Saturday, August 8, 2020

My Old School Essentials Advanced House Rules

Peter Mullen

Now even more Advanced!

The 1970s Advanced edition of the world’s most popular fantasy RPG has been translated into Old School Essentials with the Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules. These get across the myriad of exciting classes and races, its weird and wonderful monsters and treasures, and the delicious, esoteric Gygaxian flavor with the elegance and power level of B/X.

While they do a great job at things, these additional house rules hopefully bring yet more of those options — and that flavor — into my OSE Advanced Fantasy games.

Assassination Skill Errata

Gavin clarified this recently on a Dragonfoot thread. Assassination is intended to work on the same types of targets which affect "persons" (i.e., all humans and demihumans regardless of level, as well as all humanoid monsters up to 4+1 HD).

Chaotic Clerics & the Undead

In the 1st edition Advanced game, Evil Clerics could compel the undead to serve them upon a successful Turning. A simplified take on that is provided here for Chaotic Clerics.

Chaotic clerics may attempt to control undead creatures, binding them to their will. To command undead, the player rolls 2d6. The referee then consults the Turning the Undead table, comparing the roll against the Hit Dice of the undead monsters targeted.

If the turning attempt succeeds, the player must roll 2d6 to determine the number of HD affected.
  • Turned Undead: Will be controlled for 1 turn per cleric level.
  • Destroyed Undead (result of "D"): If the undead would have been destroyed, the undead are controlled for 1 day per level of the cleric.
Controlled undead behave as if charmed, obeying the cleric as if they were friends. However, if the controlled undead are turned or destroyed by a cleric during the duration of the control, the control is dispelled immediately. If the duration of the control ends without incident, the undead will flee (as if turned).

The normal limitations and rules for Turning Undead from Classic Fantasy and Advanced Fantasy still apply to Chaotic Clerics.

E.g., Gog is a 2nd level Cleric of Chaos trying to bring some skeletons to heel. He automatically turns 2d6 HD of them with a result of "T". The skeletons await his commands, which they will obey for 2 turns.

Frank Frazetta


In the 1st edition Advanced game, fighters enjoyed a number of ways to increase their number of attacks against foes from mowing through weak enemies to improving their attack routine as the level up. Missile weapons also enjoyed increased rates of fire with mastery. The Cleaving rules simulate these feats of glorious mayhem in a simpler (and in my opinion, more elegant) manner.

Whenever a martial class kills or incapacitates an opponent with a melee or missile attack, they immediately make another attack throw against another opponent within 5' of the target they have just dropped. The additional attack throw must be with the same weapon as the attack that killed the previous opponent.

If engaged in melee, the attacker may move 5' between each attack, subject to their maximum combat movement per round. Attackers may not perform actions other than attacking when cleaving. Martial classes may make a maximum number of cleave attacks per round equal to their level.

Optionally, monsters may make a maximum number of cleave attacks per round equal to their Hit Dice.

Jeffery Catherine Jones


Dying: When any character is brought to 0 hit points (or as low as -3 is the same blow), they are unconscious. In each of the subsequent rounds, 1 additional hit point will be lost. Such loss and death are caused by bleeding, shock, convulsions, non-respiration, and similar causes. Characters die at -10 hit points.

E.g., Algora only has 2 HP left. She is struck by an arrow for 2 damage and is reduced to 0 HP. She collapses and is bleeding from the wound, but she can still be saved. If she had taken more damage, the dart would have proved lethal.

Note that character brought below this initial "unconscious threshold" (0 to -3 depending on referee ruling) by a single blow die. Such injuries and blows are too severe to survive.

Aid: This stops immediately on any round where aid is administered to the unconscious character. Aid consists of binding wounds, starting respiration, administering a draught (spirits, healing potion, etc.), or whatever is otherwise necessary to restore life.

Recovery: Any character brought to 0 or below and revived will remain in a coma for 1-6 turns. Afterward, a full week of rest is needed. They will are incapable of any activity short of slowly moving to a place of rest and resting and eating once there. This is true even if cure spells and healing potions are used, though a heal spell can negate this.

Note that his means they cannot do any strenuous activity, mental or physical. Gary takes this as not being able to attack, defend, cast spells, use magic devices, carry burdens, run, study, research, or do anything else really. You should be dead.

Lingering Scars: If any creature reaches -6 or below and survives, this could indicate scarring or the loss of some member. 

E.g., Luthor was struck by a fireball and treated at -9. He might have horrible scar tissue on exposed areas of flesh — his hands, arms, neck, and face.

