Tuesday, February 19, 2019

GLoG: Monk Traditions and Techniques

I'm two faced. My favorite campaign settings are Tolkien analogues--the closer to the mythological source material, the better. My favorite class is the monk. If you make the mistake of putting some sort of anachronistic martial arts user who can leap around the battlefield in your game, I'll play it. I get that these two things are directly at odds. I've made peace with the contradiction.

I've recently been running some Cyberpunk GLOG for my friend Chris at Wayspell, and gosh darn is that system is pretty elegant. It was delightful for me to see that the wizard rules can be smashed into a monk class: Remixes and Revelations has done an admirable job of this and I really like the Library of Attnam's Sword Mage. Because I've been enjoying the system and have Opinions (TM) about monks, I thought I'd wade into the space, too.

The idea was that monks keep the spell dice chassis, but swap out the body of the system for high-flying, wire-fu action. They are a little complicated. I don't know how I feel about that. Hopefully this can be a jumping off place for all ya other little GLOGlins to be actually innovative.
Image result for avatar wan

Monks and Qigong 

Monks are sort of like muscle wizards--they express extradimensional truths through violence. Monks call these truths "qigong." They are analogous to spells, but different.

For every Monk template you possess, you have 1 qi die, up to a maximum of 4. Qi dice are different from spell dice. You may have both, but can never spend a qi die on a spell or vice versa.

Qi dice are d4. Like spell dice, they are expended on a 4+. (Therefore, monks have lower numerical effects than wizards, but burn their dice less often.)

Qi dice are restored when you meditate after awakening from 8 hours of sleep.

Monks do not memorize qigong techniques and do not have to "slot" them. They can perform any of their qigong spontaneously as long as they have at least 1 qi die to spend.

Morning routines for Monks
From Kill 6 Billion Demons

Using Qigong
There are a few special rules for qigong we need to talk about. Qigong techniques come in two flavors: fist and form. 

When you use a fist qigong, you must succeed in a Combat Maneuver check. Hitting someone with a qigong technique is always a contested Dexterity test. Styles can help with this (see below). If you succeed in a Combat Maneuver check, the qigong technique's effects take place.

All fist qigong have the Range of Touch and Target of "Whatever the Monk Hits." Duration is instantaneous unless otherwise noted. Like spells, the text of the qigong is not exhaustive. Creative use of qigong should be judged by the GM e.g., Throw the Ox Cart is intended to hurl your enemies through walls, but you might also use it to ally-oop your halfling companion to the top of a castle wall.

Using a form qigong requires an action to activate and requires that you burn a qi die. All form qigong have a Range of 0 and a Target of Self. The Duration of a form lasts until the Monk 1) takes another form 2) becomes unconscious (e.g., goes to sleep), or 3) chooses to end the form. You can only have one form active at a time.

Revelations and Enlightenment 

Monks keep a list of qigong they know. A monk does not learn qigong automatically as they level up. They must earn their qigong from revelations.

When you roll doubles on qi dice, you receive a revelation. A revelation allows you to learn a random new qigong from your school's list, as long as (1) you are not at the maximum for your level and (2) you are not unbalanced (see below). Learning a new qigong is instantaneous--an "aha" moment. This can change the tide of battle.

Monks may know as many qigong as their level x 4. A 1st level character may know 4 qigong. A 4th level character may know 16 qigong. A 5th level character may know 20 qigong. Revelations that would give you more qigong than you can master for your level are wasted. 

When you roll triples on qi dice, you receive enlightenment.

The first time you roll triples, you take the first step towards enlightenment. You renounce material wealth. Carrying money or precious objects cause you to be encumbered.

The second time you roll triples, you take a second step towards enlightenment. You retreat into hermitage. Play another PC for a while. If the other PCs go and find your monk, you can bring them out of retirement.

The third time you roll triples, you ascend. You recognize that to live inherently means that you suffer. Your life immediately snuffs out like a candle, never to be lit again. You cannot be reincarnated, resurrected, or receive any form of life-after-death magic.

You may avoid this final doom only if one of your Motivations is related to helping mortal kind achieve enlightenment. If one of your Motivations relates to shepherding humanity to enlightenment, you may spend 1 Conviction point when you achieve the third step of enlightenment. If you do so, you forestall your ascent to non-being and become a bodhisattva. As a bodhisattva, you become an outsider. 

(Note: Doubles and triples happen more frequently with d4 than with the wizard's d6.) 

