Category Archives: Game Design

House Rules; Initiative By Spelllessness

Initiative By Spelllessness

“Exactly!  It’s real and I can touch it.”
Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China:

A simple house rule designed to alter the inherent power level of various classes and sets up a cosmology where knowing magic always and automatically means you aren’t as alert to the events of the entirely material world around you. Also, this is nothing more than a minor tweak on the same basic idea from yesterday, but with a different variable as the lynchpin.

Each combat round is broken into 10 phases, though in most combats you can skip many of them. Within each phase, all characters acting in that phase act in order of their initiative modifier (calculated normally).

In phase one, only characters and monsters with no spellcasting or spell-like abilities, and those with only o-level spells or spell-like abilities act.

In phase two, all characters and monsters with spellcasting limited to 1st and lower level spells and 1st or lower level spell-like abilities act.

In phase three, those with up to 3rd level spells and 3rd level spell-like abilities, in phase 4 up to 4th level, and so on.

No other rules need change, and all three phases are still part of a single round. You can hold or ready an action to go in later phases, just as you could hold or ready and act at a lower initiative.

As compared to yesterday, which focused on your level of dedication to combat ability as the thing that lets you go first, in this system the more magic you know the later you go. This means you no longer have rogues going after fighters, or clerics going before wizards. It also mans the bigger an eldritch badass you are, the more you pay for it by other people going before you in the potential games of rocket-tag.

Being a wizard just got tougher.

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House Rules: Initiative by BAB

Initiative By Base Attack Bonus

A simple house rule designed to alter the inherent power level of various classes.

Each combat round is broken into three phases.

In phase one, all characters and monsters with a bab equal to their HD go, in initiative order.

In phase two, all characters and monsters with a bab equal to more than half their HD (but less that their full HD) go, in initiative order.

In phase three, all characters and monsters with a bab equal to or less than half their HD go, in initiative order.

No other rules need change, and all three phases are still part of a single round. You can hold or ready an action to go in later phases, just as you could hold or ready and act at a lower initiative. As long as you aren’t using any 3pp rules that use initiative values to determine anything other than the order characters go in a round, you can just treat this as everyone going on phase one having a +100 bonus to their Initiative check, and every going on phase two having a +50 bonus.

Being a wizard just got tougher.

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Thematic Cheese Feat: High Priest

Sometimes what the GM and players both want is not some carefully balanced, playtested, and theorycrafted expansion of the rules usable by a broad range of characters.

Sometimes you just want some cheese of the right flavor.

High Priest

Regardless of your level or base of operations, you are an acknowledged leader within your religion, able to command vast resources and use pure presence to bring others to your cause.

Prerequisites: Cha 13, member of a church.

Benefit: You gain the benefits of the Leadership feat, except your followers and cohort don’t arrive (and aren’t replaced) automatically, Instead, when you drop a foe to 0 or fewer hit points, if you have a cohort or follower slot open that foe could fill (it is the appropriate level or level-equivalent) you can force the foe to make a Will save (DC 10 +1/2 your level + your Wisdom or Charisma modifier — whichever is higher). If it fails the save, rather that die or fall unconscious, it’s alignment changes to match your deity’s and it becomes a loyal cohort or follower (depending on what slot it took). The foe gains a +4 bonus to this saving throw for each of the things that is true; the foe is a priest or divine agent of another deity or philosophy; the foe has an alignment subtype that does not mach the alignment of your deity; the foe is already a follower or cohort.

Additionally, when in a settlement with a church to your deity, you can command any service that does not have a significant cost to your church. This normally includes feeding and housing a modest number of people and having local priests cast any spell with no costly material components or inherent risks. However, any service with a cost as high as a single gold piece costs the full amount, and you can never use this ability to turn a profit.

Additionally, you can cast atonement, as the spell, once per character level as a spell-like ability.

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Thematic Cheese Feats: Elven Curvedance

Okay, let’s get back to some game ideas!

Sometimes what the GM and players both want is not some carefully balanced, playtested, and theorycrafted expansion of the rules usable by a broad range of characters.

Sometimes you just want some cheese of the right flavor.

Elven Curvedance

You know the ancient, and nearly-lost, art of the wardance of the elven curveblade, which strongly encourages (though it does not require) mobility in combat.

