Category Archives: Home Brew Hacks

Just some house rules that I made up.

A Little Twist on Saving Throws

Two of my favorite cousins of the world’s most popular fantasy role playing gamer are Swords & Wizardry and Castles & Crusades. And the neatest thing are the Saving Throws.
Swords & Wizardry boils it down to its most simple. One Save to rule them all. Modified by class, race and level. You get better at resisting things as the character progresses in levels.
Castles & Crusades almost takes the opposite approach and one similar to 3.X games. Ability modifiers added to racial, class and level bonuses against ever increasing difficulty levels. The joy of this is that every ability has a Saving Throw tied to it. To put it mildly, a dump stat can kill you.
The problem I see with the 3.x model is that you end up with ever increasing bonuses but you’re rolling against every increasing target numbers. You can sit down and crunch the numbers but it basically boils down to bigger numbers with roughly the same chance of success. It almost seems pointless. In older iterations, characters get better at resisting various hazards. Extremely powerful opponents can reduce the chance for a character to resist.
So here I am attempting to take these two seemingly opposite ideas and kit bash them into one system without messing too much with the underlying system.
First a simple ability modifier. Ability scores higher than 13 grant a character a +1 bonus. Ability scores lower than 8 cause characters to have a -1 penalty. You can use a different scale of modifiers but for this I’m attempting to do it with as little change to Swords & Wizardry as possible. If you opt to use a different scale for ability modifiers (say +3 or +4 for the very top end of 18 like in 3.x/Pathfinder) then you should adjust the racial and class based bonuses. I’d say adjust them down by half rounded up. But YMMV on this.
Second, what does each ability mean and what kind of saves should go with it:
Strength: Grappling, Constriction, Crushing
Dexterity: Traps, Area Effect Spells
Constitution: Poison and Disease
Intelligence: Illusions, Arcane Magic
Wisdom: Confusion, Divine Magic
Charisma: Fear, Charm
Of course, in case you’ve been living under a rock, they are playing around with a similar set up for DND Next. And like so many things this is a work in progress. Nothing is ever written in stone.

Clerics Have Always Bugged Me

Yeah, it’s time I make this confession. Every since I’ve started playing the mechanics behind clerics have struck me as wrong. I can fully get behind the concept of the armored warrior-priest that’s no problem. It’s the spell casting that gets me.
Here’s how it works out in my crazy little mind. Cleric prays, “Oh mighty Crom, Today I want to heal my friends three times. I want bless them in combat and I want your divine protection.”
“OK, you got it.”
How I think it should go.
“Oh mighty Crom. Today I want to heal my friends three..”
“What? You dare call my name and ask for my aid to heal those weaklings! Be gone, worm!”
Basically, it comes down to this. The cleric wakes up and asks his god for a shopping list of spells and the god delivers no matter what. When domains were added that gave clerics a few more defined powers on their faith but they still have pretty much the same shopping list of spells. I’ve seen players make spell choices based on their character which is good and fine but still doesn’t quite fit into my little world view. So here you go. Clerical spell casting re-imagined for Swords & Wizardry.

Gods & Spells: The cleric spell list is broken done by god. Spells are designated as Canonical (Spells that reinforce or are aligned with the god’s philosophy/domain/portfolio.), Neutral (Spells that neither oppose or support the god’s goals), Heretical (Spells that go against the god’s goals). If a game master doesn’t want to spend the time breaking down the spells. He should clearly define what each god’s agenda. Also, the Turn Undead ability should be converted to a first level spell.

Spells per day: Unchanged.

Spell Casting & Preparation: Clerics do not prepare spells. As the need for divine aid arises, the cleric calls upon the divine favor of his deity. The cleric rolls a Saving Throw modified by the spell type (Canonical: +3, Neutral: Unmodified, Heretical: -3). If the Saving Throw is successful then the spell is cast. On a failure, the spell is not cast but it still counts against the cleric’s daily allocation of spells. In the event, the cleric attempts to cast a spell that is contrary to his god and rolls a Natural 1 then there may be additional consequences for calling forth such heretical power.

Magical Research Mishap Chart

Magic Research should be interesting and just a tad dangerous. Whatever system you use for magical research is up to you. These little charts are for when things go wrong. Very wrong.

Which chart to use: Roll 1d20 + the researcher’s level. If the roll is over 15 then roll on Chart 2.

Collateral Damage: Whenever there is a magical mishap then there will collateral damage to the magical laboratory. The damage equals 1d10 X 1000 gold pieces in addition to any other damage. If the mishap effect is from Chart 2 then value of the damage is doubled.

Continue reading Magical Research Mishap Chart

Simplified Combat Maneuvers

One of the things that makes combat more interesting is when characters do something besides stand there toe to toe until somebody runs out of Hit Points. I’ve bee playing Pathfinder a lot in the past years. Heck, our group has playing is since the open beta test. I still remember how everyone loved the new Combat Maneuver mechanics but they were still tied to Feats and still way too crunchy.