Traditions and Balance

It is said that the mysteries of qi cannot be taught. Instead, elder monks use skillful means to help their students learn that which cannot be learned--they give gifts with an empty fist. The practice of qigong is rooted in traditions.

Each school has a list of three traditions. These are ascetic practices meant to shape their adherent's point of view and ultimately understanding the underlying truths of the extra-mundane.

If a monk has not violated any of their traditions, they are said to be in a state of balance. If a monk violates one of their traditions, they are said to be in a state of imbalance. If in a state of imbalance, they cannot benefit from revelations.

To rebalance oneself after violating a tradition, the monk must undertake a quest for the sake of their school. Sometimes this quest is as simple as answering a riddle. Sometimes this quest involves defeating one of your school's foes, retrieving a stolen treasure, or performing some humiliating penance. Undertaking this quest brings balance to your disquiet heart.

Sacred Vestments

A monk can wear armor and wield weapons without penalty. Many do. However, if they wield no weapon nor armor, they gain +1 qi dice, beginning when they wake up and ending when they wield them. 

Anyone can gain this bonus, but they must know qi techniques to gain benefit from the qi die.
Kitsune by Kat G Birmelin

New Rule: Unarmed Attacks

If both opponents are unarmed, attacks are resolved as normal. Unarmed attacks deal 1d4 + Str damage.

If an unarmed opponent attacks an armed one, the attack is treated as a Combat Maneuver. By succeeding on a contest of Dexterity, the unarmed opponent deals 1d4 + Str damage. 


Qigong represents internal training. Styles represent external martial arts. Styles are not qigong. A Style is a particular style or attitude of attack. A character begins knowing no Styles. Monks learn new Styles by using their Prime Ability.

At the beginning of your turn, you declare that you've taken a particular Style.

When you declare a Style, you are strong against a particular humanoid creature type. If an enemy is a Monk, however, their Monastic School supersedes their creature type; therefore, you must know a Style strong against that School.

That is to say, you either know a Style that is strong against a general type of creature (e.g., orc) or a Monastic School (e.g., Path of Black and White). If you're fighting 5 grunt orcs with no monk training led by an orc monk of the Clan of Beggars, you can either declare a Style strong against the grunt orcs or strong against the orc from the Clan of Beggars, but not both.

When you are in a Style strong against a particular enemy, you automatically succeed on the Attack to use a Combat Maneuver. You can skip straight to step 2 of the Combat Maneuver (per the GLOG v 1.0 p. 10).

Design Note: Monks main gimmick should be performing stunts. Their mechanics should encourage kung fu shenanigans. Combat Maneuvers for normal characters are disincentivized. You have succeed in an Attack roll to avoid a counterattack, and also succeed in a Strength or Dexterity contest. It's a lot easier and less risky to just roll Attack and smash your opponent into the ground. Styles are designed to at least make Combat Maneuvers less risky for the Monk. With the risk removed, they are free to focus on crazy stunts.

Moreover, monks essential combat gimmick is a contested Dexterity contest instead of targeting an opponent's Defense. This makes them "feel" different in play.

Also, because hitting with a qigong technique requires a Combat Maneuver check to be successful, most qigong techniques "automatically happen" without a Saving Throw. Instead, Saving Throws are required to end status effects. 

Class: Monk

And I'll Form the Head!
From Kill 6 Billion Demons
You gain +1 Move and 1 qi die for every Monk template you possess.

A: Kung Fu, Qi Training
B: Leaf on the Wind
C: Perfect Knowledge
D: Master of Many Forms

Prime Ability: Your Toad Style is Weak to My Crane Style
At the start of your turn, you may declare that you are using a Style. While using a Style, you do not roll Attack to make a Combat Maneuver against a foe you are strong against. This is usually made in concert with a Combat Maneuver and does not require an action to activate.

You begin the game knowing no Styles. You learn a Style when you successfully perform a Combat Maneuver against a humanoid enemy.
  • If that enemy has no Monk templates, you learn a Style strong against their race. Give this Style a flavorful name appropriate to your School, e.g., "Angel Rebukes the Unwise Human Style" or "Stumbling Drunk Enjoys Throwing Dwarves Style." 
  • If that enemy has a Monk template, you learn a Style strong against their Monastic School. Give this Style a flavorful name appropriate to your School, e.g., "Buddha Closes Fist Around Wudang Stance." 
Keep a list of the Styles you know and what race or school that Style is strong against.

