Thursday, May 16, 2019

6 TROIKA! Backgrounds Inspired by The Book of the New Sun

To celebrate what is possibly the best work of fiction I've ever had the pleasure to read, as well as the majestic Numinous Edition of one of the most original RPGs ever published, here are 6 backgrounds for TROIKA!, inspired by Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun (references of which TROIKA! is already full of!)

      1. Exiled Journeyman of the Matachin Tower
Falling in love with a prisoner it’s a grave crime for a Seeker of Truth and Penitence, but even worst is granting said prisoner a quick death. The guild of Torturers does not grant quick deaths. As punishment for your actions you’ve been given the tools of your trade and sent into exile. Your destiny: to forever roam the wide world, earning a living by practicing your trade. Or is it?

Executioner Sword (Damage as Greatsword)
Small Brown Book
Fuligin Cloak (of the color that is darker than black)

Advanced Skills
3 Ritual Beheading
2 Inflict Torture 
2 Executioner Sword Fighting
2 Intimidation
1 Swim
1 Climb

      2. Dubious Sorcerer of the Forest
There’s nothing more difficult than studying the dark arts when surrounded by prying eyes and judgmental minds, so you left the city behind and moved into the forest. The forest never scorns you, never calls you a charlatan. If anything, it encourages you, murmuring your name through the leaves, clapping at your achievements with the shaking of its branches. A shame so many others had the same idea.

Metal Claws (Damage like Modest Beast)
Robes made of animal skin (Light Armor)
Totem, wood-carved, supposed to resemble an animal but it’s hard to tell

Advanced Skills
2 Claws Fighting
2 Magic Duel
2 Spell - Call Upon the Wild
2 Spell - Assume Animal Shape
1 Spell - Babble
1 Spell - Read Entrails

New Dubious Spells

Call Upon the Wild (3)
The sorcerer begins to emit loud, distressing sounds with the hands cupped in front of his mouth in order to summon a wild beast. Once present, there is no accounting for its actions (Since making noise does indeed attract dangerous animals, some say this is no magic at all)

Assume Animal Shape (2)
The sorcerer growls painfully and his body contorts until it has transformed into a ravenous, clawed, four-legged beast (Detractors of this practice claim there’s no actual transformation. Instead, the sorcerer simply crouches and lets its furry robes and metal claws play on the imagination)

      3. Memory of a Dead One
You lived your life and served your time. By the end, it felt like a relief; a shroud of nothingness slowly embracing you, along with your pain, fears and regrets. But then one of the other party members had to exhume your corpse and feast on it. Now you live inside someone else’s body.

None, unless you count those of the body you inhabit, which technically are yours too.

Advanced Skills
3 Take Over
2 Suggest
2 Instill Emotion
2 Assist
1 Skill of your choice
1 Skill of your choice
1 Skill of your choice
1 Skill of your choice

New Skills

Take Over
Allows you to take over the body of your host and act in his stead. It lasts until ended or until your host decides to get back in control by testing his Luck (or a Skill such as Resist Possession). To be rolled only when the host is not willing

This skill allows you to discuss ideas, opinions and facts with your host. To be rolled only when the host is not willing.

Instill Emotion
You can force your host to feel a specific emotion towards a certain event, person or object

Your memory becomes a fully accessible library, allowing you to lend expertise and knowledge to your host. He gets to add +1 to the roll whenever he attempts a task you are skilled at.

      4. Duelist of the Sanguinary Field
Many would argue that fighting to the death using a sharp, poisonous plant as a weapon is not the smartest way to earn a living. But that’s because they never experienced the thrill of stripping an optimate of its most treasured possessions, while ecstatic voices call your name. And you get free meals at the Inn of Lost Loves.

