Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Crunchify Me, Captain!

I've been thinking about incompatible and non-comparable classes. 

I had wanted to invert the paradigm of "complicated wizard, easy fighter." What if magic was freeform but combat had robust, powerful structures? What if the two were utterly incompatible and non-comparable?

No real point here. Just thinking out loud. On paper. Thinking quietly and writing.

Here are some ways to crunch up your combat systems 

For each mechanic idea, I've provided a few example abilities/techniques. Please note that for a few techniques I use Grit/Flesh terminology.


Your ability to use a combat ability is based on something outside of the game fiction. The Escalation Die in 13th Age is an example of this sort of mechanic.


If it is raining outside in the real world, you crackle with storm energy. Each attack does an additional +1d6 lightning damage and you gain +15 feet in movement speed from the storm's winds. 

The Dwarf's Determination

Once per game session, give the GM a fancy beer you brought for him. Your next attack is an automatic crit. 


You can only use a particular combat technique if you first perform some other action. These mechanics can be interesting because 1) it incentivizes players not just to spam the attack action over and over and 2) it broadcasts what's coming to the table, who can make informed decisions based on that information.

As an example, imagine that you had a school of combat techniques with the "Assess" keyword. Assessing an opponent requires you to take a turn watching that opponent fight. You are considered "Assessed" towards that target until they leave your line of sight (run around a corner, go invisible) or are defeated. You can only be Assessed vs one target at a time.

Or, for another example:

Internal Alchemy

Spend a turn drinking an entire bottle of booze. You gain 4 drunkenness points. On the next turn, you can belch a fireball that deals 2d6 damage in a 30' cone.

Adjacent Ally

You can only use a particular ability if you are adjacent to an ally. If there are a lot of these abilities, this prioritizes players moving together as little units across the battlefield. 

You may elect to intercept any attack for an ally that is adjacent to you. Designate the target of this ability at the start of the round. Any attacks against them are resolved against you instead. 

Shield Wall
While carrying a shield and adjacent to an ally, you gain +2 AC.


Sometimes abilities make sense in the fiction to only work during a surprise round/the first round of combat. Because this only occurs rarely within the flow of the game, these powers can be particularly powerful.

Danger Sense
You can always act during a surprise round. By spending 1d4 Grit, you can cry a warning to an ally and extend this benefit to them as well.

Strike of Iron and Ivory
In a surprise round, you can aim to knock out an opponent instead of killing them. Upon a successful attack, your target has to make a save. On a failure, they fall unconscious. 


Perhaps you can only use a particular technique if another type of technique is first used. (This is related but distinct from Sequential, Trap, and Trigger moves because the action economy is different.)

Void Twisting Technique
If you were healed last turn, use this technique to add the amount healed to the damage of a single attack roll. 


Some techniques might require cooperation and coordination from 2+ people to use.

Fusion You and another player with this technique fuse together. Add your current HP totals together. While fused, you can only make action per turn and must agree about which action to take. You can make any action that either character could normally make.

Shard Dancer At the beginning of combat, designate another person with this technique as your dance partner by asking "Shall we dance?"

If you both elect to use your turns activating this technique, the person with the highest attack bonus makes an attack roll. This attack roll is applied to every adjacent enemy. If it would hit that enemy, that enemy takes 1d6 damage. Use the same damage roll against every enemy who is hit in this way.


Some abilities might only be useful when engaged 1x1 against a particular opponent. This is the opposite of "Flanking."

Thornhedge Challenge Only usable if engaged 1x1 with an enemy. Use this technique to summon thorns from the ground that Root your foe. They may spend their action to clear the thorns away or take 2d6 damage if they move without clearing the thorns.


You can only use a particular ability if you're currently under a certain game effect, e.g., while entangled, while dead, while charmed, etc.

Temper Conditioning
While berserk, you gain damage resistance 1. 

Bloody Fury
While bloodied (50% Flesh), you gain +1 damage. 


Imagine a combat system that worked like Pokemon. Fire is strong against Wood. Wood is strong against Earth. Earth is strong against Metal. Et cetera. 

Wood Devouring Prana (Fire Style School)
Spend 1d6 Grit and make an attack roll against someone wielding a wooden hafted weapon (a halberd, a bow, a quarterstaff, etc.). If you hit, they must save or their weapon is Destroyed. 

Engagement Status

You have two possible engagement statuses: not yet engaged and have been engaged. There are interesting choices to make here. If you can only use your big power if you haven't yet fought another foe, there's a game of tactics to have the other PCs "guide" you to the biggest thing you can get to on the map before you pop that power. If you can only use your big power if you've already joined battle, you can't use it as a first strike. 

Shadow Tekel-Step 
Until you first become engaged during combat, every move action is done by teleportation. You instantly blink away in a cloud of shadow between the two points. 

Ro-Tek Acceleration Understanding
Each round after the 3rd that you are engaged with the same enemy, you gain +X to hit that target. X equals additional rounds after the 3rd. For example, on the fourth round you'd gain +1, fifth round you'd gain +2, etc. 


Some powers might only work when you are in a particular environment: indoors, outdoors, in the water, in a desert, etc. 

Salty Sea Dog's Stance You bob and weave like you're stumbling around the deck of a ship. Use your action to activate this technique. Until you next take an attack action, you gain +2 AC. This bonus increases to +4 AC if you're actually on a ship.

Dwarven Redoubt Stomp
Must be underground. Spend 1d6 Grit to raise a 5'x5' stone wall. Dwarves use this maneuver to brick up doorways if they ever retreat.


Similar to "ally adjacent," you can only use maneuvers against a foe that's also actively engaged with another ally. 

Warlord's Retreat
If you and an ally are both actively engaged with a target, use this maneuver and you both are disengaged without provoking an opportunity attack.


Some maneuvers can only be used while your character is in a favorable position. Setting up these scenarios is especially fun if you use grid-based/miniature-based combat. 

Sepulcher Strike While occupying the 3 squares behind a character, your attacks bypass Grit and go straight to Flesh.