Kung Fu 
If both of your hands are free, you may use kung fu. When using kung fu, roll single Attack and compare the roll with the Defense of every adjacent enemy.
* If you did not use kung fu last turn, you may deal 1d4 + Str to one enemy that you could hit.
* If you used kung fu last turn, you deal 1d4 + Str to two enemies that you could hit, or 2d4 + Str to one enemy that you could hit.
* If you've used kung fu the last two turns, you deal 3d4 + Str to one enemy you could hit, 2d4 + Str to one enemy and 1d4+Str to a secondary enemy, or 1d4+Str to three separate enemies that you could hit.

Qi Training
Choose a school. You gain that school's traditions and gain 2 random starting qigong techniques from the school's qigong list. You cannot change schools later: the training you receive at this stage is fundamental to your view of the world.

Leaf on the Wind
As long as you end your movement on solid ground, you may move across things that normally can't support your weight: tree branches, clotheslines, spear tips, the surface of the water, etc.

Perfect Knowledge
When you have a revelation, you may choose a qigong technique that you have seen performed even if it is outside of your school.

Master of Many Forms
You may take two forms simultaneously.

Team Ability: And I'll Form the Head!
You can set up an attack for another monk, or even join in a combination attack with several other monks. As your turn, hand one of your qi dice to another player. On their turn, the leading attacker can use all gathered qi dice as the final blow of a coordinated qigong technique.
If your die result is 4+, it is expended as normal.
If the attack yields doubles, everybody engaged in the coordinated attack receives a revelation.
If the attack yields triples, the attack leader receives an enlightenment.

School: Earth and Heaven

From Exalted Third Edition
The Earth and Heaven school is probably what you think about when you picture "monk." Their monastery is located on one of the holy mountains (like, the really holy one). The verdant vistas of waterfall rainbows, rising valley mists, late summer snows, and waving pine trees really say "This is a place of peace." The peace is occasionally broken by sharp shouts and flurries of blows traded between two temple acolytes. Peace, punctuated by violence, is the life of an Earth and Heaven monk.

Kung fu means "excellence." Any discipline practiced with patience can be kung fu. To hone their focus, monks of Earth and Heaven practice a range of kung fu skills beyond martial arts.

Starting Equipment: Begging Bowl, Bandages, Prayer Beads
Starting Skill: (1) Calligraphy (gain parchment, ink and brush) - (2) Music (gain instrument) - (3) Pottery (your begging bowl's cracks are mended with gold)

  • You may not touch dead flesh--you may not eat meat or loot a corpse.
  • You may not enter sexual congress. It's better for life to non-continue. 
  • You must provide aid to whoever asks for it. 
Qigong Techniques
  1. Grasping Rat Method (Form) 
    While in this form, roll the [dice] burnt while taking the form every time you're the target of a missile attack and reduce damage by [sum]. If reduced to 0, you also catch the missile.
  2. Throw the Ox-Cart (Fist)
    Target is knocked back [dice] x 15 feet in a direction of your choice. If the target comes into contact with a solid surface, they smash through it and take [sum] damage.
  3. Laughing Tiger (Form)
    When you use your Kung Fu ability, your dice are increased to d6s. You can cut ropes and shit with your attacks, as your empty hands are considered weapons. If you burn 2 qi dice while taking this form, your fists are considered +1 weapons. 
  4. Wary Rabbit Attitude (Form)
    While in this form, you always succeed initiative checks. If you burn 2 qi dice while taking this form, you are also never surprised during an ambush.
  5. Ascending Dragon Prana (Fist)
    The target is knocked prone. They must spend a turn to stand up. You heal [sum] HP.
  6. Constricting Snake (Fist)
    You wrap your target in an elongated, scarf, prayer beads, etc. The target is grappled for [sum] rounds, but your hands remain free. If the victim spends a turn untangling themselves, they may attempt a Save to recover from this effect.
  7. Runaway Horse, Crazy Kicking (Fist)
    Target of [sum] or less HD has a limb disabled by this attack. Disabled arms cannot wield weapons or carry shields. Each disabled leg gives a -6 penalty to the target's Movement. 
  8. Charging Goat Kick (Fist)
    You deal [sum]+Str damage to the target, who begins bleeding. For [dice] rounds, the target suffers an additional [dice] damage at the beginning of their turn. If the victim spends a turn resting, they may attempt a Save to recover from this effect.
  9. Monkey Drunk on Fermented Peaches  (Form)
    While in this form, you may move 5 feet per [dice] burnt as a free action during your turn. When you suffer effects that would move you, you may choose which direction you move. Lastly, you may rise from prone as a free action.
  10. Rooster's Crow Brings the Dawn (Fist)
    The target is knocked prone. They must spend a turn to stand up. You immediately learn the target's total and current HP. You immediately have a sense of what templates the target has. If the target has Monk templates, you learn what school they are in.
    For 2 [dice], you also learn any resistances and vulnerabilities the target might possess. 
  11. Dog Whipping Stick (Fist)
    Target's breath is knocked out of them. They cannot speak and suffer a penalty to Attack and Defense equal to [sum]. If the victim spends a turn resting, they may attempt a Save to recover from this effect.
  12. Stubborn Boar's Defense (Form)
    You gain damage resistance equal to the [dice] burnt to activate this form. 
Design Note: I sort of hate the Stun effect as a GM and I really hate it as a player. Just sitting there waiting to act again is anti-fun. I didn't add the classic Stunning Fist as any qigong technique. Instead, it's sort of present in the "spend a turn to recover" rules.

