July 8, 2024

Reputation Tables

Instead of a ± to Reaction rolls or whatever, track individual events the characters take. To do this, we first make a Reputation Table. At its most basic, it’s an empty d100 table.

Whenever the PCs do something people might talk about, write it down on your Reputation Table - representing both fame and infamy. Particularly noteworthy stuff should go in there multiple times.

Then, in future, whenever the reputation of the PCs is important (e.g. Reaction Rolls) you can roll against this Reputation Table - either acting to justify results or modify them as you see fit.

When adding results to your Reputation Table, roll the appropriate dice - overwriting any existing entries beneath” the new one.

The easiest way to implement this is a universal d100 table, used across the gameworld. Alternatively, you could:

  • Have a d20 table of reputation per kingdom.
    • Kingdoms with trade relationships, shared linguistics/heritage/whatever share the first 10 entries of their Reputation Tables.
  • Have a d8 table for each social class, guild, family, gang, whatever in a single city, adding events to multiple tables at a time depending on their specific nature.
  • Have a local d20 table, with individual (random) entries permeate” outwards to surrounding locales each month as gossip spreads - perhaps with a chance of mutation.

Nesting and linking multiple tables is more work but can give some powerful results.

Bigger tables highlight the size of a place and the relative unimportance of the PCs (to begin with, anyway) whilst smaller tables might highlight the limited geographical area or population being considered - or a more uniform opinion held within a group.

Of course, you can also use this as a method for advancement instead of XP or Boasts.

July 2, 2024

You Don’t Need Hooks, You Have Been Lied To

I’ve seen a lot of critics and readers talk about the strength, quality, quantity and absence of hooks in adventure modules - often held up as an important indicator of quality.

This metric is bullshit.

What is the use case of a hook? It’s a reason to engage with the content of the module/adventure/whateverthefuck.

First and foremost - if the content itself isn’t interesting enough to drive players to want to interact with it, maybe that is a more important problem to solve rather than having someone point at it and say gee I sure wish someone would interact with this!”. Of course, your players might still not interact. This is the beauty of agency - the ability to not do things, and possibly face the consequences of that. Of course, these consequences should probably be hinted at or signposted, allowing for actual, informed decision making to be made.

Next up, specificity. The author of the module doesn’t know you, your players, their characters or your game - how on earth are they meant to write something to cajole your playgroup into engaging with the module? If, instead, they wrote something generic, then they wrote something boring - and ultimately, worse than whatever the GM would come up with having possession of all the information above. Of course, this isn’t questioning the logic of wanting to so heavily influence what your players do, but let’s not get into all that again.

Finally, the value proposition - you bought the book, and you want to make sure it gets used. Just talk to your friends and say hey I would like to use this module, do you all think it looks fun?” - ditto for a one-shot. If you’ve got pre-gens, give them a motivation - otherwise, just ask players to make characters with a reason to be there.

The takeaway is to read the fucking module you are going to run and find the reasons to go there that make sense for your players and your world. If they’re skint, highlight the valuables. If they love old books, drop some rumours about the wizard on level 3. Or, of course, just drop it in to your sandbox and wait for them to find it themselves, possibly providing some rumours as lead-ins.

Rumours are generally the best way to seed information about modules, dungeons, whatever, into your game world - but you’ll need to think about what the people of your world will talk about in relation to each specific place. My elves might talk about the Elixir of Forgetting in the Deathswamp - yours might only care about the hobbit-chef who lives there. (He is a guy who cooks hobbits, to be clear.) This brings us back to the idea of specificity and its challenges.

Alternatively, pretend I wrote A wizard teleports them there.” at the front of every adventure.

April 20, 2024

d100 Carousing

Players in my Thursday Whitehack game are going carousing every damn time they get back to Fester, the coastal city of the ghouls. A dinky little d20 table won’t cut it anymore.

