Saturday, 19 September 2020

B/X class: Goblin

A B/X class for playing goblins as tinkers and trap-setters.

When I wrote up monster entries for some goblin variants I came to the conclusion that it would be a lot of fun to play one in a semi-serious game. Browsing for other people's take on the subject, I found interesting posts on The Treasure Hunter's HQ and Against The Wicked City. Treasure Hunter clearly feels that goblins and thieves overlap, while Wicked's goblin is a vile, mad little scrapper who'll bite you in the unmentionables. I love them both.

I also love Terry Pratchett's vision of goblins as grubby but mechanically-talented scroungers. And I'm unfairly prejudiced against gnomes (twee little shitcakes), so I want to steal that niche for goblins. My vision of the goblin shares elements from all three of those sources. I can imagine one of them leaning out of a steam train cab window, yelling "Show us yer tits!" and laughing evilly around a dog-end cigarette.

My goblin class is a mix of what I found at the two links above and a couple of ideas out of my own brain:

Requirements: Minimum Dex 9
Prime requisite: DEX
Hit dice: 1d4
Maximum level: 12
Allowed armour: Leather, hide or filthy rags
Allowed weapons: Small or normal-sized
Languages: Alignment language, common, goblin, orc
Saves and level as per thief

Goblins are horrible green- or grey-skinned humanoids with pointed ears and noses. They average a height of three feet and live wherever tolerated. They live in bands, but solitary goblins will sometimes strike out on their own. They have a reputation as erratic, thieving public nuisances and vandals who love drink and petty crime.


Darkvision to 60'.

Tinker: Use the cleric's turn undead table for this, where the GM's assessment of difficulty replaces the monster hit dice number.
  • Disarm trap
    • Success: trap only triggers on 1-in-6. Each character/NPC passing must roll.
    • T: trap is inert, but goblin can instantly reactivate it.
    • D: as T, or goblin can disassemble trap to gain 1d3 scrap.

  • Set trap (requires 3 scrap)
    •  Success: trap will affect one creature.
    • T: trap has an area of effect.
    • D: as T, or goblin can refine the mechanism to regain 1d3 scrap.

  • Repair weapon/armour
    •  Success: item is usable, but functions like a similar item one step lower (eg. d6 weapon does d4 damage, plate protects like chain, etc).
    • T: item regains full function.
    • D: as T, but the goblin adds spikes to it. Item is +1. Spikes have a 1-in-6 chance of falling off each time the item is used. (Requires 1 scrap.)

  • Build weapon/armour (requires 3 scrap)
    • Success: goblin builds a d4 weapon or a shield. It falls apart at the end of the next fight and becomes scrap again.
    • T: item functions normally.
    • D: as T, but with spikes on. Item is +1. Spikes fall off on 1-in-6.
Headstab: Similar to a thief's backstab ability. By dropping onto an opponent from above and hanging on, a goblin can make a number of attacks equal to its DEX bonus. Opponent may make a STR vs STR roll to dislodge the goblin on their round, otherwise another headstab attack can be made.

Eat anything: A goblin can live on almost anything that isn't fighting it right now. Allows forage rolls in dungeons and cities. If other party members attempt to eat what it finds, make a save vs poison. On success they gain the benefits of a ration. On failure they take -2 for the next turn as they vomit uncontrollably.

Snivel: By slumping and letting their noses drip pathetically, a goblin can appear to be harmless. Opponents will prefer other targets unless the goblin attacks them.

Mock: A goblin's taunting crosses the language barrier. It can say something or make a gesture to offend any intelligent opponent. GM determines how NPCs react.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

The OSR is...

Ask ten people what the OSR is and you're likely to get 10 + 1d6 opinions for your trouble. So why ask? You can get those opinions and many more by rolling on the table below!