School: Seven Devils

Centipede, Lu Feng - From the Five Deadly Venoms
There is no Seven Devils school. Its adherents are not embedded throughout the government--to say otherwise would be a conspiracy theory. It's practitioners do not practice Mithridatism. They are not constantly tested and trained by fellow students, so they are ever-wary and ever-vigilant. It has no shadowy council of elders, affecting policy with whispered rumors and assassinations.

There is no Seven Devils school.

Starting Equipment: Devil Mask, 20' Rope, Lockpicks, 5 Shuriken
Starting Skill: (1) Spy - (2) Bureaucracy- (3) Acting

  • You may never kill someone whose name you know. 
  • You must never betray a secret. 
  • Obey your master in all things. Kill yourself if commanded to.
Qigong Techniques
  1. Centipede Stance (Form)
    You are immune to poisons.
    If you burn 2 qi dice while taking this form, you may spend an action to vomit up any poison in your system. You can bottle and re-use this poison. 
  2. Emerald Adder Posture (Form)
    You add both your Dex and Str bonuses to your damage total when using Kung Fu. 
  3. Arrow Frog Hallucination Stance (Form)You create [dice] illusory images of yourself, which move as you move and always stay within 5' of you. They are constantly stepping through each other, so that it is impossible to tell which is which. When an enemy attacks you, roll to see if they hit you or an image. An image vanishes as soon as it suffers a solid impact (a blow from a mace, but also a slap). Area effects such as a dragon's breath will cause all images to instantly vanish (and you'll take fire breath damage, naturally). 
  4. Scorpion Assault (Form) 
    Even when you miss an Attack roll, you deal Str modifier damage to your victim. This is not compatible to use with the Kung Fu special ability. 
  5. Spider Step Advance (Form)
    Gain +2 Stealth per dice burned while taking this form. Attacks made during the first round of combat are treated as magical attacks while in this form. 
  6. Strike Like Ogre (Fist)
    Target of [sum] or less HD becomes Afraid of you. NPCs make a morale check, while PCs make a Save vs Fear.
  7. Press Artery Nerve Pinch (Fist)
    Target falls asleep in a non-stressful situation. If in a stressful situation like combat, this technique only affects a target of [sum] or less HD. The target awakes if they pass a Save to end this effect, or are jostled/hear a loud noise. 
  8. Sand from the Pocket Flung to the Face (Fist)
    Target of [sum] or less HD is struck blind. If the victim spends a turn resting, they may attempt a Save to recover from this effect.
  9. Vibrating Palm (Fist)
    You deal delayed weapon damage + [sum] to a humanoid target. The attack is obvious in the middle of combat, but if made as an ambush it might be missed; the initial attack feels like an uncomfortable vibration, not pain. This damage is applied at any point you specify in the future. 
  10. Five Element Finger (Fist)
    You deal [sum]+[dice]+Wis damage and choose the type of damage: lightning, fire, acid, ice, or necrotic.
  11. Action Between Heartbeats (Fist)
    You steal [dice] items from target. This can be stuff they're holding or on their person. You add these items to your pack or hold them in your hands.
    If you spend 2 qi dice on this technique, you can snatch improbable things from people, like their armor or their clothes.
    If you spend 4 qi dice on this technique, you can snatch something like a spell or a memory from their brain. 
  12. Chakra Blocking Pinch (Fist)
    Target loses access to [dice] amount of both spell dice and qi dice for [sum] rounds. 
Game Designer's Note: It tickles me that the Five Venomous Animals are used as the Seven Devils' Forms.

