Monday, September 5, 2022

Ringless - In Development

As a side project, I have been helping Hodag with one of his games. The game is called Ringless. 

Ringless - Coming "Soon"

I think I've been clear about the sort of things that interest me. Ringless is in this vein. 

Ringless is a Ralph Bakshi fever dream instead of scrupulous adherence to canon. Like other Hodag games, Ringless is a toolbox, designed to empower you to build the game experience you want for your table.

We have finished a basic sketch of the major systems and now need to playtest to decide on details. 

Thoughts on collaboration

It has been very fun and freeing to take on this sort of side project. An enormous amount of my "free" time is spent laboring on HIS MAJESTY THE WORM. It is nice to have a project that is just a creative exercise. 

Collaborating with Hodag is great. We have very different writing styles. Hodag's philosophy is a that paragraph could be a sentence, a system could be a table. "Players are smart. They'll figure it out," he says.

Actual conversation 

Hodag is a constraining influence on my lengthy elaborations and purple prose. It's good to be goaded into brevity, to learn to cut cruft, to self edit. 

Similarly, I hope that have helped players figure it out by adding elaboration and examples to Hodag's inspirational text. 

When reading Ringless, I suspect you might guess where one author leaves off and the other begins. As Bilbo says, "If you can’t distinguish between a Man and a Hobbit, your judgement is poorer than I imagined. They’re as different as peas and apples."

A Toolbox: Example of Ringless Prep

A troll blocks your way forward!

As an example of what Ringless is about, I'm going to stream of consciousness blog my playtest prep. 

So, before play begins, I need two things: a hex map and three Wandering Tables. The hex map will allow players to journey through the world. The Wandering Tables are combinatory prompts I'll use during play to create spontaneous scenes as the players journey.

I'll start with the hex map. 

Making the Map

Per the book, the procedure to make a world map is as follows:

Step 1: Put on the album Nightfall in Middle-earth by Blind Guardian.

Step 2: Print a blank World Map on cardstock.  

Step 3: Choose or roll some names from the list below and write them on your map with your best penmanship. 

  • Mark havens with a castle. 

  • Mark dungeons with a skull.

  • Mark wilder things with a star.

  • Mark ruins with some crumbling ruins.

You want a good blend of all four categories!

Step 4. Keep writing names and drawing icons until you’re satisfied! 

We provide a basic hex map. You can download the hex map and an asset pack here. 

This map is modeled after the Outdoor Survival map used in OD&D, but redrawn to look like a Tolkien hand-drawn map. It is a template map Ringless GMs can use for their own worlds, or they can make a new map using the asset pack. 

I'll open the hex map in Photoshop. 

First, I'll establish the havens. Havens are city states like Bree or Minas Tirith or Lothlorien. I'll drag around the castle icons until they're evenly spaced. I'll put some in the mountains for dwarf havens. I'll put some in the forests for elf havens. 

Next, dungeons are where the shadow lurks. I'll drag around the skull icon for dungeons. I don't want too many of these because I want the world to feel mostly positive.

Then, I'll drag around wilder-thing and ruins icons until I get bored. These represent supernatural wild spaces and ruins of earlier ages. I want a lot of these non-civilized areas.

Then, I'll look at the example location lists and see if any strike me. I can see right away that I have two dwarven city names and two havens in the mountains, so I'll use the ones the book provides for those. I can see that I placed a few star icons in what looks like swampy regions, so I'll use the names from the list like Blood Swamp and Trollbog. I keep choosing names from the list and labeling my location items until I'm done.

I label these using BilboDisplay font, which I think looks nice (it's in the asset pack, too). I'll use a red font to mirror the coloring from the Tolkien map.

Here's the end result. It took me a half hour to put together using the prompts and assets. 

Click for full size. Download it if you want to use it!

Wandering Tables

Next, I'll make my Wandering Tables. I'll need three - a Folk Table, a Foe Table, and a Fate Table. During play, I'll roll all three and interpret the results like tossed yarrow sticks for I-Ching.

Here's the procedure from the book:

Step 1: Put on Songs of the Wood by Jethro Tull.

Step 2: Print a copy of the Wandering Table Worksheet from this book. 

Step 3: Roll or choose challenges from the following lists. Populate each table with appropriate simple, risky, and overwhelming challenges. 

  • Nothing happens (results 1-3): When rolling on the Wandering Dice, any result of 1-3 produces no result. The Wandering Table notes this.

  • Simple Challenges (results 4-6): Uncomplicated or low-stakes obstacles. 

    • Characters in a simple challenge have 6 HP. They provide little little direct threat but can be used to threaten something the questors care about or advance the GM’s agendas. 

  • Risky Challenges (results 7-9): Difficult obstacles that can nevertheless be overcome through valor and virtue.

    • Characters in risky challenges have 10 HP. Risky challenges might also be a simple challenge reframed with overwhelming forces - an entire platoon of goblins instead of just three or four. Risky challenges might also be a normal monster with an advantageous creature descriptor applied (p. XX).

  • Overwhelming Challenges (results 10-12): Deadly obstacles and terrible foes that require careful planning, great wisdom, or blessed luck to overcome.

