Saturday, 15 February 2020

One page game: Agents of P.U.N.C.H.

A free one-page game about playing elite government agents who are completely out of their depth.

I've made no secret of my admiration for Tales of Mordhearse, an ultra-light D&D adaptation where the characters have only one stat: HP. The game makes that single stat do a lot of work. It's surprisingly deep and tactical, not to mention perfectly suited for dungeon exploration.

I was thinking about that design philosophy, a single stat game. And I was in a whimsical mood. I wondered "what if the single stat all the characters had in common was punching? And what if that stat was universally set to maximum?"

The result is Agents of P.U.N.C.H. It's not deep. It's not tactical. I'm not sure what kind of game it's suited for, other than (obviously) a very silly one. But it's free! Click here to get it.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Silence of the dice

A diceless GM emulator for solo or no-prep gaming.

I read Silence of the Lambs at an impressionable age. I find Hannibal Lector fascinating. Not as a killer, but for his disciplined mind. There's a scene in the book where the FBI need information from him, so they strap him into a straightjacket and bite mask and simply wait... believing he'll tell them what they want to know rather than endure the discomfort indefinitely. Instead, he waits them out and uses the time to think about a favourite piece of music.

Whenever I read about a technique or rule for solo role-playing I ask myself, could Hannibal Lector use this as a distraction during his interrogation? Could I use it while waiting in line to renew my driver's license? (I have a terrible habit of letting my phone battery run down completely before I think about charging it.) What's the minimum amount of equipment you need to run an RPG, anyway? We can eliminate dice. Can we eliminate char sheets, note paper and pencils too?

The first thing you need is a randomiser and for the games I want to play, numbers are still the best. Just thinking of a number won't work. Even if you can be objective and not pick a number that favours your character, figures from your own mind will never be random. I like mathematician George Marsaglia's. It's pseudorandom rather than truly random, but the pattern is complex enough that you'd need to be a savant to predict it without a tool like a spreadsheet. The method goes like this:
  1. Think of a 2-digit 'seed' number.
  2. Multiply the second digit by 6 and add it to the first number.
  3. Use the right-most digit of the new number as your random number.
  4. Keep going from the previous 2-digit number as long as you need new random numbers.

  1. Our seed number is 23.
  2. The new number is 2 added to the result of 6 x 3.
  3. The result is 20. Our random number is the right-most digit, 0. (I'd take this as 10.)

Our next random number would be 2 + (6 x 0) = 2. From there: 2, 3, 9, 6, 9, 5, etc. If I wanted this to be a d20, I'd add 10 if the first digit is odd. The 2-digit number's range is 1 - 59, so the first digit makes a pretty good d6.

D12: Use the first digit, add 6 if the second is odd.
D4: Get a D12 result, divide by 4 and use the remainder. Divide by 8 and use the remainder for the d8. The extra steps these two are both annoying enough that I probably won't use them.

None of these results are truly representative of a fair die, but they're fair enough for my purposes. (Would this work at a table? Only if you had uniquely patient players.)

You also need a way to figure out what happens. I've had good results using the Mythic GM emulator, but it's too involved to keep it all in my head. Instead, I assign a number out of ten for the likelihood of something happening - 7/10 for likely, 3/10 for unlikely, 5/10 if I really don't know. If I roll equal or below the number, it's a positive result. If I roll a 1 or a 10, it's a critical result, which translates to some kind of extreme version of the expected outcome.

The way the randomiser's maths works out, there's a 1/8 chance of the two digits being a double - 11, 22, 33, etc. If I get a double, the unexpected happens.

I also need to determine what happens. For that I'm using a simple system of elemental associations -

Rolling a d12 on this table will give me an action, a faction or a personal quality. It's up to me to interpret what that means for my game. I think it's a good rule of thumb to relate it back to a detail already in the game. If I know a specific faction is involved, I can interpret an answer to mean that particular faction is taking action or displaying a quality.

So far so simple. I can remember these things without consulting a rulebook. But if I want to go completely diceless, I need to pick the right game as well. Dice pool systems are out. In Shadowrun, our tank routinely rolls three dozen dice to soak damage. Exalted pools can get even larger. Even percentile or 2d6 systems are going to be annoying, so I'm probably looking at something D&D-ish. 