School: Path of Black and White

From Oriental Adventures, one of those ol' 3rd ed refreshes
The Path of Black and White is a divided school. Two philosophical tenants, at odds with each other, are taught to students. The White Path advocates "action through inaction"--a form of pacifism and non-interference. The Black Path teaches dynamic action and an interventionist policy. Students who join this school are allowed to study both paths, but none become masters without swearing adherence to one philosophy or the other.

Black and White monks are obsessed with the study of the heavens. They believe that the repeating patterns in the sky and mirrored in the world of flesh--as above so below. Moments of  revelation occur as they consider the parity between the macrocosm and the microcosm.

Starting Equipment: Go Board and Pieces, Incense, Prayer Wheel
Starting Skill: (1) Natural Philosophy - (2) Medicine - (3) Astronomy

  • Never tell a direct lie.  
  • Never draw the blood of a mortal creature. 
  • Never use money for any purpose.
Qigong Techniques

Special: A monk may choose to automatically know Unsheathing the Void and 1 other random qigong technique at Monk A (instead of two random techniques). This technique is especially famous for this school.
  1. Unsheathing the Void (Form)
    You conjure a sword of non-being called a voidsaber. It looks like a piece of night sky--all black with points of light. As a sword, it does 1d8+Str damage. The voidsaber cannot be disarmed (it is an extension of the monk) nor destroyed.
    If you burn 2 qi dice while taking this form, the voidsaber counts as a +1 weapon.
    Note that if wielding the voidsaber, you do not count as unarmed for Kung Fu. 
  2. Five Elements Defense (Form)
    You gain a resistance to one element for each [dice] burnt while assuming this form.
    Earth: You take half damage from falling damage. You are immune to falls up to 20 feet.
    Metal: Your Defense is 14 vs metal weapons, like swords, axes, flails, and maces.
    Water: You take half damage from cold damage. You can hold your breath twice as long.
    Wood: Your Defense is 14 vs wooden-hafted weapons like clubs, staffs, spears, and arrows.
    Fire: You take half damage from fire damage. 
  3. Eight Trigrams Stance (Form)
    You can see invisible things and spirits. You can see through illusions.
  4. The Moon and the Tides Rhythm (Form) 
    You gain a measure of telekinesis. By focusing, you may push or pull an object as if you had your hand on it. You can only lift an item that you could lift one handed. 
  5. Climbing the Incense Smoke Ladder (Form)
    Your movement distance and jumping distance per round become one in the same. You can leap distances equal to your total movement speed. Additionally, you are all but weightless--you do not trigger pressure plates while in this form, for example. 
  6. Parting the Silk (Fist)
    Must be using the form Unsheathing the Void to activate. Your attack breaks a wooden item, such as a wooden door or a wooden weapon (like a spear or club).
    For 2 [dice], your attack breaks a metal item like a sword or a metal door. If used on armor, the armor suffers a break of -2.
    For 3 [dice], your attack breaks an otherwise unbreakable item, like adamantine.
    For 4 [dice], your attack cuts through an incorporeal effect like a magical wall. A magical artifact has a 50% chance of being broken. 
  7. A Rooster's Call, An Unveiled Mirror (Fist)
    You deal weapon damage + [sum] to an undead target. 
  8. Spell Cutting Sword (Fist)
    You choose a spell effect on the target to end. The target can't cast spells for [dice] rounds. 
  9. Exorcism of Steel (Fist)
    Your attack pulls an incorporeal creature into the realm of flesh for [sum] rounds. In this time, the intangible creature is tangible and can be attacked and interact with material creatures.
    If 2 qi dice are used, this technique can target a possessed person. This pulls the possessing spirit out of them. 
  10. Yellow Rebuke (Fist)
    You deal weapon damage + [sum] to an outsider target. 
  11. Prana Prism Attack (Fist)
    If [sum] is equal or greater to the creature's HD, it is befuddled. The target may spend their turn to Save to end this effect.
  12. Clear Sky, White Lightning (Fist)
    Your attack becomes charged with lightning. The primary target of your combat maneuver suffers [sum] lightning damage.
    If you spend 2+ dice, you strike additional targets within 30' with arcing lightning. The second target suffers the same amount of damage, minus the result of the highest die. Additional targets may also be affected by dropping the next highest die, until the result is 0.
    For example: You spend 3 qi and successfully use Clear Sky, White Lightning against a minor devil. That devil suffers 3d4 damage. You roll a 2, 3, and 4. That devil takes a total of 9 damage.
    You then choose 2 other devils within 30' of your first target to also suffer lightning damage. Dropping the highest dice (4), the second devil suffers 2+3 damage for a total of 5 damage. Dropping the next highest dice (3), the third devil suffers 2 damage. The die that rolled 4 is expended, but the other two refresh to your qi pool. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Game Manifestos