    • Characters in overwhelming challenges have 20 HP. These challenges are impossible to take on head-on, and require cleverness, trickery, and coordination to overcome. Overwhelming challenges consist of the most dire monsters or overwhelming odds against simple monsters. 

And that’s it! 

So, when making my map, I didn't choose every faction or every nation in the list. I have two Freeland havens, one Ondian haven, two dwarven havens, and two elven havens. I assume that other peoples live elsewhere in the world, just not on this map. I'll use that to inform my decision about what goes into my tables. 

For my simple challenges, I'm going to think about animals I want to see or a basic human farmer type. For risky challenges, I'll use groups of the folk from havens on the map. For overwhelming challenges, I'll choose some elite-sounding people.

Let's start with the Folk Table. 

1-3: Nothing Happens

4: Talking Bear

5: Unicorn

6: Freelander Karl

7:  Freelander Ruffians

8: Evendell Wandering Troop

9: Kel Tanenhen Merchants

10: Aben Garan Warband

11: Ardforest Rangers

12: Baranar Kalan Warguard 

Next, Foe Table. I can see both goblin and troll themed dungeons. Let's make sure they're active in the world. For the troll, I'll give him a creature descriptor to make him a bit more interesting. I choose "Corrupted" because it sounds like the Trollbog on my map is probably corrupting. I'll also put a few foul beasties for lower level challenges, and a stray Big Bad for a surprise.

1-3: Nothing Happens

4: Devil Cat

5: Starveling Wolf

6: Goblin Sneak

7: Goblin Gang

8: Goblin Wolfriders 

9: Highgoblin Warrior 

10: Corrupted Troll Brute

11: War Troll

12: Two-headed Giant

Last, I'm just going to choose some Fate Table prompts from the book that seem most interesting to me. No real calculation here, I'm just getting inspired by the prompts. 

1-3: Nothing Happens

4: A Birth, A Midwife, New Life

5: Feasting, Drinking, and Celebration 

6: Hunting, Seeking, Searching

7: A Funeral, A Burial, A Death

8: Hunger and Thirst

9: Lost or Buried Treasure

10: The River Dried, Blocked, Dammed

11: Warfare, Slaughter, Battle

12: A Wildfire

OK! That should do it. I have all three Wandering Tables populated and a map. I'm ready to run a playtest.

Interested in Playtesting?

Playtesting, for me, is all about quick iteration. Here's a small system, do we like it? Why or why not? OK, let's change it. Now how does it feel? In many ways, playtesting is how I write the game itself.

If you're interested in participating, join the Ringless discord! We'd appreciate your two cents!

Friday, August 26, 2022

Rest Interrupted

This post brought to you by insomnia. Yes, insomnia! With insomnia, you can feel bad all day! Try it whether you want to or not!

If you've ever gone camping, you know how different it is to sleep on the ground versus sleeping in your bed. The point of these rules is to create more interesting equipment choices. By mechanizing things like bedrolls, tents, and blankets, you are more inclined to not fill up every single equipment slot with lard.


When you rest in your own bed or in a safe haven, you recover all of your HP. When you are sleeping hard in the dungeon or wilderland, use these rules.

Each night you sleep while campaigning, roll a die to see how much HP you recover. The size of the die you roll is determined by how safe and comfortable you are. 

The dice chain is: d0 -> d2 -> d4 -> d6 -> d8 -> 1d10 -> 1d12 -> 3d4

Start at d2.


For every item on this list you can answer "Yes" to, increase your die type by one step:

- Bedroll

- Roof overhead (tent or otherwise)

- Fire

- Shared booze 

- Hot meal

- Had sex


For every item on this list you can answer "Yes" to, decrease your die type by one step.

- Precipitation

- Cold

- Hungry

- Sick

- Bugs (can be negated with bug netting)

- Evil environment (dungeons, Swamps of Ill Omen, etc.)

- Combat encounter at night (decreases die by two steps)

Nocturnal Manifestations

Put an event called "Nocturnal Manifestation" on your Meatgrinder table/Overloaded Encounter Die. If you roll this entry during the night's watch, roll again on the following table and randomly determine the target. 

  1. Pet Pest: One of your animal companions or familiars crawls onto you at night. They are trying to get warm, but keep stepping on your face and kneading their claws into your breasts. You are desperate to not disturb them and hold yourself perfectly still, despite being terribly uncomfortable. Roll your recovery die twice and take the lower result.
  2. Snoring Bedmate: The person sleeping nearest you is sawing logs all night. Decrease your recovery die by one step. OR choose to wake them up. They decrease their recovery die by one step instead.
  3. The Old Campaigner's Complaint: You have dysentery. You spend your night squatting, guts roiling. Reduce your recovery die by two steps.
  4. Sleep Paralysis Imp: A terrible demon manifests and sits on your chest, smothering you. It's absolutely terrifying. You recover 0 HP.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Kung-fu Training Minigame

As I said in my previous post, I've been watching a lot of kung fu movies. A core feature of these movies is a training scene. The hero goes from nursing their bruised knuckles to smashing through stone walls. Importantly, there are frequently multiple training scenes. 36 Chambers of Shaolin is essentially one long training scene sequence.

Because training scenes are an important part of the genre, they seem important to gameify. Saying "Okay, you go off and train for a few months and we're back" seems insufficient. 