Avern (Damage as Sword), a plant whose leaves are poisonous, causing drowsiness followed by unconsciousness and death upon contact with the victim’s blood
Padded Clothing (count as Moderate Armor)
A Creepy Mask
A Vial of Antidote
A Letter addressed to a lover, signed “Cadroe of the Seventeen Stones”

Advanced Skills
3 Avern Fighting
2 Dodge
2 Awareness
2 Etiquette 
1 Healing

      5. Armored Hipparch
We all tend to perceive life as a maze of difficult choices and ambiguous compromise, but that is a lie, for when it came to it, life gave you a simple choice: keep trashing in the mud like the lowborn you are until you die for nothing, or enlist and die for something. At least, that’s what those armored man said when they came through your door and threatened you and your family with a knife at the throat.

A Sword
A Shield
A Lance
A Suit of Heavy Armor
A Warhorse
Military Rations (1d6, each count as a provision)

Advanced Skills
2 Mounted Charge
2 Holding the Line
2 Sword Fighting
2 Spear Fighting
2 Riding
1 Resist Extreme Weather

      6. Enigmatic Green Man
The green color of your skin is a byproduct of what people refer to as pond scum. Your race engineered  it so it could live and die in your bloodstream, becoming food for your body, which now requires no other nourishment. It is unfortunate, then, that after crossing the Mirrors, you ended up on a sphere cursed with a dying sun, whose heat is rather insufficient for your altered biology.

Ragged Clothes
Manacles and Rope, with which you were bound so you could be exploited as weird attraction
Half a Whetstone, the one an equally enigmatic young man gave you to free yourself with
Alien Pistol (Damage as Fusil, ignores Armor), emits a ray of purple light capable of melting any metal. It can fire 5 times then needs a full day to recharge

Advanced Skills
5 Blend with the Greenery
2 Pilot Flying Machine
2 Alien Pistol Fighting
2 Repair Alien Technology
1 Wilderness Survival

Sunday, February 17, 2019

On Interactive RPG Modules - An Experiment

While lurking around the Discord OSR server I stumbled across a post by one of the people involved with The Demon Collective KS (can’t remember who, and my lack of Discord skills make it impossible for me to recover it at the moment). The article was about the implementations of interactive features the PDF format allows and how nearly every single adventure module in pdf doesn’t take advantage of them.
This is something I’ve been tinkering with myself for a while, and reading about it made me want to put into practice.

If you click on the image below you'll be taken to an interactive version of The Kobolds’ Lair from the classic B2 - The Keep on the Borderlands, turned into a one page online pdf for maximum usability at the table.

Although this particular version doesn’t work on mobile or iPad (since the free hosting provider I’m using doesn’t support multiple devices), turning an interactive pdf into an HTML5 file and sharing it online should circumvent the compatibility problem interactive pdfs suffer from, when viewed with something different than Adobe Acrobat


  • Click on the link to open the pdf in a new window of your browser
  • Hover on any of the rooms to see their content
  • Hover on the kobold's picture to see the random encounters table

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Momentum/Doom Mechanic for OSR Play

(If you wanna skip directly to the actual mechanic, scroll down to where it says Momentum & Doom in bold)

As a GM, I strongly believe that being able to generate things on the spot not only supports player's choice and emergent play, but also allows the GM to partake in the thrill of discovery, that wonderful feeling players get to experience whenever they open a locked door, not knowing what lays on the other side. Nothing makes me happier than having new tools to help me make the world the players explore more dynamic and responsive. That's why I love the classic, sempiternal random tables and games that make use of them.

Another classic I'm fond of and that also contributes in making a game exciting for the GM as well as the players, is the use of a die (usually a d6) to determine a 50/50 chance of success for events and situations that are beyond the player's reach and not governed by any official rule. 1-3 something happens, 4-6 its opposite happens. And since I've been tinkering with my own sword & sorcery ruleset, I wanted to find a way to expand it a bit, by Crom! In a world of uncaring, possibly non existent gods, Fate plays a bigger role in the destiny of men, and I wanted something to reflect that.

To get some inspiration I checked the Momentum and Doom mechanic from the Modiphius' Conan rpg, and I found it suffering from the same issues that plague many other rulesets that try to do something similar, like pretty much all the Warhammer rpgs I've read.

