My father was an alcoholic. He went to rehab, once, in the 1990s and toward the end of that process we had ‘family week,’ where the whole family came in for group therapy and counseling. So the other members of my family and I went, and spent a week there. It was a bit like summer camp, but the activities were figuring out how badly screwed up you were and crying instead of archery and canoeing.
While there for family week, I met a young woman who had been badly abused. I did not get, and if I am honest did not at the time want, any details of what she had been through. She was there for her own addiction. I either never knew what she was addicted to, or I have long since forgotten. She wasn’t in any of the group or therapy sessions I was in with my father and family.
She saw some of my RPG books I had brought with me, and was fascinated by them. She understood the concept immediately but, faced with multiple books of hundreds of pages each for just a few games (I know I had Rolemaster with me, I may have also had some D&D and Champions), she claimed that she “wasn’t smart enough” to play RPGs.
I assured her she was. I promised I could show her how the concept worked and we could play a game, with just a few of sentences of explanation, and three sentences of rules. She agreed.
“Tell me about your character.”
She loved rabbits. She wanted to know if she could be a rabbit, I told her she could be anything she wanted. She decided she was an anthropomorphic rabbit scavenger in a post-apocalyptic world who hunted (and killed) carnivores, and defended herbivores.
I gave her a 3×5 index card.
“Write down one thing you are good at.”
She wrote down she was good at creeping.
“Write down one thing you’re bad at.”
She wrote she was bad at keeping calm.
“Write down one important thing you have.”
I had meant one object she possessed. She wrote she had ‘limitless determination.’ This game was for her. I was not about to tell her she’d done it wrong. Limitless determination it was.
“Write down one thing you want to accomplish.”
She wanted to find a safe place to bring orphan bunnies.
I gave her a penny.
“I’ll describe situations, and you tell me what you want your character to do. For anything you try you flip a coin – your action succeeds on heads and fails on tails. If you try something you are good at or have an important thing for you get to flip twice and succeed if either is heads, while if it’s the thing you are bad at you have to flip twice and get heads for both to succeed. That’s it.”
She asked if, since she was a rabbit, she could succeed on tails, and fail on heads. That seemed super-obvious, and I agreed.
And so the “Hares & Holocausts” game was born. Getting to flip twice and winning if either was tails was a bonus. Having to flip twice and winning only if both were tails was a trial.
We played 3-4 times over that week, mostly at lunch and once one morning after breakfast. I borrowed heavily from Gamma World, Rock & Rule, Watership Down, and Seven Samurai. Her character never got a name, and she didn’t seem to care. I thought of her as “The Rabbit Without a Name,” who wore a poncho, and assumed the setting used an Ennio Morricone soundtrack.
Each scene was clearly defined as casual or dangerous. Casual scenes had no consequences. In a dangerous scene, there were normally 3 chances for her to take an action. Actions weren’t blow-by blow things like “I stab a scorpion bandit,” but more like “I attack the bandits, trying to drive them back out of the mine shaft.” One successful action out of the three was a draw–she ended up neither better off nor worse at the end of the scene. Two successes was a win. Three was a BIG win, and she got some kind of permanent improvement.
Zero successes was a failure.
If she failed at a scene, she took a wound which meant she had to either give up one of her bonuses until she healed, or write down a new trial (which she got to pick) as a scar she kept until she succeeded at a task using that trial. I remember she choose a scar at least once, getting a cut through her left eye so she got the trial “Bad at seeing things to my left.”
She picked up a katana, with a BIG win, which she got as a bonus she could use once per combat, because I wanted to introduce the idea of equipment. She also gained a psychic mind-stare with a BIG win, which let her try to take out a foe before a scene began, with no penalty if she failed.
She crossed The Waste, and found a mine shaft, which had evil scorpion bandits in it. Driving them away, the mine shaft lead her to a valley with a ruined town which had some bunny orphans in it. She saved them from a spider sweat-shop owner (who forced the bunny orphans to weave designer webs for uptown spiders), then went to find them a safe home. That took her to an old observatory on top of a nearby mountain, where she had to convince the ancient security AI (that controlled a robotic sphinx guard) to allow the orphan bunnies to live there. She hunted down and imprisoned a skunk airship pirate who made clouds the observatory couldn’t see through, and promised shed talk the orphan bunnies into become astronomers, and the AI agreed to let them stay and protect them.
Then she took the stench-airship, and flew off. She wanted to find, and defeat, the Uptown Spiders who received the designer webs. End of campaign.
I did not realize for weeks that she never killed anyone. Drove off, defeated, jailed, convinced to change sides, yes. Never death.