Dragoon's Drop
If attacking from above (e.g., dropping onto another, finishing a jump, flight), your opponent must save or fall prone in addition to the damage done by your attack.


You can only use technique 2 if you use technique 1. You can only use technique 3 if you use technique 2. 

Bear Dam's Paw
Only usable if you successfully used Warder last turn. A successful attack deals the Knockback effect to your foe.

Vampire Bat Strike You must be in Vampire Bat Stance. Make an attack. If you deal >6 damage, you heal an equivalent amount of Flesh for each point of damage over 6.


Some abilities might only target a particular type of enemy: a rival school, a particular monster, a foe of a particular size, etc.. 

Gnomish Ankle Biter's Technique
Use this technique to make an attack a giant or giant-type foe. If successful, the giant is Tripped and takes 1d6 Grit damage.


Some abilities might be deliberately used but only activate on certain conditions. Similar to Action or Trigger techniques, but slightly different in the action economy. For example:

Premorzerak Mage Hunter
When you activate this ability, until the start of your next turn you may make a free attack action against anybody attempting to cast a spell within 60' of you by launching a throwing spike at them. 

Fluttering Moth Defense You take a defensive stance when you activate this ability. The first time you are attacked while in this stance, you may redirect the attack against another target within range. Taking another action ends your defensive stance.


These abilities are used without a specific action if a certain event triggers them. Because they operate outside of the normal action economy, these abilities are very powerful.

If you defeat a foe, you immediately make another attack against an adjacent foe.

Gattican Phoenix Tactics
If you ever suffer the Knockback effect, you choose which direction to move.


These abilities can only be used if the player roleplays a particular phrase or incantation.

Speak a haiku for the table. The GM will give you a +2/+4/+6 bonus damage for this attack based on how poetic, appropriate, and surprising the haiku is.

Roleplay an insult to a target on the field. They have 5 seconds to come up with a retort. If they fail, regain 1d6 Grit.

Warlord's Tactics
Spend an action roleplaying giving a command to an ally. If they choose to follow your command, they can act on your turn to take an extra action.

Weapon and Armor Restrictions

You can force fighters to diversify their chosen techniques and their gear by gating certain techniques/schools/abilities by weapon or armor restrictions. For example, a knightly school that can only be used if wearing heavy armor and wielding a shield vs an assassin's school that can only be used if wielding a dagger and no armor. 

Flying Spark Feint As you trade blows with your foe, you know the trick of sparking a spray of embers from blade on blade. If wielding a sword, you can attempt to blind your opponent. Spend 1d4 Grit and force your opponent to save. On a failure, they are blinded. They can re-attempt this saving throw at the end of each of their turns.

Catch Arrows If wearing no armor, you gain damage resistance X to missile weapons, where X equals your Dexterity bonus + level. If this ever reduces the damage of a missile weapon to 0, you catch the missile weapon.

Putting it all together

You wouldn't want to use all of these. Maybe none are appropriate for the sort of OSRish games I enjoy. But you can definitely infuse combat with a lot of decision touchpoints by writing a combat system using some of these, and that might be fun.

You can imagine a system where there are various schools of combat utilize one or two of these mechanics as gimmicks. For example, a berserker school that combines first strike (non-engaged), effect (in a rage), and trigger (taking effects while in a rage) mechanics. A berserker could wade into battle, immediately go berserk, do an immediate fuckton of damage, and have a lot of fun gimmicks that combo off of people trying to subdue/get away from him. 

This class could be balanced by schools that deliberately worked within those constraints. There could be classes who complimented, contrasted, or resisted that particular type of attack.

Final thoughts

A few years ago I made an attempt a few years ago to write a complicated fighter. I don't know that I have another attempt in me.

There's a lot I like in this original monk class...

  • A gimmick that I think is interesting is how the d4 works vs a d6 MD. Like magic dice, they are expended on a 4+. Therefore, monks have lower numerical effects than wizards but burn their dice less often.
  • The qi die system is also interesting because doubles help you (new techniques!) but triples hurt you (enlighten your way to retirement). It's not ALL bad and you're incentivized to use more dice more often.
    • Also, doubles come up more often because the die size is lower.
  • I also think monks are interesting because it makes using combat maneuvers against [certain foes] way easier. It's less attacking and more [maneuvering].
That said, I think that Wayspell's version is both simpler and more successful. If I had the time, I'd marry my feelings in this post with the Wayspell fightman.
Lastly, a recent blogpost blew my mind. Josie's sword-saint GLoG class is - shall we say - a cut above the rest.

With Wayspell and Occultronics out there doing this good work, I will defer from wading into the territory of "non-comparable fighter."
...I think I'm done thinking about this subject for now.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Trickster - an OSR class that can steal *anything*

Continuing my series about incomparable classes. As before, I've framed the rules here into a GLoG milieu but you can steal the basic concepts pretty easily. 

If it's not, like, super apparent - the Trickster uses portions of another person's character sheet for a little while.

The Trickster

You're a magic user. Most of your abilities are identical to the core wizard class. The only difference is your Prime ability.  

Your magic steals. This is how Mother stole fire.  This is how gaps entered the historical record. 

You begin the game with 6 random spells. You learn more magic as you level up (per normal wizard). You can also learn new spells from foxes, if they existed.

Tricker Prime Ability: Face Dancer

Whenever you cast a stealing spell, mark down the target on your legendarium. You do not have to touch the target use this theft again. 


  • Any spell you cast instantly ends if you hear your true name. 
  • Any "Borrow ___" spells you cast are sustainable. 
  • You are a good ventriloquist. Your voice can sound like just about anything. 
  1. Gain 1 Trauma
  2. Take 1d6 damage
  3. Random mutation for 1d6 rounds then save; permanent if you fail
  4. Your voice is replaced with a parrot voice. You can only repeat something someone said in the last 5 minutes. 
  5. A fox steals a random item from your pack (you cannot perceive the fox in any normal circumstance)
  6. You can't cast spells for 1d6 rounds
Trickster's Doom
The spell you just cast has become permanent. This is less good than it sounds. You can avoid this fate by finding mother and asking her for some of her fire.