Bernie Wrightson

First Strike

In the 1st edition Advanced game, there were rules on weapon length and how they interacted with segment initiative. Rather than trying to adapt that whole... thing to Basic, I stick to a very simple method to make those long weapons worth it. This could be generalized as longer weapons always getting the first strike against a foe wielding a shorter weapon, in the round that foe moves to attack them.

When two weapon-wielding melee combatants first clash, the one with the longer reach weapon strikes first, regardless of initiative results. This rule applies strictly to the initial clash of melee weapon wielders. First Strike does not apply to missiles, spells, devices, and the like; neither does it pertain to the natural attacks of monsters (e.g., claws, horns, teeth).

Using this system weapon lengths should be obvious, so I would use a generous amount of common sense rather than formulating a table of lengths.

E.g., A brigand with a sword is moving in on an adventurer armed with a great sword. Even though the adventurer has lost the initiative this round he may strike first due to his weapon's superior reach.

Characters may only Brace if they are armed appropriately and not already engaged in melee. I follow Gavin's guidance on this and allow such characters to Brace automatically.

E.g., If that same brigand had elected to Charge Into Melee (OSE Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules, p. 49) and the adventurer had been wielding a weapon with the Brace quality like a halberd, he could automatically brace his weapon, attack first, and deal double damage on a successful hit.

Starting Languages (Optional)

Rather than generate or chose additional languages at the start, characters may generate their additional languages in play.

Most characters are assumed to begin to play being fully fluent in their native tongue and are literate as well if they have the necessary INT. For example, Elves and Dwarves could know the local human tongue in addition to the tongue of their particular clan or people (halflings use the local human language).

When a character comes into contact with another language, their chances of knowing the language is 1-in-6, with the character's INT modifier applying. There is a -1 penalty if the language is not local to the culture. The penalty is -2 if the language is considered to be exotic, and a -3 if it is an ancient, dead language.

A character gets one attempt to know any particular language. If that one attempt fails, the character simply does not know the language. Magical languages cannot be known using this method.

Jeffery Catherine Jones

Thief Skills

In the 1st edition Advanced game, thieves and assassins received bonuses to their chances to succeed on their various skill rolls. Rather than add a table of conditional bonuses, I follow this advice on handling thieves and their abilities to make them more consistent and capable. 

Saturday, June 6, 2020

HammerHack: An Example Skirmish

Art from Empire in Flames
I want to show how to scale conflict in HammerHack. It's my OD&D inspired WFB alternative to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I think an example of combat is warranted! We'll have a scenario where, on the edge of a fetid marsh, a river patrol made up of some militia follow a daring Riverwarden as they hunt for some trolls (poor fools).

The characters at play here are:

Lukas Handmann, Rank II Riverwarden
Trappings: Boarding axe (hand weapon), pistol, chain shirt and leathers ( heavy armour 5+)

10x Milita
Trappings: Armed with axes. hooks, and swords (hand weapons), light armour (6+) 

3x River Trolls
Trappings: Bones, clubs, or a bit of tree (hand weapons)
Special Rules: Fear, Regeneration, Stupidity, Stench & Slime, Troll Vomit, River and Marsh Strider 

The scene is as follows: In the knee-deep waters of the shoreline, three river trolls have finally emerged to take the bait. With a cry and shout, Lukas orders his men to attack. They are 80' from the three trolls, with the final 3' being marshy water. The footing is unstable, the mud clings to boots, and the vapours of this swamp hang in the chill air. 

Both sides roll for initiative. The river patrol gets an 11, the trolls get a 12 so they go first.

Turn 1 Trolls

The trolls have Stupidity, so they have to make a Leadership test to not be distracted or confused. With a roll of 10, they fail! They roll a d6 for their movement, and stumble 60' forward, drooling acidic bile. They can't take any further action this turn so they skip the other combat phases. 

Turn 1 River Patrol


The river patrol takes their turn. As the trolls amble about, Lukas and his militia declare a charge on the trolls who are now only 30' away. They can't fail the charge with their Movement of 4 and the trolls are no longer in the dangerous terrain of the marshes. Three of the militia charge each troll with Lukas and another patrolman going after the frontmost troll.

Close Combat

Everyone fights in the close combat phase! But first, the patrol has to pass a Leadership test or fight at Weapon Skill 1 due to the Fear. Since Lukas is their leader and within 60', they use his Leadership and pass with a 9!

The trolls have Initiative 1 so the patrol strikes first. They roll their dice to hit! 