For those unfamiliar - characters choosing to carouse spend a randomly determined amount of money, gaining XP equal to the money spent. If the number rolled is higher than their current level, they have to roll on the Consequence Table.

If you spend more money than you have, you end up in debt to someone you’d rather not be indebted too - and you get to roll a Consequence, if you didn’t already.

Villages : d4x100 GP.
Towns: d6x100GP.
City: d12x100GP.
Wild Cities: d20x100.

Membership in an exclusive society or club increases the multiplier to x200, but only counts in that specific area or cultural group.

† represents Drinking Buddies. Only one group can be benefited from per Carousing session.

1d100 Consequence
1 Rode a horse (or equivalent) through a noble home or barracks. Considered a local legend, but gain an enemy.
2 Save or lose: 1-2) A finger 3-4) Toe 5) Nose 6) Ear 7) Eye 8) Roll twice. Save again - on failure, you remember how it happened.
3 Awaken with a hideous, possibly shameful, tattoo or piercing.
4 Awaken with a wicked sick tattoo or piercing.
5 At some point in the evening, you fell in with members of the underworld and made a contact.
6 You snuck or stumbled into a high-society party - and made a useful contact there.
7 Using various pint glasses, tobacco strands and drug paraphernalia, the most amazing financial scheme was outlined to you. You staked everything. 1-4) It’s a scam, obviously. 5) It’s a scam and the local authorities think you were a key member. 6) It’s the real deal - d100% return on investment in d6 months.
8 You joined a religious faith. Perhaps you meant it, at the time. 1-4) The major local faith. 5-6) Underground faith, heresy or cult.
9 A hangover to kill a god. Disadvantage to everything for d4 days. Carousing next time is only at half rolled value - once bitten, twice shy.
10 A gambling windfall! d10x10% of wealth gambled at a d10x10% return.
11 The house always wins. Lose d4x25% of wealth.
12 You scored! But something doesn’t feel right. Save or acquire a venereal disease1.
13 You made an honest-to-god mate. Gain a Friend.
14 You thought you were making a friend. As was revealed at the end of the night, they actually fucking hate you. Gain an Enemy.
15 You wake up with a pain in your side. Rolling over, you find out why: a sacred religious idol, artefact or icon that definitely does not belong to you.
16 Your face hurts. That’s because you’ve used a major political symbol or artefact as a pillow - meaning it’s not where it should be.
17 A lance of pain up your leg as you shove on a boot - because you stashed a stolen heirloom or crest of a local noble house in there, obviously.
18 In your altered state, you struck for freedom - or so you thought. You broke a beloved local statue, clock, or other such landmark last night.
19 That lovely expensive thing you own - not the magic one, the other really most expensive thing you own? It’s ruined. You broke it. You dumb fuck.
20 That lovely expensive thing another (random) party member owns - not the magic one, the other really most expensive thing they own? It’s ruined. You broke it. You dumb fuck.
21 You slew the beast that troubled the locals. If by beast you mean important piece of local infrastructure, like a well, wall, road or such.
22 This is why you can’t have nice things. Your most expensive object - yes, possibly the magic one - is missing. 1-2) You lost it. 3-4) You lost it and someone else has found it. 5-6) It was stolen from you.
23 This is why you can’t be trusted with nice things. A fellow party members most expensive object - yes, possibly the magic one - is missing. 1-2) You lost it. 3-4) You lost it and someone else found it. 5-6) It was stolen from you.
24 Briefly, you held a major local relic. Now you are less certain as to its location. 1-4) You lost it. 5-6) It was stolen from you.
25 Now you’ve had a drink (or whatever), they’re not so bad. Reconcile with an Enemy. For now.
26 Actually, you’re a cunt. Fuck off. Lose a Friend - 50% chance they turn into an Enemy.
27 Last night, you hit rock bottom. You swore an Oath to sort your shit out - to clean your act up. Unfortunately, you swore this oath in public. Carouse at half-value here for the next 6 months, keeping your head low.