The OSR is made up of...
1. Old-school grognards
2. Wild-eyed rules hackers
3. Posing art-wonks
4. Fun-hating pedants
5. Mouldering grey-beards
6. Chattering children

1. Gary Gygax's Chainmail rules
2. un-houseruled OD&D
3. a heartbreaker ruleset from a particular weekend in 1970, preserved like a fly in amber
4. something new-school with an art style somewhere between psychedelic and heiroglyphic
5. an original ruleset that everyone agrees 'just feels' OSR (by which they mean their characters get killed a lot)
6. a Frankenstein's monster of rules that don't fit with each other, pulled from half a dozen of their favourite OSR titles

1. Jeff Rients, passed out in a beanbag surrounded by copies of his carousing rules, occasionally mumbling "level fiddy, mudderfuckers"
2. SWORD DREAM tinkerers who want to replace all their stats with usage dice
3. six pear-shaped guys with real metal swords they forged from beer cans HEY WATCH WHERE YOU'RE SWINGING THAT
4. a couple who brought their teenagers because they can't be trusted at home alone
5. Dave Arneson's actual corpse
6. eight college students who still think this is 5E

and are 'led' by...
1. an elite group who've played in con games GMed by Gary G and have photographic evidence
2. a cabal of self-publishers who cracked the code for selling platinum on DrivethruRPG
3. a demented group who argue that Cops 'n' Robbers is the original RPG, but only if you didn't let girls play
4. scruffy basement-dwelling contrarians who just want to be in opposition to everyone
5. purists who don't play any game available in PDF or POD
6. nostalga-junkies who remember the 70s as a better time

but actually led by...
1. Rosicrucians
2. Freemasons
3. the Kickstarter board of directors
4. a rogue CIA cell locked in proxy combat with a rogue KGB cell since 1990
5. a millennial cult sifting the errors from millions of furiously typed forum comments for prophecy
6. Arnold K from a hidden base in the caldera of an active volcano commanding an army of crowdfunded drones armed with scalpels

with the goal of...
1. destroying storygames forever.
2. inoculating the next generation against social media-triggered political madness.
3. making a quick buck the hardest way.
4. assembling a critical mass of brain matter conditioned to simulate fantasy worlds. The harvest begins next year.
5. winning a bet.
6. sorry, only the even secret-er cabal knows that.

Saturday, 5 September 2020

The Magic Items of Ha'Dwair

I'm pretty sure everyone who plays a fantasy RPG (and especially D&D-ish RPGs) comes to the realisation that to a medieval peasant a laser gun is a magic wand, a robot is a man in armour and a spaceship is a godly chariot. Of course, that would also apply to modern objects, not just futuristic ones.

The wizard of Ha'Dwair sells his wares from a hut of sparkling glass, filled with moving images and brightly-painted runes of obscure meaning. They're reliable, if heavy, and he makes sure to show customers how to use them safely and check for remaining charges and mana. He often seems confused about what adventurers are actually doing with them, but it's worth ignoring his eccentricities to deal with a wizard who is helpful, reliable and doesn't smell like weasels live in his clothes.


When a wand runs out of mana or charges, the wizard will re-empower it for a modest fee.

Maa-ki-tah's Wand of Iron Spikes

This wand produces iron spikes from nowhere. If held against a door frame, it can spike it open or shut instantly. It makes a noise like a dragon coughing, but quieter than a hammer. Triggers an encounter check.

If used in battle Maa-ki-tah's wand is only useful against opponents in plate, or carrying a shield, or encased in tough hide. It ignores AC and does 1d6 damage.

DeWalt's Disc-Axe *

At the end of this wand is a spinning disc with intricately-carved teeth along the edge. It's devastating in battle, but its main use is quickly making entrances and exits by cutting through wooden doors, walls, floors and ceilings. If used on metal, the disc is blunted until the user painstakingly files the teeth back to sharpness. Louder than an axe. Triggers an encounter check.

Rio Bi's Self-propelling Drill

Unlike an iron-worker's self-propelling drill, this wand doesn't need to be hand-cranked. The user simply places it against the surface to be holed and presses a stud, allowing for accuracy and speed. A perfect thief's tool, it can disable locks and create spy holes. The bit can be exchanged for one of a different size with nothing more than the twist of a key. It can be kept quiet if used gently, but makes stealth impossible.

Bosh's Excellent Portable Forge

The forge is made up a of a hand-pulled two-wheeled cart, a large metal flask and the hellfire wand. The cart is light but strong and can hold the weight of several people. The flask is cold to the touch but contains alchemist's fire. If dropped from a great height, it will rupture in an explosion like a dragon attack. The hellfire wand produces a hot, bright flame that melts through copper and tin in seconds and iron in minutes. The flame should not be looked at directly, hellfire is not kind to mortal eyes. A skilled smith can use it to repair damaged weapons and armour while delving.


