable, yes, but in the way of a computer game avatar. Effective play beyond the confines of 8-bit hack & slash requiring human emotion, being what makes me wary of “speak with …” spells and helps explain my abiding hatred of character pets.

The willingness to play around with elves and dwarves, as done-before as it may be, has a reason: they're possessed of both legendary heft and a close enough affinity to humanity that ultimately makes them relatable.

As I may have mentioned earlier, when it comes to my tolkienistic views of fantasy, I’m a deeply, deeply vanilla, “one-missionary-to-screw´em-all-and-in-the-darkness-bind-them” kind of guy. I could perfectly stand to live with a game with nothing past mankind – of which demihumans can hardly escape being a distorted reflection – for I am of a mind that there’s a liminal point of believability in rpgs that is invisible, unsoundable and yet it is there. Step on it and you’ll feel the running cheapen on the spot. Take two steps further and you’ve got a full-blown furry convention on your hands.

Playable Races & Design Thoughts

Having left subjectivism to the care of philosophers and method actors what remains are the mechanical leverages. I’ve decided for 5-6 salient characteristics for the demihumans, starting from AD&D 2nd but plundering far and wide for inspiration as well as rubbing off some of my own musk in between. Many among these are bound to be numeric bonuses which on the one hand are terribly unexciting but on the other are good objective markers of competence that don’t require special attention on the player’s part (as analysis paralysis is a definite concern).

I also return to the concept of apex and nadir attributes (the bolded stat increases and decreases), who have to be assigned the highest and lowest rolls respectively, being compulsively switched, if rolling in order.


·         Movement: 30’, medium size

Racial Abilities

·         Zestful Drive: 10% bonus to experience point gain

·         Adaptability: may round attribute fractions up when facing difficult or very difficult checks

Eligible Classes: Any class

Men are nothing if not an oddity, traditionally presumed as preeminent in the typical fantasy setting (even if we look at sci-fantasy) but for which no credible mechanical reason whatsoever is ever given. The thematic of being adaptable and tolerant is touted back and forth, or we get some vague “the time of men has come” platitudes implying that the other denizens of the world have simply packed it in and given up. On the other hand, humanity is overwhelmingly multifaceted, so whatever I came up with would have to fit with every class and every playstyle. In the interest of simplicity (for they're not to be dislodged from their usual place as the most common race), the benefits of playing a human are always at work and, though discreet, incredibly effective no matter the situation.

Knowing that oftentimes conquests aren't entirely attained through capability as much as they are by sheer will to prevail, I made out humanity’s lot – our lot – as being spurred by the curiosity afforded them by their mortality, translating the gift of superior drive into gaining in levels at a faster rate. Their other ability effectively acts as a conditional minor increase to every stat when the chances of success are narrowed, the exact kind of understated advantage that makes for a good all-rounder.

Lastly, altough the notion of level limits is one that I reject outright, the same isn’t true for classes. Humans are allowed to choose any class for which they qualify.


·         Movement: 25’, small size

·         Attribute Adjustments:

o   +1 Dexterity

o   -1 Strength

Racial Abilities

·         Lesser Resilience: +2 bonus to Saving Throws against Poison/Death

·         Lesser Magic Resistance: +2 bonus to Saving Throws against Magic

·         Nimbleness: +4 bonus to Evasion Saving Throws against melee attacks from large-sized (or larger) creatures

·         Ambusher: +2 bonus to attempts to Hide in Shadows (+4 if in vegetation)

·         Rock-throwing: +1 bonus on attack rolls made with slings & thrown weapons

Eligible Classes: Fighter, Thief, Ranger, Druid, Assassin

Half-Men stand conceptually astride dwarves and elves, they’ve decent saves against magic, poison or death (meaning most spellcasting is off the table) and slipperyness and stealth aplenty. They have a hard time presenting as credible fighters, that being the archetype most disproportionally impacted by the race’s small size and strength penalty. In order to offset this, they become the sole proprietors of the coveted defense bonus against large opponents, along with an ambushing specialty and a minor weapon bonus, being perhaps the second best all-rounders after mankind. Their choices of class are restricted by my view of them to mirror that found in Dark Sun, where pastoralism is nowhere to be found. They’re fierce tribal warriors gathering in burrow-dwelling communities, their religious observance guided by shamanism as represented through the Druid class.


