Monday, August 14, 2023

HIS MAJESTY THE WORM Deep Dive - Speedbumps

Every time I make an announcement about His Majesty the Worm, I declare we are getting close. Then a year goes by. Then I make another announcement. Then another year.

But this time I mean it. We are getting close to print. 

What is His Majesty the Worm? It is a new-school game with old-school sensibilities: the classic megadungeon experience given fresh life through a focus on the  mundanities and small moments of daily life inside the dungeon. 

In the lead up to actually having the book in stores, I'll be doing a series of deep dive blog posts, where I drill into the different parts of the game, wax philosophical about design choices, and talk about my experiences playing it for the past seven years.


I have a bad memory. GMing is composed of tasks that have a certain cognitive load. Sometimes, while running trad games, I forget a rule detail. "Oh, wait, you were supposed to have disadvantage on that roll since the goblin is higher than you," or "Oh shoot, I forgot that the skeleton is actually immune to necrotic damage. He wouldn't have died from that last blast, huh."

To reduce the number of plates I have spinning while running His Majesty the Worm, the game has procedures that frame the freeform conversations of play. I think about them like speedbumps. Rules that say: Slow down. Don't forget this.

Speedbumps include things like:

  • At the beginning of every game, a chosen player reminds the table about what happened last time. They receive a free point of Resolve for doing this chore. 
  • At the beginning of every Challenge round, the GM reframes the scene, stating what combatants are in which zone, who's doing what, what the players can see, etc.
  • There's a step to confirm that players have tents or bedrolls while sleeping, or else become Stressed.

I talked about this on Twitter with Errant designer Ava Islam. She captured some takeaways in her blog, here. 

To sum up:

"...Consider the role of memory, especially in terms of the cognitive overload demanded of the GM, when designing your rules. Some rules are designed to be fringe and referenced only when needed, but for the core design, think about ways of making sure the rule will actually get remembered at the table."

Basically, the flow of the game has touchpoints that I use to make sure that we all know the current state of things and what's coming next. In play, these procedures makes for a smoother experience that I really enjoy.

Let's dive into two specific examples: Fame and Morale.


In His Majesty the Worm, players are adventurers in an adventuring guild. Players share a guild sheet, which tracks the stats of the entire party. One of the guild's stats is fame

What is fame?

Fame is the likelihood of whether or not an NPC has heard of the guild, rated 0-5. If their fame is 0, nobody has ever heard of them. If their rating is 5, everybody has heard of them.

How do you track this stat?

I will forget to hand out fame if it was up to GM fiat. Therefore, there is a procedure to set a guild's current fame score when we need it most (just in time resolution): when the guild begins the City Phase.

When the guild enters the City and pays their taxes, the City Phase procedures ask the players to tally their noteworthy deeds and erase the oldest deed from their guild sheet.

Noteworthy deeds are a running list of cool shit the guild has done. Defeating dungeon lords, finding new paths to new levels, curing the petrified people in the basilisk's lair, etc. The guild's fame equals the number of noteworthy deeds on their guild sheet.

Sidenote: Because the game is focused on dungeon crawling, the players are disincentivized to spend time in the City. Because the City Phase obliges you to erase one of your noteworthy deeds, your fame trends down if you come back too frequently without noteworthy deeds.

What does it do?

Fame isn't necessarily good or bad. If the guild's actions are cruel and violent, it's more like infamous. It's just a "Yeah, I've heard of you." When the players encounter NPCs, the roleplaying exchange is framed by whether or not the NPC knows of the guild's exploits. "Yeah, I heard of you. You betrayed the Steel-clad Snakes, I hear. Why should I do you a favor?"

This is the basic way fame is used. But there are some niche uses for it too. 

This brings me to my next point...


Intelligent creatures do not want to fight to the death. When the going gets tough, they will fallback, retreat, trigger traps, cast the big spells, and try to end the combat. 

When I am running games, I will forget this because there's a lot of stuff going on during combat. Thus, I put in a speedbump by shifting the responsibility from the GM to the players.