The wizard of Ha'Dwair's armour isn't quite on the same level as his wands. In fact, a lot of it is near-useless. What good is armour that makes you more likely to be seen? Still, he often gives it away for nothing with a wand and it's not smart to refuse a wizard's gift.

The Rigid Helm

Someone wearing the Rigid Helm can withstand mighty blows to the top of their head. It offers much less protection against lateral attacks. Rub some mud on it, it's bright orange.

The Invisible Eye-Ward

Not actually invisible, but you can see through this light-but-tough protector like it was glass. Perfect for looking through keyholes that might contain poison needle traps.

Note: Not arrow-proof.

The Vest of Revealing

This vest offers no armour bonus at all, and it's a vivid yellow and orange so bright they seem to glow. Maybe you could slit it down the sides and drape it over the best-armoured member of the party to make them the focus of incoming attacks? There's no obvious benefit to it, but the wizard insists that everyone take one.

Gloves of Improved Grip

Thin gloves that protect like thick leather gloves, offering all the convenience of ‒ look, just take them. They're free. Take them.

Boots of Hardness

Ah, now these are something special! Boots that never slip on any solid surface and have iron caps stitched into the leather. Good for fighting kobolds, goblins and other scum that love to stab an honest fighting man in the foot.

* With thanks to William Hope Hodgson

Saturday, 29 August 2020

The Tooth Merchant

A wandering merchant who sells, buys, fits and polishes teeth of unusual provenance. This is an idea I originally proposed for a zine. It wasn't used, so now I can flesh it out for myself.

The merchant is an always-smiling man of indeterminate race.  He could be human, but his mouth is much too wide and contains far too many teeth. One of them plays music. 

He's most likely to be found at fae bazaars and goblin markets, but occasionally makes his way to regular markets that aren't policed too zealously. Not that he's dishonest, oh no. He just doesn't like getting too much... official attention. He will attempt to charmingly deflect questions about his background and where these teeth come from.

AC 9 [10], HD 6 (21hp), Att 2 × staff (1d4) or teeth (see specials), THAC0 17, MV 60’ (20’), SV D10 W11 P12 B13 S14 (F6), ML 9, AL Neutral, XP 1400, NA 1 (1), TT T

The tooth merchant always has smiling teeth, lying teeth, eloquent teeth, snake teeth and shark teeth fitted in his own mouth.

The table below is the catalogue of teeth he generally carries on him. (Special orders by arrangement.) If purchased, they can be painlessly and efficiently fitted in the back of the tent and there's only a 2-in-6 chance that you buy one thing and he fits another (roll 1d20 to see what).

1. Smiling teeth
How can you have a bad day when you're smiling all the time? Gives the wearer an extra save vs mood-altering effects, including fear but not Charm spells.

2. Snarling teeth
These teeth utter convincing threats. +1 CHA to attempts at intimidating.

3. Lying teeth
+1 CHA while telling a lie. However, if anyone asks a question you weren't prepared for, save vs devices to tell the truth. On failure, you're compelled to lie.

4. Honest teeth
You eat lies. If you know someone is lying, make a chewing motion and roll CHA vs CHA. On a win the lie is no longer convincing and you gain the benefit of a ration.

5. Eloquent teeth
+1 CHA when speaking about a learned subject such as art, history, religion, politics, etc.

6. Whistling teeth
You can whistle as musically as playing an instrument, or loud enough to be heard miles away.

7. Lucky teeth
Each time you eat, roll 1d20. On 1 - 14 it's a normal meal. On 15 - 17 it contains a low-denomination coin. On 18 - 19, a high-denomination coin. On 20 a gem.

8. Rat teeth
You can gnaw through cloth, leather, rope and (given time) wood.

9. Snake teeth
Level times per day, on a successful attack you can choose to bite instead of using a weapon. Biting does 1d4 damage and inflicts the poisoned condition. Save vs death to resist.

10. Wolf teeth
On a successful attack, you can choose to bite instead of using a weapon. Biting automatically does 1d6 damage per round until the target makes a successful STR vs STR roll to break free or until you release them. During that time, neither of you can take other actions.

11. Shark teeth
On a successful attack, you can choose to bite instead of using a weapon, doing 1d6 damage. A shark-bitten opponent can no longer use their main weapon and gains the bleeding condition until bandaged.