But how can you make doing 100 pushups, reciting 100 sutras, or carrying 100 jugs of water interesting?

From Kill 6 Billion Demons

Honing Your Skills vs Learning New Skills

When training, you can hone your skills or learn new skills

Honing your skills allows you to improve your HP, master a new technique from your main style, etc.

However, you can only do so much training on your own. You must have a teacher to learn new skills. 

Teachers include:

  • Kung fu masters
  • Kung fu manuals
  • Sparring partners
  • Schools and monasteries 
  • Weirder things, like surviving poison to learn Five-Venoms style
Traveling to find a teacher who can teach you the right technique to overcome the villain is a major point of the game.

Training Montage

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

Once per session (often at the end), you may declare that you're training. If you currently have a teacher, the GM will tell you 1-3 exercises they have assigned you

For example:

  • Pulling nails from posts with your bare hands
  • Catching thrown tofu without splattering it
  • Catching flies with chopsticks
  • Watching light bouncing off a mirror without turning your head
  • Pulling a laden cart up and down a mountain

Roll 5d6. You must keep at least one die, but may keep more. Your goal is to get the lowest value possible.

Threes are worth zero points. All other numbers are face value. 

  • If you keep a 4, 5, or 6, narrate a failure.
  • If you keep a 1 or 2, narrate a near success.
  • If you keep a 3, narrate an a-ha moment.
The GM will give you a 1-3 points of focus based on your description (see below).

Reroll the remaining dice and repeat the procedure, keeping at least one die and narrating a description until no dice remain. 

Sum the total value of the kept dice. 

  • If the total value of your training montage is equal to or less than your focus, the montage is successful. 
    • If you are training by yourself, hone one of your skills. If you are training with a teacher, learn a new skill.
    • Reset your current focus to 0.
  • If the total value of your training montage is greater than your focus, you do not learn anything new. You are bruised and exhausted.
    • Note down your total focus. Focus persists between training montages until your succeed.


The player rolls a 3-3-6-5-2 on their first turn. They keep both 3s. They also choose (but don't have to) to keep the 2. They roll the last two remaining dice and get 3-5. They keep the 3. They roll the last die. It's a 4. They must keep it as it is the final die. Their dice are now 3-3-2-3-4. Total score for that montage is 2+4 = 6.


When you try to learn a new technique, you begin with a focus of 0. The GM awards a player 1-3 points of focus for each narration during the training montage. Focus persists between training sessions until a training montage is successful.

1 point: The GM awards 1 point of focus for evocative descriptions of training. 
Example: "I struggle to smash all the hanging water jugs with my head, getting a bloody nose."

2 points: The GM awards 2 points of focus for descriptions that interact with the environment in some notable fashion, taking advantage of the scenery they've provided. 
Example: "As the Sick God continues throwing slices of tofu, I actually catch one this time without mashing it. Then another. Then another. The Sick God looks impressed and begins throwing the slices faster. I quickly run out of hands with which to catch the slices. I catch one in my mouth and my eyes bulge and cross."

3 points: When a player's narration causes the entire table gasps in awe, bursts into applause, or collapses into laughter, the GM should award 3 points of focus. 
Example: "As Ah-Biao and I spar atop the raised poles, I no longer need to look down and think about my footwork--I simply glide across them, like I'm skating across a pond in winter. As I fall back against his assault, he delivers an unexpected kick. I sail backwards, and would be knocked outside of the sparring ring, but I swing my saber in a lazy arc and cut a section from one of the red poles. I kick off of it in mid-air and land back in the ring, ready to continue."

Design Notes

The goal is to incorporate training scenes into a kung fu RPG in a way that emulates classic grindhouse kung fu movies but is also fun. Fun is derived from choices. 

There two main choices delivered by this system: 1) There's a small strategy in the minigame about when to take a low roll and when to reroll 2) The creative exercise of narrating interesting, pleasing scenes set by the constraints of the GM. These are minor but I hope they deliver a nice experience. 

Here are some other things that appeal to me about this system:
  • The minigame is derived from Threes, a dice game my friends and I play while drinking. It's fun without being complex or demanding.
  • The minigame is also super fast. Without narration, a single turn takes about a minute. With 4-5 narration beats, I anticipate this minigame taking about 5 minutes. This feels like the right training-to-play ratio for a standard RPG session. 
  • The focus system is borrowed from Exalted's stunt system. It is a fun system that works when you get your head around it.
  • Because training happens every session, players should be gaining new skills every session or so. Leveling up is fun and is very genre appropriate.
This needs playtesting, but I think there's something appealing here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Meditating on the White Lotus

Sometimes I make kung fu posts. I've started using the `kung-fu` label to aggregate them. Click on this label to read my other mutterings on this subject.

I've been watching Shaw Brothers films at the gym this summer. If you're unfamiliar, Shaw Brothers was a prolific Hong Kong production company that produced grindhouse kung fu films. Basically, all the audio samples from Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) were from these films. 

> Frog style is incredibly strong and immune to nearly any weapon.

I like some of the films more than I like others, but almost all of them have something that made me say "Ha ha neat." Almost all of them have something gameable

In this post, I'm going to step through the Shaw Brothers' film Clan of the White Lotus beat by beat. Heavy spoilers warning, obviouslyWhen there's something gameable, I'll riff. 