Spell List
  1. Borrow Portrait
  2. Borrow Shape
  3. Borrow Name
  4. Borrow Language
  5. Steal Attribute
  6. Borrow Item
  7. Steal Skill
  8. Steal Ability
  9. Steal Spell
  10. Steal Health
  11. Borrow Memory
  12. Steal Player
Note: All Trickster spells have the following attributes:
  • Target: All spells require a target to steal from. You can only target creatures whose HD equals [sum].
  • Range: You must touch the target. The Trickster themself is the only person who can benefit from the effect. 
  • Duration: All spells last for [dice] hours.
Borrow Portrait
You are covered in an illusion of your target's appearance. Twins! Target cannot save.

Borrow Shape
You transform into the same kind of creature as the target. You still look vaguely like yourself. Target cannot save.

Borrow Name
You steal the target's name. Nobody can remember the target's name in the meantime. You immediately benefit from all spells, curses, geasas, and other magical effects that were affecting the target. (These things follow the name.) Target cannot save.

Borrow Language
You steal a particular language from the target. The target can't remember the language for the duration, but you speak it like a native speaker. Target cannot save.

Steal Attribute
Name one of the target's attributes - Attack, Defense, Strength, Intelligence, whatever. You and the target swap these attributes for the duration. Target can Save at the start of each round to end this effect. 

Borrow Item
Name one object on the body of the target. That object teleports into your hand. Target can save to avoid this effect. The object teleports back onto the target's person after the duration ends. 

Steal Skill
You gain one of the target's skills. You can name a particular one or the GM can roll randomly if you don't have anything in mind. The target forgets this skill for the duration. Target cannot save. 

Steal Ability
You gain one of your target's abilities. You can only steal abilities of a level that you could learn. For example, if you are level 3, you cannot learn somebody's level 4 ability. Target can save to avoid this effect. The target cannot use this ability for the duration. 

Steal Spell
You gain one of your target's spells. You can name a particular one or the GM can roll randomly. The target forgets this spell for the duration. Target cannot save. 

You can spend an hour and a jar of mithril ink (100s) to inscribe this stolen spell onto a scroll. You can later learn the spell for real from the scroll, per usual wizard rules. 

Steal Health
Target takes [sum] damage. You heal the same amount. No save.

Borrow Memory
Name one specific memory. The target forgets this memory for the duration but you remember it. The target can save to avoid this effect. 

Steal Player
You and the character's player swap character sheets for the duration. This spell automatically fails on another player unless the player elects to allow this. The GM's character gets to save to avoid this effect. 

Monday, December 20, 2021

Jesters - an OSR class that breaks the rules


"The difference between the male and female gadabout designs in Dragon Quest 3 make me sad that we were deprived of an Akira Toriyama-designed sexy clown" - @WendySnowRadish

Continuing my series about incomparable classes. As before, I've framed the rules here into a GLoG milieu but you can steal the basic concepts pretty easily. 

What's the deal?

Jesters do not use the rules that everybody else uses at the table. They're barely even playing the same game. 

This class is an exploration of the metafiction of the game. (Score one on your Josh is pretentious Bingo card.) That is, jesters know they're in a roleplaying game. They use out-of-character mechanics that power their in-character actions.

The Jester

'That, of course, is the great secret of the successful fool – that he is no fool at all.'

- Isaac Asimov, Guide to Shakespeare

You're not a puissant knight or a wise loremaster or powerful truespeaker. You are a jester - a fool, a clown, a gaddabout, a juggler, a buffoon. People look down at you because you're the lowest of the low. 

Ah, but here's the rub: you know more than they do!

You realize that this whole thing is just one big game! Distantly, you can hear the voices of the highest gods discussing your fate. You can hear the pages turning, referencing obscure tables and describing the physics of the universe. You hear the dice rolling. You look across the battlefield and see the flaking acrylic paint on the orc who's making 5' steps towards you.

Ha ha! A game! What fun!

You have a silly name. Roll or choose:

  1. Autolycus 
  2. Yokel
  3. Costard
  4. Dogberry
  5. Dromio
  6. Falstaff
  7. Feste
  8. Grumio
  9. Launce
  10. Pompey
  11. Puck
  12. Yorick
Jester A - Not Playing With a Full Deck, Bad Brain
Jester B - BANG!
Jester C - Lol So Randumb
Jester D - Tricky Shuffle

As long as you are unarmored and unencumbered, every Jester template gives you +1 Movement and +1 Defense. (This stacks with the bonus from Agility).

Make 'em Laugh
As part of your legendarium, write down the name of everybody at the table (including the GM). Whenever you say or do something in-character that makes this player laugh out-of-character, put a check beside their name. You can spend these checks to power your Jester abilities. 

Not Playing With a Full Deck
When you would roll a d20, draw from a standard set of cards instead. The card's value is treated like the die's result. Aces are 1s. Face cards are all 20s. (This means most of your rolls will only be 1-10 except 20s will come up far more frequently.) 

If you spend your turn capering about, spend a check to force another player or GM to draw from the deck instead of rolling a d20.

Bad Brain
This is the essential Jester gimmick. You can take anything out-of-character in-character. You can look at other people's character sheets. You can "hear" the table chatter and act on it.

Peeking at the GM's folder is still considered, like, rude and a violation of table stakes. Don't be a jerk about it. Don't be a jerk about anything!

If somebody rolls a die and you don't like the result, spend a check to bang on the table. Make everybody pick up their beers first. If your bang tips over the die, the new result is what happens.

Lol So Randumb
Before the GM uses a random table, spend a check to look at it. If you want, you can force the GM to take the top card of your discard pile as the result on the random table. 

Tricky Shuffle
Spend two checks to pull three cards of your choice out of your discard pile. Shuffle the discard into your deck. Put the three set-aside cards back on top in any order you want. 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Loremaster - a non-magical scholarship class

The idea that wizards are somehow wise or learned is pro-wizard propaganda in the worst way. 

Wizards can throw fireballs but have no idea how they do it or why or if they should. These questions are answered by loremasters

What's the deal?