Although I appreciate the intention, to create the idea of otherworldly forces tipping the scale one way or the other while giving both players and GM more tools to affect the world they play in, they all seem to implement it in a way that goes against the experience I'd like to create at the table.
In the case of Modiphius' Conan:

  • Momentum is a pool of points the players can draw from to trigger special abilities or get benefits for a task being attempted
  • Momentum is generated mainly by players succeeding at tests particularly well
  • Doom is for the GM, and allows her to create "complications" for the players, like trigger NPC special abilities, make a bridge fall down, or generate obstacles that "take one or more actions to overcome" (sigh)
  • Doom is generated by a bunch of things, including players' failing a test badly, players' use of Momentum to succeed at a test, but also features of the environment (like, putting a dangerous bridge in a dungeon could give the GM one or two Doom points).

These mechanics generate three major problems as far as I'm concerned:
  • More bookkeeping - Players generate momentum (keep track) by making tests, then they have a bunch of special abilities (keep track) that can be triggered by momentum spends (keep track). Doom is generated in a bunch of ways (keep track), which the GM can use to trigger NPC special abilities (keep track), etc...
  • Enforces characters' skills instead of players' skills - a lot of this Momentum and Doom stuff is tied to mechanical skills
  • If a wall crumbles on a player's head I want it to be because of a die roll or because the wall was there to crumble from the start, and the player acted recklessly or didn't ask enough questions about the environment. Certainly not because I can make it crumble with a point a player gave me two rooms before by failing to pick a lock. The book even make an example of how the GM could use a Doom point to literally empty a players' quiver while a foe is about to charge her. Bye-bye tactical transparency.
So here is my take on Momentum and Doom, hopefully more in line with that OSR style of play I'm a fan of (I'm sure someone else out there already thought of this and in a much better form, so if you know of similar things please link them in the comments)

Momentum & Doom
  • Whenever a player rolls a critical success, add 1 point to the Momentum pool. On a critical failure, add 1 point to the Doom pool (on top of the normal critical hit/miss stuff)
  • Whenever the outcome of an event that is beyond the player's influence must be determined, the GM rolls a d100. 1-50 desirable, lucky outcome. 51-00 undesirable, unlucky outcome
  • For each point of Momentum that exceeds Doom, the chances of a desirable outcome are increased by 10, and vice versa. Chances can never be less then 0 out of 100 obviously, or higher then 100 out of 100, doesn’t matter how much more Momentum or Doom is gathered after that.
  • Momentum and Doom never refresh. They carry on from one session to the next
A player misses with a bow in a crowded area. The GM rolls a d100: 1-50 the arrow hits a wall or a tree, 51-00 it hits a passerby. The roll comes out 45 but the Doom pool exceeds the Momentum pool by 1 so the chances of the arrow flying harmlessly by are reduced to 1-40. The arrow hits a passerby.

This can be also used to affect the chances of a business making a profit, an army winning a battle over another, a politician succeeding over the adversary, etc.

This way, critical success and failures, which already represent Fate's intervention in the actions of the players, also end up affecting elements of the world around them.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Empire Generator for WFRP-style Setting

As the first post of 2019, here is a generator for an Empire in the style of WFRP's Old World, the Holy Roman Empire or any low-magic fantasy kingdom ruled by an Emperor.

I've always been fascinated by WFRP gritty, fairly realistic medieval setting. Unfortunately, I don't know Early-modern medieval history well enough to be able to improvise that sort of stuff on the spot, and sourcebooks of that kind are slogs of hundreds of pages, completely unusable at the table.

With this generator you should be able to create all the information you need for a game setting in the style of "The Enemy Within" campaign (in fact, that's where I took most of the features from) in a fairly short time

With it you can:
  • Generate the empire's borders, provinces, provincial capitals, towns, main rivers and lakes
  • Generate the basic relationships between emperor, council of state and local governors in order to have some political tension from the get go
  • Generate the topography region by region as your players explores it
The blank Empire hex map provided is scaled at 60 miles per hex giving you an empire roughly the size of modern Germany.