Prerequisites: Str 13, Dex 13, proficiency with the elven curveblade.

Benefit: You can use your Dexterity modifier in place of your Strength modifier when making attack rolls with the elven curveblade, as if you had the Weapon Finesse feat for just that weapon. When you choose to do this, and you make only a single melee attack on your turn, you may also use your Dexterity modifier in place of your Strength modifier when calculating your damage bonus with the elven curveblade (including adding 1.5x your strength modifier when using the weapon two-handed).

If you have an option that you can normally add to a melee attack only when making a standard action or attack action for a single attack, you made add that to melee attacks with your elven curveblade anytime you only make a single melee attack on your turn. for example, if you have Vital Strike, you could use it with your elven curveblade on a charge (a single attack), even though Vital Strike does not normally allow that.

Special: This feat counts as Weapon Finesse for any feat or ability that has Weapon Finesse as a prerequisite or modifies how Weapon Finesse works, but you can only use such feats and abilities with an elven curveblade unless you actually have the weapons Finesse feat.

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#Microfeat: Power Cast

Why are weapon users the only ones who can boost power at the cost of precision? Of course, with spells things are a little different…

Power Cast

You can make exceptionally deadly spell attacks by sacrificing accuracy and penetrating capacity for raw power.

Prerequisites: Ability score that determines your bonus spells 13, caster level 1st.

Benefit: When you cast a spell that requires an attack roll or allows a saving throw for half or to negate, you can choose to take a –2 penalty on all attack rolls and a –1 penalty to all concentration checks, caster level checks to penetrate SR, and saving throw DCs for effects you create this round to gain a +1 bonus on the spell’s effective caster level for everything except caster level checks to penetrate SR and concentration checks.

When your caster level reaches 4th, and every 4 levels thereafter, the penalty increases by –2 for attack rolls and –1 for checks and save DCs, and the bonus to caster level increases by +1.

You must choose to use this feat before casting any spell, and its penalties last until your next turn.

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The One Universal Spell-Like Metamagic

The feats Empower Spell-Like Ability and Quicken Spell-Like ability follow the same set of rules on when you can gain spell-like metamagic, how often you can use it, and what spells you can apply it to. By boiling those rules down to a universal set of guidelines it’s possible to have a single balanced monster feat that allows any metamagic feat to potentially be applied to any spell-like ability. This allows a GM to give monsters all the options player spellcasters have, without having to create scores of new feats.

Universal Spell-Like Metamagic

Select one metamagic feat, subject to this feat’s requirements.

Prerequisite: Spell-like ability you can cast with a caster level equal to at least 2 + double the spell slot adjustment of selected metamagic feat.

Benefit: Select one spell-like ability that meets this feat’s prerequisites. If the spell-like ability’s spell level is higher than 1st level, your caster level must be at least double the metamagic feat’s spell slot adjustment plus double the spell-like ability’s spell level. Three times per day when you use this spell, you may gain all the benefits of the selected meamagic feat. This does not allow you to use a spell-like ability more times per day than you are normally able to.

Special: This feat can be taken more than once. Its effects do not stack. Each time you select it you must select a combination of metamagic feat and spell-like ability you have not already selected with this feat.

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Campaign Elements: The Wolf’s Head

Sometimes a campaign really needs a mastermind criminal with a vast organization at his disposal. Preferably someone with extensive resources, but who also prefer to keep a low profile. Such crime bosses may serve as foils, contacts, patrons, nemesis, or just background elements the GM and players can work off of as stories develop.

Of course, it helps if such master criminals and crime groups are cool and enigmatic.

So this is an idea of one option to fill that element. It focuses on the master criminal, the Wolf’s Head, and touches lightly on the organization, the Crime Guild. These descriptions are kept intentionally broad. A GM should be able to easily adapt the Wolf’s Head and Crime Guild to any genre, any game system, and any world or time frame. They can be pastiches for Lex Luthor and LexCrop, Moriarty and his Network, the Godfather and the Five Families, or Jabba the Hutt and his scum and villainy. Alternatively, a GM can use this as a starting point to build a whole new kind of organized crime group.

