The Splintered Realm

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Dr. Mike Desing
Updated: 4 hours 46 min ago

Zealot Redux

Sun, 06/02/2024 - 00:38

After drawing Gila the Monster, I decided that was how I wanted character profiles to appear - waist up action poses. I feel like that better represented the character... so I gave Zealot that treatment, too, and I like this drawing better. Okay... back to work on my game now.


Before and After

Sat, 06/01/2024 - 16:30
I thought it would be helpful for me to see, and maybe to show others, how the game and my style have evolved in the last two years. First, here is a stat block for Gila the Monster from Stalwart Age...

Next, here is a new drawing and stat block for Gila from Stalwart...

Gila the MonsterParagon Villain (D8/4[2]); Hits 18; Villain Points 4
Might D10 (5); Mind D4 (2); Power D6 (3); Reflex D6 (3)
Amphibious; Invulnerable (5); Weapon, Claws (D10)
Brawl (+1); Popularity (+2; lizards/amphibians only); Sneak (+1)Limitation: -1 shift if he is out of water for more than 24 hours.
So... the art and the stat block have come a long way. Both are simpler and cleaner. The word bold comes to mind. Both the stat block and the art have a bit more of a sense of being bold.

More Stalwart Design Thoughts - A Deep Dive

Sat, 06/01/2024 - 12:51
The master table on page one of the rules is basically the greatest thing ever. I keep realizing that every problem I run into is already solved on the table. To whit, I was trying to figure out how to balance character creation and dice rolling to create reasonable results. I toyed with rolling your tier die (meh), rolling one below your tier tie (that sucked), rolling one above your tier die (that was a little better, but you still had a really good chance of ending up with a D4 even at higher tiers), or rolling your tier die + a set modifier (that was about the best solution, but I didn't love it). Then I realized I could just say you roll your tier die + that tier's SV... and the problem solved itself. Here's why:
  • As a normal, you roll D4+2. You end up with either 3-5 (giving you a D4) or 6 (giving you a D6). A normal has a 25% chance of having an expert-level trait. That feels right.
  • As an expert, you roll D6+3. You end up with 4-5 (giving you D4), 6-7 (giving you D6) or 8-9 (giving you D8). You have a 33% chance of being a paragon of something, a 33% chance of having some expertise, and a 33% chance of a trait being normal. Seems reasonable.
  • As a paragon (the lowest level a superhero might be), you roll D8+4. Now things get interesting. You have a small chance of having a D4 (roll a 1+4=5 rounded down to 4), 25% chance of having a D6 (6-7), 25% chance of having D8 (8-9), 25% chance of having D10 (10-11), and a 12.5% chance of having D12 (12). I'm thinking characters like Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Daredevil (Nightwing, Aqualad, and Black Canary too) are at this tier. I can build any of them with these ranges.
  • As a super (the most common tier for superheroes), you roll D10+5. The lowest you can have is D6 (you roll 6-7; 20% chance), but you have a 20% chance of getting D8 (8-9), 20% chance of D10 (10-11), and a 40% chance of hitting D12 (12-15). You are likely to have lots of ways to trade 2 for 1 here, and bump something up to D16 if you really want it, but are likely to have some decent dice one way or another. 50% of the MCU is in this tier. A lot of DC characters are, too (although most of the big names are the next tier up).  
  • As a legendary character (the highest tier I would recommend for PCs), you roll D12+6. You cannot get to cosmic, but nothing is going to start normal. You are going to at least have a D6 (7), or will have D8 (8-9), D10 (10-11), D12 (12-15), or might even grab a D16 or two (16-18). These are Iron Man, Thor,... Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash... Batman and Captain America are capped at D10, but they've got so many bonuses that offset the relatively low dice at this tier. I think you can build them in this game (looking forward to trying).  
  • Who is titanic? Thanos. Darkseid. Hela. Superman. Hulk. Maybe Silver Surfer. Thor after he becomes the 'god of lightning' in Ragnarok. It's a short list.
  • This is a great distribution of scores. I really like it. 
Character advancement is just NOT A THING. I've decided to abandon a lot of (what I consider) bedrock RPG concepts - there is no character advancement, and I'm not particularly concerned about game balance. 50 soldiers with rifles are not going to harm the Hulk. That's just how it is. There's no treasure to recover, cool gadgets to unlock, or other 'advancement' markers. The game is a story-based game of superheroes. It is what it is. Anything else ends up making it feel less like the source material, and more like a game loosely-inspired BY the source material. A 'campaign' as it were will happen if you love the characters and are compelled by the story you are building together. A new campaign will start when you don't. It's like comics in that way, too - if you like it, you'll keep reading. If you don't, you'll try a different comic for a while. Maybe a new creative team will come in with a new story idea that revitalizes the characters - and maybe that character you put in a folder three months ago will get dusted off when your group comes up with a great storyline to tell together. I think I'll be using the word storyline instead of campaign, because that's what it really is.
I don't think that the core book should include much in the way of setting or background or campaign structure. I want the rulebook to be tight and focused, and to keep the page count low. 16 pages should be enough for the entire game; I've already got a bunch of other resources available. I like the model I'm using for Hack'D. The core rules are a dollar for the PDF, but everything else is PWYW or just linked for free to the site. 
I like how simple the descriptions are for gifts, and I like the built-in limits for bonuses based on tier. A +1 or +2 is a significant boost when you are rolling 1d10 against a target of 6. You quickly go from 50% chance of success to 60% to 70% with those bonuses. There's a nice, natural progression that keeps the numbers low. I'm very pleased with how I've found a way to scale a game at a superhero level without letting the numbers scale beyond the low 20s in almost every situation. It keeps math at the table relatively simple, which keeps the game moving. I think there's a real danger in having numbers so big that the experience bogs down. Yes, it's awesome to roll 12 dice and deal 73 damage, but then we wait while you subtract the 73 damage from the 142 hit points (but don't forget the 10% damage reduction ability, meaning that the 73 becomes a... wait... 73-7=65? Is that right? No. 13-7 is 6, so it must be 66. Okay. And 142-66 is... dang. Where's my calculator again?). The dramatic tension just slowly drains from the gameplay experience.
The single best thing about the design so far might be the rules for being felled and getting back up. This is the single mechanic that shifts this game from being a RPG where you reduce your foe to 0 hits and win to a game that emulates how comics and comic-based movies work. Your team FINALLY knocked down rampage... and now you hold your breath as the GM rolls, hoping he doesn't get back up again...  