28 Keen for anything on a drink or two, you promised to deliver…something? To someone? Somewhere? Whatever this thing is, it seems interesting. 50% chance of remembering any of the details of the job.
29 You don’t wake up with them in the bed, but everything but. Sitting, ready, eager to see you work - you promised to take this person along with you for at least d6 adventures. Of course, you promised this to someone powerful.
30 You freed livestock into the area, causing a stampede. The farmers are actively working to find out who did it (as well as all their sheep). 50% chance they find out, and starting planning agricultural revenge.
31 You freed far more exciting animals than livestock - real deal predators. At least one section of the area is now infested with dangerous animals, preying upon citizens and their animals alike.
32 You awake in a cell, with a cell mate sleeping on your shoulder - pulled up on minor charges. 2d20GP fine.
33 You awake in a cell, legs in irons. Pulled up on moderate charges - 2d100 fine.
34 You awake in a cell, legs and arms chain up. Pulled up on major charges. d6x1000 fine, or working it off for the local authorities.
35 At night, the streets shift and you visit the Other City, the polis of slanted angles and moonlight so alien, so purple as to stain the eyes. Or so it feels, as you stagger home in the morning, having not slept. Sleep all day, and then disadvantage on everything the day after.
36 You just couldn’t find that fucking shell, no matter how hard you tried. Conned out of d10x10% of your wealth.
37 From your hiding place accidental, you spied the unveiling of a religious secret - a ritual, initiation or eldritch truth. The group in question know someone saw this, and are hunting the one who has defiled their secrets.
38 You’ve seen plenty of people die, just not normally cut down by a band of assassins who disappear into the night like smoke. Nor do the people who die often hold titles and ranks.
39 You shagged a local notable - or one of their immediate relatives. 50% chance it was at their place. 30% chance it was more than a shag to them.
40 You cannot believe you woke up in bed with them. Your Enemy.
41 You’ll need to read up on the local customs and rites regarding holy persons and celibacy quickly. Ideally yesterday. 50% chance they’re still here, otherwise they’ve left.
42 To learn the secrets of the sorcerer or wizard is a rare honour, requiring long years of trust and tutelage. Or you could stumble in on a ritual unnoticed. That’d do the trick too. Those involved in the ritual are keen to find you and ensure you don’t spread what you saw.
43 Linked arm-in-arm, hidden behind disguises which failed to hide much, you saw them - local notables, out on the town - a tryst most troublesome, should it come to light.
44 You think I look bad? You should see the other guy. Unfortunately, his mates got in there first. Lose all wealth, and reduced to 1HP from the mugging.
45 Upon your finger rests a weight new to you. By your side, the one who joined you in holy matrimony - a local notable or one of their immediate relatives. 40% chance they married you in earnest.
46 As it turns out, a holy person can’t officiate their own marriage.
47 A pair of matching rings now pair you and your Enemy - joined in enmity and in marriage.
48 The new ring on your finger certainly implies marriage - but where is your newfound spouse? More importantly - who are they?
49 You fought the law, and 1-4) The law won. Reduced to 1HP and wanted for resisting arrest. 5-6) You won. Lose half your HP and gain huge credibility in the area. The guards you beat up don’t report you - they’re too embarrassed. 10% chance any future interaction with the guards involve one from this fight.
50 You couldn’t say who won or lost the fight, but the gang will definitely remember you. Lose half HP, gain an Enemy (the entire street gang).
51 Employer of the year. You fought with your hirelings and henchmen last night - all reduced to half HP and all hirelings taking Loyalty tests.