One of the most important jobs a game master has is managing expectations. This is a hard won lesson because I'm actually pretty bad at it--both personally and professionally. I tend to assume that people know what I know because to do otherwise feels insulting to them. I know this is stupid, but it's a hard habit to break.

I'm currently writing a game called His Majesty the Worm. It is, essentially, a tabletop Metroidvania about how it feels to be being friends and lovers with fantasy misfits in the mythic Underworld. For this project, I have to manage expectations not just with the people I'm playtesting with--who are my friends, trust me to operate in good faith, and are close to me in experience--but with total strangers. This feels challenging to me.

Dungeon World does an awesome job of this. Its agenda and its principles are often lauded as both "good general GM advice" and a good way to on-board GMs into the game. Skerples did a good job with this for players in his Rat on a Stick GLOG.

Because I also want to create a good praxis for HMtW, I've been working on a series of game principles that let people know what the game is "about." Additionally, I've written two manifestos: one to tell GMs how I expect them to run the game, and one for players to tell them how I expect the game to be played.

I've reproduced them here to solicit feedback and talk about the idea in general.

Image result for dungeon solitaire devil
The Throne from Dungeon Solitaire by Matthew Lowes

Game Principles

This game’s design principles are centered around creating a particular experience. The following are core themes for this experience.

A theme of His Majesty the Worm is the discovery of world lore. Who really made the Underworld? What happened there? How did it come to the City? How does magic work? How are orcs related to dragons? What is the Worm’s purpose? These questions don't have answers in this text.

Players, be up front about what questions your hero is wondering. Say what you think is cool or mysterious. GMs, listen to your players. Infuse the Underworld with lore. Be generous with it. Give it to your players hand over fist. Ancient tomes, mosaics, tapestries, wandering ghosts, the research pried from the hands of dead wizards—all of these can be used to move your lore forward. Good lore both answers and asks questions.

For example, if it's revealed in your game that the Underworld was once the city of heaven, where are the gods that dwelt there? What gods dwelt there? Who dared to rival the gods?

The Scaling Underworld
Adventurers are expected to visit and revisit places within the Underworld. There are lots of locked rooms, mysterious puzzles whose answers only seem obvious with experience, and obstacles unpassable without special precautions. That said, the dungeon is what the dungeon is. Few places are totally unreachable, even for younger guilds. A sleeping wyrmling might be an unbeatable guardian for a beginning party, and must be snuck past. A somewhat more experienced guild might try and defeat the wyrmling to win the treasure he sleeps on. Either way, the wyrmling provides some type of challenge for the adventurers, whether they are fresh or veterans.

His Majesty the Worm isn’t concerned about “challenge ratings” or “appropriate party level.” It’s somewhat hard to even track that sort of statistic—starting heroes might have dramatically different strengths which make some encounters very easy, whereas others might be difficult. Rather, this game is concerned about allowing players and GMs an open space to explore and experience realistic consequences. If the players overreach, the entire Guild might die. If the players move cautiously and think orthogonally, however, they might be able to achieve success at a depth of the dungeon far outside of their “level.”  GMs should be generous in information, so that players will know when they tread into deadly danger. Players should be ready to fall back and return later to a part of the Underworld that is too challenging. GMs should be fair arbiters, both while rewarding players who get great rewards for their cleverness and elaborating on the dire consequences of failure.

The Changing Underworld
Though it might seem like it to many of the adventuring guilds that have delved into the Underworld over and over, the Underworld in your game will not remain static. Adventurers are going to be a force of change. They might make minor changes—collapsing a certain tunnel or driving a nest of goblins from their old haunt. But, in time, they will make major changes too. Perhaps they will drain the Boundless Moat, allowing a whole new area to be explored without magic. Perhaps the diverted water flows along the channel that had been intended for it, and begins to power great waterwheels and other machines. Maybe these machines open up new sections of the Underworld, hitherto unexplored.