The blank Regional hex map is scaled at 6 miles per hex and corresponds to one hex in the Empire map


Friday, October 19, 2018

An Attempt at an OSR Cyberpunk Game Part 3 - Cybernetic Enhancements

In this third installment I present you the rules for cybernetic enhancements as well as a list of more than one hundred pieces of cyberware.

As I have already stated in Part 1, these are setting-neutral. You can tailor their appearance or functionality according to the specifics of your game world.

And here is Part 2, if you missed it.

Monday, October 15, 2018

An Attempt at an OSR Cyberpunk Game Part 2 - Character Creation

In this second part of my attempt at making an OSR Cyberpunk game I present to you the rules for character creation. Built for Speed!

Learning the Ropes - The DM as Musician

When I first discovered the OSR, a little more than a year ago, and learned about the concepts of sandbox and players agency, I immediately saw the analogy with improvisational music.

One of the players proposes an idea, using the shared language of the genre, to the rest of the band which, in turn, begins to interact with it, establishing a dialog who can take that idea in many different directions, sometimes very far away from its point of origin.
The improvisational aspect engrained in tabletop RPGs is what attracted me to this wonderful hobby in the first place, and just like when I was learning my instrument, I find myself eager to suck up all the information and advice the OSR godfathers share with the community on a daily basis with the intention of applying it at the table as soon as I have the chance.

And here is where the problem arises.

With improvisational music, there's an important lesson one learns at some point along the path: when performing and expressing your creativity on stage, forget about all the practice you've done. What this means is, spend as many hours as you can shredding in your room, developing all possible chops and techniques, but once you step on stage, play the music, do not practice. Let the muscle memory, acquired during practice, kick in but do not think about it, or you won't be particularly musical in your playing. You conversation with the other musicians won't be very fluid nor will it be particularly enjoyable playing with you.

Now, I found this to be true for DMming as well. I often show up at the table with my brain filled to the brim with a never-ending list of advice I've read on the internet (Jeff Rients tweets alone are enough to fill a book of great DM practices, and in fact they did) and the conscious intention of using them in the game. But in the end, between keeping track of npcs, coming up with stuff on the fly and the general effort of imparting a shred of sense into that mess I just made up, I often fail to apply most, if any, of those tricks and tips I so wanted to make use of.

So I came to the realization that I should probably absorb as much as I can while away from the table and then leave it to my brain's muscle memory to bring that stuff up during play instead of trying to force it. This way I can better respond to what my players throw at me and make the experience flow a lot more.

It'd sure be great to find a way to practice DMming away from the table. Anyone does that? How?

Saturday, October 13, 2018

An Attempt at an OSR Cyberpunk Game Part 1 - System Overview

This is my very first attempt at an RPG design and it's a ruleset I'm making first and foremost for myself. After looking for a simple cyberpunk system made for OSR play and not finding one based on the basic D&D mechanics I'm most familiar with, I decided to make one.

Here's what I'm trying to achieve, more or less in the following order:
  • A system that is rules-light, making use of mechanics I like
  • A system suitable for OSR style of play
  • A system that is OSR compatible, meaning it can make use of OSR fantasy dungeons and monsters
  • A system that is as neutral as possible, covering all the commonly accepted pillars of cyberpunk, mainly cybernetic augmentations, cyberspace netrunning and "punk", but without it being tied up to a specific setting or vision of the near future.
  • Fast to run and fast to play
With that established, here is Part 1, an overview of the system (if you find mentions of something not yet covered, worry not, for it will be included in a future post, since I'll be posting segments of it at a time).

As usual comments are very much encouraged and appreciated (go easy on me, I'm a newbie!!), especially those suggesting alternative mechanics or ideas I have overlooked or that I might not be aware of.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Knave by Ben Milton - A Review

I had a chance to DM a one-shot for my regular 5e group using Knave and I thought I could give you my two cents.