I've had good results testing with a modified version of Here Is Some Fucking D&D by redditor dm_magic.  (Clean version available here.) I discard AC scores and add the opponents movement rate to an attack roll, with a target of 20. I also drop the damage roll and have weapons do full damage on a it.

Long term, I might for something even simpler, like Tales of Mordhearse by unwashedmendicant. Characters get one stat and a few simple qualities.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Exalted 2.5 hack

Exalted 2nd edition is a fun RPG, but crunchy. The complexity of the rules mean there's never going to be any such thing as a pickup game of Exalted unless you're willing to play one of the many adaptations out there. Here's mine.

It's based on Cthulhu Dark's roll-keep-highest system, intended only for playing Solar Exalted and makes no effort to cover sorcery. (In all the time I spent thinking about it, I never came up with a solution I liked better than the one from Daiklaive Qwixalted. That's what I've used in play.)

As a teaser, here's a set of example artefacts I wrote up to demonstrate that not every magitech item you're packing has to be another eight-foot sword:

Mountain Rises, Mountain Falls

"The Exalt and the Demon fell from Heaven, cursing and clawing at each other as they tumbled. Their impact on Creation left a crater as deep as a tall man's length. Swords broken, armour cracked, drained of essence, they glared hatred at each other as they lay exhausted. 

"Long Stride gained his feet first. Having no other weapon to hand, he raised a torso-sized rock over his head and bludgeoned the Demon with it."

Mountain Rises, Mountain Falls is a warhammer made of rough-hewn stone banded and capped with orihalcum and fixed to a five-foot haft. Too heavy for an ordinary man to lift, never mind wield in battle, a blow from this hammer could fell a mammoth.

When spending a mote and striking the ground during battle, opponents must succeed in a roll vs character's essence die/2 or be knocked prone, stepping their side's combat dice down by one step for a turn


"The beast called Sorrow rode down the mountainside. It was atop a pile of tumbling, rolling skulls, laughing as it came. The Excellent Harp recognised her husband's skull by the jewels set in its forehead. She was too late.

"As it raised its bow to end her life and collect her skull, she spoke to it of the affection they had shared. The slow, halting blossom of love. And the enduring oneness it had ended with a single act of savagery. Ten minutes later, with her ready assistance, it hanged itself with its own bowstring." 

Lamentation is a bow formed from the ivory of some unknown beast, decorated with rings, ribbons, and scraps of silken veils. The beast Sorrow preferred to kill married men and women, and decorated its weapon with their scavenged love tokens. It has been restrung with a single strand of orihalcum wire.

When spending a mote and shaking the bow so it jingles, all opposing combatants who have a lover on the battlefield must succeed in a roll vs character's essence die/2 or be frozen in horror for a turn, stepping their side's combat dice down by one step.


"When Sanshu left his lover's arms he stole away every trace of his presence. Even the smell of the flowers he brought her. Still, her husband the Magistrate felt that something was wrong. Sanshu was known to take strands of women's hair as souvenirs. The Magistrate counted every hair on his wife's head. Then he was satisfied she was faithful. 

"It was years later he realised the strand of her hair he kept in a locket around his neck was gone." 

Whisper is a rope woven from orihalcum wire, silk fibres, pattern spider cobweb and women's hair. It's light, durable, and seems to know its master's desires.

This rope is very nearly unbreakable, and when spending a mote and tying a knot in it, suppresses any noise its master makes.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Library bestiary part 1 - human

For nearly a year I've been thinking about an adventure set in a cursed library. It's giving me some trouble, mainly the map. I'd like to site the main areas deliberately, and use a simple semi-procedural generation for smaller rooms. The details haven't been gelling and I had mostly put it out of my mind, but a week ago I woke up from a dream with the perfect solution - which I didn't write down and had forgotten by morning. Something about a die-drop table? Maybe? I'm still kicking myself over that.

In any case, it's reached the point where I need to write it down in order to either progress my ideas or get them out of my head completely. I don't have a map, but I have a bestiary.