52 Brawling with wizards and witches is easy, you just 1-3) Clean their clock first. Gain an Enemy. 4-6) Let them throw the first punch”. Subject to a highly embarrassing ongoing magical effect.
53 You pissed all over your spellbook. Or, at least, someone’s. If no party members have a spellbook, it was a random magic users.
54 You blasphemed, profusely and at length. 1-4) Proscribed by the local clergy. 5) Proscribed by the faith-at-large. 6) The god (or pantheon, divinity, slime etc) themselves heard your blasphemy, and is going to make a special project of you.
55 You scored a huge load of drugs - d12x100GP worth. You don’t remember how you scored the load - 40% chance someone is looking for it.
56 CURSED!!!!
57 You fucked up. You ate the Bad Kebab. Welcome to hell. Lose d6 days as you shit your guts out. Some small part of your mind will forever think it did taste pretty good though…
58 You found a new drinking buddy in the form of a talking beast or similar fantasy being. Gain a Friend.
59 You’ve attracted the attention of a Petty God, who makes direct, personal contact.
60 Mind altered, you thought nothing of the gift”, bundled in sackcloth by a wan young man who yelled I’M FREE and wept as he fled into the night after you accepted the gift. Looking at it in the cold harsh light of sobriety, it’s so obviously cursed.
61 You love a sing-song on the piss. One thing led to another, and now you’re in a political group with their own songs. You didn’t pay too much attention to the lyrics at the time. 1-2) Your views align. Phew. 3-4) They are the polar opposite to your views. Uh-oh. 5-6) They are a laser-focused single issue group - one that you really don’t care about one way or the other.
62 You are the zig to their zag, the shit to their roses, the cat to their dog. You’ve been declared the Enemy of a political group active in the area.
63 Whatever this thing is, it’s definitely stolen. You didn’t steal it, but you think you might have promised to look after it for someone capable of stealing it.
64 You gatecrashed a fancy wedding - one family found you delightful darling, the other wants you dead. Beautiful ceremony though, really tasteful you know?
65 Guilt haunts you. You didn’t mean to do it - a total accident. But how are you meant tell someone that? Do they even know you did it? But worse, you know: last night, you killed someone’s pet accidentally. Someone you know.
66 Inadvertently, you have progressed a prophecy or legend eagerly anticipated by a minor religious group. They are now watching you very closely - although you are not sure if your role is positive or negative.
67 Your cheek stings, and the glove in your pocket reminds you as to why - you’ve got a duel at noon today - in d4 hours.
68 The first Informal Moonlight Derby was a success, you think. If you don’t own a horse, grand theft equine” joins riding recklessly & under the influence” on the rap sheet.
69 A birdy told you about a horrible underground space filled with monsters, treasures, traps and probable doom. They even gave you a (vague) location for the entrance!
70 A drunken aide spilled the beans on an ongoing political manoeuvre or scandal.
71 The proud new owner of a very valuable item would not stop talking about it last night - guided gently, they gave some suggestions as to the location too. You are not the only one who heard this.
72 A scorned wizard’s apprentice bitterly muttered into their pint of bitter about their master’, hidden away nearby yet not advertising their presence.
73 Through the braggadocio, the story of a magic item lost in the wilderness cut through the noise and sits atop your memory, remaining despite the dissipating clouds of hangover and regret, carrying away the other memories of the night.
74 You remember that one adventuring band - the one who never came back? No, the other one. I knew them - I know where they were going. - and now so do you.
75 You’ve learnt exactly what people believe about a local notable monster, as they all swapped the same stories with slightly different details and emphasis.
76 Through a bulb of pain which begins in the eyes and ends at the base of your skull, you can glimpse the past, and it is ugly. You fired all your hirelings, who have gone on to tell everyone else what a dickhead boss you are. Hirelings from this locale cost you double now.