This is a purely creative exercise. Maybe it will be interesting to you, too!

Clan of the White Lotus

I selected Clan of the White Lotus (titled Fists of the White Lotus in the original North American release) because it is standard Shaw Bros. fare. It is fun without being brilliant. It is third in a series of multi-generational revenge films concerning Pai Mei's betrayal of the Shaolin temple. (You might remember Pai Mei from the Kill Bill series.) It is basically a remake of the first film in this series.

Plot: A wronged martial artist trains tirelessly to carry out a plan of revenge against a martial arts master. In the background, political turmoil that undoubtedly has 70s Hong Kong implications that I do not understand. After leveling up, the wronged martial artist kills his rival. He says "I did it!" The credits roll. 

Cast: Here's a list of the characters to reference while reading this blog post in case any of the names are confusing.
  • Priest White Lotus - The main villain, brother of Pai Mei
  • Wen-Ting - The main character
  • Ah-Biao - The Shaolin fighter from the first film, murdered by Priest White Lotus
  • Mei-Hsiao - Ah-Biao's wife
  • Ko Chin-Chung - Governor of the region, nephew of Priest White Lotus

Intro Credits

The intro credits recap the battle from the first film in the series, Executioners of Shaolin, where two Shaolin monks join forces to defeat the villainous Pai Mei.

Gaming Observation: Designed for Small Tables
The traditional arc of these stories almost always has one hero facing off against one evil master and their horde. There are often minor characters, usually a love interest, a comedic character, and a good martial arts master. These would not make particularly interesting player characters. (Executioners of Shaolin is unusual in that there were two main characters.)

An RPG based on this paradigm would work well if designed intentionally for 1 player hero and 1 GM. Perhaps these two players trade roles--perhaps after every act or after every campaign. 

Rules for dual-heroes or, much more rarely, ensemble casts would be optional.

Act 1

The Shaolin clan is released from prison, following the events of the last movies. This includes Ah-Biao, who defeated Pai Mei. Ah-Biao has been lamed in prison. He returns home to his wife, Mei-Hsiao, and protégé, Wen-Ting.

The governor of the region and member of the White Lotus clan, Ko Chin-Chung, perceives the Shaolin as rebels to the Qing Dynasty. He asks his uncle, head of the White Lotus Clan (simply named "White Lotus Chief" or "Priest White Lotus" in my translation) to help kill the released Shaolin prisoners. Priest White Lotus agrees because he was brother to Pai Mei and wants revenge on Ah-Biao.

The White Lotus ambush and kill the freed rebels. Ah-Biao, because he was injured in prison, is killed. Wen-Ting is defeated by Priest White Lotus, but escapes with Mei-Hsiao.

Gaming Observation: Campaign conventions
The main loop of D&D is "Go into dungeon. Fight monsters. Take treasure. Spend treasure in city." The main loop of a kung fu game is "Watch master get killed by villain. Train. Find counter to villain's style. Defeat villain." This campaign structure can be used sequentially, ad nauseum, with different villains coming to revenge old ones and old heroes dying as inciting incidents.

Act 2

Wen-Ting and Mei-Hsiao go stay with Mei-Hsiao's brother, the buffoonish Cheng. He works making paper mannequins. 

Wen-Ting trains with Cheng to perfect his Tiger Crane style. Cheng is not a good martial artist, but Wen-Ting has to practice on somebody. This is a comedic sequence.

Gaming Observation: Level ups are fun
In a kung fu game, you should level up after every session. This level up can be spent either in training (to learn new skills) or during combats to represent a-ha moments (perfecting the skills you already have). 

Converting "White Lotus" into a campaign arc, imagine every act as one session. Wen-Ting goes from student to master over the course of 4. This implies that max level is 4.

Wen-Ting goes to the temple of the White Lotus to confront Priest White Lotus, cutting a swath through his minions to find him. Wen-Ting and the governor Ko Chin-Chung spar before Priest White Lotus joins the battle.

Gaming Observation: Mooks, Mini-bosses, and Bosses
There are three levels of enemies. 
  • Mooks are your acolytes, your ninjas, your guardsmen--faceless, nameless characters. They exist to die in droves. 
  • Mini-bosses are named characters with strong kung fu. They are worthy foes. They exist to give the player hero someone to defeat while perfecting their skills.
  • Bosses are the main villains of the campaign. Defeating them is the goal of the game.
Priest White Lotus has two powerful defensive abilities:
  • Light body, so strong attacks generate wind that simply pushes him away
  • Strong internal qi, so he can shrug off any attack that does hit
Priest White Lotus explains that he maintains these powers through a restful ritual on this day, the day of the Dragon Boat Festival. Priest White Lotus easily defeats Wen-Ting again. Wen-Ting escapes.

Gaming Observation: Defeat isn't death
When a player hero is defeated in combat, they do not die. Instead, they escape and are given a complication. Overcoming the complication frames the next session and moves the story beats on.

Complications include:
  • Injuries
  • Trailing spies
  • Captured friends
  • Burned home bases
Fighting the master villain is important because you learn what their powers are. Finding techniques that can defeat these powers is the main thrust of the game.

Act 3

Wen-Ting is followed by two incognito White Lotus members. Realizing he's being trailed, he gives them a slip through clever role-play in a tea house. 

