Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Under Hill, By Water

Under Hill, By Water

In a hole in the ground there lived...

(Psst. I actually published this game in a fuller form. Check it out here!)

The OSR is pretty metal. And metal rules. But it's fairly far away from the source material of Tolkien and the eclectic, rustic, anachronistic little British gentlemen that were the center of his stories. This is an OSR hack--mostly from Lamentations of the Flame Princess--that's about living in the under-hill homes of the halflings. It's about being simple and silly. If you leave the high border hedges of the Commonwealth, you've left Under Hill, By Water. Pull out a different ruleset and start playing that. 

Core Rules

[They] are an unobtrusive but very ancient people, more numerous formerly than they are today; for they love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favourite haunt. ... Even in ancient days they were, as a rule, shy of 'the Big Folk', as they call us, and now they avoid us with dismay and are becoming hard to find. They are quick of hearing and sharp-eyed, and though they are inclined to be fat and do not hurry unnecessarily, they are nonetheless nimble and deft in their movements. They possessed from the first the art of disappearing swiftly and silently, when large folk whom they do not wish to meet come blundering by; and this an they have developed until to Men it may seem magical.

Roll under your attributes to succeed in a check.

Saving Throws are attribute checks that you make in a wink of an eye to avoid some catastrophe. Roll under an attribute per normal.

Let it ride. You cannot make a check more than once, until something significant changes.

If somebody helps you, roll with Advantage (per 5E). If you fail and something bad happens, you both suffer the consequences.

Actually just steal all the Advantage/Disadvantage rules from 5E. They are good.


Enjoy the normal spread: Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha

Use the LotFP spread for a score of 3-18, with a modifier from -3 to +3. 

Blood, Sweat, Tears

Every halfling of the Commonwealth has three additional stats: Blood, Sweat, and Tears. 

Sweat is your ability to dodge away to minimize the brunt of attacks. Attacks remove damage from Sweat first before it hits your Blood.

Blood measures your frail body's ability to absorb abuse. When attacks damage your Blood, you're getting hurt.

Any attack that removes half your maximum Blood or deals maximum weapon damage to Blood causes a serious wound and drops any remaining Sweat to 0. Describe what this wound is and how it hurts your halfling.

If you're at full Blood, you can spend a Turn eating and resting to regain Sweat. Roll your Blood dice and refill your Sweat up to your max.

If you've taken Blood damage, you can spend a Turn eating and resting to regain 1 point of Blood.

When you’re dropped to 0 Blood or below, you start using your Tears dice. Each round, you attempt to roll a number higher than your current negative Blood. When you fail, you pass out.

Another halfling can try and roll Herbalism to try and heal you. If they succeed on their roll during combat, you succeed on your attempts to stay awake. If they succeed during a time of rest, you go from negative Blood to 1 Blood. Until you pass out, you can crawl away and hide, but any round that you exert yourself (by attacking or running and helping your friends), you actually lose another point of Blood.

If you pass out, decrease your Tears dice by one step. Your Tears step is permanently set lower. It never goes back up. You're just older and weaker now. 


Under Hill, By Water uses the following skills, each of which begin with a 1 out of 6 chance. 
Sleight of Hand
[Profession] - Dependent on the profession of the halfling

Creating a Character

[I]n the days of their peace and prosperity they were a merry folk. They dressed in bright colours, being notably fond of yellow and green; but they seldom wore shoes, since their feet had tough leathery soles and were clad in a thick curling hair, much like the hair of their heads, which was commonly brown. Thus, the only craft little practised among them was shoe-making; but they had long and skillful fingers and could make many other useful and comely things. Their faces were as a rule good-natured rather than beautiful, broad, bright-eyed, red-cheeked, with mouths apt to laughter, and to eating and drinking. And laugh they did, and eat, and drink, often and heartily, being fond of simple jests at all times, and of six meals a day (when they could get them). They were hospitable and delighted in parties, and in presents, which they gave away freely and eagerly accepted.

Roll 3d6 in order: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. 
You can switch any two. 
Note bonuses based on LotFP. 
If the total of all your character's attribute modifiers is less than zero, discard that character and start again. 

Choose a stock: Dulkeen, Vohnkar, Aldwin

At rank 1, your Blood is set by your stock. If your die is d6, you get 6 + Con Blood. If it's a d8, you get 8 + Con Blood. If it's d10, you get 10 + Con Blood. Your Blood score only changes if your Con score changes. 