The Wolf’s Head

The Wolf’s Head is a mastermind villain and organizer of all forms of outlawry. He or she holds the highest position in the Crime Guild, a combination of organized crime cartel and training-ground for talented individuals. Each Wolf’s Head carries the position’s official scepter of office, a long cane with a silver wolf’s head and the words caput gerat lupinum (“may his be a wolf’s head” in Latin) engraved around the base of the head of the cane.

The Wolf’s Head traces its origin back to writ’s of outlawry in early English common law (or any older nation in worlds lacking England). An outlaw was literally being “cast out of the law,” no longer subject to the protections a person received from the law and thus able to be treated as a wolf. The write included the words caput gerat lupinum, and in many cases was considered the most serious possible sentence.

According to Crime Guild history, one of the earliest people declared an outlaw under this system build a vast network of outlaws, and took the first Wolf’s Head title. Over the centuries that organization has come in contact with, and absorbed, the thousands of organized crime groups from every continent, nation, and ethnicity, forming the massive, worldwide Crime Guild. While the goals of the Crime Guild vary somewhat, they tend to remain institutional – focused on earning and protecting money, influence, and power and building a large cadre of loyal agents. Many guilders are important members of other groups, ranging from crime families to law enforcement agencies, but some few work directly for the Crime Guild. These generally answer directly to the Wolf’s Head, and through them the Wolf’s Head is free to pursue any goals he or she desires, as long as the Crime Guild on the whole continues to grow and prosper.

The holder of the Wolf’s Head title changes periodically, and apparently at random to outside observers. Each Wolf’s Head must nominate one Alder of Crime every 3 years (though killed alders need not be replaced). Each Alder is able to secretly vote to “retire” the current Wolf’s Head (though they can change this vote at any time). Such votes are kept with several ArchNumbers (Numbers being living cogitators who keep all the Crime Guild’s records, and ArchNumbers being senior examples). The Wolf’s Head also ranks the alders, from best to worst, and gives that information only to the ArchNumbers (and can change the rankings at any time).

If at any point 2/3 or more of the current Alders have voted to retire the current leader, the Numbers inform the entire Crime Guild. At that point all Alders try to kill the Wolf’s Head. If they succeed within 30 days (also known as the Hunter’s Moon, as the alders hunt the ultimate wolf), then whichever alder still alive that was highest ranked by the previous Wolf’s Head becomes the new Wolf’s Head. If not, the current Wolf’s Head retains the position, and the ArchNumbers ensure every alder that voted to retire him is killed (to cull those who mistakenly thought it was time to change leaders).

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Ctheckers: The simple board game of cosmic insignificance

 

It started as a joke. It still is, really, But I wrote up the rules for Ctheckers! (Which is even sillier than Golem Chess!)

Gameplay is as standard checkers, with the following changes.

On the bottom of the checkers of each side, make the following notations:
Cth: This is the Cthecker. Ia! Ia! Each side has a single Cthecker.
Cu: Cultist. Each side has eight cultists.
Ny: Nyarlathotep. You’ll also need chess pieces for this piece – a pawn, bishop, king, knight, queen, and rook. And a d6. It’s an elder god, things can get complicated. Each side has one Nyarlathotep.
R.C.: Randolf Carter. Each side has one Randolf Carter.
Nec: Necronomicon.

Once all checkers are marked, flip them so the markings are concealed and shuffle them. Once you no longer know which of your checkers is which, place them on the checker board as normal.

When a checker is captured, and when it reaches the far row of the board to be promoted, reveal what the checker is by flipping it over. Then follow the rules for each checker as noted below.

Cthecker: If the Cthecker of either player is revealed, either by being captured or by being flipped over as a promotion when it reaches the far row of squares, the game ends and both players lose. The coming of the Cthecker is bad for everyone, and nothing else you insignificant humans has done matters at all.

Cultist: If you reveal a cultist by capturing it nothing special happens – it is captured and removed from the board. If you reveal a cultist as a promotion when it reaches the far row of squares, you stack one previously taken cultists from your side, and one from your opponents side, under it. The top cultist in this stack now acts as a king from checkers. However, as soon as it moves, the next top cultist also acts as a king, and you can move it independently. But if you do, you reveal your opponent’s cultist, and IT now acts as a king which your opponent can move normally on his turn.