·         Movement: 25’, medium* size

*(Counts as small-sized for feats of athletic movement)

·         Attribute Adjustments:

o   +2 Constitution; +1 Strength

o   -2 Dexterity; -1 Charisma

Racial Abilities

·         Infravision 60’ (perceives shapes but not colour nor fine details)

·         Workhorse: treats Exhaustion and Encumbrance penalties as being one level lower

·      Resilience: +4 to Saving Throws against Poison/Death; always applies CON bonuses to HD, regardless of level

·        Magic Resistance: +4 to Saving Throws against Magic; magical items not of dwarven make that are worn or used have a 1 in 4 chance of temporarily losing their dweomer due to the dwarf’s mundanity (effect lasts an hour)

·         Stonecunning (may determine, at up to a distance of 10’, except for depth/bearing):

o   Grade or slope in passage

o   New tunnel/passage construction

o   Sliding/shifting walls or rooms

o   Unsafe walls, ceilings and floors

o   Stonework traps, pits and deadfalls

o   Determine approximate depth/bearing underground

·         Dwarven weapon training: +1 bonus to hit with battleaxe, throwing axe, warhammer or crossbow

Eligible Classes: Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Assassin, Berzerker

Dwarves are the rock that won’t budge. Where other races rely on avoidance, the dwarf instead takes the punishment in stride, be it through saves or raw Hp. I’ve kept all of the features that’ll make them naturally shine in underworld play regardless of class. As thief-types they’re definitely a little wanting, due to their lack of Dexterity but it must be considered that they’re one of only two races to get infravision (which can be huge for stealth purposes), can weather encumbrance better than other thieves and have the stamina to endure and persist when called to athletic action, as a ways to compensate for being poor performers. An entry for weapon training also prevents them from being completely hapless with ranged weaponry. Their signature magic resistance (folded into the save, rather than being an extraneous roll) prevents the choice of casting classes other than the Cleric, their isolationism and aversion to the great outdoors sees off the rest.


·         Movement: 35’*, medium size

o   *(if no more than lightly encumbered – second level of encumbrance penalties costs an extra 5’ of movement)

·         Attribute Adjustments:

o   +2 Dexterity; +1 Intelligence; +1 Charisma

o   -2 Constitution

Racial Abilities

·         Lowlight Vision 120’ (halves penalties, no effect in pitch darkness)

·         Fey Blood: +4 bonus to saving throws against Charm/Suggestion; cannot be paralyzed or put to sleep by magic

·      Keen Senses: decrease the chances of being surprised by 1, extendable to a party with any elves among its number

·         Silent Step: +2 bonus to attempts to Move Silently

·         Mask of the Wild: +2 bonus to attempts to Hide in Shadows while in the wilderness

·         Elven weapon training: +1 bonus to hit with longsword, shortsword, short bow or longbow

Eligible Classes: any except Paladin

Elves are the graceful followers of the path of better-than-thou. Having Constitution as premandated dump stat hampers them badly across the board. To balance that, they get a couple of free stat bumps, an interesting suite of avoidance bonuses, a movement boost, and their enhanced senses benefit the whole party. As both warriors and rogues, the weapon training grants them a slight attacking edge. I recovered their fey resistance to paralysis to add to the sleep immunities, but in an effort to stop the proliferation of infravision chose to keep their vision shy of functioning in full darkness, leaving darksight as an exclusive of those races who do dwell under the earth. They obviously shine as rogues but their lack of staying power prevents them from being crowned in absentia. They can be most any class, depending on the latitude from which they hail.


·         Movement: 30’, medium size

·         Attribute Adjustments:

o   +1 Dexterity; +1 Charisma

o   -1 Constitution

Racial Abilities

·         Lowlight Vision 60’

·         Fey Heritage: +2 Bonus to Saving Throws against Charm/Suggestion

·         Lesser Zest for Life: 5% bonus to experience point gain

·         Lesser Adaptability: may round attribute fractions up when facing difficult checks

·      Traveller of Forked Paths: May multiclass in accordance with the AD&D rules but using just one experience total and increasing each class’s level threshold by 500 Xp points (750 Xp if three classes), accordingly multiplied further up the level table

Eligible Classes: any except Paladin, plus Fighter/Thief, Fighter/Cleric, Fighter/Mage, Cleric/Thief, Mage/Thief, Fighter/Mage/Thief, Fighter/Cleric/Thief

Half-Elves have the dubious honour of being the least interesting race from the AD&D book, exhibiting a watered-down mix of elvish and human traits. In addition to following through with that script to its logical conclusion, it occured to me that they would be the only race to possess the mixture of drive and curiosity with the increased lifespan to allow for effective multiclassing, making them, in a way, the ultimate all-rounder, avoiding the psychological rigidity and lack of dynamism that are the hallmarks of the demihuman. This is, of course, already hinted at in the books, with the half-elven array of choices for multiclassing ever being among the top tiers, but the problem with “advantages of choice” is that, once that choice is settled for, all of the remainder reverts to just being wasted potential.