The first troll has 4 attacks from the militia and 2 attacks from Lukas (his pistol gives him an extra attack in close combat). These attacks are at a -1 because of the troll's Stench and Slime.

Hitting on a 4+ (usually 3+), the militia gets 4 hits! Lukas gets two hits as well! Rolling to wound, the militia wound on a 5+. They're only Strength 3 against the troll's Toughness 4.

They get a wound! The troll rolls a 4 on its Regeneration (4+). As the patrolman hacks away with his axe but the foul flesh just knits back together. Lukas is a bit tougher with Strength 4, so he wounds on a 4+. He gets a wound as he blasts the troll and the troll fails its Regeneration. 

The second troll took 3 hits, 2 wounds, and failed one Regeneration roll. It's now at 2/3 Wounds. The second troll took 1 hit but it failed to wound with its thick hide.

On Initiative 1, the trolls attack! Each troll has 3 attacks hitting on a 4+. The troll is furious at the hole that's been blasted into it, so it will exchange its attacks to vomit a semi-liquid stream of bile at Lukas! This hits automatically at Strength 5 and ignores armour! It wounds on a 2+! With a 2, the foul stream spews all over Lukas and he takes a wound! As his armour dissolves and he falls steaming into the muck, the second troll kills a patrolman while the third kills 3 more. 

The trolls get a stomp attack at the end of the round that hits automatically, which kills 2 more of the patrolmen. Down their leader and 6 patrolmen, the patrol tests their Leadership and hold fast with a roll of 7! 

Turn 2 Trolls

We skip right to Close Combat. 

Close Combat

The three trolls each vomit, killing 2. The stomps kill the last 2 patrolmen. Yet another foolhardy group lost to the beasts of this marsh. 


Well, that was quite messy! Lukas should have invested in some crossbows or fire. If that seems quite harsh, it's working as intended. Rolling all the d6s at once really speeds things up. The combat feels decisive. You should know by the end of the first or second turn how a skirmish is probably going to end up. If Lukas hadn't been acid blasted, he could have tried to rally a retreat or try and focus his men on one of the beasts rather than keeping them all at bay.

But not everything is so hopeless. If someone came to retrieve Lukas' body, let's say his boatman partner, he can roll under his Rank on a d6 to turn up injured rather than dead. The trolls picked over his comrades while he floated away. He'd have acid scars and a characteristic penalty but he'd be alive. 

If we had been using the optional Injury Table, Lukas would have rolled and lost his left arm. He'd go down for a few turns but would be alive enough to try and escape on his own afterward as the trolls were distracted with their feast. Its a grim and gritty alternative to just biting it.

Overall that felt like a relatively smooth way to handle ~14 combatants with different stats and equipment, with three of them being large monsters with several unique traits and abilities.

Check out the latest version of HammerHack here!

Monday, June 1, 2020

HammerHack: A Typical Party in The City of the Damned

Art by John Blanche
I'm hacking Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Mordheim into an OSR style game. Since the scope is kind of massive, I'm narrowing it down to Into the Odd style expeditions into Mordheim. Characters advance in Rank by returning from these expeditions where they may encounter terrible mutants, rival mercenaries, and other terrors. 

The latest version is here.

The WFB roots mean that characters are going to be relatively simple, at least in terms of mechanics or rules. How do you introduce variety when most weapons are classified as a 'hand weapon' or only have 1 Wound before they drop? 

Well, this post is inspired by Arnold K's old post on how Making Monsters Feel Varied comes more from their lore, tactics, and goals rather than from stats or special abilities. I am a firm believer in limitation breeding creativity after all! 

A typical human character in HammerHack has a basic profile:

Skills: None Trappings: Hand Weapon, Light Armour

So what does advancement look like? Here's an Expert party of sample characters that have survived at least 3 expeditions into the City.

Warband by Samuel Allan
Roland's Roughnecks, Expert Rank Warband
Roland Wilhelm runs a tight operation. A longtime fighting-man from Reikland, this former road warden is accustomed to the demands of military discipline and won't have his lot behaving like some of the rabble he's seen from Middenheim camped around the City. He has a couple of mercenaries he trusts more than the normal sellswords on his payroll. They have some Gold Crowns saved up and have a wagon to call their own.

Road Warden by Samuel Allan
Roland Wilhelm
Skills: Battle Tongue, Perception
Trappings: Crossbow, Sword (Hand Weapon), Light Armour, Horse, Torches

Despite being the leader of his band, Roland often scouts well ahead of his wagon. The twisting streets and crumbling ruins are full of spots ripe for ambush and a careless turn could spell death. Horses aren't often for sale around the City, so he takes full advantage of having two of them and a wagon in his crew, both in running down the dangers in the City and quickly avoiding them. Roland can easily come across as over-cautious but those who have fought with him will vouch for his ability as a leader.