This post is a continuing exploration of non-comparable classes. See the truespeaker for the first part in the series.

The loremaster represents the wise and learned archetype in low/no magic worlds. 

  • These are your wizard replacements in a Middle-earth game.* These are your Loials. These are your maesters. 
  • These are your classical bards - not horny, but a caste of storytellers, lawkeepers, and minstrel-poets. 
  • If the Wyrding is a Bene Gesserit, the loremaster is your Mentat.
I've framed this class in GLoG terms because it is easy and fun to write GLoG classes. Reframe the basic idea into your game of choice. 

The Loremaster

Many have marked the speed with which 
Muad‘Dib learned the necessities of Arrakis. The Bene Gesserit, of course, know the basis of this speed. For the others, we can say that Muad’Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learnAnd the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It is shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad‘Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson.

—from “The Humanity of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan

The loremaster is not just well read. The loremaster trains their memory, powers of deduction, and logical thinking into nearly superhuman levels. They plumb the Akashic record through meditative trances. They send their dreams through the labyrinths of their genetic memory. This training allows them to know things that mortals should not know. They have sudden flashes of insight that they can be certain are true (even if they are not sure how). 

Loremaster A - d4 Lore Die, 2 lores
Loremaster B - d6 Lore Die, 4 lores
Loremaster C - d8 Lore Die, 6 lores
Loremaster D - d10 Lore Die, 8 lores

Choose any two lores when you first choose a template. Choose two additional lores to learn each time you gain a new template in this class. You only learn new lores by progressing in the loremaster class. It's not so much "reading" as "practice using the loremaster deductive method" that reveals new lores. 

Lore Die

My mind is my weapon. My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer, and I have my mind … and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge." 

A Game of Thrones, Grrm Wyrm

Roll your lore die each time you call on a lore. This is just a Usage Dice like from the Black Hack. Whenever you roll a lore die, if the roll is 1-2 then the lore die is downgraded to the next lower die in the following chain:

d10 > d8 > d6 > d4

When you roll a 1-2 on a d4, you're so exhausted that you can't press your brain into service. Your cloudy reasoning lasts until you get a full night's rest, at which point your lore die is refilled to its normal size. 


'You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.’
‘How often?’
‘Well, some hundreds of times.’
‘Then how many are there?’
‘How many! I don’t know.’
‘Quite so. You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.’

- "Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson, A Scandal In Bohemia," Arthur Conan Doyle

Each time you use one of these lores, roll your lore die to represent the strain to your mental faculties and exhaustion. Each lore question will be answered by the GM honestly. 

Lore of Auspice
Ask the GM: "If I do X, will Y happen?" You receive a “yes, ”“no,” or "maybe" answer by interpreting the signs at hand.

Q. If I drink the fountain's water, what will happen?
A. Ah, that's not exactly how it works. You have to specify what you think will happen and I'll tell you if you're right or wrong.
Q. If I drink the fountain's water, will I turn back into an elf?
A. That is a definite maybe. The fountain's water seems random.

Lore of Eidos
You have perfect recall. You can ask the GM to remind you of anything your character has ever seen or heard. You can go back and count the beads of sweat on your mother's forehead on the day of your birth, if you wish.

Lore of How
You can use your turn in combat to shout advice to a comrade. If you do so, you can add your current lore die value to a companion's d20 roll.

Lore of Tongues
You can translate almost any language. Spend a dungeon turn to translate an inscription or rune in an unknown language. Spend a hex turn to translate an entire book or have a meaningful conversation with a willing participant who does not know a shared language. 

Keep a list of the languages you've translated on your legendarium. If you ever translate the same language 3 times, you may add it to your known languages list. 

Lore of What
You can always ask the GM: "Wait, what is this?" The GM will give you a name and a single sentence explanation.

Q. Hold on - what is it we're looking at here? I'm using the Lore of what.
A. It's a false hydra, actually. A false hydra is a...well...a monstrous growth that sings a song that forces it to not be noticed. 

Q. What does this sword do? I'm bidding lore.
A. This is a sword of goblin bane. The runes name it Orcrist. It's +1 against goblins.

Lore of Where
If you ever hear the name of a location, you can ask the GM: "Where is that?" They will place it on the map for you.

If you ever see the stars, you can ask the GM: "Where am I?" They will place you on the map, too.

Lore of Who
After carefully observing a scene, ask the GM: "Who is responsible for this?"
If the answer is concealed, the GM gives you one meaningful clue. 
If the answer is not concealed and it is at all possible that you could know, the GM will simply tell you. 

Q. Who murdered this person?
A. Well, you can definitely tell that trollocs murdered this person. But you also see familiar arrows used - the arrows of the fletcher Cenn Buie. Either the trollocs bought or stole these arrows from him.

Q. Do I recognize who made these ruins?
A. You actually see two influences - and older one and a younger one. Which one do you want to look at?
Q. Both please. I'll roll my lore dice both times. [clattering]
A. OK. The oldest ruins are dwarvish in origin. There's a new layer of construction on top of these ruins that are of goblin make. Plastering over and ruining the dwarvish art, a thin architecture of shoddy simple traps, etc. 

Lore of Why
If you are talking to an NPC about X subject, ask the GM: "How do they feel about X?"
The GM will answer you with one of the following phrases:
  • They hate it.
  • They're angry at it.
  • They're afraid of it.
  • They love it.
  • They're sad about it.
  • They're surprised by it.
  • They have no strong feelings about it.
Q. OK, we definitely just mentioned King Abaslom pretty directly while talking to Vizier Malcomb. Can I tell how they feel about him?
A. Yes, if you roll. [clatters] Thanks! OK. The vizier feels angry at King Abaslom. Your senses tell you the anger borders on contemptuous. 

* I actually think there's good evidence for many wizards in Middle-earth, but that's a galaxy brain take I don't have the space to justify here.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Truespeaker - Freeform Magic for OSRish games

The quadratic wizard and the linear fighter is an old "problem." I also see RPG forum posts at least once a month asking for recommendations for freeform magic use, and Mage and Ars Magica are always ready at hand to recommend. I wanted to offer an alternative.