77 In the spirit of universal siblinghood and transparency, you told all last night - revealing a major secret or all the details of your next escapade.
78† A crowd of old geezers attached themselves to you, casually adding their orders to your own. Halve XP gain on this and future carousing rolls in the locale, but have the option of re-rolling the carousing result in future. You lose access to any other Drinking Buddies when rolling this result. Gaining a new set of buddies loses this crowd.
79† You (somehow) fall in with the cool crowd, drinking at all the latest establishments and taking all the most novel substances. On an odd carousing roll result, increase the multiplier to 200x.
80† You end up as a guest in an exclusive society or club. After a good performance, you are extended an invitation: join them for 500GP a month. Those failing to pay their dues are barred forever. For members, all carousing results here are multiplied by 200, not 100.
81† Where you belong - the Weird Fringe of nightlife. Grotesquery and beauty, strangeness and wildness. Goth clubs. When carousing here, you spend an extra d8x100GP, but always roll two consequences, no matter the result.
82 The payroll looks different this morning - d20 hirelings longer, for the most part. All were promised a month up front.
83 You invented a new drink - and, bucking tradition, it’s pretty good. +1 to all carousing rolls in the area.
84 A solemn party to commemorate their very rich, very dead ancestor. Of course they’d be happy to show you where their tomb is.
85 A set of the noveau riche disparagingly gave you a little tip” as to an investment opportunity. With this you might elevate yourself a little from the gutter, hm?”
86 For d10x100GP, you bought a map, promising to lead to treasure. 20% chance it’s a fake, and half of all fakes lead into an ambush. Otherwise, roll a random treasure type. If your game doesn’t have treasure tables, play a better game :~).
87 You stumbled ass-backwards into an assassination attempt and foiled it. Gain a (known) Friend and an (unknown) Enemy.
88 Partying with clergy was more fun than you thought. Make a contact in the clergy.
89 On the piss, they promised no shop talk. And yet, as if haunted by a ghost, they all set about critiquing the sloppy work of those not there. Make a contact in a Trade.
90 Congratulations! You’re a godparent.
91 Through the whisper network, you’ve learnt something of a semi-public group active in the locale.
92 The gossip of nobles travels far - even to your own grubby little ears. Learn of personal strife in the life of a noble or notable.
93 Hidden libraries for the working man, the site where a highwayman was run through after killing a score of guards, the site where the first guild meeting was held - one of these hidden landmarks is shared with you.
94 You awaken with a large set of keys you have never seen before. Presumably, someone will be looking for them. Equally, they must open something.
95 You fucked with the wrong establishment. A criminal organisation is now your Enemy.
96 You dictated a letter, complete with slurred words, to your 1) Ex 2) Parents 3) Enemy 4) Friend 5) Lover 6) Yourself.
97 In your wanderings, you found something - a sizable property, hidden from public view. Unlocked, unoccupied, unowned. Yours for the taking.
98 In the parliament of fools, you are the prime minister. Few will take you seriously in this town again. This has its advantages.
99 Drunken and alone in a graveyard, you bemoaned your lot. A spectral arm draped itself across your shoulders, and a grinning skull met you woe for woe. You’re now Friends with a Ghost.
100 You started a fire. A big one. 50% chance a section of the city is destroyed.
d12 Enemies/Friends
1 A fellow practitioner of your trade. Whatever that is.
2 Guard. 20% chance they hold rank.
3 Criminal.
4 Noble.
5 Politician, courtier, etc.
6 Clergy or holy person.
7 Magic practitioner.
8 Commoner.
9 Noble’s Staff.
10 Artisan.
11 Merchant.
12 Some sort of creature hiding in general society.