Also, whenever a dungeon lord is defeated, the consequences will be felt throughout the Underworld. The balance of power will shift. Perhaps the adventurers will seize power and become denizens of the dungeon in their own right.

A fair bit of His Majesty the Worm is whimsy. This is an RPG that knows it’s an RPG. You play adventurers who know they are adventurers. This is an adventure into tropes. It’s unpretentious.

During a game, both players and GMs will deconstruct and reconstruct common dungeon delving tropes. You’ll convert them covertly, avert them, and invert them to suit your purposes. This should be fun. This should be delightful
Vengeance from Dungeon Solitaire by Matthew Lowes

The Player’s Manifesto

An RPG is simply an exchange of questions and answers between the players and the GM. These questions and answers can have nuance and texture. When playing His Majesty the Worm, these principles will allow you to have the appropriate conversations with your GM.

Engage the World
You don’t have to talk in a silly voice or wear a costume[1]. You do, however, have to interact with the fiction of the world in a logical way.

For example, if you want to talk your way past a guard, you don’t have to role-play each and every word you say, but it’s not fair to say “I try and talk my way past the guard.” What’s your argument? Are you going to try and bribe him? Are you going to find common ground based on a similar political or religious view? Are you going to insult his wife? How does your approach differ when you’re trying to get on the right side a member of the city watch vs. when you’re trying to schmooze with the king?

The game is about you using your real-life thinking brain to solve problems, overcome obstacles, and figure things out. There are no stats or powers that are going to help you solve the essential issues.

Ask Questions
The essential way you have to interact with the fictional world is to ask questions. By engaging your GM in a give-and-take, you make the game real. The game world is sort of like an onion: it has layers. By asking questions, you begin to understand its bounds.

There are no abilities on your character sheet that give you the sort of insight that asking questions will provide. You have no “Perception score.” If you’re looking for a trap, pour water on the ground and see if you can find any trap doors. If you’re looking for a secret door, tap on the walls and listen for something hollow.
The corollary to this is that you need to take notes. You think you’re going to remember the details the NPC spills to you, but you won’t. You think you’ll remember the room’s contents, but you won’t. Keep an in-character journal. You’ll be glad you did.

Solve Problems Orthogonally
You should be trying to make your GM say: “I didn’t even think of that.”

In an RPG, you can do anything. That’s the appeal! When you’re playing a computer game, you can only do the things the game designer programmed in. They anticipated you moving left, right, and up. Going down is out of the question. Not so in a tabletop game.

Think outside of your character sheet. Don’t expect to “use” your Talents and Motifs to solve a problem. The abilities and items you have listed are just tools—and they’re only one of the many tools in your arsenal.

Most problems aren’t solved by fighting them. People can be reasoned with. Monsters can be placated. Traps can be avoided. Monsters can be led into traps. People can be sold monster’s guts. Monsters can be given the people’s guts.

Be Careful, Be Fierce
You don’t start out a hero. The only thing between you and a salivating dragon’s jaws are a few status effects unchecked on your character sheet. You should never expect the world around you to be fair. You’re not in a tutorial level; your character is journeying through a mythological underworld that wants your character to stay forever and ever. Keeping your character alive requires caution and thoughtfulness.

Encountering a dragon is different when you’re character is inexperienced versus when they’re experienced. At first, the focus might be stealth—how much gold can you get away with before the dragon notices you? After you’ve built up your strength, you might feel confident enough to engage in combat with the dragon. But don’t fight fair. Make sure you choose the battleground. Ambush the dragon. Drop a rock on its head. 

And, when the going gets tough, don’t be afraid to cut your losses and run away.

Embrace the Chaos
Part of the game is skill. Part of the game is chance. Sometimes, you can’t be careful or fierce enough to avoid a test of fate. And when fate isn’t on your side, you have to embrace it. Having something bad does not mean that you’ve made a mistake. It’s just part of the game.

It is easy to create a new character. This is on purpose. If your character dies, throw yourself into the next one. If your character completes their quest, be excited to retire them.

Games without consequences have no teeth. How boring would it be if you knew you would never fail and never die? The essential gimmick of question/answer with the GM would be boring: “How will your character succeed today?” Thus, love the chaos.