Mei-Hsiao gives birth to Ah-Biao's son. Wen-Ting continues to train. Observing the way Cheng's paper mannequins are blown by the storm's wind, Mei-Hsiao has a revelation about how Priest White Lotus dodges.

Mei-Hsiao teaches Wen-Ting a woman's style of kung fu--less power, more grace. To train him in this, Wen-Ting does women's work such as embroidery and taking care of the new baby. (Mastering this style causes Wen-Ting to act effeminately, talking in falsetto and affecting a feminine style. This rules.)

Gaming Observation: Style combinations
The boss is undefeated because nobody knows how to get past their kung fu. Players spend their levels to learn kung fu techniques that, when combined, directly counter the villain's kung fu. 

A kung fu style can probably be abstracted down to a single technique--a defensive strategy, an attack, etc. The game should provide rules for combining styles, allowing players to create brand new techniques. 

Feeling confident in his Embroidery/Tiger Crane style, Wen-Ting returns to challenge Priest White Lotus again. Wen-Ting first (barely) defeats the chief's two swordsman bodyguards. 

Wen-Ting can now manage to strike Priest White Lotus but cannot injure him. Priest White Lotus is then revealed to have a potent attack move: 100-pace Strike. After hit with this strike, you can only walk 100 pages before dying. 

Wen-Ting, staggering from the temple, takes 99 steps and is found by Cheng.

Act 4

Cheng takes Wen-Ting back to the paper mannequin shop. The owner of the paper mannequin shop is revealed to be a doctor and also a rebel sympathetic to the Shaolin cause. The owner uses acupuncture to cure Wen-Ting. 

Wen-Ting reads the owner's acupuncture book and realizes that, using internal kung-fu, White Lotus Priest has moved his vital area (which my translation just called [Mumbling], inexplicably). Wen-Ting specifically arms himself with new weapons for his next confrontation.

Gaming Observation: New weapons
Villains tend to be static. Heroes are dynamic. When a hero changes their approach or gets a new weapon, this should provide them a meaningful bonus to the next encounter. There should be a system where players and GMs negotiate over the strategy of new weapons, with players solving problems through a broad selection of tools.

Wen-Ting returns to challenge the White Lotus Priest one last time. He returns again on the day of the Dragon Boat Festival, one year since his first challenge. 

Using a three-section staff, Wen-Ting solidly defeats the two sword-wielding bodyguards. 

Then, using embroidery pins, Wen-Ting stabs White Lotus Priest's body in his acupuncture points, finally defeating him.

He says "I won!" The credits roll.

Gaming Observation: Combat flow
Sometimes heroes get hit and are knocked back into another room. Sometimes you can tell they have taken a Bad Hit because some blood is coming from their mouth. After the hero has blood coming of their mouth, they can be given a Very Bad Hit that takes them out. Sometimes, when you think the Very Bad Hit is coming, the hero recovers instead.

Instead of tracking HP, player heroes and worthy foes have essentially three states:
  • Balanced
  • Staggered 
  • Taken out
You can't be taken out until you're staggered, first. The rules in REACH HEAVEN THROUGH VIOLENCE simulate these states well, and I'm still pretty proud of them.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Ten Interesting Traps

There have been many posts on this subject. This is mine.

(Because of His Majesty the Worm, I find myself in the position where I need to explain concepts in a worse way than the originator of the idea. I am standing on the shoulders of giants and falling.)


Art for HIS MAJESTY THE WORM by Marcin S

Put some of these traps into your dungeons. Use them as inspiration to create your own.

I. Mysterious Tower, Acid Lake

There is a tumbledown tower on the middle of an island. The island is in the middle of a bright-green acid lake. The lake is death for whoever falls into it.

Why this trap doesn’t suck: The possible rewards are tantalizing. (A mysterious tower? What’s in it?) The dangers are obvious. (The lake is bright green! Acid is deadly!) This is an open-ended problem with many possible solutions but no one obvious solution.

How to run it: Living creatures who fall into the waters are killed. Unless the player is as direct as saying, “I run and jump in the lake!” let them test fate to avoid this.

Unless an item is indestructible, it will quickly be Destroyed if placed in the acid lake. Carefully touching an item to the surface of the acidic water will simply Notch it. Players should be able to quickly experiment to determine how caustic the waters actually are.

Spells might help the guild cross the lake. Gust of Wind would allow at least one adventurer to cross the lake. Defy Depths would probably work, but the adventurer’s boots would burn off their feet as they walked on the surface.

Clever guilds might employ the use of flying monsters elsewhere in the dungeon to help them cross the acidic lake.

II. Arrow Trap

A hallway has a 10’ stretch of wall dotted with small holes on either side.

The floor between the holes in the wall is a pressure plate. Stepping on the pressure plate causes arrows to fire from the holes.

Why this trap doesn’t suck: Pressure plates and traps (arrows, pits, jets of flame, etc.) are genre staples. That’s cool. However, they tend to be both hidden and deadly. That’s a bad combination during play.

You can make these traps not suck by broadcasting the danger clearly and providing some part of the trap for the players to interact with. In this circumstance, the holes are both obvious and interactable. Apply this principle to make tropey traps more fun.