You know in an ideal world you’d be able to do a big d20 table for every city and expand it out as needed, adding the specific details that make each city feel unique. Big generic tables are useful but they’re never gonna be as good.

  1. Hmmm if only someone had written a dirty grotty RPG wot had a bunch of STDs in it. Oh well.↩︎

February 27, 2024 armour magic item flatboat

Man-Suits of the Flatboat People

When a child has stopped growing, those who wish to live as men must be initiated. First they must find a Shaman 1 and beg from them the use of a team of flesh-boring beetles. They may be rejected and try again elsewhere. Those consistently rejected, or who do not wish to try, live forever as children or become women, subject to their own inductions.

With the team of beetles stored in a gourd or clay-lined hide, they may gather as many of their mothers, sisters and siblings as are willing to aid them. This band sets out as a hunting party to seek an Old Man of the Forest [3HD, AC as Leather, 1d6+1 Damage] of the right size. Such beings can smell men coming, and always flee before them. The Old Man of the Forest must be captured alive, with as few injuries as possible. Bound and held prostrate, the prospective man must decapitate the Old Man in a single strike. If this fails, any in the hunting party are allowed to try and finish the job, earning the right to be a man if successful. 2

With the head removed, the flesh-boring beetles must be introduced to the neck, chewing their way through the organs and viscera of the skin, hollowing it out. The man in the making must guide them with a stick that they do not chew a hole in the skin and escape, as well as retrieving them once their work is done.

With the skin is hollowed out, the man must don their suit for the first time, abandoning their child-name and dubbing themselves anew. They must then travel home in the raw suit, before being sealed away in their new home to have the matters of Manhood taught to them whilst the skin is bathed in smoke and the skin is stretched and cut to be fit for use. After five days, they will never be seen outside their homes without their Man-Suit. Only their wives, husbands and children will see them naked, as they were when a child.

The Man-Suit protects against spiritual warfare - hexes and curses struggle to take root in such poor soil that they may never bear their poison fruit. It offers some protection against physical threats too, although many wear hides from the crocodiles of the river to protect their borrowed skins.

AC as Leather.
Worn by a member of the Flatboat People, it is as a second skin - allowing additional armour to be worn too.
When a man of the Floatboat People is wearing his Man-Suit, he saves vs Spells as if 4 levels higher.

  1. Shaman is an approximate translation - the term can be broadly understood to refer to any practitioner of magic, with various honorifics or qualifiers used to differentiate sorcerers, witches, divine fools etc. Notably, the lack of qualifier was consistent when referring to the individual from whom the beetles are sought. No man was willing to speak of the cost nor favours owed for the use of the beetles.↩︎

  2. Whilst we did find some men who told that they had gained manhood this way, having lived as women before, none would explain if the child would be allowed to try again or if such was forbidden.↩︎

January 20, 2024

When Entering a Polity…

Whenever the PCs enter the domain of a lord, government, municipal council etc etc, roll 1d10. If this is under the average level of the PCs, they are summoned to court.

1d8 Reasons for Summons
1 Paranoia as to their reasons for being here.
2 Prospective job offer.
3 Desire of the power to associate itself with powerful and notable individuals.
4 Assessing the party as potential destabilisers of the status quo.
5 Desire of the power to assert dominance through issuing orders - with possible humiliation awaiting at court.
6 Plans to induct them into the power structure through appointment, marriage, titles etc.
7 Consequences of prior involvement with the power, its rivals or allies.
8 Confirmation of rumours about the party.
9 Throwing a feast (or other festival) to accrue honour-debt/obligation from the party. 50% chance they already have a specific use for this debt in mind.
0 Taxation, licensing or other such control mechanisms - possibly motivated by a lack of funding, or else a desire for control.

Or, you know, just roll Reaction and go with your gut.

October 25, 2023

Split Initiative

I’ve been doing a thing for a while in OSR Thinking Adventures style games I’ve been calling split initiative which I almost certainly read somewhere else and stole but here we are. Those of you using the Wolves rules have seen this before.

Basically at the beginning of each round of combat (or general dangerous time) each character rolls to get over/under some value. Those passing the check go before the monsters (or danger or whatever) and those failing go after. Simple as.

This adds a bunch of chaos - in the Wednesday game today this lead to all the high-level PCs going last, allowing a bunch of Level 1 characters to be killed by carrion crawlers. The easiest form of the check is just a d20 under Dexterity, although Wolves does d10 under AC - reinforcing the Armour-as-Class thing those rules are doing. If you wanted to decouple this from stats it could be as simple as roll 4+ to go first” on a d6, giving an even 50/50.

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