The library was created to house a singular book, the Book of Ashes. It has a wealth of knowledge on a variety of forbidden subjects, including descriptions and true names of a number of high-ranking demons. You don't let people read a book like that, but you don't burn it either. It might be useful some day. So they put it in an isolated building with a staff of scholar-soldiers to protect it. Over time, other heretical but potentially useful books joined it. Then, because it's the nature of libraries, a collection of mundane but associated volumes useful to visiting researchers.

Maybe because of the nature of its collection, the library grew strange and dark over time. The librarians became insular and uncooperative with visitors. Eventually they stopped leaving the library altogether. The building itself grew larger than its walls should allow, and its corridors twisted into a maze.

The library still operates and protects its evil books, but it's a hazardous place to visit.

Librarian castes


Shelvers climb the library shelves like monkeys, deftly reaching for finger- and toe-holds, always careful not to brush against the books. Theirs is the sacred task of returning books to their proper places after they've been repaired, seized from a rival tribe that follows a heretical cataloguing System or (Great Librarian protect us!) read.

AC 8 [11], HD 2 (9 HP), Att 1 × wooden club (1d6) or bone knife (1d4), THAC0 19, MV 120’ (40’), SV D12 W13 P14 B15 S16 (F2), ML 8, AL Lawful, XP 20, NA 1d6 (3d4), TT P
  • Ambush: May set simple traps or push shelves over onto opponents.
  • Bombard: May drop heavy items on opponents from high spots.


Returners are the police force of the librarian tribes. Their job is to apprehend criminals accused of mishandling books, folding pages, or the greatest crime of all - book murder. They go armed with man-catchers. The only punishment is hanging. Executed criminals will be displayed in the entrance hall for a few days, then taken down and expertly butchered so their skin can be turned into leather, their bones into needles and their sinews into thread for repairing books. Returners from rival tribes have a wary truce during times of peace and co-operate to bring book vandals to justice.

They wrap heavy cloth around their faces to muffle their cries if injured in battle. Hushers execute noise-makers indiscriminately.

AC 6 [13], HD 3 (14 HP), Att 1 × man-catcher (1d2 + restrain) or sharpened ruler (1d6), THAC0 19, MV 120’ (40’), SV D2 W13 P14 B15 S16 (F3), ML 8, AL Lawful, XP 35, NA 1d6 (3d4), TT Q
  • Capture: Standard tactic is for several Returners to immobilise and gag an opponent so their body can be used for book repair.


Some books are so important than ordinary visitors can't be trusted to handle them. Porters wear harnesses which let them carry a book of any size on their backs, and act as a lectern when needed. They wear blinkers to keep them from accidentally reading their books, and use whisk-like devices over their shoulders to turn pages. If there's danger, they're trained to retreat immediately, shielding their book with their bodies. Porters are always accompanied by two Returners.

AC 3 [16], HD 2 (7 HP), Att 1 × turner (1d4), THAC0 19, MV 120’ (40’), SV D11 W12 P14 B16 S15 (C2), ML 6, AL Lawful, XP 25, NA 1d6 (3d4), TT O
  • Retreat: If threatened, back towards the nearest entrance, fighting defensively. 
  • Distract: Drop lesser books or scrolls to delay opponents if necessary.
  • Magic: a porter will know 1d2 of:
    • Cause Fear
    • Darkness
    • Detect Magic


A book is an ideal object (of course), but if you were to (carefully and hypothetically) admit a limitation in their function as information transmitters, it would be that only one person can read them at a time. Having someone read them aloud fixes that problem. The library's altered nature means that Lectors are most often reading to empty lecture halls, but they do it anyway. Tradition is what maintains their privileged position among the tribe.

AC 7 [12], HD 2 (5 HP), Att 1 × wooden bookmark (1d4), THAC0 19, MV 120’ (40’), SV D13 W14 P13 B15 S16 (MU2), ML 7, AL Lawful, XP 25, NA 1d6 (3d4), TT R
  • Call to defend: a lector can call up to 1d6 bystanders to defend the book he reads from (and by extension, him).
  • Magic: a lector will know 1d3 of:
    • Detect Magic
    • Read Languages
    • Read Magic
    • Sleep



Hushers are an order of warrior-monks, called by faith to enforce the library rules. They patrol the shelves and galleries of the populated areas of the library and and go on days-long patrols through the far sections, where there's danger of bumping into wandering Illumina. They take a vow of silence and fight with arrows fletched with the hair of executed criminals, stiffened with book-glue.