James over at Dreams of Mythic Fantasy came up with a really cool idea to use Saving Throws as the mechanic for Combat Maneuvers. This would work great in a Swords & Wizardry game. And I may just have to play around with his idea a bit more.

By mere coincidence, I’ve been thinking about the same thing for retro-games. I wanted something quick, easy, flexible and embraced the “rulings not rules” philosophy. Once again, I looked to Lamentations of the Flame Princess for some inspiration and it’s simple X in d6 skill system. Here’s the neat part, the DM can just count on his fingers.

Declaration: The player describes what the character is attempting to do.

The Base Chance: 2 in 6 (for fighters), 1 in 6 (for other classes)

Who is better at fighting? If the character attempting the maneuver is then +1. If the defender is then -1. If they are equally skilled then 0.

Who has the better score? Select which Abilities (for both the active and defending characters) best suit the combat maneuver described. This will usually be Strength or Dexterity but creative players will find a way to use other Abilities. If the character attempting the maneuver has a higher score then +1. If the defender then -1. If they are equal then 0.

Situational Modifiers: Each would be a +/-1 depending. This could be anything else that affects the chances of the character successfully performing the Combat Maneuver. Difficulty, lighting, terrain, size difference, weapons and so forth. Just let common sense be your guide.

Now, you’ve got an X in d6 chance for the character to perform the maneuver. Handle it just like you would a skill check in Lamentations.

The Outcome: Since this system is meant it inspire the players to be imaginative in combat, there’s pretty much no way to effectively spell out if a character does X then Y happens. Just let common sense and the Rule of Cool be your guide.

My Frankengame: Hey, you got weird Sword & Sorcery into my High Fantasy

There’s a little RPG blog meme that started last month (Thanks to Mike at Wrath of Zombie and Anarkeith at Telluric Currents). So I’ve been busy getting this blog off ground but it is a great place to start.

I’ve dubbed my Frankengame Home Brew Hack and most of the notes have been moved over here. Originally, it was based around Castles & Crusades with a dose of Pathfinder thrown in. But like many things, as time passes it evolves and changes. I decided to base the game on Swords & Wizardry instead.

Swords & Wizardry (and it’s Sword & Sorcery offspring Crypts & Things): That’s the basis for the core rules. The simple classes and general mechanics make it prefect for kit bashing.

Lamentations of The Flame Princess: Yes, another retro-clone. This game is a great source for some good new takes on spells (looking at you, Summon). I’m also working on a skill system inspired the Lamentations d6 system but using a d12 as a base.

Castles & Crusades: Oh no. I didn’t forget about this one. The number one thing that I like with C&C is a save for every stat. Yeah, a dump stat can kill you. Now this may sound like it goes against S&W one save to rule them all. But not really. It just takes a little tweaking. Each class still would get the base One Save. My rough estimate is to increase it by 1 from the base number as written in S&W. Any save modifiers based on class and race should be divided by two (rounded down, minimum of +1). Characters would get their ability modifier as bonus (or penalty) to Saving Throws based on what they are saving against.

So there you go the basic crunchy bits. Yes, I know I really don’t post the exact wording that often. There’s a reason for that. I’m kind of lazy. My huge working document for my Frankengame is largely just copy and pasted bits from the various of games with some minor edits. I just don’t feel right posting copy and paste material freely on the Internet. But I don’t mind saying that I’m using X from Y game, so go check out that game (and maybe buy it).

So where do I want to head with the fluff? Well, I haven’t done that much work on it yet but I do have some ideas and these ideas will influence some of the crunch. First and foremost is magic. I tend to like magic as mysterious and dangerous. It should be useful and key point in the setting and rules but spellcasters shouldn’t be superheroes compared to the other characters. I tend to lean more towards a Swords & Sorcery/Lamentations of the Flame Princess style magic.

The other is races. To put it bluntly, I’ve grown weary of Tolkien inspired fantasy RPG’s. What was once considered the archetype for a fantasy world has become more of a stereotype. There’s no reason we shouldn’t take things in new directions. Break the molds. Twist the tropes. Like I said, I haven’t done too much work on this part but then that’s fodder for future posts.

Raise Dead: It’s not a spell. It’s not a ritual. It’s an encounter!