[1] But you can. I won’t stop you.

From Dungeon Solitaire by Matthew Lowes

GM Manifesto

There are two dozen different styles of role-playing games and no two tables play those styles exactly the same. This game has been designed to work well with certain overarching principles of game design and table talk. I’ve found it useful in my home games to be very upfront about these principles and keep them in my mind while I run the game—I go so far as to write them down on notecards and keep them in front of me as reminders. Of course, your table is going to be different than mine, but His Majesty the Worm benefits from the following “best practices.”

Rulings, Not Rules
Ultimately, no rule system completely encapsulates every possibility of player action—and that’s the fun of RPGs: there are fringe cases, strange situations, and unconsidered possibilities that inevitably arise during play. Having a GM be able to arbitrate these situations is one of the advantages of tabletop games compared to computer games or board games. As such, all the rules of the game are a resource for the GM to use and adapt from, not a straight-jacket.

When unexpected questions arise, GMs can adapt the rules to fit the situation at hand. When that situation comes up frequently, the GM and the table can collaborate on turning that ruling into a more hard-and-fast rule. And, when hard-and-fast rules seem to fail the tests of common sense, verisimilitude, and fun, it’s the GM’s responsibility to make calls that change the rules for the better.

Sidebar: Arbitrating Rules Questions
What should be done if there is a genuine rules dispute during gameplay? One of the GM's duties is to arbitrate these questions and decide how the rule should be played. If you're still learning the rules, you might want to look them up every time until the flow of narrative and mechanics feels natural. If you have the rules down pretty well, but encounter a speedbump, we offer this suggestion: arbitrate in favor of the players, and look up the rule later. Don't slow down a fun combat with page turning. Just make a temporary rule that is beneficial for the players, and ask your best rules lawyer at the table to look it up after the combat is over.

Let Smart Plans Work 
HMtW is not a game of balanced encounters. GMs don’t have to make experience point banks and dole out appropriate levels of monsters or treasure. The player heroes should find themselves alone in alone in a large, daunting, dangerous, and fantastic world. There’s no expectation that the players are ever in a “level appropriate” place.

The game—and the character sheet—are actually pretty simple. There are few numbers, and not a lot of special powers or abilities. Players should feel empowered to experiment and take risks, with all the rewards and consequences that that entails. There are no “spot checks”—only players describing where and how they’re searching. There are no “disarm trap” skills—only players describing how they move the knife across the tripwire or tap their ten-foot pole ahead of them.

As the GM, you can give difficult situations to the players with no idea how to solve them yourself. The players will surprise you with their ingenuity and problem-solving skills. When they come up with something surprising and cool, let it work.

Engage the Senses
The principles of “Rulings Not Rules” and “Let Smart Plans Work” only work when the players have a good sense of what is going on. Since the players are not actually in the shared hallucination, they need the GM to tell them as much information as possible about the environment their heroes are acting within. GMs should paint pictures with their descriptions, actually sketch out rooms when mental pictures are difficult to conjure, and be vivid about all five senses. GMs should not leave out any salient details about things that players can see, hear, feel, or smell.

Speak Generously
“Engaging the Senses” flows from the idea that the GM is acting in good faith to the players. GMs should not fall into the trap of thinking that doling out half-secrets and hints are interesting. Information sharing games are only fun when information is actually shared. Maybe the information comes with a price (“You’re not sure if the dragon is truly sleeping or only faking it. You’ll have to move closer to get a better look at him…”), but when it comes time to pay the piper, GMs should give the players as much information as he can. “Gotcha” moments are not fun.

This is particularly true when players Bid Lore. If you accept a lore bid, you have a social obligation to speak generously to the player and give as much information as is appropriate.

Meaningful Exploration
Decisions in an RPG should be interesting, not arbitrary. It is essential that, during the Crawl, the GM provides meaningful choices so that exploration is fun and engaging. Nobody cares about taking the left path or taking the right path. The players don't have enough information to make an informed or interesting choice. A coin flip could determine the "best" way to go. However, you could put graffiti on the walls of the right path that says in Cant "Undead ahead! Do not enter! Turn back! All is lost!" For the left path, you could hear the distinctively peacock-esque cry of the cockatrice. Now the players have information to make a decision with: would they rather face a basilisk or the undead? What are they most prepared for? Could they lure the undead towards the basilisk?

Gloss over details or choices that aren't interesting. Only zoom in on the action when the players have meaningful choices to make.