AC 6 [13], HD 4 (18 HP), Att 1 × bow (1d6), sharpened ruler (1d6), THAC0 17, MV 120’ (40’), SV D10 W11 P12 B13 S14 (F4), ML 7, AL Lawful, XP 75, NA 1d6 (3d4), TT
Conceal: hide in the shadows and attack without warning if rule-breaking occurs.


Binders have put aside tribal differences to concentrate on the sacred task of repairing damaged books. Cracked spines, torn pages, faded lettering. Time is unkind, never mind the depredations of the library's despised patrons.

AC 6 [13], HD 5 (18 HP), Att 1 × rope dart (1d6 + tangle) book knife (1d4), THAC0 17, MV 120’ (40’), SV D9 W10 P12 B14 S12 (C5), ML 7, AL Lawful, XP 300, NA 1d6 (3d4), TT N/O


Despite the obvious danger some people will, accidentally or otherwise, read the wrong book and lose their minds. These madmen haunt the library, even wandering alone through the far sections without fear. Hushers will sometimes kill them out of pity.

AC 7 [12], HD 8+1* (37hp), Att 1 × weapon (1d8 or by weapon), THAC0 14, MV 120’ (40’), SV D8 W9 P10 B10 S12 (F8), ML 12, AL Chaotic, XP 1750, NA 0 (1), TT
  • Magic: A bibliomanic will be able to use one of the following 3 times daily as a spell-like ability:
    • Blight
    • Continual Darkness
    • Curse
    • Detect Magic
    • Locate Object
    • Sticks to Snakes

Saturday, 21 December 2019

The why of temples

Temples feature in a lot of adventures, but it's often the temple of mumble which was built by the priests of mumblecough to serve the function of hey look over there.

Here's a set of tables that can randomly generate a temple, including its background, physical features, reasons a party of adventurers might be interested in it and reasons why no-one has looted it before them.

This temple is set:

  1. On a hill
  2. In a valley
  3. Overlooking a bay
  4. In a mountain pass
  5. In a cave
  6. On an island

It's a:

  1. Single-room chapel
  2. Small church with priest quarters
  3. Small chapel complex with priest and guest quarters
  4. Multi-building grounds with workshops and a staff
  5. Temple complex with cloisters, schools and dedicated farms
  6. Holy city with a permanent population of citizens and businesses

It was built to:

  1. House the bones of a saint
  2. Provide accommodation for pilgrims
  3. Seal an evil portal/hostile entity
  4. Prepare for the return of a living god
  5. Act as a base for a religious crusade
  6. Train clerics and war priests

Its distinctive feature was:

  1. A sacrificial altar
  2. A library and scriptorium
  3. A treasure vault
  4. An armoury
  5. Extensive catacombs
  6. A reliquary housing an ancient artefact

Its distinctive architecture is:

  1. A bell tower 
  2. A cloister
  3. A necropolis
  4. Statues
  5. Stained glass windows
  6. A labyrinth mosaic

Its state is:

  1. Abandoned and empty
  2. Used as a headquarters by bandits
  3. Used as a den by wild animals
  4. Inhabited by monsters
  5. Operational but barred to outsiders
  6. Re-occupied by a cult or opposing religion

Its walls are:

  1. Overgrown and half-buried
  2. In ruins
  3. Pristine
  4. Soot-stained
  5. Rebuilt
  6. Carved with ominous bas-reliefs

An unexpected threat here is:

  1. Angry spirits
  2. Wandering undead
  3. Animated statues
  4. Cursed objects
  5. Weakened floor/roof supports
  6. Disease

Saturday, 14 December 2019

I want to run D20 but all I have are a couple of D6s

We've all been there. It's Christmas and you're gathered at Auntie Doreen's place where your siblings and cousins want you to run one of your 'Dumbledores and Dragons' games for the kids to keep them occupied. You didn't bring your gaming dice and Doreen is on dial-up because wifi causes autism and fibre is a plot by animal rights activists to get their propaganda into people's homes. All you've got to work with are a couple of D6s from an old copy of Monopoly that has POO BUM scrawled across the board in crayon. You can do this.