12. Sabre-teeth
Make you look like a total bad-ass. Once per combat you can roar. Anyone on the battlefield who didn't know you can do that is surprised and drops to the bottom of the initiative order until the fight is over.

13. Goat teeth
Eat a fist-sized amount of anything organic to gain the benefit of a ration. Horrify your teammates.

14. Warthog tusks
Gain a 1d8 gore attack that can be used against opponents in an adjacent square. And a speech impediment.

15. Troll teeth
Regenerate any (non-fire) damage to your teeth or mouth overnight. Curses you with swamp breath.

16. Giant teeth
More like a full set of teeth carved from one giant tooth. Gives you the ability to bellow like a giant. Be heard, anywhere.

17. Vampire teeth
Who needs rations when you have enemies? Bite a restrained or helpless victim on the neck. If you can stay latched on for 1d4 rounds, do 1d4 hp damage and gain the benefit of a ration. Works on anything that has human-digestible blood.

18. Werewolf teeth
As per wolf teeth. Werewolf teeth look like normal human teeth until your bloodlust is aroused, or under the light of a full moon. While your teeth are active, you gain no benefit from eating normal rations. The only rations that work for you are the flesh of an intelligent creature.

19. Salamander teeth
Gain the benefit of a ration by eating the campfire flames. Eating the fire puts it out and the remaining fuel cannot be re-lit. Larger fires will give you indigestion from over-eating, but won't go out.

20. Dragon teeth
Taste the air to see if there are uncovered riches nearby. Lick treasure to see if it's genuine. The downside is that all food tastes like ashes and dirt unless served up on a plate of precious metal.

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Campaign idea: Hobo Wizards

Hobos as mystical defenders of the nation. An idea I've had swimming around in my brain since reading Tim Powers' Earthquake Weather and Charlie Elmer Fox's autobiography in the same week.  

Reefer Charlie clearly had his rose-coloured glasses on while dictating the memoir: in his mind hobos were knights of the road, upright and chaste. They always gave a day's work for a day's pay and supported each other in tough times. Sister of the Road (Boxcar Bertha's autobio) is much grimier with its free love, prostitution and Bertha's regrets about being too drunk to join an anarchist bombing campaign. What I take from Powers is the idea that America has a secret king and the health of the land is directly tied to the king's health. All three of these books are good reads and I recommend them.

For the campaign, the Dust Bowl was the Apocalypse and all of Earth has been dragged into Hell. With the exception of the US, which is defended by the hobomages' Great Work. Now they form a court of councillors and bodyguards that travel with the King of America as he treads the boundaries of his nation (by riding the rails) and keeps the magic wards strong.

The king doesn't know he's king. The mages got him good and drunk for the coronation, he doesn't remember a thing. He just knows that his luck tends to go bad if he stays anywhere too long, and there's always a well-paying seasonal job available in a city just a little further down the coast. The Great Work prevents him or any mundane citizen from realising what's happened outside the country's borders.

The hobomages are wise and powerful, but for the most part they work for food and lodging like any other hobo. They need to stay hidden. The devil can enter the US if he limits himself to human form and power, and he's always sniffing for the source of the protective magic. If he gets a hint of a mage's identity he sends for his Yeggs, human agents picked from among the most degraded hobos. They don't care who they're working for and violence is their trademark. 
If a hobomage wants to work magic, it has to be subtle, using sympathetic effects like the laws of similarity and contagion. The idea being that yeah: the players can reveal themselves as the titans of magic they truly are, but then they have to fight off an army. If the king gets killed the country could literally go to Hell before a replacement can be crowned. Hobomages themselves can't be permanently killed because they've hidden their lives away with the greater part of their magic, but when they revive, they revive wherever that is and not where they need to be.

I'm not sure what I'd use to run this. Probably a system that has some kind of stress mechanism for tracking the heat players bring down on themselves through ill-advised magic use.