How to run it: If an adventurer steps onto the pressure plate, tell the player they hear a click. They have a split second of real-life time to tell you what they want to do. If they make a move away from the holes—dropping to the floor, launching themselves backwards—they can test Pentacles to avoid the volley. On a failure—or if they do nothing—they take a Wound.

The arrows will only fire once. (They need to be reset after they’re triggered.) If one adventurer triggers the trap, the rest can pass.

The holes on the wall should be a clear genre indication of danger. Adventurers can trigger the trap prematurely by throwing something heavy onto the pressure plate. They can also leap over it with a successful test of Pentacles. They might plug the holes up with alchemical glue bombs. Let the players’ ideas work if they make sense.

III. Quicksand

A swampy section of ground is actually quicksand. It begins to inexorably swallow anybody who steps into it—just like the old movies.

Why this trap doesn’t suck: Tropes are instantly understandable at the table. Quicksand is a good trope because it can be hidden without being deadly. It traps one adventurer and gives the rest of the guild something to do.

How to run it: If the guild is not moving carefully, the first adventurer in the marching order blunders into the quicksand and gets stuck. Unless they have a tool in their hand or on their belt that could help them with the situation (e.g., rope to lasso over a nearby tree limb), they can’t do anything by themselves to get unstuck. Other members of the guild can test Swords to pull the stuck adventurer out: rope grants favor to this test.

IV. Electrified Chest

A metal chest on a plinth. The plinth is electrified. The whole room smells of ozone. Nearing the plinth causes your arm hair to stand on end. Touching either the plinth or chest delivers a nasty shock.

Why this trap doesn’t suck: Although the danger of the chest and plinth might not be obvious by sight, the smells and sensations broadcast the danger. Having obvious treasure allows the guild to be instantly rewarded for their cleverness.

How to run it: Touching the chest or the plinth deals Piercing damage.

There are lots of different ways to disarm the trap. For example, an adventurer can knock the chest off the plinth with the butt of a spear to disconnect it from the electric current (though this might break the contents). Dwimmercraft could also be used to open the chest at a distance. 

V. Big Rolling Boulder

A sarcophagus. Behind it, a large devil statue—in a pose like a bowler about to make a throw—holds a massive boulder. Runes on the lid of the sarcophagus promise death for whoever disturbs the rest of Jarl Ninebones.

If the lid of the sarcophagus is opened, the statue throws the boulder, which rolls towards the guild Indiana Jones-style.

Why this trap doesn’t suck: It should be obvious based on the statue’s pose what will happen if the guild disturbs the sarcophagus. This gives the guild a chance to plan their approach, get out of the way, or disable the trap before it goes off.

How to run it: Once activated, the boulder will roll past the sarcophagus and chase the adventurers back the way they came. Each adventurer in the boulder’s path tests Pentacles. On a success, the adventurer jumps through the narrow door at the end of the passage, escaping the boulder. On a failure, they take Critical damage.

Players who have ideas like as “Jump in the sarcophagus” automatically avoid the boulder without having to test fate. Players who have ideas like as “Raise a stone wall by casting Wall of Elements with 3 Resolve to block the boulder” disable the trap entirely.

VI. Invisible Path

A door opens onto a chasm, apparently dropping into an endless pit. Falling into the pit would be certain death. On the other side of the chasm is another door. 

In actuality, an invisible bridge spans the two doors, though it does not go in a straight line. Rather, it meanders across the gap. 

Why this trap doesn’t suck: The danger is obvious and the solution isn’t. If the guild doesn’t understand there’s an invisible bridge, they can simply leave.

How to run it: The presence of the invisible bridge can be found by reaching out and touching the empty air directly in front of the door. Adventurers can tap on it with a ten-foot pole or tentatively put their weight on the empty air while their companions hold a rope tied around their waist.

The invisible bridge can be painted with paint, spilled ink, smashed lightning bugs, whatever. Sling stones or coins can also mark the path. Sorcerers can also use Dwimmercraft to activate their second sight and perceive the invisible bridge.

If the players have a good idea on how to ascertain the bridge’s position, they can make their way across.

VII. The Hungry Door

A doorframe is filled with a huge, gross, animate, slavering mouth. The teeth grind together, it smiles, it lolls its tongue, it belches. “Feed me!” it barks.

The door will open if it is well fed. It will be sated if it eats five rations or one sizable living creature.

Why this trap doesn’t suck: Like the invisible path, the guild can simply leave the door if they don’t have a good idea on how to get past it. Its danger is avoidable.

Also, the door is gross. Gross things are fun to put in dungeons.

How to run it: The door, despite being animate, can sustain damage like a metal door. If the guild attempts to smash the door down with something smaller than a battering ram, the door will chew on it and spit it out. This Notches items and/or Wounds the limbs of adventurers.

Feeding the door either requires some resource attrition (feeding it some of their precious rations) or cleverness on the guild’s part. Are they willing to sacrifice one of their animal companions? Can the guild bring the door a captured monster to eat?

VIII. Flooding Fish Statue
A shallow pool hosts a large fish statue with a large blue sapphire in its mouth. Removing the sapphire causes the doors to slam shut and water to gush from the fish’s mouth. Within moments, the door will be completely flooded.