If you or your opponent do not have enough previously captured cultists to stack the correct number under a promoted cultist, place however many you can and proceed normally.

If all eight of your cultists are captured, you lose the game.

Cultists think they are working toward a goal, but mostly they just spawn more powerful cults, not all of which are working toward the same goal.

Nyarlathotep: If Nyarlathotep is revealed by being captured or reaching the far row and being promoted, it is not actually captured. Instead, it assumes one of its many forms. Roll 1d6. One a 1 it becomes a chess pawn, 2 a bishop, 3 a king, 4 a knight, 5 a queen, and 6 a rook.

Unless Nyarlathotep is in its king form, no piece can take it except another revealed Nyarlathotep. If Nyarlathotep is in king form it can be taken by being jumped or by having an opposing Nyarlathotep land in its space. Unlike other pieces in Ctheckers, Nyarlathotep can capture your own pieces (but is not required to if it has the opportunity). If your Nyarlathotep is taken you lose the game.

When your Nyarlathotep is revealed, place the chess piece it becomes on top of the original Nyarlathotep checker. While it is on your checker you can move it as the corresponding chess piece. You capture any piece you land on the space of (ending your turn) or jump over (as a knight). At the end of your move, roll 1d6 to determine the new chess piece Nyarlathotep acts as, and place any captured checker of your opponent under it. This is still considered your piece, but only your opponent can move it, as his turn, if he wishes, and he can capture your pieces when he does so. Once your opponent moves Nyarlathotep, roll the d6 to determine its form again, and place your original checker under it. You can now move it again. Repeat as each of your moves the piece.

If your opponent has not had a piece captured, he cannot move Nyarlathotep until he does have a piece, and it remains stationary until your opponent has a piece captured or the game ends.

Nyarlathotep has many forms, and his plans are impossible for mortal minds to comprehend.

Randolph Carter: If Carter is revealed as a result of being captured, flip him like a coin. If the checker lands top-up, promote him. If it lands bottom-up, he goes mad and is replaced by a captured cultist from your opponent, which your opponent now controls. (If your opponent does not have a captured cultist, nothing else happens).

When promoted, Carter moves like a king. Also, when he is promoted, you may look under one checker of your opponent. This is not considered to be revealing that checker, and you do not have to tell your opponent what you learn. You can even lie about what you learn. The rules specifically say that is okay. After being promoted Carter is allowed to look under a checker of yours as a move on your turn, but if he does so he goes mad (as if coming up bottoms-up in the case of being captured).

Carter is a human scholar and traveler through dreams. Maybe a madman.

Necronomicon: If your Necronomicon is revealed, it remains in play, but you can no longer move it, and it cannot be captured by your opponent. It can be captured by you (and if you can capture it you must, unless you can capture a different piece in the same turn). If you capture you own Necronomicon you look inside and are torn apart by invisible demons. Also, you lose the game.

Either you or your opponent may sacrifice a promoted cultist, removing it from the game, to move a revealed Necronomicon. If you have revealed Randolph Carter, you may sacrifice him to remove your own revealed Necronomicon from the game. Either of these actions counts as your move.

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Microfeat: Big Attitude

Big Attitude

You may be small, but people shouldn’t underestimate you.

Prerequisite: Size small.

Benefits: You can use high-energy actions coupled with strong presence to overcome the drawbacks of your slight size. For a number of rounds per day equal to your HD + your Charisma bonus, you negate penalties you take as a result of being Small. This means you do not take penalties to using Medium weapons, do not take the normal size penalties to CMB and CMD, and so on. Additionally if you normally have a 20 foot base move it increases to a 30 foot base move while using this feat. Activating this feat is a free action you can do once per round, and you can end it as a free action at the beginning of any turn.

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Spelltweet: Small Adjustment

Small Adjustment (bard 1, bloodrager 1, cleric 1, inquisitor 1, magus 1, occultist 1, paladin 1, psychic 1, ranger 1, shaman 1, sorcerer/wizard 1, witch 1)
As masterwork transformation, except there is no material component and you convert a Medium item into a Small version that is otherwise identical.

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