Truespeaking is a magic system that is freeform but also pretty dirt simple. No spell lists, no looking up rules, no spell slots. Magic relies on free Kriegsspiel rules, give or take. Fighters and wizards become incomparable - they do not use the same rules to do the same things. 

I've framed this class in GLoG terms because 1) the GLoG keeps HP low, which is important and 2) I wanted the abilities to cap out quickly. Reframe the basic idea into your game of choice. 

The Ouroboros Eats Itself: A lot of ideas for this class came from @ericbabe3's DCC homebrew rules. Many thanks to him for sharing those with me! 

A Caveat: Having control over everything and everyone is...weird! Inappropriate! Bad! LeGuin handles this material incredibly thoughtfully. Before using this magic system for murder-hoboing, set expectations at your table about what is kosher within these rules for you. Fun should be fun. Don't take the open-ended nature of this system to make gameplay not fun.

The Truespeaker

"That is the language dragons speak, and the language Segoy spoke who made the islands of the world, and the language of our lays and songs, spells, enchantments, and invocations. … Any witch knows a few of these words in the Old Speech, and a mage knows many. But there are many more, and some have been lost over the ages, and some have been hidden, and some are known only to dragons and to the Old Powers of Earth, and some are known to no living creature; and no man could learn them all. For there is no end to that language."

- Wizard of Earthsea

You know the truespeech - the words of command, the old tongue, the language of creation. What you say in the truespeech cannot be a lie, therefore it is true. By speaking, you reshape reality to fit your words. 

Truespeaker A - Detect Spells, One Syllable Truewords

Truespeaker B - Two Syllable Truewords

Truespeaker C - Three Syllable Truewords

Truespeaker D - Four Syllable Truewords

Detect Spells

Speaking the truespeech resonates throughout the world. You can sense any truespeech within [template] miles of a spell being cast. 


You may cast truespeech spells (see below). You may speak truewords a number of syllables long as templates in this class. You may speak spells with as many truewords as templates in this class + Cha modifier. 

Casting Spells

Sank the braggart, Youkahainen,
Deeper in his slough of torment,
To his chin in mud and water,
Ever praying, thus beseeching:
“O thou ancient Wainamoinen,
Greatest of the old magicians,
Lift me from this pit of horror

- The Kalevala

A spell is a sentence in truespeech. 

(Think about the terms here. A spell is a word. That's why you enter a spelling bee. To cast something is to throw it away. To cast a spell is to throw word.)

Anything or anyone who hears a spell must obey it to the best of their ability. 

For example:

  • OPEN will cause a door to open.
  • KNEEL will force a particular person to kneel before you.
  • GIVE IT TO ME will oblige a dog to give you whatever it has in its mouth or a thief to return what they've stolen.
  • DROP will cause a fig tree to drop its figs for you. It could also cause a fighter to fall prone or perhaps drop their weapon (at their own interpretation, see Rule of Plausible Deniability below).

How long do spells last?

A person is compelled to obey the spell until the earliest instance they have fulfilled it. Someone commanded to KNEEL may get up at any time afterwards. 

A spell commands a person instantly. (Clever truespeakers can use their "turn" to give their allies extra actions by commanding them with spells.) 

The commanded creature does not have to spend their action on a later turn to obey unless the spell specifies continuous or prolonged action.

If a creature ever starts their turn under the effects of a spell, they may make a saving throw to break the spell's hold on them.

That is to say:

Step 1: The target acts immediately on the truespeaker's turn. 

Step 2: If the spell has not been resolved, the target may make a saving throw at the beginning of their turn until they break the spell or the spell is complete.  

Game Design Sidebar: Effects should never not do anything. If you are bitten by a snake and get poisoned something bad should happen. Can you make a saving throw to avoid the worst of it? Sure. But if a wizard casts a spell on you, something bad should happen. Only by an act of defiance and will can you eventually shrug off an effect. 

How many spells can you cast?

You may cast spells with as many truewords as [number of templates] + [Cha modifier]. 

Each trueword in a spell can only be as many syllables long as your [number of templates]. 

For example:

  • A Truespeaker A character with +2 Cha can speak a sentence 3 words long, with any 1 word being only 1 syllable. 
  • A Truespeaker C character with +1 Cha can speak a sentence 4 words long, with any 1 word being 3 syllables. 
  • A Truespeaker D character with +3 Cha can speak a character 7 words long, with any 1 word being 4 syllables.
Whenever you cast a spell, you accumulate spellburn equal to the number of truewords spoken in the spell. 


Truespeech is the tongue of dragons. Mortals are not designed to speak it. It burns their throats and saps their spirits.

Each point of spellburn lowers your maximum hit points by 1. For example, if you speak a 5 word spell your maximum HP is lowered by 5. 

If spellburn would ever reduce your HP to 0 and someone administers first aid to you so you don't die, you gain a random mutation when you recover. Use your favorite random mutation table. 

(These mutations called "brands" if you're a good little truespeaker from the Isle of Roke. These are called "blights" if you're an evil necromancer who knows the Lore of Paln.) 

You can bleed off spellburn by sleeping. You reduce your spellburn 1 + Cha per night. 

You can also bleed off spellburn at places of magical importance, like places where leylines cross. This  requires you to perform a ritual 1 day long and reduces your spellburn by [1d6 + Cha + number of templates].

The Rules and Limits of the Truespeech 

'What it was I cannot guess, but I have never felt such a challenge. The counter-spell was terrible. It nearly broke me. For an instant the door left my control and began to open! I had to speak a word of Command. That proved too great a strain. The door burst in pieces. Something dark as a cloud was blocking out all the light inside, and I was thrown backwards down the stairs. All the wall gave way, and the roof of the chamber as well, I think.

- The Fellowship of the Ring, Jolkien Rolkien Rolkien Tolkien

Alright, I lied when I said you didn't have to memorize a lot of rules. There are limits to casting spells with the truespeech. These rules define what is and isn't possible with this system. They're pretty easy though, so consult them only when needed. 