I posted earlier this week about the D&D Death Tax when I was talking about our Kingmaker campaign and this got me thinking about Raise Dead.
Let’s face it. In you standard D&D style game, it just becomes a minor financial burden once you reach a certain level.  Knowing that it will just cost a few thousand gold pieces to bring back your character should something nasty happen really destroys any sense of adventure or danger.  When the worst thing your brave hero faces is basically a medical bill, well, that’s just not very heroic.
I spent a little time thinking about this and wondering what to do. There’s the simple approach ala Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Just say no raising of the dead. That’s great for the weird fantasy genre in Lamentations. But for a more standard High Fantasy game, I think it should still be available as an option but with consequences. It doesn’t matter if you are Good or Evil bring some one back from the dead upsets the natural balance of the universe.
First of all, let me mention Druids and Reincarnation. Drop it entirely.  You’ll see why in a little bit. Second, let’s look at the Cleric. For my own home brew campaign, I’m looking at a world level cap of tenth. That’s right no PC/NPC is going to be higher than 10th level.  I think it’s just a good point but that’s not what this post is about. So I’m setting the minimum level for the Raise Dead ability at 6th level.
So what happens when a cleric attempts to raise a fallen companion?  There will be a price. A big one. He’s calling on his deity for a major boon.  First, the cleric summons a major agent or avatar of his god. This will cost him all of his spell slots for a month. That’s right the cleric uses up his allocation of divine good will for a month. When the avatar arrives things get interesting and as a DM here’s your chance not to be a dick but still add a little bit of drama to the game.
The avatar is going to ask or demand something. And here is where it gets interesting. As DM, it’s a good place to insert a new quest or a new villain. As a DM, you can set up an interesting moral crisis. “You must kill this child who will someday threaten the world if you don’t” Perhaps, the avatar will ask for a temple or shrine or perhaps a ritual to be performed. Racial gods may just go ahead and change the dead character’s race. See drop I said not worry about Reincarnation.  The avatar may change the character’s alignment or possibly even class if it’s appropriate. And it doesn’t have to stop there. The avatar could ask something of the rest rest of the party as well. Conversion. Repentance for past sins. Go ahead be creative just not a dick. Here’s a little trick to put on your players. Ask each character to give up a level to bring to back their fallen friend.  It looks like they’re getting screwed. But those who agree get a major boon. Replace that lost level with a level of cleric or clerical spell casting abilities.
The thing is that bringing character back from the dead should really be a major event and not just a hand wave. There should be some interesting consequences and a price.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess Inspired Skill System

When I started to think about skills for the Home Brew Hack, I looked at a lot of games. The modern system used by Pathfinder/3.X, 4th Ed and Star Wars Saga Edition, Swords & Wizardry and the Castles & Crusades just to name a few. But this was a case where I decided simpler was better, so decided to take up Lamentations of the Flame Princess for inspiration.
In case you don’t know, the Lamentations skill system runs off a simple X in d6 system.  So if you have a 2 in a skill, on a roll of 1 or 2 on a d6 means you succeed.  Simple and to the point. But since this all about home brewing, hacking and tweaking, I just couldn’t quite leave it as is.
The first thing I looked at was which die to use. The d6 is clean and simple and looks really cool on a character sheet but I wanted something with a wider range so there’s more room for the characters to grow and more differentiation between the characters. The first knee jerk response was use a d20. Well, I nixed that.  Just on some sort instinctual level, I decided on using a d12. Hell, we really should use d12’s more often. Using a d12, also allows for a better variation on starting skills and an easy way for class skills by having the starting skill score equal to an appropriate Ability Modifier.
But that’s not all. I decided to try to keep a simple and short skill list: Academics, Arcana, Climb, Disguise, Healing, Lore, Locks, Perception, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Survival and Traps. Additionally, players may add Wild Card Skills (like from the Unisystem). That’s basically some sort of other skill that isn’t covered by the list. Good examples of this are the Trade, Profession and Craft type skills. But there’s another trick here, too. Custom skills for classes. Instead of some class abilities being X number times or rounds per day just make them skills. A successful check means the ability activates.  Prime examples would the Barbarian’s Rage or the Paladin’s Smite.
Getting better at skills.  I decided to bend the rules again here. We roll randomly to see how tough a character is.  So why not roll to see how much a character has learned. It breaks down pretty simply. Low skilled characters gain 1d3 skill points per level, the skilled characters would get 1d6.  This starts at 2nd level. First level characters get their starting skills plus any modifiers for race or any other house rules (like backgrounds or life paths).  A skill can be only raised by one point each level.
What if you have a 12 in a skill? Just like in Lamentations, if you max out on a skill you can still fail. If you have a 12 in a skill you can still fail. If you roll a 12, you roll again and will fail if you roll another 12.
Opposed Rolls:  The prime example of this is Stealth versus Perception. And once again, I’m trying to keep things simple. Both characters roll. The one with the higher roll and is still successful wins. Simple.
Here’s how a Rogue looks from my perspective:
SKILL POINTS PER LEVEL: d6
STARTING SKILLS: Academics (1), Climb (Dex Mod), Disguise (Cha Mod), Healing (1), Locks (Dex Mod), Lore (1), Perception (1), Sleight of Hand (Dex Mod),  Stealth (Dex Mod), Survival (1), Traps (Int Mod).
And if this is your first time checking out the Home Brew Hack posts, this is very much a work in progress and feel to critique.