Hunter by Samuel Allen
Otwin Krauser
Skills: Pray, Lore (Sigmar)
Trappings: Sword (Hand weapon), Dagger (Hand weapon), Memories of what he's lost
Injuries: Lost Leg (Can't run), Bitter Enmity (Has Hatred towards Cultists)

Otwin's zealotry and fervor can often cloud his judgment, but Roland trusts Otwin to take care of himself. He's proven that much. After an ambush by some cultists where Otwin lost his left leg, he has been even more vicious in their confrontations with them since, taking trophies from the fallen foe. Some of the sellswords worry that Otwin might enjoy his time in the city a little too much. Some see little difference between him and the damned souls he so fiercely hates.

Hunter 2 by Samuel Allan
Skills: Battle Tongue
Trappings: Shashka (Hand weapon), Handgun, Ivan (Tamed Boar)

Ivan the Boar

A boisterous and rather cheerful man from Kislev, Mikail is the odd one out among these Reiklanders. His 'pet' boar Ivan has become something of a mascot for the sellsword band, gladly munching on their leftovers and goring his fair share of foes in the ruins.

These three have proven to be a good team so far but circumstances can change very quickly when venturing into the city. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

HammerHack: OD&D/Chainmail inspired Warhammer Fantasy Battles

David Gallagher
It's been some time since I've posted but I haven't been idle! So yes, what is HammerHack? This is an attempt for me to hack together a system to scratch a particular itch that I have. To explain, I’m quite a big OD&D fan. I love the history and the almost Promethean nature of the original game. I love how the system almost disappears in play. One of the more interesting aspects of it is Chainmail and the modern push (it’s my understanding that it was never played this way originally) to incorporate and use it in-game. The push that follows a completely different mindset and would let tables smoothly transition from tense duels, battling fantastic foes, and battles with hundreds of participants all using unified systems. 

Psionic Blast From The Past was a huge inspiration in this regard. Their posts on Chainmail and how it can simplify and diversify 0e conflicts are amazing stuff. Go check them out! 

One of my favorites, but doesn't hit my goals here.
I tried one such OD&D/Chainmail combo and very much enjoyed it. I immediately wanted to apply the concept to another game that has its roots in wargaming: Warhammer Fantasy Battles! WFRP is all well and good (and 1e will always have a place in my heart and shelf), but aspects of the game always left me wanting. The magic system was always a tad wonky, the combat could be whiffed for days, and the rules are a bit dense for my liking. Even the new game, with excellent art, atmosphere, and rules is a bit much for me. It’s good for a “piss and shit” type game where you’re ok with the system hating the players, but I wanted to capture some of the outrageous and truly exaggerated scale of Warhammer Fantasy Battles. 

Art by John Blanche
So, much like OD&D emerging from Chainmail’s concepts and mechanics, I’m taking WFB and making it my mechanical base. From there I’m adding some bits on characters, progression, adjudicating rolls, and a small variety of the more “lite” OSR rules/mechanics that I think can go big (for example, Into the Odd has rules on enterprises which are just a paragraph but can cover anything from cults to business to guilds and more).

Fortunately, Mordheim exists, as does WFB 1e. Mordheim in particular is a scaled-down and more individual-focused take on WFB’s mechanics. I think that it’s a good final piece for my “RPG based on Warhammer using only d6 scaling combat” puzzle.

The setting of Mordheim also makes for an interesting testbed and proof-of-concept with groups of adventurers exploring a hostile environment, gaining treasure, recruiting followers, and contending in conflicts of escalating scale and stakes

The non-focused version of this will be HammerHack, but for now, it’ll be called The City of the Damned. Check out my thought stew below. 

Click the art for the link to the rules!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Far Over Wood & Mountain Tall: Middle-earth in Whitehack Part II

Jon Hodgson

So last time, we looked at how to use the existing tools in Whitehack to attempt an 'authentic' themed Middle-earth game. We covered changed stats, new classes, and how to reward quests that take companies far abroad. We'll continue our Whitehack adaptation of The One Ring and this time around we'll tackle the Shadow.