At 2nd rank, you start worrying about Sweat. You roll a Sweat dice every time you achieve a new rank. Add the roll + Con bonus to your Sweat total. 

Everybody starts at d12 Tears. Every time you're at death's door, the die type of your Tears goes down by one step (from d12 to d10, from d10 to d8, from d8 to d6, from d6 to d4--where it stops). 

Fuck Alignment. You're a halfling. You probably have good, nice feelings about most of your neighbors, except your mean old cousins. 

Roll (or choose) a d50 profession. Note the bonus to your skill. Note your starting equipment. 

[Forthcoming...go steal from DCC if you're antsy]

Roll (or choose) a d66 family name. Note your starting equipment. Note your ancestral home and its features. 


Roll 1d6 + [Cha modifier (if positive)]d6 starting silver. Don't buy anything yet. Just put it in your pocket. 

Choose a name from the name list.  

Concerning Halflings
Rather early in their history, halflings separated themselves into three "stocks." These are basically your classes. They're measured from 1-10, per the halfling ranking system. (Steal them. Hack them. Adapt them.) 

At  rank 1, every halfling begins the game with a Blood ranking as the sides of their Blood dice + Con modifier. 

Starting at second rank (and every other time you rank up), roll your Sweat dice + Con bonus to gain a Sweat score.

Halflings don't make their own weapons, as they've never warred among themselves and their days of struggle against the Outside World have passed into cloudy legends. They put farm implements to martial use, when they have a need, or buy weapons from dwarves. Halflings, due to their size, use medium weapons two-handed and can't use large weapons.

Halflings use the Stealth roll only against other halflings. If they are a) in the Commonwealth and b) hiding from other creatures, they treat their Stealth rating as a 6.

Instead of tracking levels, halflings of the Commonwealth track their rank. 
Ranks go up once a year if your halfling has gained at least 3 XP that year. If the halfling hasn't gained at least 3 XP by the end of a year, he resets his XP to 0. 
Halfling stocks are measured from rank 1-10. Anything more than that is probably superfluous for a game of Under Hill, By Water. 

You gain an XP when you do one of the following:

  • Defeat a bad beastie 
  • Throw a big party
  • Get married (first time only)
  • Have a wee one (first time only)
  • Solve a mystery
  • Put an end to any queer business
Every halfling is referred to by his rank. They are thus:
1. Rascal
2. Master / Miss
3. Mister / Mistress 
4. Goodman / Goody 
5.  Selectman / Selectwoman
6. Gentle / Lady 
7. Esquire
8. Ealdorman / Ealdorwoman
9. Mayor
10. Thain


All halflings are members of one of three stocks. 


"But Nelwyn spirits and Nelwyn hearts and Nelwyn minds bore little relation to the bodies that housed them. With every hand against them, in a world shaped for creatures many times their size, they took on the characteristics of the land they made their home. They were tough, they endured; above all, they adapted." 

Dullkeens are the most common stock of halflings in the Commonwealth. They are not as tall as the Aldwins, nor as stout as the Vohnkar. They have curly hair of brown or black on their heads and their toes. They have long clever fingers, joyful red cheeks, and easy laughter. Dullkeens sometimes live Overwater as man- or maid-servants of the humans that live there, whom they call the "Big Folk." Indeed, they get along rather well with humans. Dullkeens are hard workers and throw themselves into whatever their task is with their whole heart. 

  • d6 Blood / d6 Sweat
  • Dullkeen begin rank 1 with 4 extra skill points, placed as they wish.
  • Each rank up, Dullkeen gain 2 more skill points.

"Among the Wise I am the only one that goes in for hobbit-lore: an obscure branch of knowledge, but full of surprises. Soft as butter they can be, and yet sometimes as tough as old tree-roots." 

The Vohnkar are a stock of hearty, swarthy, tough, and stout little halflings. They're the heaviest of the three stocks, being inclined to eat. Vohnkar mix often with dwarves and do a good trade with them; it's said they might have a little dwarf blood in their veins. In addition to furry toes, Vohnkar have hair on the back of their hands and the men have bristling side-whiskers (they're the only halflings who can grow facial hair worth a damn). 
  • d8 Blood / d10 Sweat
  • Vohnkar add their Dexterity bonus to their AC even when wearing medium or heavy armor.
  • Vohnkar use d6s instead of d4s for maneuver dice (see Combat)
  • Vohnkar can roll a saving throw with advantage a number of times per day equal to their rank.