Edit: It seems there's an existing RPG called Hobomancer, using the QAGS system. And it won an Ennies Silver, so I should have been aware of it sooner. I've read the quickstart and it's clear the writers and I are dipping into the same well. We both have the idea of riding the rails as a mystical symbolic journey. We even found the same (admittedly famous) public domain photo of hobos walking the rails. I don't think I'd run my game in Hobomancer, because it appears to be higher-powered than what I'm thinking of. Less serious, too. One of the classes is the 'stinkomancer' which cultivates body odour as a weapon. 😃

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Killer robots

Have you ever woken from a sound sleep with the best idea ever and forgotten what it was before morning? Today I had the opposite experience: an idea so terrible that my subconscious refused to take responsibility for it and kicked me awake. By morning it was still there, burning like an ember in my thoughts - goblin phone sex operators.

 I have no plans to develop this idea, and no idea how to develop it if I wanted to.

Anyhoo, robots. The first few OD&D games played must have been real kitchen sink settings. I was interested to read that Gary G's Greyhawk had dinosaurs and androids as monsters the players could encounter. It’s a shame there aren't more robots in fantasy game supplements today. Here's some I've statted up, hoping to capture what would have been the 1970s aesthetic:

A towering armoured beast with a single glowing eye, flailing claw-arms and a grating electronic voice shouting "DESTROY! DESTROY!" Usually set to guard an area or significant artefact. Won't leave the room its guard point is in unless it malfunctions (2 in 6 if damaged).

AC 6 [13], HD 5 (22hp), Att 2 x slam (1d6) or 1 x sonic (1d8, see specials), THAC0 17, MV 90' (30'), SV D10 W11 P12 B3 S14 (F5), ML 12, AL Neutral, XP 550, NA 1d3, TT D

Sonic - The robot can make a straight-line attack affecting all opponents in targeted squares. Ignores armour, 3-round recharge.
Boom - a destroyed roberzerker explodes on 2 in 6, doing 1d8 damage to opponents in adjacent squares.
Mechanical -
immune to all mind-affecting spells and conditions.

A dog-sized machine that lurks in the dark in high corners. Has 8 dim red lights as eyes. Will attempt to surprise or swarm opponents.

AC 8 [11], HD 2 (5hp), Att 1 x shock bite (1d6), THAC0 19, MV 120' (40'), SV D13 W14 P13 B16 S15 (T2), ML 12, AL Neutral, XP 35, NA 2d4, TT C

Climb - a spider can crawl along walls or ceilings at its normal movement rate.
Backstab - as per Thief.
Mechanical - immune to all mind-affecting spells and conditions.

A man-sized construction which collects all kinds of metal for depositing in the hopper on its back, where it's crushed into ingots for storage. Not inherently hostile, but it wants the party's weapons and armour and will attempt to yank them off.

AC 8 [11], HD 3 (8hp), Att 1 x steal (see specials), THAC0 19, MV 120; (40'), SV D13 W14 P13 B16 S15 (T3), ML 9, AL Neutral, XP 65, NA 1d4, TT B

Steal - on a successful attack, the scrapper will cut one item of the target's armour free, reducing AC by 2 points.
Mechanical - immune to all mind-affecting spells and conditions.

A security robot in the form of a lion-sized dog. Usually found walking patrols in an ancient facility, they attack without warning and fight to kill. 

AC 6 [13], HD 5 (22hp), Att 1 × bite (2d6), THAC0 17, MV 150’ (50’), SV D10 W11 P12 B13 S14 (F5), ML 12, AL Neutral, XP 425, NA 1d2 (2d4), TT D

Backup -
A hound signals for reinforcements when entering combat with the characters. 2d4 more hounds arrive in 1d6 turns.
Mechanical - immune to all mind-affecting spells and conditions.

A huge robot on thick legs or tracks, designed for moving loads around. It may be hostile, or simply oblivious to the tiny characters.

AC 3 [16], HD 15 (67hp), Att 1 × crush  (4d8), THAC0 10, MV 80’ (26’), SV D8 W9 P10 B10 S12 (F8), ML 12, AL Neutral, XP 3,250, NA 1 (1d3), TT G

Horn -
operates every second turn, characters are deaf and unable to communicate via speech while it sounds.

Mechanical - immune to all mind-affecting spells and conditions.

The one helpful robot on this list. Docbots are willing and able to perform medical treatment on human and demihuman characters. 3 in 6 chance it's run out of anaesthetic and attempts to inject a patient with a dried-up syringe before performing surgery. Doesn't speak the patient's language.