Why this trap doesn’t suck: A too-obvious reward should make players suspicious that there is a hidden risk. If the guild makes an effort to position themselves for success before looting the gem from the fish statue, they can significantly reduce the risk of this trap.

How to run it: Tell the players that they have the length of three actions in total to try and disable the trap.

The simplest solution is just to put the gem back in the fish’s mouth. This effectively blocks the water. The guild can also jam something less valuable in the mouth of equivalent size. What do they have that’s shaped like a large gem?

If they have a tool like a crowbar, the guild can test Swords to smash their way out of the room. On a failure, they’ve wasted one of their actions and the water continues to rise.

A spell like Portable Hole will create a hole large enough for the water to flow out. After a few minutes, the water in the reservoir under the fish statue will run out.

If the guild cannot find a way to stop the flow of water after three actions, it’s okay to let them drown. Adventuring is nasty business.

IX. Pyrotechnic Mushrooms

The far side of the hallway is cluttered with ugly orange mushroom growing on the walls, floors, and ceiling. All naked flame in the hallway hisses and sputters. A sulphureous smell pervades the area.

If the mushrooms are disturbed, they fill the air with a highly flammable gas.

Why this trap doesn’t suck: The mushrooms are obviously bad news. The interaction with the guild’s light and the smell broadcasts the danger. Also, interacting with mushrooms will feel different from interacting with mechanical traps.

How to run it: Make it clear the guild cannot pass the mushrooms without disturbing them. If the adventurers have active flames (torches, candles, etc.) while walking through the mushroom area, an explosion is triggered. Anybody carrying a light catches on fire. They take a Wound and one flammable item in their belt/pack is Notched every time an action is taken until they can put themselves out. Everybody adjacent to a light-bearer in marching order takes a Wound.

The adventurers can put their lights out and safely traverse the fungus-riddled section of the hallway—but how will they deal with what’s beyond without a light?

X. Chess Board Room

A 40’ x 40’ room with an alternating pattern of 5’ by 5’ white and black squares on the ground—like a gigantic chess board. 

The guild can enter this room by any square on the front row. When they step onto a square, they hear a click.

The first square an adventurer steps onto magically marks them as a particular chess piece. That adventurer can only move through the room using legal moves for that chess piece. Stepping out of bounds results in electric shocks. 

An adventurer stepping into the king’s square on the back row results in another click. A secret door adjacent to the king’s square opens, allowing the guild to exit into a new area.

Why this trap doesn’t suck: This is a more elaborate, more puzzle-oriented trap—the sort made by a mad wizard. This sort of thing can be fun when used judiciously.

Having no obvious exits to the room is a clue to the players that there’s something up. They have the choice to ignore the room or brave the trap if they want to figure out the room’s purpose (and find the secret door).

Because the penalty for learning the rules of the trap is just a Wound, players have a grace period to experiment.

How to run it: Grab a chessboard or sketch out an 8 square by 8 square grid to show to the players. Ask the players what square they first step on. This procedure will make it obvious that the choice they’re making has some impact.

If an adventurer makes an “illegal” move, they take a Wound from a shock as soon as they step onto the new square.

Of course, there’s no reason the players have to play by the rules. The guild might break up furniture from an adjacent room and construct a long, impractical bridge across the room, then use pickaxes to smash open the secret door.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Hexflower Lifepath Character Generation

Sometimes I have thoughts and I have to put them on paper to get them out of my head and get back to the practice of living. This is one of them.

Here, make yourself a BEYOND! THE HYPERTRENCH or Mothership character or something with this. I don't know.

Step 1. Age

Decide how old you are. This determines the number of lifepath hexes you have as well as your starting stats. 

The older you are, the fewer stat points you'll have to work with but the more skilled you will be.

Age (human)

Starting Stat Spread

Number of Hex Steps

Juvenile (<20)

+2, +2, +3, +4


Young Adult (20s)

+1, +2, +3, +4


Experienced (30-40s)

+0, +1, +2, +3


Aged (50-60)

+0, +1, +1, +2


Venerable (70+)

+0, +0, +1, +2


Step 2. Trace your Lifepath

Next, based on how many hex steps you have, choose a number of hexes to represent occurrences in your life. 

Your first hex must be on the innermost circle (the a hexes). 

Each choice must be contiguous to the last. 

Your last hex must be on the outermost circle (the c hexes).

Start in the middle and work your way outwards

Step 3. Look up the hex code and fill out your character sheet

Once you've made your lifepath choices, look up the corresponding codes. Allocate your starting stat spread based on your age. Note down the skills learned and items gained from each hex. 

If you would gain the same skill twice from two different hexes, increase the skill's rating by +1 instead of +2.