"It was often said (in other families) that long ago one of the Took ancestors must have taken a fairy wife."

Aldwins are the tallest and thinnest of the three stocks; it's said by other halflings that they're criminally under-weight. They have light-colored eyes and tend to have blonde hair. Aldwins, more than other stocks, are given to wandering--especially in the woods and especially at night. Sometimes they meet elves there. Sometimes the elves will sing with them. 
  • d6 Blood / d4 Sweat
  • Aldwins can cast Knacks. Knacks count for all purposes as a 1st level spell, but Aldwins never forget them. They can cast them indefinitely.
  • Aldwins don't use spellbooks. They are natural (if humble) magicians.
  • An Aldwin begins play with one random Knack. They learn one additional random Knack each time they rank up. 
  • Aldwins may not cast Knacks while Heavily Encumbered. Aldwins must have one hand free to cast a Knack.

For each Aldwin at the table, set out two coins--both facing heads up.

When a Aldwin casts a Knack, flip a coin face down.

When a coin is face down, the GM can use one of his Balance Moves against the players by flipping the coin's face back up. He does this at opportune moments, or just when the players are on a flow of good luck. (It's important for stories to have both ebbs and flows.) He can do this when it makes sense narratively. He can do this whenever, as long as one of the coins tails up.

Why mess with the Balance Coin in the first place? To cast Knacks. Aldwins can cast any known Knack if he flips the Balance Coin. 

If you follow your dowsing rod of willow, you can find anything that you're looking for, as long as its within the bounds of the Commonwealth's hedges. 

By looking at signs and portents, the Aldwin can guess at the future. He may ask the GM, "If X happens, will Y happen?" The GM will answer him. 

This Knack lets the Aldwin manipulate something they can see as if they had their hand on it. They can lift objects or call them to them through the air. 

This Knack reveals a living creature's name to the Aldwin. 

If cast on a piece of dry oak, this Knack will create a torch that casts light only for the halfling holding it. It creates no heat, but otherwise is treated like a normal torch (and will go out if dropped, if dowsed, etc.). 

Using this Knack is as good as having flint, tinder, and time to start a fire. If something can burn naturally, it'll start right up. 

Speed the Work
If nobody is watching the Aldwin, they can perform about an hour's worth of work in the space of a Turn. 

The Aldwin's player can ask if the last thing he heard was a lie. The GM will answer honestly. 

Evil Eye
The Aldwin meets somebody's gaze and gives them ol' Evil Eye. This is a bad scandal in the Commonwealth. The next time that person would roll a skill check, they fail. For halflings, this usually means the next bit of work they do is ruined. Butter curdles. Ropes fray. Ponies escape their pens. Sometimes buildings collapse. 

The Aldwin can speak to an animal like any other halfling for a Turn. The animal can tell him plainly what his complaints are. Domestic animals will obey an Aldwin giving him commands with this Knack. Wild animals won't. They're wild, after all.  

The Aldwin can use this Knack to repeat or imitate any sound he knows so well that anybody would be fooled. 

If he whistles continually, the Aldwin can use his right hand as any type of common tool (hammer, awl, saw, bore, etc.) for a Turn. 

Balance Moves
Ok, so the Aldwin is using Knacks and being a weirdo. What's happening because of that? 

  • Storm clouds gather at the horizon. The weather gets worse.
  • Something smells your magic and comes looking for you. Roll on the wandering monster table. 
  • Bad luck. Make your roll with disadvantage. 
  • The stars are wrong. The GM turns a failure just rolled into a great failure. Instead of missing the dragon, your sword is shattered on its hide. When trying to swing across the gap, you fall and crack your head.
You'll notice that a lot of the situations that Balance Moves might prompt an Aldwin to use more Knacks. This feeds into a vicious cycle.

It might be better to do nothing...

Coming Soon: Family Names and Professions

1 comment:

  1. Phenomenal post. Lots of useful bits scattered throughout even for those who wouldn't want to implement the system as-is. My favorite section would have to be the one detailing the Knacks. The coin flip mechanic is innovative and the Knacks themselves are useful while being subtle, which is one of my favorite flavors of magic. Makes me want to throw on Howard Shore's Shire soundtrack and roll up some mischievous Hobbits!