D16 - Debate

Sat, 06/01/2024 - 11:37
I'm torn on our new friend the D16. It is not a traditional die type, but they make them. You can buy them. I don't have any (yet), but they're out there (Yes, an Amazon order will be placed before the end of the weekend).
Realistically, adding a D16 would probably help the game significantly. It would create a tier between legendary and cosmic, and allow for truly exeptional mortal characters (I'm thinking Superman and Hulk would be here with their might) that are at the limits of the game without breaking it. D20 is then reserved for the truly, truly powerful creatures. The purist in me wants to hold off on the D16, but as I look at the table and see the huge leap from D12 to D20, I feel like I sort of need it to make the game scale better at the high end. Thor could now have D12 might, but Mjolnir would shift his damage up to D16, which feels right. 
I'm adding it to the playtest document (link in the navbar upper left corner), but it's on a short leash. 

Stalwart RPG Playtest #2

Sat, 06/01/2024 - 01:31

Here we go with playtest #2...


Paragon Hero (D8/4[2]); Hits 16; Move 30’; Hero Points 4

Might D8 (4); Mind D6 (3); Power D6 (3); Reflex D10 (5)

Armor (4); Jump (swingline 120’) Melee Weapon (battle staves D10)

Brawl (+2); Infiltration (+1); Stealth (+1)

Crimson Blade Ninja

Paragon Villain (D8/4[2]); Hits 14

Might D6 (3); Mind D6 (3); Power D6 (2); Reflex D8 (5)

Weapon (blade D8)

Dodge (+1); Infiltration (+1); Stealth (+2)

In Play:

Zealot enters a stairwell that circles downward into a cellar/boiler room. The heat and steam are coming up the stairs that descend on a square - 8 steps then landing, then 8 steps in opposite direction. He descends to the second tier and comes to where two Crimson Blade Ninjas hide in the dark. Both ninjas make their sneak roll, and surprise Zealot. They win initiative.

The first attacks twice, getting 8 and 2. The 8 hits, and he deals 7; Zealot’s armor soaks 4 and he is down to 13 hits. The second strikes twice and gets 1 and 4, missing twice as Zealot gets his staves up and parries away the attacks. Zealot strikes twice, getting 7+2=9 and a natural 1. He hits once, dealing 3. The second ninja is at 11. He’s going to change over to four attacks and take the penalty.

The ninjas each attack twice, getting 7, 7, 6, 7. Ouch. Zealot is hit four times, as the two ninjas close on him and overwhelm him with flashing blades. They deal 8, 3, 6, and 7. This is reduced to 4, 0, 2, and 3. He is at 4 hits. He takes four attacks now (going into a bit of a battle frenzy), getting 5, 3, 5, 4, which become 7, 5, 7, and 6 after his +2 from brawling. Against their reflex of 5, he still hits all four times! He deals 4, 5, 8, and 3 damage. He drops this ninja after the third attack, but decides to use his last attack to boot the ninja over the railing of the stairs. It falls 30’ and breaks its neck. His face bloodied, he turns to the other ninja and motions for him to attack.