In His Majesty the Worm, Morale is a player-facing mechanic (sorta). Let me explain.


In the Challenge Phase, every player has a hand of cards. They can take actions by spending cards. One action they can take is "Banter." 

When a player Banters, they intimidate, belittle, or taunt an enemy. They add the card's value and (on their turn) their Wands attribute to this action. The target number for the Banter action is an enemy's Morale. 

Here's what the book says about Morale:

Morale is a way to track how confident and self-assured the GM’s characters are in stressful situations. Adventurers don't need to track a Morale rating—it is only for the GM’s characters.

During Challenges, the Banter action is used to affect an enemy’s Disposition. Your Banter value must exceed an enemy’s Morale to successfully change their Disposition. Unlike  Initiative, Morale isn’t determined by cards, but by the situation at hand as determined by the GM.

When Banter is used, the GM makes an assessment of the enemy’s current confidence to determine their Morale. As the battle progresses, the GM should reassess their characters’ Morale score.

Morale is a sliding scale from 8-20, with some common bonuses and penalties to help the GM set the target number. Basically, the GM just walks through a quick checklist: Is 50% of the foe's fighting force down? Is the enemy commander down? Does the guild have a high enough fame for the foes to have heard of them? 

More famous guilds will find their Banter actions are more successful more often because their reputation proceeds them.

Want to learn more about His Majesty the Worm?

If this sounds interesting and you'd like to check the game out, please sign up for the mailing list in the sidebar of the blog. I will email you to tell you when the game is ready for purchase. 

Friday, August 11, 2023

Pointcrawling Character Creation

The blog that brought you hexflower character creation now brings you....POINTCRAWLING CHARACTER CREATION. 

You have been invited to the Counsel at Aben Garan. You must travel through the world, braving the fortresses of the enemy (skulls), exploring ruins, crossing natural wonders (stars), and visiting holdfasts (castles) to reach your destination. The adventures along the way have made you who you are today.

I like this method because it ties each of the things on your character sheet to a specific moment, a specific storypoint. This method threads the needle between a three-page navel-gazing fanfiction backstory and "Dirk Jr, Human, Fighter 1."

A noble click embiggens the smallest map.

Start at one of the castle holdfasts at the outer edge of the map. You begin with the special feature or ability of that holdfast. 

The starting holdfasts are:

  • Willand Corners, the sleepy home of burrowers and rustic men
  • Whitebeacon, capital of the stalwart Ondians, inheritors of the legacy of the First Men
  • Haven Tree, birthplace of the elven folk
  • Baranar Kalan, the deepest delving of the dwarves

You have five seasons to reach Aben Garan. Each season, draw a line to another named point and gain the feature of that location. 

For every season you arrived at Aben Garan early, increase one of your attributes by +1.

The Locations

Baranar Kalan

Long has the Shadow been held at bay by the valor of the dwarves of Baranar Kalan. You have stood with them, fighting the legions of trollspawn beneath the earth and raiding corsairs from the north.

Boon: You gain +2 Attack.

Blood Swamp

Littered with the corpses of armies, fellowships, and travelers foolhardy enough to try to cut through it. In the eerie glow of bioluminescent flora, you are attacked by a bloodwyrm but manage to fend it off. 

Boon: You gain +1d8 HP.

Corsair's Cove

A wretched hive of scum and villainy. You survived here by your wits more than your skill with the blade, as even the mightiest warrior might meet an untimely end in a dark and narrow alley.

Boon: You gain a clever wallet. Your wallet is enchanted with a squeaky voice. If it is ever picked, it will squeal an alarm. If it is ever empty, it will chastise you for being a spendthrift.

Feasting Forest

In the Feasting Forest, the druids ask you riddles in exchange for your life. You answered their questions, and drank from the star-scattered waters of their sacred pool. 

Boon: You gain the ability to Speak with Animals.


Deep within the depths of Goblinhole, a labyrinth of twisting passages leads to a city where  goblins barter curiosities and trinkets in exchange for stories of the world above. You've traded with them and come out the better for the bargain. They have not forgotten it.