And here’s the thing: I’ve never seen much love for multiclassing in whatever edition of the game. It’s there, mostly as a curiosity for completists, with its draw of purported character versatility always running afoul of the shoals of the economical principle of specialization as applied to the scale of the adventuring party. If a game were to be run solo, that versatility might be worth the price of admission but in party-driven play? The smart money’s always on just letting each body tend to its own niche and be a more effective unit overall. Now, of course, there’s always the problem that it might turn out unbalanced, becoming shiny enough to attract munchkinism. But even in that unlikely event, until measures are put into place, it being guarded within the folds of a rare and otherwise unexciting character race seems like a good place to put it.


·         Movement: 25’, small size

·         Attribute Adjustments:

o   +2 Intelligence; +1 Constitution

o   -2 Wisdom; -1 Strength

Racial Abilities

·         Infravision 60’

·         Superior Caster: may weave magic while encumbered or heavily encumbered and with the use of only one free hand

·         Spell-Eater: if a Saving Throw against Magic is an adjusted 20 or greater, a gnome negates the spell’s effect upon himself (though not other targets) and gains a hit-die's worth of temporary hit points instead; While they persist, a gnome’s melee attacks count as magical in nature

·         Innate Magic: the bonus spell slots granted by a gnome’s Intelligence modifier are innate and always usable, regardless of character class, armour use or encumbrance. The spells for these slots use Intelligence as the casting stat and must be determined from the following list:

1.       Detect Magic, Disguise Self, Audible Glamour

2.       Invisibility, Fool’s Gold, Phantasmal Force

3.       Detect Illusion, Dispel Magic, Spectral Force

4.       Improved Invisibility, Hallucinatory Terrain, Stoneskin

5.       Advanced Illusion, Passwall, Stone Shape

·      Chtonic Affinity: while under the earth, a gnome forgoes casting rolls to cast any of his innately known spells

Eligible Classes: Fighter, Thief, Wizard, Assassin, Witch, Sorcerer

Gnomes are reimagined into natural talents with magic more reminescent of germanic fairytales, the matter having come down to either dropping them on the grounds of redundancy with the dwarves or effect some sweeping changes. I wanted to distance them from just “good saves against magic”  thematically associated with magic resistance (and, by extent, lack of casting capabilities) and so I went down a different path. There was also the concern with typecasting, as the compromise with high intelligence would easily moor gnomes overmuch to the casting classes, meaning they needed something to offer the remaining archetypes. I have to say I’m quite pleased with the result, as their ability to gobble up magical energies offers something to everyone while rewarding the higher class HDs and their innate casting capabilities handily set them apart from the remaining fighters or rogues (5th edition’s concepts of Arcane Trickster and Arcane Knight not being entirely lost on me), with a side-dish of illusion magic proving most useful for both thievery and assassination purposes. Also, to prevent them from being the proverbial ultimate caster, their fallible Wisdom ensures that their rate of spell recovery is lackluster. They can choose from among all of the non-divine casting classes and the basic martial package.


·         Movement: 35’, medium size

·         Attribute Adjustments:

o   +2 Strength; +1 Constitution;

o   -2 Intelligence; -1 Charisma;

Racial Abilities

·         Lowlight Vision 60’

·         Ferocious: rolls an additional damage die for critical hits in melee

·         Untiring: treats the effects of Exhaustion as being two levels lower

·         Inured to Pain: subtracts 1 point from every damage source

·      Eater of Flesh: can only draw nourishment from meat and must eat an additional portion of rations every day

·   Seed of the Great Leveller: Disadvantage to interactions in civilized/urban environments (initial reaction rolls, hiring retainers, gaining followers, etc.)

Eligible Classes: Fighter, Thief, Ranger, Assassin, Berzerker, Witch

Half-Orcs are shorthand for brute force, their human heritage merely serving to tame their nature to the point of playability. Declaredly inspired by the Uruk-Hai, their physical prowess is written large not just in attributes but also in abilities and superior mobility, being the only race to boast increased movement with absolutely no strings attached. They do come saddled with a logistical problem only made possible by a game where encumbrance is enforced as well as the rare instance of a social disadvantage, for unlike the fluctuating tensions one could deem expectable surrounding the other races, being the offspring of an archetypical enemy of civilization unavoidably increases the risk that the character may regrettably run afoul of prejudice or outright aggression, fuelled by fear. The pursuits of half-orcs are almost entirely martial, with a backdoor into witchcraft for the occasional bout of hedge-wizardry.