The Shadow

Whitehack already has some nifty rules for handling corruption. It basically involves a scale from 1-10 and above. There's an ever-increasing gamble with effects lasting longer and effects building based on when you choose to save. Wait too long to make your saving throw and your corruption might get too high to avoid permanent effects. We can use this nicely, we'll just have to look at how to systematize ways that a character in Middle-earth might be affected (this isn't chaos wizards turning into slime mutants after all).

(A little bit of commentary: you'll notice that compared to a "traditional" fantasy adventure game which sees the characters throwing themselves into any hellhole or haunted crypt they can find, the below rules will seem relatively harsh. The penalties of the Shadow can be long-lasting or even permanent. Dealing with a haunted crypt could be a harrowing experience. Finding an orc camp could change someone for life. This is intentional. Journeys are no small feat and any encounters during will be quite impactful. You'll probably have one or two a year and the experience will change you. These are dark times after all!).

So what is the Shadow? It's the weight of the presence of the forces of darkness in Middle-earth. It's the dread that weighs heavy on the hearts of most of the peoples of Middle-earth. Peoples to the South and East have fallen to it in multitudes. Sauron might be closer to victory than any dare dread!
But there is always hope and our intrepid need to be steadfast against this dread. So here are the triggers that can cause a character to gain Shadow Levels (SL):
  • Anguish - Experiencing distressing events. 
  • Blighted Places - Going through or being in an area tainted by the Shadow.
  • Misdeeds - Committing despicable and dishonorable deeds.
  • Tainted Treasures - Some items and treasure might be tainted or cursed.

Khamul by John Howe
Then suddenly he knew that he was imprisoned, caught hopelessly; he was in a barrow. A Barrow-wight had taken him, and he was probably already under the dreadful spells of the Barrow-wights about which whispered tales spoke.

- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring


The light is fading and characters will quickly realize just how fragile they and the world they know really are. Witnessing or directly experiencing a disturbing or distressing event causes a character to gain Shadow Levels. The table to should work together to determine how severe an event is using the following guidelines:
  • A natural but unexpected tragedy or grievous occurrence (serious or deadly accident, death in the family, natural disaster). Make a save vs Shadow or gain 1 SL. 
  • A gruesome killing, dreadful experience, Orc-work, display of the power of the Enemy (a friend turned traitor, finding mutilated corpses, seeing an army of the Enemy mustering). Automatically gain 1 SL. 
  • A harrowing experience, physical or spiritual torment, the sorcery of the enemy (slavery, torture, the Black Breath, seeing the Eye). Gain 2 SL. 
  • A direct experience with the power of the enemy (Being interrogated by the Eye, captured by the Nazgûl). Gain 3 SL. 

Jon Hodgson

As their eyes became used to the dimness they could see a little way to either side in a sort of darkened green glimmer. Occasionally a slender beam of sun that had the luck to slip in through some opening in the leaves far above, and still more luck in not being caught in the tangled boughs and matted twigs beneath, stabbed down thin and bright before them. But this was seldom, and it soon ceased altogether. There was no movement of air down under the forest-roof, and it was everlastingly still and dark and stuffy and our heroes felt that they were being slowly suffocated.    
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Blighted Places

The dark seems thicker in the lair of a foul creature and the gloom hands around sites of black treachery. Grief, pain, and suffering never leave the black pits inhabited by the servants of the Dark Lord or the plains where bloody battles were once fought. When characters enter or linger an area that has become blighted by darkness, they must make a save vs Shadow. If they fail they gain 1 SL. The Referee has the final say on whether a place is blighted or not and how frequent saves should be made while in said areas.
  • Free Lands, Border Lands - Frequency: save only during special circumstances.
  • Wild Lands - Frequency: save once every week. 
  • Shadow Lands - Frequency: save once daily.
  • Dark Lands - Frequency: save twice a day.
If you want to randomly determine if an area is blighted, roll for it. Roll 1d6 for Free/Borderlands, 2d6 for Wild Lands, and so on. If any die rolls a six, the area is blighted and requires saves as listed above. Areas that have long been home to minions of the Dark Lord or are currently infested by them, villages that have had a horrible murder or act of treachery, or places that are having their spirit poisoned by dark sorcery are great examples of Blighted Places. 

Boromir by John Howe
'Why not get rid of it? Why not be free of your doubt and fear? You can lay the blame on me, if you will. You can say that I was too strong and took it by force. For I am too strong for you, halfling,' he cried; and suddenly he sprang over the stone and leaped at Frodo. 

- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring 


Even the greatest and most virtuous of heroes can be tempted into dark actions. Misdeeds that would call their character into question. This can be the result of accident or misunderstanding, but also the temptation to do noble goals by dark means. Characters must stand fast against the dark impulses within. 