Boon: You gain a goblin bomb. It would be clumsy to use in combat, but you know too well how they can be used to blow open doors, collapse sections of the mine, or cause other destruction.


Built to be an impregnable castle. Now, a ruin. You ventured within to learn if it was truly haunted. You found no ghosts, but did find a treasure of ancient days.

Boon: You gain an auroch hunting horn. When blown, members of your fellowship will always hear the call - no matter how far away they are. In the wilds, you have a 2-in-6 chance of attracting outside help. When blown near your home haven, this is a 6-in-6 chance.

Haven Tree

Beneath the towering branches of the Haven Tree, you shelter from the endless march of the outside world. You have learned much from the stories of the elven inhabitants.

Boon: You are a Loremaster. When you bid lore, you may ask a follow up question for free.

Kel Tanenhen

The hilltop home of the brave and honest Free Men, a city-state of humans who self govern. While dwelling among them, you taught them some of your people's crafts. In thanks, they wove you a gift.

Boon: You gain a golden-threaded banner, proudly displaying the arms of your house or realm. When carrying it into battle, you have advantage on attempts to route and drive your foes back.

Lake of Jack in the Green

An elven boatman gives you passage to the island in the center of the emerald lake. Here, you find the ruins of the First Men, and take a cutting of an ancient tree.

Boon: You gain the living tree staff. As long as you carry it, it lives and grows. Wherever you choose to plant it will be blessed indeed.

Landennvein Forge

The Landennvein Forge once boasted the finest dwarven artisans in all the land. The anvil is now is silent. You found some of their ancient material, yet unworked. 

Boon: You gain an ingot of moonsilver. Moonsivler is more precious than gold, for it is both beautiful and useful for all metalcrafts. What will you make this ingot into?


Lautur'Skelleth, also known as the Corpsehead Keep, was once the city of necromancers. The sorcerer-kings have now joined their subjects in the lands of the dead. In the shadow of those towers, you plucked an ancient and rare herb

Boon: You have a single leaf of very rare Queensfan herb. Place it on the mouth of one mortally wounded and they will recover if there is even a flicker of life left within them.


Beside the tranquil expanse of the Mistymere, a lone figure contemplates the ripples on the water's surface, their thoughts drifting to distant shores and forgotten tales. You surprised her in her contemplations, and when she saw you had no evil in you, she gave you a gift. 

Boon: You are a Skinchanger. When you put on the swan-feather cloak, you take on the form of a white swan.

Shivering Lake

While fishing on the Shivering Lake, you pulled up a river maiden. She traded you a better net in exchange for her feedom.

Boon: You gain the river maiden's fishing net. It rarely needs mended, and almost always produces a catch.

Tarmaen Hole

Burrowers claim that they once dwelled in Tarmaen Hole, but were forced out by some nameless evil. If those gentle folk ever lived here, the land tells no tale. Nothing green grows here. It is a ruined heath. While passing through these lands, you rescued Windproud the queen of eagles from a tar pit. 

Boon: You have a golden feather of Windproud. If you are ever in need, release the feather onto the wind and she will come to you.

Throne of Sight

The ruins of an Andantine fortress set high on a mountain. After an arduous trek, you beheld a view unrivaled throughout the Wilderlands. You saw many far off places as if they were brought near to you.

Boon: You are Sharp Eyed. You will always act during a surprise round.

Throne of Sound

The ruins of an Andantine fortress set deep in a bowl. Climbing down, many sounds from far way places seemed near at hand. You achieved an understanding most consider uncanny.

Boon: You are Sharp Eared. Once per session, ask the GM for a random rumor.

Tomb of Bandor the Bereft

Bandor was a king of Ond who commanded his wife, his son, his knights, and his entire retinue to be buried with him. This last act of arrogance laid a curse upon the Tomb, as well as the deep valley that surrounds it. You braved only part of the passages beneath the earth, claiming a treasure from the shadows that therein dwell.

Boon: You gain a dagger of star iron. This ancient dagger never needs to be sharpened and always keeps its edge.