(Designer's Note: The goal of disassociating the benefits of a hex through the codes is intended to make the process of creating a character a storytelling - not a mechanical - exercise. YMMV.)

a1. You were raised on a planet with few natural resources. Things like water, which other folk might take for granted, were more precious than credits to you. Gain Survival +2 and Ride +2

a2. You were raised on a planet being actively stripped of its resources--a gas giant, ice planet, forest world, or otherwise. Gain Tech +2 and Drive +2

a3. You were raised on a planet turned into a junk heap or a colony based on floating wreckage. Gain Repair +2 and Bluff +2

a4. You were raised on a planet-sized ultra metropolis, with both the haves and have-nots. Gain History +2 and Computer+2. 

a5. You were raised on a refugee freighter, blazing away at lightspeed away from the collapse of your homeworld. Gain Travel +2 and Evade +2

a6. You were raised on a forest world, lush with vegetation and natural resources but wild with alien species. Gain Athletics +2 and Natural Bond +2

b1. The crazy old man said he was keeping this for you, and pressed it into your hands. Gain an ancient piece of technology, weaponry, or armor. Gain History +2

b2. Now this is podracing! You entered the races frequently and won more than once. Gain a racing pod, a crash helmet, and Pilot +2. 

b3. You sat in one or two summers with that famous jizz band. You know the one. Gain an andersynth, a camerabot, and Fame +2

b4. You moonlit as a bounty hunter for the local government (such as it was). Gain a pair of restraints, macrobinoculars, and Clue +2.

b5. You signed up for a stint on a star ship and privateering turned into a bit of piracy. Whoops. Gain a vac suit, a grappling gun, and Intimidation +2

b6. You became involved in the black market. Sometimes the black market is harmless - a few offworld luxury goods. Sometimes you had your hands on deathsticks and other awful things. Gain a comms link with a rolodex of known smugglers (50% they're out of jail at any given time), 100 fake credits, and Street Culture+2

b7. You didn't know how wealthy your family really was until you went to one of the best schools in the galaxy. Gain a holo-almanac of the known galaxy, a holo-personal assistant, and Universe +2

b8. You were pressed into military service. Gain a standard issue blaster, magnetic boots, and Military +2

b9. Your jump-pods landed with 364 standard ration bars and all the best wishes of the Empire. Gain a survival kit (air oxygenizer, hydropills, electro-torch), a vibrochete, and Morale +2

b10. You engaged in the blood sports and managed to survive. Gain a personal forceshield and Hand-to-Hand +2

b11. Everybody said they were marauders and savages, but you were taken in by them as a child. You learned their language and some of their strange ways. Gain a ceremonial mask, grogfrog mount, and Ride +2. 

b12. You spent a portion of your life cloistered in an ancient religious tradition. Was this a peaceful religion or did they practice a violent jihad? Gain a set of robes, an ancient artifact, and Religion +2

c1. They were after you, but it was your family who paid the price. Who killed them? You must have revenge. Gain your family's personal service droid and Clue +2

c2. You fell in with the partisans. Whether you believed their tracts or not, you're now wanted. Gain six thermal detonators and Presence +2

c3. The accident took your body and almost took your life. Most of your body is cybernetic. You do not "heal." You are repaired, like a droid. Gain Cybernetics +2. 

c4. You have become addicted to the secuta music, the narcotic soundwaves. You need your daily fix or you'll go through withdraw. Gain a month's supply of secuta tapes, a hologram generator, and Intuition+2

c5. They said you were dead after the tragedy. You saw no reason to correct them. The surgeons gave you a new face to go along with your lie. Gain a personal cloaking device and Stealth +2

c6. Your job was literally killing you. You need to spend a few hours in the bakta tank a week or else the sickness just gets worse. Gain six automeds and Medicine +2. 

c7. You were exiled for your radical and subversive ideas--or the things they said you did. Gain a jetpack and Presence +2

c8. Whether or not what they're saying about you is true, you're a wanted criminal. Gain a data-jamming kit and Hacking +2

c9. You bet everything on a toss and loss it all. Easy come, easy go. But now you're in deep with one of the slimiest slugs in the galaxy. Gain a lucky (marked) set of zabacc cards and Bluff +2. 

c10. The slug has collateral against you. If it got out, you would lose everything. Gain an illegal cloning tank and Biology +2. 

c11. From the viewport, you saw your planet crumble away into nothing. The image haunts you. Gain an emergency beacon, a bioscanner, and Diplomacy +2

c12. You were part of the Imperial machine, but you escaped. The Empire doesn't forgive or forget those who leave it behind. Gain plasteel armor and Military +2. 

c13. Although the Empire does not recognize AI to be sentient, you know for a fact that it can be. You owe an AI your life. It was kind to you when no one else was. You will repay this debt: you won't allow it to go offline. Gain an electronic tool set and Computers +2

c14. Your family was enslaved. You've vowed to set them free. Gain six EMP grenades and Environs +2

c15. You were placed in long-term stasis. Do you even remember by whom? A bounty hunter? No wait, it was for a long-term hyperspace jump. Huh. Anyway, you're unfrozen now--a stranger in a strange time. Gain an ancient artifact and History +2

c16. You were an "indentured servant." What a complicated way to say "slave." You escaped. But under your skull, a locator chip is beeping. The little traitor. Gain a cybernetic diagnostic scanner and Repair +2

c17. You made the wrong enemy and a bounty was placed on your head. You've seen a few bounty hunters sniffing around whenever you stay in one place too long. You've got to keep moving. Gain a set of omnigoggles (views all different spectrums of light) and Stealth +2

c18. You knew what you were getting into. You took the oaths. You joined the society. You declared the Empire your enemy. They did the same to you. Gain an ancient weapon or armor. Gain Spellcasting +2

Bonus: Did you remember I made a not!StarWars hack once? It's true!