There are no saves vs Shadow when it comes to Misdeeds. When you knowingly embrace the Shadow, there is no temptation to resist. Even attempting something despicable is a misdeed, regardless of its success.

If a player is unaware of a Misdeed (ex. ambush and kill someone they believed to be guilty of a brutal murder, only for them to innocent), they should not immediately gain SL. Their behavior when the mistake comes to light should be used to determine whether they should gain the SL or not.

The Referee should warn a player if they are about to carry out a misdeed. Use the following guidelines to determine severity:
  • Accidental misdeed. See above. 
  • Violent threats. Gain 1 SL. 
  • Lying purposefully, subtly manipulating the will of others. Gain 2 SL. 
  • Cowardice, theft and plunder. Gain 3 SL. 
  • Unprovoked aggression, abusing own authority to influence or dominate. Gain 4 SL.
  • Torment and torture, murder. Gain 5 SL. 

The One Ring by John Howe

There for ages his huge bones could be seen in calm weather amid the ruined piles of the old town. But few dared to cross the cursed spot, and none dared to dive into the shivering water or recover the precious stones that fell from his rotting carcass.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit 

Tainted Treasures

While gold can't tarnish like silver or rust like iron, it can corrupt faster than both. The treasure found in the lair of some dead monster or buried in a tomb long-sealed may be tainted. Such treasures can drive men to distraction and fill hearts with greed.

When such treasure is found, characters must make a save vs Shadow or gain SL.
  • From a Troll hoard - 1 SL
  • From a Dragon hoard - 1 SL
  • From an ancient barrow - 2 SL
  • From a stronghold of the Enemy - 1 SL before save, 3 more SL if save fails

Effects of the Shadow

The traits from this type of corruption aren't your typical chaos mutations or anything. These are character flaws and traits. Inner faults that the Shadow exploits and twists to the surface. Use list below for inspiration. 

These traits go from minor and fleeting to more troublesome and major. A character should stick to one or two of this listings and progress along them as they (hopefully) deal with their corruption. 
  1. Spiteful, Brutal, Cruel, Murderous
  2. Grasping, Mistrustful, Deceitful, Thieving
  3. Resentful, Arrogant, Overonfident, Tyrannical
  4. Haughty, Scornful, Scheming, Treacherous
  5. Idle, Forgetful, Uncaring, Cowardly 
As you can see, a corrupted PC is no mutant or direct evil. Think of a PC being in a fey mood for a day or two. Perhaps during the least few weeks of a journey, a PC is disastrously overconfident. Maybe there is even an ultimate act of betrayal or treachery from someone as their Shadow overtakes them. 

Well, this was a little longer than expected. This should cover handling the Shadow from the One Ring in Whitehack. We'll have to do a third post covering journeys (and maybe an extra one on enemies and evil play). 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Far Over Wood & Mountain Tall: Middle-earth in Whitehack Part I

Descending the Misty Mountains by Jon Hodgson
Farewell we call to hearth and hall! Though wind may blow and rain may fall, We must away ere break of day Far over wood and mountain tall. 
To Rivendell, where Elves yet dwell In glades beneath the misty fell, Through moor and waste we ride in haste, And whither then we cannot tell.
With foes ahead, behind us dread, Beneath the sky shall be our bed, Until at last our toil be passed, Our journey done, our errand sped.

We must away! We must away! We ride before the break of day!
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
My my it has been a while. Finishing university and starting a new job can take the time away like nothing else. Gaming has been good though so back to projects and ideas I go!

Whitehack has a wonderfully large array of tools to work with when it comes to using it to tackle various settings and concepts. I'm currently several sessions into a Bronze Age Dark Souls hack that is working perfectly. I'm quite surprised that I've never thought to use it to tackle my favorite literary setting, Middle-earth. It's a chance to flex some system mastery and get around using the ideas and concepts I've picked up from the One Ring in a more OSR-flavored environment. So let's see how much we can do using the options and tools in Whitehack for this shall we?