Tomb of the First Men

Beside the ancient stones of the Tomb of the First Men, you puzzled over the star signs writ in stone.

Boon: You gain a broken runestone. It is said that the First Men made henges of runestones to travel quickly across the land in ancient times. They are now broken. You have a piece that fits into one of these runestones. If you can find the right henge, perhaps you can make it work one last time?


The trollspawn crawl up from a blight in the very earth itself. You have stood against them for a time.

Boon: You are a Shieldthane. As a maneuver, you may create a shield wall if you have at least two other companions who also carry shields. 

  • The shieldthane “leads” the shield wall. They gain a +2 bonus to their attack roll by being in the shield wall. Other players in the shield wall cannot attack. 
  • Damage done to a shield wall may be split up in any way between the participants. For example, a troll’s hammer dealing 12 damage may be split up as 6 damage to one participant, 3 damage to a second, and 3 damage to a third. You gain 1d8 additional HP. 

Uldvoton Hall

Though an ancient ruin, refugee dwarves are settling here and forming a colony. You trade stories and gear with them.

Boon: You are a Wanderer. You gain 2 pack slots.


In the last Age of the world, the Shadow spilled the seas and dried the oceans. The Andantine Isles are now only a ruin and a memory. Whitebeacon is one of the last outposts of this ancient culture: they still tell of heroes, devils, titans, and monsters.

Boon: You are a Dwimmer-crafty. You may combine herbs to cast spells.

Willand Corners

A crossroads town, straight down the King's Highway. Here and here alone is the curious but agreeable custom of human and burrower living together practiced. You have dwelt among them and learned some of their horse sense and wisdom.

Boon: You are a Sneak. At any point, you may declare that you go sneaking. This allows you to go dramatically off-stage. Later, if you are not present in a scene and it’s at least somewhat plausible that you could have snuck there, take 1d4 damage to arrive on the scene dramatically. 

If you go sneaking and all tension evaporates, you may rejoin the scene by slinking out of the shadows. This does not cost HP.


Amidst the whispering trees of Wispwood, fauns and dryads dance in the moonlight, beckoning travelers to join their otherworldly revelry and lose themselves in a realm of enchantment. You did so, and come out changed.

Boon: You are Faun-footed. You have little hooves. You (and everyone you are with) may travel through forest hexes as if they had a road.


Let's make a character together. 

To start, we'll choose a starting castle holdfast. We'll make a burrower because I like little dudes. We'll start at Willand Corners, where burrowers live. We gain the Sneak ability.

(Ostensibly, you could have a burrower character come from any holdfast on the map if you wanted to do a "Character raised by another culture" schtick.) 

Then, we just start connecting the dots as we go towards Aben Garan. We have five stops we could potentially make.

Our first stop is Landennvein Forge. We gain an ingot of moonsilver. Maybe we got the moonsilver ingot by sneaking through the ruins? When game starts, we can trade this as Treasure to an NPC or find an opportunity to forge it into something wondrous.

Our second stop is the Lake of Jack of the Green. We board an elven boat and get a living tree staff. I love that for our burrower. I can just picture a little guy with an over-tall walking staff that's literally growing leaves. I imagine that I want to take it back to Willand Corners and plant it there as a goal, but who can say what will happen during play?

Our third stop is Goblinhole. There, we trick some goblins and get a goblin bomb. Bombs are always useful in play.

We have two more potential stops, but I want some extra attribute points for my guy, so I cut directly towards Aben Garan. Since we arrive two seasons early, we get +2 points to our attributes. We could have taken the long way around, but I'm happy with this character as he is.

Making Your Own Map

You can make your own map with image editing software using the assets provided here. You can add new locations to the map. You can remove these and write wholly original holdfasts, dungeons, etc. 

Leveling Up With Pointcrawling

Why stop at character creation? Use this system to handle character advancement, too. 

After every adventure, you can spend a downtime season to journey to any location on the map and gain the benefits of that place. As you travel, you will find more locations and gain more options!