Side Note: It is rumored that Truesinging controls not the present - but the future. (This is how the world was made.) They also say that the dwarves' Truerunes control the past. 

The Rule of Sub-Creation

A spell can only work within the natural bounds of creation itself. Snow cannot BURN. Apple trees cannot GROW PUMPKINS. A dog cannot TRANSFORM INTO A MAN (or vice versa). You can only command objects, things, people, etc. to do things they can reasonably accomplish. These actions can be foolish - even dangerous - but they cannot be unnatural.

The Animist's First Exception - Movement

Most people don't know this, but almost everything can move. They just choose not to. Spells can command something to move - rocks to stack themselves, arrows to fly without a bow, flames to leap from their logs. 

Spells can command anything to move and it will obey.

The Animist's Second Exception - Speech

The little spirit in almost anything can also speak. Spells can command anything - rocks, books, dead bodies, living people - to speak and it will obey. Unless the spell is cleverly constructed, most things will not say anything meaningful (see Plausible Deniability below).

The Necromancer's First Exception - Time

Time isn't real. It's a tacit lie that makes people comfortable. You can speed up natural processes (but not work) through spells. For example, milk can instantly CURDLE. Fruit can instantly RIPEN. A man can instantly GROW A BEARD.  

The Rule of Iron

Iron is the act of the Demiurge. Men use iron to kill each other, thus fulfilling the evil will of the Demiurge. The True Creator has never touched iron and thus cannot affect it. 

If you are carrying a significant portion of iron, truespeaking cannot affect you.

If you are carrying a significant portion of iron, you cannot speak the truespeech. 

Game Design Sidebar: For stuff as nasty as this subsystem, you should give players an out. Someone carrying iron can neither benefit from (by getting extra actions from) nor be harmed by truespeaking. They tap out. 

The Rule of the Listener

Spells only affect something that can hear you. You cannot affect the moon, for instance, because it is too far away. 

Rule of Plausible Deniability

(This is an important rule.) Someone who hears the truespeech must immediately obey the spell to the best of their ability. 

They are allowed to find loopholes. 

A person commanded to do a single thing will do it - and can then resume whatever they were doing previously. A person commanded to KNEEL will bend the knee for a moment then get back up. A person commanded to DROP YOUR SWORD will drop it - but can recover it at the earliest opportunity. 

The truespeech is especially ruinous when a moment's action would spell their doom. WALK FORWARD can make even a strong-willed person step off of a cliff. (But then again - so could a strong fighter bullrushing them to their doom.) 

Clever spells can entrap a person for a length of time. COUNT EVERY GRAIN OF SAND on a beach could potentially occupy a victim indefinitely. If a creature ever starts their turn under the effects of a spell, they may make a saving throw to break the spell's hold on them.

The Rule of Naming

Anything that hears you will obey you for a moment. Given time, a creature's own will can overcome your spell. However, if you speak a true name as part of the spell, the target cannot make a saving throw to overcome continuous action.

The Exception of Counter-Naming

The Rule of Naming is sublimated by this exception: If the target also knows your true name, their knowledge of your name allows them to ignore the use of their true name. They are allowed a saving throw as normal.

The Rule of Mortal's Limitation

Outside of the Sub-Creation Exceptions (time, etc.), a spell cannot do much more than the truespeaker could with free hands and tools. 

Most spells do as much damage as a normal weapon (say, 1d6). This includes thrown stones, tongues of fire, or entangling thorns. 

Some cleverly worded spells may do more (fire may continue burning, a collapsed bridge might drown someone, etc.). 

The most grievous part of this limitation is the inability to affect life itself. Spells may not directly affect the life force of any creature, positively or negatively. 

The Rule of Right and Left Hand

Speaking the truespeech can be very vague and context is all important. A truespeaker can provide context through vigorous gestures

Anything gestured to with the left hand is the commanded one.

Anything gestured to with the right hand is the target of the command. 

For example: The truespeaker says ATTACK, gesturing at one orc with the left hand and a human bandit with the right hand. The orc is compelled to attack the human bandit.

You can only gesture with hands that are completely empty. Being more eloquent with your spells removes the needs to use gestures altogether.

The Rule of Specificity 

Gestures can only get you so far. The more specific a spell, the better in accordance with the caster's wishes. For example ALL ORCS STOP would target every orc within hearing. 

The Rule of Cumulation 

Spells only command, they do not create. You must have a valid target for your spells. 

There is a saying: It must be raining before it storms. 

You cannot call lightning from nothing. First, the spirits of the air must make it rain. Then, it must storm. Then, you can call the lightening. 

The Rule of Countering

Anything that truespeech does can be undone by truespeech again. 

(The most dangerous spells compel changes that cannot be undone, for example, an ensorcelled brother putting his sword through his brother's face.)

The Exception of the Sorcerer

Spellburn cannot be healed by the truespeech or by any magic. 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

The "Willow" Spell Research System

This is fucking boring:

"If a Magic-User wishes to add a spell to a spellbook without a prior reference to the spell (from a scroll or another spellbook), there is more intensive research to be done. A Magic-User can research spells of a higher level than he is able to cast and add them to his spellbook, but he may never prepare such spells. He can, however, write them on scrolls. For spells that are on the standard spell lists, the process costs 25 sp per day."

from LotFP spell research rules

Here's an alternative:

Tuatha, Tuatha - Grin Chnox, Liomfo Danu 

Chaos Magic

It's nice when magic lists are Platonic shape numbers

A magic-user can cast a random spell of a level they could possibly cast at any time. They just sorta say some words that come naturally, wave their wand around, and see what happens. 

If you have not prepared the spell in question, this is called chaos magic.

When you use chaos magic, the GM has free reign to cast the spell's effects however they want. The "caster" and "target" are completely at their discretion. 

You use Chaos Magic to cast Charm Person? Cool. You're the target. The mangy dog cringing under the porch is the caster. You are now utterly enamored with the mangy dog. 

The GM can also make it work more or less fine. Whatever. It's up to them. 