The remaining ninja attacks twice, getting 5 and 3. Zealot uses one of his hero points to parry away the 5 at the last second and then spins at the ninja. He hits with 3, 3, 5, 5 (so 5, 5, 7, 7). He deals 5, 5, 8, 7 damage. Again, he drops the ninja after 3 hits, and uses the last hit to turn the ninja’s blade against itself, and the ninja dies.

Zealot looks around, ensures there are no other ninjas, and continues onward. He slowly descends, recovering to 6 hits. He has 3 hero points remaining for his battle with Sudoku.


  • His name is Zealot. He’s a bit violent for a superhero. This feels like gritty superhero action; because it is. I’ll be interested to see how this translates to a more four-color hero like Doc. Also, Zealot is more street level (he’s obviously my Daredevil stand-in), so there are much higher power levels to explore.

  • The dice and abilities and hits are all pretty well balanced. He's suffering and dealing damage at rates that feel appropriate.

  • I added a ‘finish him’ option in play here. If you want to use an attack against a fallen foe, you should be able to ensure they don’t get up again. That’s also aligned with the source material - stopping to land one more attack to make sure your foe doesn’t get up. That’s a pretty common action motif. I added this to the core rules.

  • I like that he walks into the final battle battered and bruised a little bit. It makes it feel like the stakes for the final encounter are higher. Sudoku awaits. 

Stalwart RPG Playtest #1

Fri, 05/31/2024 - 23:31

Paragon Hero (D8/4[2]); Hits 16; Move 30’; HP 4
Might D8 (4); Mind D6 (3); Power D6 (3); Reflex D10 (5)
Armor (4); Jump (swingline 120’) Melee Weapon (battle staves D10)
Brawl (+2); Infiltration (+1); Stealth (+1)
Goonsquad Brawler
Normal Thug (D6/3[1]); Hits 12
Might D6 (3); Mind D4 (2); Power D4 (2); Reflex D6 (3)
Machine Pistol (D8); Kendo Stick (D8)
In Play:

Zealot enters the warehouse where he believes Sudoku has been holed up. He is immediately approached by three goonsquad brawlers. Zealot offers not to break their arms and legs if they will let him go see Sudoku. They clearly decline. Initiative.
Zealot rolls 5; thugs roll 5; Zealot gets win for higher tier. He attacks four times at D6 in a quick barrage of his battle staves. He gets 6, 6, 5, 5 (which are 8, 8, 7, 7 with his brawler tag). Wow. Hits four times. He deals 4, 1, 6, 1. One of the thugs suffers 12 hits and falls. The other two draw their sticks and attack. They attack with 5 and 3. The 5 hits, and he deals 1. This bounces off of Zealot’s armor.
Round 2: Zealot turns to the one who just hit him (unsuccessfully) and unleashes a flurry of hits with his two staves. He rolls 6, 5, 4, 1 (8, 7, 6, 3).  The three would hit, but I think by rule a 1 always should fail. Going to add that. Zealot hits three times. He deals 8 and 6, dropping the second, and another 8, knocking the third backward. That one shakes his head and pulls out his pistol, unleashing a burst of small arms fire. He misses, and Zealot spins away and behind some crates. The first tries to struggle to his feet, and gets 3. He fails.
Round 3: Zealot throws one of his staves, hitting with 6+2=8. He deals 8, knocking that thug backwards and the pistol from his hand. The first thug rolls a 3, and fails again to rise. The second gets a 5, and stumbles to his feet at 6 hits.
Round 4: Zealot spins at him, hitting with 8+2=10. He deals 5 hits. He kicks up the staff that was thrown, smacking the thug in the chin. He barely hits (2+4=6) and deals 8 points, knocking that guy out. The others two get up and run away.
Zealot squares his armor chest plate, cracks his neck, and moves towards the doorway that leads into the basement…
-        Well THAT was pretty cinematic. Yes, a big part is how I’m interpreting the dice, but since he was facing relatively weak foes, Zealot was comfortable taking the -1 die shift to get lots of extra attacks. The dice and the way they fell felt accurate for this sort of encounter.
-        I immediately re-worked armor on the fly when I realized that even a mook is going to soak 2 or 3 points, and you are going to roll 2 or 3 for damage pretty regularly. Armored foes are going to be much harder to deal damage to and will require him to start burning hero points. I changed it so that ‘endure’ (linked to might) is now the resistant ability for areas of effect and indirect attacks (which makes sense), I’ll just have to re-work some powers so that’s how they operate. It should be simple enough to make the change (even if I have to add a few AOE-specific powers to the options to give this some value).
-        I absolutely love the rules for being felled and getting back up. THIS is the part of superhero fights that I’ve always been missing; you get knocked down but you get up again was philosophically there, but never this directly mechanically supported. It’s pretty awesome; that was the piece that made this encounter feel like a genuine fight sequence. He can knock a foe down pretty quick, and then as he fights, those he has already knocked down get back up again. As tier D6 characters, they can only do this once, so that makes a lot of sense.
-        I officially like this game.