AC 3 [16], HD 1 (4hp), Att -, THAC0 -, MV 120’ (40’), SV D13 W14 P13 B16 S15 (T1), ML 12, AL Neutral, XP -, NA 1, TT B

Heal -
can use one full turn to heal a character by 1d6+1 hp. Can only treat the same character once every six hours.
Space age medicine - can treat conditions that would ordinarily require magical healing.
Mechanical - immune to all mind-affecting spells and conditions.

Note on treasure tables - robots don't carry cash, items or spells. In each case the treasure table given represents the value of the advanced metal scraps you can pick from a robot's wreckage. For each line on the table that indicates a non-money reward, roll again on the highest value money reward line.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Horrible House playtest

I've written a procedural OSR-style adventure in the vein of Emmy Allen's Stygian Library. Having just come off a Shadowrun campaign, my Tuesday night gaming group are letting me run a playtest game. We're playing via Roll20 at the moment, our rooms at the local university having been shut down as a coronavirus measure.

The idea is that the characters enter a generally normal-seeming Victorian mansion with a chained angel at its heart and things get stranger and more threatening as they move further inside. I copied Emmy's depth mechanic almost unchanged.

This is all being done using Ben Milton's Knave as the system, with a few houserules. The characters are starting the adventure at level 3 because I'm not sure the players are ready to embrace the cheapness of life in OSR games just yet.

The characters are:

Maximus (Max) Johnson, played by James K. A student, mostly of ways to make other people's property into his property. Has been exiled in the past.

Adelaide, played by Tim. A gambler, who has been disowned.

Iris MacLeod, played by Theo. A herbalist who is suspected of crimes.

Castor, played by Mila. A poverty-stricken magician who carries around a hen named Eggrietta.

Karros Shepherd, played by James C. A tracker who has been replaced in his job.

The party started on the front porch. They needed to enter the house to find out what happened to the delegation of clergy they were supposed to accompany as a cover. They also had instructions to retrieve the magic tome Ivan Vantig (the owner) used to snare an angel.

There was no-one visible from the porch, just a swing seat creaking in the morning breeze. Adelaide and Iris approached, and the seat cast Charm. Adelaide successfully resisted but Iris sat down and the swing seat launched her into the air, inflicting 1d6 damage. She picked herself up and the party entered.

At depth 1 they found themselves not in a foyer or entrance hall, but in a portrait gallery. Max tried taking one of the several brass candelabra lighting the paintings, but it squirmed out of his grip. It backed away from the party, but stayed close, helpfully attempting to illuminate whatever they looked at. They were distracted from examining the paintings by their shadows, who were doing their own thing rather than mimicking the characters' actions. The shadows were miming their normal morning routines, so the characters wrote it off as odd but harmless. They proceeded into the next room.

Depth 2 found them in the house's private theatre, which the Vantig children had clearly been using as a playroom. There was a small pile of toys on the stage. Looking through them, Iris and Adelaide found a pair of earrings and a necklace. They might be costume jewellery, but they have the weight of the real thing, so they split the pieces between them and wore them to save inventory space. They also found a sheet of paper which had symbols scribbled on either side. The characters recognised one as a name in angelic script: Nelphael. The other is the demonic glyph AGA, meaning confinement.

(I made a mistake here. I made the players roll to recognise the symbols when I should have just given Castor the magician's player the information.)

There were a couple of (non-creepy) dolls in the pile, one with a button eye hanging loose from a thread. Castor repaired it as a gesture of good will in case the dolls came to life and tried to stab them in their sleep later. That took long enough for a random encounter roll and they found themselves attacked by three Wig Beasts. Springing from among the costume equipment, I gave the beasts surprise. It took two full rounds to put them down, during which Iris took more damage. (I took the Wig Beast damage die down to 1d4 when I realised these creatures which I intended to be just an annoyance were a genuine threat.)

Iris and Adelaide (who were co-incidentally the front line for the battle) both lost big tufts of hair to the beasts' attempts to sink tap roots into their scalps. Iris was hurt badly enough to take 10 minutes to prepare a dose of her healing herbs. There was no encounter during that turn. The candelabrum, which had followed them from a previous room, accidentally set the stage curtains on fire. They managed to pull it down and stamp it out before it spread.

It was a game with a lot of prep, so that was as far as we got. Tonight's session continues from there.