She really seemed into it, and told me she would introduce that game to friends of hers. She still didn’t think she could play a “real” RPG. I tried to convince her there were lots of games, like there were lots of books and lots of movies, and all she needed was one that was a good fit for her. I was not convinced “Hares & Holocausts” could be played seriously, thought I didn’t tell her that.
I’m skipping over a lot of the weird, awkward, difficult parts of this experience. I was making it up as I went along, and it was not as polished as this short write-up makes it sound, especially for the first game or two. There were moments I was uncomfortable. There was at least one time she burst into tears. I used some Rolemaster critical hit tables for narrative inspiration once, and that was a big mistake on numerous levels. The councilors insisted all games take place in one of the public areas, and only between 7am and 6pm. No one else played with us.
At the end of my week, I gave her my contact info. She was going to be there for at least a few weeks longer. I did not ask for, and she did not offer, her contact information. I never heard from her.
I think that’s the only complete, totally original RPG I have ever designed by myself.
My father stayed sober for 90 days, because one of the councilors at rehab told him he couldn’t — that it would be impossible. Through sheer iron will, my father took not a single sip of alcohol for three months. They were a good time to know him. Then, convinced this meant he wasn’t an alcoholic, he drank himself to death over the next few years.
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Ungol is the Accursed City, the Land of Maddened Death, and the location of the Skulmance.
It is a kingdom, a ruin, a demiplane, a demigod, and an artifact.
Ghouls live in Ungol, as do wererats, rakshasa, jackalweres, and hags.
It can be reached only through rituals, though some rituals once performed open a path on a regular, though often infrequent, basis. It opposed, and is opposed by, Valorgard.
Only pain and wickedness comes from Ungol, and to even know of it can give it power. Even its dust has power. So we do not speak of it.
But anything written of Ungol morphs and changes, until the writing spreads dangerous lies that benefit only Ungol. Only writing inked with the blood of an unwilling sapient creature, and scribed on pages made from another unwilling sapients skin, can hold unchanging words of Ungol.
So we also do not write of it.
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Welcome StarBarians! You are the heroic defenders of the world of Barbarth, the most important Science-Fantasy world in the universe! You must oppose Lichlor, the undead technomancer tyrant, and his hoard of villainous themed villains.
StarBarians is a silly, high-action campaign/setting hack for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game.
(All art by the spectacular Jacob Blackmon!)
You are 2nd level. You’re never going to gain any levels until the very last adventure (whenever the GM says that is), when you pop up to 4th and get a new costume! This is a fast and silly game, there’s no need to worry about things like experience points. Or continuity. Or whether your feet are in sync with the rate the ground is going by.
Before racial modifiers, your ability scores are one 18, one 16, one 14, one 12, one 10, and one 8. Alternatively you can have one 20, four 10s, and one 8, or three 14s and three 12s. Assign as desired, but if you have an 18 or 20 in any ability score, no one else should. Be adults, work it out.
You get all the benefits of any one suit of armor of your choice that is 3rd level or less. You aren’t WEARING that armor, of course. You’re a StarBarian! You run around in a fur loincloth or (for some reason) skintight Victorian suit. But you get the benefits. If you want an armor upgrade, pick it as an item below, and just strap it on. It’s fine. Jump jets over fur boots is perfect for StarBarians.
You get ONE item of your choice of 5th level or less. this is your THEMED ITEM. You can never lose it for longer than the duration of 1 fight. It should have a name. Lichlor and his minions will try to steal it periodically, They never succeed. This item can be a suit of armor if you like, in which case you get its benefits instead of your baseline 3rd level armor when you wear it.
You get THREE other items of your choice of 3rd level or less.
You get 9 other items of your choice of 1st level.
If you selected a ranged weapon, its item level is 2 lower. All weapons with usage above 1 never run out of ammo or batteries. All weapons and items with a usage of 1 or that are 1-shot count as 3 items, but are fully restored at the beginning of each game session.
Each game session you can use the StarBarian Power to do two spectacular things (two different things, one each). This is because you have a StarBarian Stone. Lichlor is always trying to steal StarBarian stones. He never succeeds, and you can’t lose yours. Ever.
Starbarian Powers are based on class, can be performed whenever an appropriate roll or even occurs, and take no time.
Treat a failed Int/Wis/Cha skill or ability check as if you had rolled a 20 on your d20.
Allow an ally who failed any d20 roll or check to treat it as if they had rolled a 15 on their d20.
Succeed at any one Engineering check
Drone: Allow your drone who failed any d20 roll or check to treat it as if they had rolled a 15 on their d20.
Exocortex: Treat any failed attack roll as if you had rolled a 15 on your d20.