A New Doc Stalwart Story?!

Fri, 05/31/2024 - 00:47

I was thinking about superheroes and the Teen Titans, and I was thinking about how it was pretty much child abuse for the Justice League to let the Teen Titans do their thing. It's one thing for Batman to take Robin out into the field and 'train him' in situations he thinks he can control with moderate safety (even if it doesn't work out that way), but the whole Teen Titans model breaks that. And then I was thinking about what that would look like in the world of Doc Stalwart... and then I got an idea. I jumped to the end of the storyline where Doc and Mikah go to the Null Zone to rescue his daughter (I'm still going to write that some day... really), and just wrote the epilogue to that story that introduces my version of the Teen Titans. Watching the old 60s Teen Titans cartoons was one of my first childhood introductions to supers, and it left a strong impression on me (obviously). 

Here's the story I wrote.

I cannot wait to see AI steal this and turn it into some random fragment of unrelated content somewhere on the vastness of the Internet.

Stalwart Playtest Document Up for Review

Thu, 05/30/2024 - 22:11

I've decided to name the game "Stalwart", since I love the name, and I love confusing people (wait - so is this the Stalwart Age, then? Set in the same world. Different rules). I'm consisent at least.

You can review it here.

It's not done - several of the gifts (superpowers) are either incomplete or not started yet, but this gives a good idea of where this is going. I am open to any and all feedback, and I encourage you to roll up some characters and see what happens...

I'll just keep updating the document as I make progress, and based on any feedback I receive.

Last Post For the Night...

Wed, 05/29/2024 - 00:55

This is really the last post.

I've become a fan of the idea that the fundamental game mechanics create meaningful choices, and that a simple mechanic can provide variety. Here's a great example of this. I don't think my brain had shifted to this level of ubiquity when I was writing Stalwart Age...


Every round (6 seconds), you may attempt a number of actions equal to your SV. However, each action imposes a cumulative -1 die shift to all other rolls that round; attempting three actions imposes a -2 die shift to every roll that round. My character could run his movement of 100’ (1 action), pick up a found weapon (at -2 shift to the might die) and attack (at -2 shift to the attack die). You can also just distribute your attacks. With D12 attack and D10 damage, I can attack once at D12 (D10 damage), twice at D10 (D8 damage), three times at D8 (D6 damage), or four times at D6 (D4 damage). Tasks that do not rely on a dice check (flying), are not affected. I must decide how I am distributing my dice at the beginning of the round. While it might make sense to distribute attacks against a group of bank robbers, it is probably wiser to minimize your attacks against the heavily armored foe who leads them to increase your chances of hitting and dealing damage.

Already Tinkering

Wed, 05/29/2024 - 00:07
I use the blog to 'think out loud', so as soon as I posted the previous post, I started thinking about the basic mechanics again... I like scaling numbers back whenever possible (which can be a challenge in a supers game), but I think pulling back one step would have some benefits. If we make D4 'normal human', this pulls all of the numbers down a little bit... Here's a revised chart for consideration:


SV (½)




2 (1)




3 (1)




4 (2)




5 (2)




6 (3)




10 (5)



I already like this a little bit better. It's cleaner and simpler, and I think the subtle changes to language make the tiers clearer. In Marvel terms, Hawkeye is an expert, Daredevil is a paragon, Spiderman is super, and Thor is legendary.
As for my world, this pulls all of Doc's stats back one tier, and scales his numbers back slightly. It also makes for a significant jump from legendary to cosmic. Cosmic is reserved primarily for NPCs and big bads - Ro the Ravager type stuff. I would think a character like the 'green goliath' could achieve cosmic-level might by raging, but that would be quite exceptional. This gets rid of the D16 (which is an awkward 'die' that requires several dice to achieve). This separates worldly heroes from true cosmic threats. Here's a revised proposed Stat Block for Doc:
Doc Stalwart - Legendary Hero (D12); Hits 12; Move 30'

  • Might D12 (6); Mind D12 (6); Power D6 (3); Reflex D8 (4)
  • Armor (6); Flight (60'); Gadgeteer
  • Brawling (+1 to hit melee); Profession (Scientist +2); Grit (+2 Resolve); Charisma (+1 Popularity)

Comparative Stat Blocks

Tue, 05/28/2024 - 23:16

I have no idea what the new system would be called, but I have a pretty good idea of how it works. First, here's the stat block for Doc Stalwart in Stalwart Age...