When you use chaos magic, note down the spell that happened with that particular result. For example, you rolled a 2 and fell in love with a dog? Cool. You can try and replicate these effects later.

The "Willow" Spell Research System

OK, so first tell the GM what spell you're trying to learn. Then spend silver. Any research attempt takes 1 day x spell level. 

Step 1: Baseline Research

By spending silver on baseline research, you can ignore spells lower than a particular given entry on any particular level's spell list. This can get you into spitting distance for the spell in question. 

(This makes spells alphabetically later harder to learn.)

The cost for baseline research is equal to (level x 5 silver x numerical entry). For example, for level 1 spells, spending 25 silver on baseline research would start the step 2 process at 5+ of the spell list. Similarly, for level 3 spells, you could spend 75 silver to ignore the first five entries of the spell list for step 2. Using the same math, spending 90 silver would let you start step 2 at 2+ of the 9th level spell list. And so on...

Step 2: Spell Experimentation

Next, buy a spell experimentation die to roll for research attempt. 

d2 - 100s x spell level

d4 - 50s x spell level

d6 - 30s x spell level

d8 - 20s x spell level

d10 - 15s x spell level

d12 - 12s x spell level

d20 - 5s x spell level

Starting at the position established in your baseline research, roll your spell experimentation die. Add the experimentation die result to the baseline research level to see what spell you cast through experimentation. Compare the result to the spell on the spell list.

If you got exactly the number of the spell you tried to learn, congratulations! You now know this spell and can prepare it as normal.

If you did not get exactly the number of the spell you tried to learn, the GM casts this spell using the chaos magic procedures above. If the result would not be on the spell list, it "rolls over" to the next highest level spell list. For example, a result of 21 on the 1st level spell list would be the result of the alphabetically first spell on the 2nd level spell list. 

When this goes over on level 9 spells? t̵̡̰̙͖̜̰̮̳̮͔̓̾͆̍̓͘͝r̷̜̪̱͚̠͇̩͂̄̾͂̃u̶̢̟̰̦͈̱̼͗̕ļ̷̨̗̘̥̟̜͙͚̮̉̀͑͋̈́ͅy̵̪̲͉̳͙̼͍͉͕͋̿͋̽͊̄͗̀̆̚̕͜ͅ ̸̧̩͖̘̗͚̳̖̙͙̺̗̲̆̎̈́̄͂͆͝ͅt̸̼̠̖̆̅͌̽͐͑̀̋̏͐͐͘̕e̴̛̼̣̫̓͐̽͒̒̌̉̕͘r̵͈͔͚͛̐͑͗r̷̟̰̤͎̟̲̃ȉ̷̛̙͎̙̩͇̹͈̱̮͓̭̟̓̑̎̿͗̾͊̓͑͐͘͜͝b̵̘̳̞̣́l̸̢̢̧̨̧̢̨̰̹̞̘͙̱͓̊̅͛̽̅̂̚ͅȩ̸̛̲͓͇̝̯́̑̎̎͛̓́́͛͜ ̵̢̜̭̟̤̰̞̦̥̥̖̦̥́̈͊s̵̢̫͍̱̟̻̈́́̊̒̓͘h̴̦̹̦̪͙̫̎̅̋̾̇̅̓̈͘ḯ̵̞̜͙͈̮̝̊̈́͒̅͜t̷͖̎̑̑̽̓͂̌͂̈́̓̈͑̉̚̕


The High Aldwin is trying to learn Spider Climb, a first level spell. They've tried to research this spell a few times and failed so they're feeling salty. 

First, the High Aldwin decides to spend a lot of money on the baseline research. They spend 75 silver (level 1 spell x 5 silver x numerical entry). This allows them to start rolling their spell experimentation die on 15+ on the spell list. 

Next, the High Aldwin spends 50s to get a d4 spell experimentation die (50s x level 1 spells). They tell their GM that they're trying to research the Spider Climb spell. 

The High Aldwin's player rolls a d4. They add the d4 result to a 15 to see what spell they cast through experimentation. The result is a 2.

2+15 is 17. Alas! This is Sleep! 

If the High Aldwin had gotten exactly 3 on the roll, they would have learned Spider Climb.

The GM describes that the High Aldwin falls asleep for an entire day. The High Aldwin grumbles, notes that "Sleep" is apparently the 17th spell, and resolves to try again later. 

Tenarlian - A Review

Recently got my grubby paws on Tenarlian - The Dying of the Light, a 5E module from Crumbling Keep. 

This module is grounded in the homegrown campaign setting of Samsarras. "Tenarlian" is the name of the winter solstice festival in that setting. 

What's all this about then?

From the first pages of the module:

"Tenarlian: The Dying of the Light is meant to be a holiday one shot, easy to pick up and play as-is. As such, we’ve provided premade characters for this module. They are from the Frostdelver clan, a family of sheep herders. 

...If PCs wish to play their own characters, that’s fine! Just have them make PCs of 4th - 6th level. Afterwards, figure out why they are in the Long Winter Vale and how they know the Frostdelver clan."

This is such a perfect niche for a product. For the past several years, I've usually have someone in the friend group run a holiday themed one shot for me. It's great to have a product like this in your game folder to reach for when the opportunity comes up.

Oooh, that dark fantasy

Another thing to note is that the module is explicitly grimdark. Well, I don't know. That word means a lot of things. But the content warnings in the front matter are there for a reason. This isn't a silly holiday adventure where you fight the Jingle Elf and an animated snowman. This is a module about surviving the night

The gimmick is that as time goes on, your lights go out. Admirably, light becomes harder and harder to cast - requiring sequentially higher spell slots.

(I talk a lot in His Majesty the Worm about how the essential problems shouldn't be removed with cantrip spells, so I really dig this.)

Hexcrawling one shot 

There are elements of hexcrawling in this game. This is what initially piqued my interest about this project. I love hexcrawls - they've been my primary form of gameplay for the past several years - and the idea of a one shot hexcrawl really tickles something in me. I think the idea is really ambitious and I'd love to see more content like this. 

What do you get in the book?