Treat any failed saving throw of yours as if you had rolled a 20 on your d20.
Restore yourself or one ally to full health, ending all conditions.
Treat a failed Str/Dec/Con skill or ability check as if you had rolled a 20 on your d20.
Force a foe who succeeded on any d20 roll or check to treat it as if they had rolled a 5 on their d20.
Take an extra round of action.
Solar Weapon: Treat any one solar weapon attack that failed as if it had automatically hit and done maximum damage. Apply any critical effect, though don’t double your damage.
Solar Armor: Negate all effects of any one successful attack against you.
Treat any failed attack roll as if you had rolled a natural 20 on your d20.
Replace any one damage roll you make, or that is made against you, with either maximum or minimum damage (your choice)
Force a foe to treat any successful saving throw against an effect of yours as if they had rolled a 5 on their d20.
End any one magic or technological effect with a duration.
Lichlor is a 4th level Technomancer with a +2 bonus to every roll he makes. But he always does minimum damage, and the duration of all his effects is a maximum of 1d4 rounds. No matter how often you defeat him, he always escapes.
His Themed Minions are CR 2 NPCs. They always escape between adventures.
No one ever dies. If you should have died, you are just unconscious.
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“I want to aim for his eye! So I can blind him, and kill him in one shot!”
“Okay, his eyes widen as he sees your malicious intent, and he throws up a guard. Make an attack roll.”
“What modifiers for aiming for his eyes?!”
“None. You’re always aiming for your foes’ eyes.”
“No I’m not! I’m just trying to hit. I want to do a lethal blow now!”
“You’re always trying to land a lethal blow, unless you do something special not to. It’s a fight. Your character is always doing their best unless you say otherwise. Your attack rolls already represent the very best attack your character thinks can land. Of course you want to stab him in the eye, or cut off his head, or pierce his heart. And that’s represented by the existing combat rules of the game. And when the foe goes down, that is when you succeeded.”
“But maybe I can do those things before that!”
“Sure. It’s called a “critical hit.” in this game. A “stunt” or special maneuver in other games.”
“But I want a SPECIAL chance to kill him in one shot!”
“Okay. Do you want every foe you ever fight to have a special chance to kill you in one shot, too?”
“You’re no fun!”
“If you want to try to be flamboyant in your attacks because that’s fun, I am fine with that. That’s why I said he reacted to your effort. And if this attack kills him, it’ll be because you ran him through the eye, and that’ll be awesome.
If you want to have a reduced chance to be effective because of what you are trying, feel free to not use your full combat bonuses.
If you want an increased chance to be effective because of what you are trying, once I allow that why wouldn’t you always do that? And every other PC? And every NPC?”
Idea: Gelatinous Oozes change shape from cubes as they age, and gain special powers, based on their shape.
Gelatinous Torus: Gets increased speed and Spring Attack
Gelatinous Pyramid: Gets Spell Resistance equal to 15 + CR
Gelatinous Reuleaux Triangle: Gains the power of two other oozes, selected as random.
Gelatinous Apollonian Gasket: Can cast enlarge and reduce person, even on oozes, at will
Gelatinous Hyperboloid: Can cast haste and slow at will, and time stop once per day
Gelatinous Lemniscate: Gains the ghost’s rejuvenation ability.
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So, here is my entirely personal and unofficial guideline to alignment, based not on any one game system within the D&D/D20 lineage, but my opinions evolving over 36 years of playing in games with systems using Lawful, Chaotic, Neutral, Good, and Evil to make 9 alignments.
Lawful characters believe orderly systems are most likely to achieve their goals and be most effective overall, and consider the faults of orderly systems to be more acceptable compared to the dangers of a system that is too lose and disorganized. They fear anarchy more than tyranny.
Chaotic characters believe loose, adaptable systems are most likely to achieve their goals and be most effective overall, and consider the faults of loose systems to be more acceptable compared to the dangers of a system that is too strict and rigid. They fear tyranny more than anarchy.
Characters who are neutral rather than Lawful or Chaotic see strengths and weaknesses to both ways of doing things, and tend to work with whatever seems best on a case by case.
Good characters are willing to suffer to save others from suffering, and generally think most people should feel the same way at least to some degree (and that those that don’t are amoral).
Evil characters are willing to make others suffer to avoid suffering themselves, and generally think most people should feel the same way (and that those who don’t are stupid).
Characters neutral rather than Good or Evil would rather no one suffer to save someone else from suffering, and think both extremes are based more on dogma or emotion than rationality or realism.
True Neutral characters either don’t have strong opinion on any of this, or actively strive towards a cosmic balance.