You can use D6s for a fair simulation of other dice. The methods are neither elegant nor straightforward, but they do what they need to do. In the list of operations below I'm going to call the first die DA and the second DB.


The easiest of them all: just chuck DA and re-roll if you get a result higher than 4. You'll probably have to roll three times for every two results you need, but there's no maths involved.


Roll both dice. DA is a D4. If DB shows an odd side, add 4 to DA's number to get your D8 result.


Roll both dice. This time you're rolling DA as a D5 (re-roll on a 6 result). DB is even/odd again. If it shows an odd side, add 5 to DA's number for your D10 result.


Do not roll both dice and add them together. The first issue is that it's impossible to get a 1 result that way. The second is that rolling two dice and adding them gives you a weak bell-shaped probability curve instead of the flat result you want. The odds of rolling a 6 this way are 5/36 (14%) but the odds of rolling a 12 are 1/36 (0.28%).

Instead, roll DA as a D6 and DB as an odd/even to determine if you add 6 or 0 to DA.


Now it's getting kind of awkward. Roll DA as a D5. Roll DB as a D4. You want a result of 0 to 3. For simplicity's sake I like to treat 6 as a 0, take 1 to 3 as rolled and re-roll on a 4 or 5. Add DB x 5 to DA to get a D20 result.


Use the D10 method twice, once for the tens and again for the ones. Subtract 1 from each result. This will give you final result of 00 - 99. You can treat 00 as 100. If you leave out the subtractions, the lowest result you can roll is 11.

Doreen won't mind you using her toby mug collection as giant figurines, will she?

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Void adventure

This is a half-baked idea for a zero-prep procedurally generated adventure, but I think it might have some legs to it.

First, the characters successfully navigate a suspiciously short dungeon belonging to a wizard, eventually finding themselves in his library. The treasure is inches away. Then the door and windows slam shut, there's a light show and a dizzying sense of transition. If the characters pry open the doors or window covers, they find themselves looking out into true nothingness - the void. The room was a trap, and it caught them. They've been dumped out of the world entirely.

Presumably the wizard will eventually call the room back, if only to reset the trap. But there's a dead and mummified adventurer here, which suggests that it could be a good long time. They need to rescue themselves, not wait.

The dead adventurer had an escape plan, which he laid out in a journal he had with him. The room could be shifted back into the world by tracing the path of a specific rune on foot and chanting a magical phrase to undo the trap magic. The biggest problem was that a single room isn't large enough to trace the rune.  It needs to be many squares long. However, it was possible to call additional rooms into the void, from structures similar to this room in concept (IE. dungeons). Then the issue would be digging through walls for access, defeating whatever threats came across with the architecture and building a walkable path through them.

The final journal entry states that a terrible void storm had begun and he was returning to the library for the little protection the bookshelves offered. Whatever rooms he managed to add are gone. If the PCs want to follow his plan, they'll need to start from scratch.

Obviously the characters have specific wants in the rooms they summon: food, building tools and supplies, construction that allows them to create openings where they need them. They'd also prefer those rooms to be unoccupied. Each additional criterion adds 1d3 to the difficulty of the magic roll for the summoning. If I was running I'd keep the players in the dark over whether they pass or fail until the room arrives, and remove one of the criteria for every point they fail by. They get a room regardless, but maybe not the one they hoped for.

I like the idea of using the random dungeon generator from Donjon. Hit random each time to get a different dungeon style, but set Details to basic to get a list of monsters and traps. Roll a die to pick which room they get. If the encounter die hits while they're in that room, it's something from the wandering monsters list, arriving some time after the room they occupied.

The characters have to work fast, because another possibility on the encounter die is a void storm. Storms last 1d6 turns, and while they're in progress, areas of the map simply pop out of existence. Erased by the void. Generating those randomly seem like too much effort, so I'd get the players to map out the dungeon they're constructing and drop d4s on their map to determine where the lacunae occur and how many squares in diameter they are. (D4s are indisputably the most evil of dice. Bastard pointy things.)