The book is a good size for a one shot, clocking in at 28 pages of content. That includes:
  • A random encounter table for hexes without a keyed encounter
  • Ten keyed encounters
  • Attractive hex map and hex map handouts
  • Five premade 5E characters
The essential gimmick is that a magical darkness called the Darkfrost (eh) is creeping its way across the map. The players race against time, trying to make it to a safe haven before the darkness completely swallows them. 

The setup reminds me of a board game like Arkham Horror. You have to collaboratively do X before the scenario completely fills up its doom track. This sort of tension is good for a one-shot game since it puts a strict time limit on the evening's play.


Well, I haven't played this module yet. But I want to. I'd craftily use this module as an introduction to the benefits of random encounters and hexcrawling procedures to friends who are hesitant to try a non-5E game. 

If any of this sounds as cool to you as it does me, you can check it out at the Crumbling Keep webstore for $7.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

In Praise of the 6 Mile Middle-earth Hex

For reasons I recently wondered what a hex crawl procedure for Middle-earth should look like. Of course, I was familiar with the classic post on hex size - but I've always favored a smaller hex. Hot Springs Islands does two-mile hexes and I've really enjoyed that scope/scale.

I decided to do some Math.  

Walking into Mordor

Frodo and Sam traveled 1,800 miles over 185 days. However, they spent:

  • 28 days in Lothlorien
  • 64 days in Rivendell
  • 1 day at Bombadil's house

That's almost half the time resting. So they only had 92 days of travel, for an average of 19.5 miles/day.

Some of this journey was by river but the vast majority of the travel was by foot. 

Travel Procedures

Travel procedures are kinda like combat procedures. They should be fun. I have opinions about the level of grit/realism/crunch/finnickyness/choice a travel procedure should have (in the same way I have preferences about the combat system). 

Let's assume a simple hex travel system where there are 4 watches to the day (morning, day, evening, night), with the PCs resting during the night watch. In this system, the fellowship would travel 3 watches out of the 4 most days. 

Crunching the Numbers

To make the math simple and account for the brief stint on the river, round 19.5 down to 18. 18 miles over the course of the day over 3 watches, lets you travel through 3 hexes if the hex is 6 miles across. 

Therefore, the "ideal" size of a hex map of Middle-earth would have 6 mile hexes.

This pace is brisk but not outside of the realm of possibility. A seasoned Appalachian Trail hiker can pull an 18+ miler on a good day (but they - like the Fellowship - do not do this consistently). 


As an aside, I'm working on some traveling rules for the Under Hill, By Water Yuletide Jam. If you want to get in on this goodness, check it out! Would love to have more ideas in the medley. 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Name This Alchemy Book - Out now

I have just released one, true book of alchemy. 

This arcane text provides a framework to steal the powers of monsters and craft fabulous potions, feasts, and elixirs.  

I will not name this book. You will. 

When you interact with this book, it undergoes an alchemical change. Secrets are revealed only to you that show you the true nature of the universe. 

Pour over this text thoroughly and have many secrets revealed to you.


Click the pic to buy the book!

Wait...what is this?

This is a bundle of alchemical systems that you can bolt on to the game of your choice. 

  • Alchemy can let you steal the powers of monsters like Mega Man or Kirby
  • Alchemy can be a field guide to rare plants in your campaign setting
  • Alchemy can tame monsters like Pokemon
  • Alchemy can be a cozy subsystem for making delicious meals

How does alchemy work?

Here's the essential gimmick: Alchemical substances bottle up the powers of monsters. When you use an alchemical substance, you’re using a monster’s ability.

  • Drink a potion to gain a dire spider’s wall climbing ability.
  • Throw a bomb to poison a foe with the spider’s venom.
  • Distill the spider’s webbing into a glue-like oil that bonds together whatever it touches.

So, if your party defeats a monster and you harvest its black, squishy heart, you gain weird tools which can be used in many ways to solve puzzles.

This book contains tons of example alchemical substances as well as structures to build this system out. It is relatively little work to develop new alchemical substances for homebrewed monsters that  invent. Discovering what a monster’s guts do is half the fun.

What game system is this for?

This supplement contains rules from the forthcoming game His Majesty the Worm. However, with a little work, you can adapt these subsystems for any old-school role-playing game. A conversion guide is included at the end of the book. 

Wait, what's His Majesty the Worm?

His Majesty the Worm is a fantasy dungeon crawling game that is currently in development. It attempts to make the boring parts of dungeon crawls (mapping, resource management, food and water, light, interparty conflict) actually fun and central to game play. 

Any revenue gathered from this supplement will be funneled to paying cool artists good money for His Majesty the Worm. If this sort of thing sounds cool, please throw in a few dollars to help fund the game!

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Under Hill, By Water Yuletide Jam

Extremely happy to announce the Under Hill, By Water Yuletide Jam!

In Under Hill, By Water, the Winter Phase is a time to share a pint with friends, tell stories, trade gifts, and make New Year's resolutions.

Let's do the same thing together!

  • There isn't any judging here, this is just for fun! 
  • Make anything you want for the jam:
    • Expanded content (more random tables!)
    • New subsystems (gardening mini-game! pipeweed effects!)
    • Cozy scenarios (not “adventures,” certainly!)
    • Play aids (art! ludological essays! calendar assets! hex maps! new character sheets!)
  • You can use the template kit to use the same fonts, styles, and textures as the core book.
  • I encourage you to put a price on your work. If you do, you can also use community copies to make sure everyone can enjoy your cool stuff.
  • If you need any help optimizing your PDFs for accessibility, please reach out! I love to talk about this.
  • Let's collaborate! Check out  submissions as they come in to find other neat people to build with. If you want to participate, I plan on making a bundle of the jam submissions next year.
  • The jam is currently scheduled to run through January. If we need more time, I can extend the deadline.

If you do make something, all I ask is that you include the following text somewhere on your page: "This game is grown from Under Hill, By Water designed by Josh McCrowell. This game is not affiliated with the original author."

If you do make something, please reach out to me on Twitter @riseupcomus. I'd love to see what you make!