For characters without some supernatural element to their alignment, these are trends, not absolutes. A lawful good character can generally believe that orderly systems are the most effective and that everyone should be willing to suffer to prevent the suffering of others, but still have a prejudice against orcs and think laws protecting orcs are wrongheaded. They are, in those moments, neither lawful nor good, but as long as those moments are not common or major (or cause the character to act in a way majorly at odds with their alignment), that’s an aberration, rather than something that automatically changes their alignment.
Characters with supernatural alignment elements still feel the same way as those without, but as a result of their very essential nature rather than merely their experience and opinions.
And in the short form, that’s it. It’s a set of tendencies that express your characters attitudes and methodology in the broadest of terms. Except where constrained by class, a character that is 51% lawful and 49% chaotic can be described as of lawful alignment (as can a character that is 34% lawful, 33% on the fence, and 33% chaotic). Characters are not assumed to be paragons of one of nine possible ethos descriptions, just trending toward one of them.
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A Post Script
I have never understood wanting to use game rules to claim a fictional reality must conform to some very narrow view of how it’s cosmology or physics “work” because of how the game rules are written.,
Yes, those are the mechanism we use to have fictional characters interact with a fictional world. But the game rules are always a simplified expression of the complexity of a whole reality, even an imaginary one.
No one claims that in a d20 game, science will have determined that every creature in existence can only increase in lifting capacity by certain quanta of increased weight, even though by the game rules that’s true–when you go from a 17 Strength to an 18 your lifting capacity jumps by a set amount which is the same for everyone. But we all know that’s a granular simplification in order to have a playable game.
The same is true of absolutely every aspect of an RPG, from economy to ability scores to alignment to skills. Including alignment.
I admit it–I lost track of what Old School gaming ideas I did Pathfinder versions of.
So, time for an index!
Multiclass Hybrid Classes
These are ways to have the feel of 1st and 2nd edition multiclass characters, by creating a new class for Pathfinder. These work a lot like hybrid classes (and there aren’t combinations for things already covered by hybrid classes–who needs a cleric/fighter when you have the warpriest?), and don;t duplicate things that already work fine with pathfinder’s multiclassing rules (a fighter/thief already works well, and if not just take levels of slayer). These new multiclass combo rules give a balanced way to have the same kind of character feel the old multiclass combinations offered.
And over at my Patreon, my patrons can enjoy the Illusionist/Fighter!
There are some Old School ideas worth porting over beyond multiclass character combinations. here are three!
Two things are on my mind at the moment. “Dirty Santa” style gift –exchange games, and treasure division in dungeon-delving style fantasy RPGs. These two things have nothing to do with each other, and yet…
Let me interrupt my own train of thought to point out that I’m not claiming this is a good idea. I strongly suspect it’s a bad idea. But, it IS an idea, and sometimes those demand our attention.
So, let’s combine Dirty Santa and Treasure Division.
Decide how many items there are to be divided. We’ll call this the number of “picks.” If there’s money or other bulk valuables you can divide the total value by the number of people in the party who get treasure (we’ll call them folks), and treat each amount of that value as one pick. (So if there is 2400 gp of coins and gems, and five folks dividing the treasure, that’s five picks worth 480 gp each.)
Divide the total number of picks by the number of folks, and round up.
Double that number, and each of the folks get that many takes. A take represents selecting an item of loot to keep. They should track their takes.
To decide who gets to spend a take first, players all secretly bid how many takes they will spend for that privilege. Then reveal the bids. Whoever bid the most goes first, and the order after id determined by who bid the 2nd most, and so on. In case of ties, roll off to see who goes earlier.
The person who goes first expends 1 pick to select an item. At least for the moment, it is theirs.
The next person may expend 1 pick to select an item left in the pool, or may expend TWO picks to take the item already selected by the person who went first. If that happens, the person who went first gets one pick back.
Proceed in order. On each turn, a folk can do one of these things:
A: Expend one pick to select an item no one has selected yet.
B: Select an item someone else has. This requires you to spend a number of picks equal to 1 + the number of people who have already picked it. So if two people have already picked it, you have to spend three picks. No matter how many picks you spend, one pick goes back to the person you take it from.
C: Select an item someone else has that you were the very first person to pick. This costs only one pick, no matter how many people have picked it since.
Repeat this process until you run out of items, or everyone runs out of picks. If you run out of items, the process is over. If everyone runs out of picks when there are still items left, everyone gets back all the picks they began with, and keep going.
Speaking of Ideas
Here’s an idea; why not support my Patreon? It’s the main way to encourage me to produce more blog posts so if you enjoyed this, maybe it’s worth a dollar a month?