Things to Tackle

I want to keep the elements I think are important to OSR style play (open world, exploration-centered rewards, emphasis on player skill, etc.) while having a lot of concepts I consider to be important to a Tolkienesque feel that can really capitalize on said elements (longer time spans, journeys, less emphasis on combat, magic that is magical).
  • Attributes
  • Classes & Groups
  • Rewards
  • The Shadow
  • Journeys & Travel


We can use the rules for custom attributes we can change the traditional six into stats a little more thematic and fitting. In our case we can roll with the One Ring trio: Body, Heart, and Wits.
  • Body governs just about anything concerning the physical or your vigor. Being hardy, athletic, tall, swift, imposing, or even using your physical attractiveness fall under Body. 
  • Heart governs the character's capacity for emotion or enthusiasm. Anything using temper, energy, fiery passion, or intense determination falls under Heart. 
  • Wits governs the character's quick thinking and ability to be clever. Being attentive, strong-willed, alert, and vigilant falls under Wits.
Having fewer attributes does mean task rolls will be easier. A higher attribute will be more likely the larger the party is. This is largely fine as the nature of trained and untrained skills will help even things out. A character who has high Heart trying to sing a moving song will have a hard time if they aren't "trained" (i.e. they don't have a relevant group by Heart). I'd recommend that the Referee be a little more strict on what Groups are relevant for what tasks and what tasks rolls require a "Trained Roll". 
Wilibald Proudneck is a Level 1 Brave Hobbit Farmer. He has "Hobbit" and "Farmer" next to Wits. If he was trying to treat the injuries of a friend, the Referee would call for a Trained Roll. "Hobbit", not "Farmer", allows Wilibald to not only dodge the Double Negative penalty but to make a Double Positive Roll. 
The standard Custom Attribute (see above link) rules apply here. No characters get bonuses for high attributes and no task or action requires a hard coded attribute roll. Attributes are rolled in order, then bonuses are rolled. Even characters with high stats can get large bonuses! Some suggested general bonuses could be:
  • Body: +1 damage, +1 initiative, +1 HP
  • Heart: +1 to saves vs fear, +1 to saves vs Shadow, +1 to saves vs death
  • Wits: +1 initiative, +1 language, +1 inactive ability
But nothing is set in stone and the above isn't comprehensive! As usual, take player suggestions on bonuses when rolling. It's a very informal process that can really bring out unique characters. 
Wilibad succeeded on a bonus roll against Wits with a crit! He suggests that he get a +2 bonus to initiative for being quick to act and the Referee agrees. He also succeeded on his other bonus roll against Heart. The Referee suggests that he get a +1 bonus to saves vs death to represent his determination to carry on.  
Hobbit Scholar by Jon Hodgson

Classes & Groups

'For this is what your folk would call magic. I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic? '
'I did,' said Sam, trembling a little between fear and curiosity. `I'll have a peep, Lady, if you're willing.'
J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring
Magic in Middle-earth seems to very be subtle and natural(not "low magic"). Overt supernatural abilities should few and far between. The Deft's ability to easily best difficult circumstances and attempt the nigh impossible seems to fit better than the Wise outright doing the impossible on the daily. For that reason, we'll be using three basic classes:
  • The Strong 
  • The Brave
  • The Deft
That' right! No Wise Wizards or Wise Black Númenóreans here (for now at least)! Also that goes well with the three main stats. We are going to look at Tolkien magic as an assortment of supernatural gifts and special permissions. I think this will help ease into a more subtle and more "natural" sense of magic when it comes up in play. A Deft Beorning attuned to the teachings of Beorn or a Deft Elf attuned to to their enchanted rope or fine cloak.

Concerning Species Groups, standard play would assume Humans, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits (perhaps a another post concerning Evil play might be needed?). Humans are the most common and get no Species group. Most Dwarves would put their Species next to Body and Heart. Elves would often go with Body and Wits. Hobbits would go with Heart and Wits most of the time. There are of course exceptions, but I think that is a solid base.

As always the Species Group governs the most common physical and cultural traits and doesn't mean that the species is a mono-culture. Remember that Dwarves and Hobbits should have a lower movement rate (MV). Affiliations can cover human tribes and social culture. Consider this conversion of the basic cultures in The One Ring, which goes over when the group would be relevant to gain a Double Positive Roll followed by what Trained Rolls it could qualify for:
  • Bardings: Relevant for task rolls that require great valour and a stout heart. Boating, old tales, smithing, swimming, trading, and wood working.
  • Beornings: Relevant for task rolls where you're injured or cornered by foes. Anduin lore, beast lore, cooking, fishing, mountaineering, and storytelling. 
  • Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain: Relevant for task rolls involving endurance or stubbornness. Fire-making, smithing, smoking, masonry, trading, and tunneling.
  • Elves of Mirkwood: Relevant for task rolls inside a forest, under the earth, or at night. Boating, Elven lore, fire making, Mirkwood lore, swimming, and wood working. 
  • Hobbits of the Shire: Relevant for task rolls involving a cheerful spirit or friendless between companions. Cooking, gardening, herbalism, smoking, storytelling, tunneling.
  • Woodman of the Wilderland: Relevant for task rolls during combat in the woods. Anduin lore, beast lore, fishing, herb lore, leech-craft, Mirkwood lore.
This could easily be extended to the other cultures such as the Dwarves from the Iron Mountains, Riders of Rohan, etc. 