5e is the only system I have practical experience with, since I've been DMing it for a good two years now. But I have been following the OSR and its philosophy for at least half that time and when my group showed interest in Knave, I used it to run "The Sky-Blind Spire" by Michael Prescott. Ben Milton's actual play of this one page dungeon on his channel "Questing Beast" was the epiphany that made me fully understand the OSR, so it seemed rather fitting.

The System
Knave is a toolbox, written to cover character generation and the basic mechanics of play. This makes it the lightest of the rules-light, in the best way possible. It doesn't tell you how to handle maritime travel, potion crafting or inter-planar stronghold management. It tells you how to hit things, how to carry stuff, how much stuff costs if you want to buy more stuff, how to cast a spell, how to heal your wounds and how to make a monster quick. And guess what, that is all you actually need in order to have the best fun you could possibly have in a made up fantasy world. At least for as long as it took you to finish Final Fantasy VII, with the advantage that Knave costs 2.99 (at the moment of this writing) and it will always have the best graphics you can possibly conceive.
There's a couple of simple ways of doing AC, encumbrance is done by way of items slots, spells are single use and must be found while adventuring, if you really, REALLY, feel the need to make a skill roll, do it by rolling under the most relevant attribute score. If you want to beat someone up, roll and add your modifier. It has more cool little features and an incredibly clever way of rolling Attribute scores but I won't spoil that, you'll have to buy it to find out.

Character Generation
It's FAST! And COMPLETELY RANDOMIZED! Which means it takes less than five minutes for a group of 4 people to make their characters. Also, it doesn't have classes. You randomly roll your starting equipment and off you go! You wanna be a wizard? Fine then, trade your armor for a spell scroll. Because in Knave everyone is a poor sod trying to survive in a harsh, harsh world.

How Does It Play?
It plays the way you want it to play. It forces you to use your imagination and come up with solutions to problems rather than have you execute mechanics. Eralphus found a spell scroll in one of the towers' rooms. I rolled on the 100 level-less spells table and Gate came up. The description says: "A portal to a random plane opens", so that's what he found. Later on, the party met a bunch of giants guarding a treasure and decided to write them a letter, an insulting one, hoping it would lure them out of their lair. INT scores weren't bad overall and everyone who can write even just a little, gotta be able to write insults, so I let them do it. Luckily for the party, a goblin they had previously captured was unanimously elected as the messenger, 'cause he got thrown out the window as soon as the giants grasped the offensiveness of the missive (it took them a while but they got the "mum" part eventually). When Eralphus, coming out from behind a corner, cast the Gate spell, two of the enraged creatures plunged headlong into the Realm of the Giant Mashroom Dong, while the third one was taken down with wits and teamwork, instead of abilities-that-you-have-to-look-up-three-times-on-the-character-sheet-before-you-can-remember-how-they-work, in a battle the bards will sing about for decades to come.

  • Really fast to teach and play.
  • It doesn't get in the way of your imagination and it's never bogged down by book-keeping or mechanic-recollecting, even more than any other rules-light OSR book that I have read so far
  • Requires you to make rulings for almost everything, the OSR way. All hail rulings.
  • It's perfect for someone like me who can devour the OSR primer along with 400 posts by Jeff Rients but can only remember 1/3 of what's in the Dungeon Master Guide and uses 1/10 of it on his best day. Knave it's 7 PAGES LONG!
  • It has designer's notes
  • It requires you to already have a knowledge of D&D in one form or another. I very much doubt that someone who has never heard of it (or RPGs in general) would be able to pick it up and play it.
  • In the text, Attribute scores are sometimes referred to as "Defenses", and although I can see why Ben would see them that way, I still think it's a little confusing. But we're just nitpicking here. This game is so cool he can call them "puppies" for all I care. In fact, this last point is not even a con. And even the first con is not really a con. F**k it, this game has only pros as far as I'm concerned.