Conversation with Smaug by Tolkien


Whitehack awards XP for treasure, killing foes, and completing quests. I feel like XP for Quests (maybe extend that to journeys?) is fitting, "killing foes" needs to be changed to "outsmarting, evading, or otherwise besting foes", and the XP for gold does have its place ("let's go rob Smaug"). In a Middle-earth game I think that most of the XP should come from thematically appropriate exploits. We'll develop this more when we talk about travel and journeys. 

The next post will cover said journeys as well as the dark and corrupting influence of the Shadow. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

Hegemon - The Phoenix Empire of Berytos

J. M. W. Turner, Dido building Carthage, or The Rise of the Carthaginian Empire, 1815

I'm running a Godbound campaign based heavily on ancient civilizations and their mythology inspired by the wonderful lore of some nations of the Dominion series by Illwinter, my favorite fantasy MMOs, and the awesome creations of Kevin Crawford. The result of this mesh of ideas has been a blast at the table so far and my fledgling pantheon of would-be divinities is already interacting with big players in the region. One of the factions that is featuring heavily so far Berytos, the Phoenix Empire, so I thought I'd explain their vibe and flesh them out. 

Berytos is mainly flavored after the Phoenicians and other Mediterranean seafaring peoples. Think sea peoples of Canaan, Phoenicians and Carthaginian and the cities of Byblos, Tyros, Sidon, and Carthage as important sources. Picture Carthage's founding and the Ba'al worship of the Canaanites.  

Their gist is that they're a literal "phoenix empire" that was destroyed and reemerged as a conglomerate of numerous coastal city states. It is a now cultural melting pot influenced by several other key players along the Telkios Sea. 

A Punic gilded bronze cuirass from Ksour Essaf, 3rd-2nd century BCE. (Bardo National Museum, Tunisia)

The Risen Phoenix

Even the most meager of chronicles of Creation before the Last War recounts the tale of Telkhines, titanic storm demons whose great civilization of Therodos once ruled the waves. The Telkhines ruled over the peoples of the coast and there these slaves learned great lore both ancient and terrible. From the Telkhines these servants learned of exquisite shipbuilding techniques, how to tame the tumultuous seas of Creation, and supreme mastery over metals mundane and impossible. 

This changed when the Pantokrator, the One, during their construction of the Heavens and their taming of Creation, struck down Telkhines for their obsession with Stygian magicks and threatening to prolong the Age of Chaos. The One sundered their bastions, drowned their cities, and the Telkhines were either slain or imprisoned in the lowest circles of Hell. The great Kingdom of Therodos was cast beneath the waves. 

When divine punishment was meted out, the mortal survivors of the now lost kingdom fled. Lead across the angered sea by the Storm Callers, greatest disciples of the Telkhines, some escaped the judgement. Though their might couldn't endure the ravages of the Last War, the echoes of this enclave lived on. Armed with the knowledge of iron-crafting and the magical might of the newest generation of the honored Storm Callers, new colonies were founded on distant shores. Like a phoenix, the dying empire was reborn.  

Much has changed since then. After the shattering of Creation and with their Telkhine gods either dead or shackled in Hell, the humans sought divine leadership. They found the Melqarts of grand Hinnom. One of the colonies was situated near Ashdod and the bloody cult of the Melqarts soon spread through the Phoenix Empire. In the capital colony of Berytos, a great temple to the Melqarts was built, the Temple of Fire and Storms.

But soon another power found its way into the cult. Refugee Colossi, great men of the Machakan royal family, arrived in Berytos and established themselves as rulers of the bloody cult. Their sorceresses claimed divinity and called themselves Brides-in-Waiting. Now Berytos is a seafaring people led by sorcerer-queens from the great temple in Berytos. Since then Berytos has been an accomplished practitioner of war, acquiring new territories and resources, and safeguarding its vast trade network in the Telkios Sea. 

Slowly, the prophecies are being fulfilled. Melqarts of Hinnom have come to claim their brides and feast on the blood of sacrifices. Now in the grand city of Berytos, a terrible queen and a fell king rule.