Now, here's the initial proposed stat block for him in the new game:

Doc Stalwart - Legendary Hero (D16); Hits 16; Move 30'

  • Might D16 (8); Mind D16 (8); Power D8 (4); Reflex D10 (5)
  • Armor (8); Flight (60'); Gadgeteer
  • Brawling (+2 to hit); Profession (Scientist +2); Grit (+2 Resolve); Charisma (+2 Popularity)

A lot of things are packed into each ability. For example, he attacks with D16 (his tier die for being legendary) and deals D16 melee damage. He's also got D16 for popularity (for being legendary). He has 8 points to use to buy tags. He has static defenses of 5 vs. physical attacks (from reflex D10) and 8 from mental attacks (from his mind D16). However, he soaks the first 8 points from physical attacks (so bullets that deal D8 bounce right off of him - a machine gun D10 might scratch him if it rolls well). His hits seem really low, but the game has a mechanism that I first used in my wrestling RPG where you get knocked down but get back up again several times. You are not defeated at 0 hits - you just tag out of the fight for a round or two. This better emulates superhero action (since heroes are constantly getting knocked down, being out of the fight, and then leaping back in). Hits are the DV of your might + the DV of your tier (so 8+8 for Doc). This would mean a character like Twilight Archer (D10 tier and D6 Might) has 8 hits (and no armor - eek). He gets knocked down by Doc 50% of the time.

You can take multiple actions by taking a -1 die shift with each additional action; Doc can throw one punch rolling 1d16, 2 punches rolling 1d12 each, 3 punches rolling 1d10 each, 4 punches rolling 1d8 each... if he's fighting a bunch of mooks (evade of 2), he might try punching 4 per round, since he only misses on a 1. Against a foe with evade 5, he's probably not giving up too many dice... but if he has to run and pick something up, he's taking the -2 dice shift on his attack (each action uses a die rating).

By the way, a speedster mechanically works similar to Stalwart Age - Messenger (Power D20) gets 10 bonus actions each round; he can attack 11 times without taking a penalty, or use 10 actions to travel 1,000' each, meaning he can run up to 10,000' in 6 seconds. Unfortunately, his Might of 8 means that he only averages 4 points per punch, but he can quickly take out a room of mooks; against a foe with body armor 5, he's going to deal death by a thousand papercuts.  

I need an intervention - Supers Edition

Tue, 05/28/2024 - 22:07

It's the end of May, so my brain automatically shifts to game design mode. Just to be clear, I no longer design games to make money or get sales or get views or go viral. I write games because I cannot help it, and because my brain just keeps wanting to write them.

In many ways, I consider Stalwart Age about as strong as an entry as I could come up with for a low/medium crunch superhero system. In the same vein, I think Tales of the Splintered Realm is as strong of an adaptation of B/X as I could ever muster.

But then Hack'D & Slash'D caught me in its web of minimalistic game design. It can do everything that TSR can do, but in a much smaller space. It's faster. It's cleaner. It's simpler. I genuinely love it.

For years, I've toyed with ways to use various dice to represent characters in a supers RPG, and how this would scale. Somehow, this morning, the core of the system appeared in my head pretty much fully-formed, and after some quick brainstorming, I've framed up the bones of a ruleset. It is a supers system with a different mechanic through the lens of the minimalistic approach I have taken with Hack'D. I won't be suprirsed if the entire rulebook fits in 8 pages. 

Here's the elevator pitch...

Your character is built on four traits: Might, Mind, Power, Reflex. Your character belongs to a tier, which is structured the same way as the tiers for traits. 

Everything is rated on the same scale.

This scale includes a static value (SV), a die (giving a random result),

and a descriptor (indicating relative power of that value).

Sometimes, you use half your SV (rounded down).

Body Armor? It's the SV of your might.

Flight? Based on the SV of your Power.

Energy projection? Attack with your level die, do damage with your power die.

Lifting a ton? You need to roll 10 or better (so you need at least remarkable might);

lifting 100 tons has a target of 16, so you need to have at least D16 might to try.

You have hero points, a small pool of points to add to rolls.

Tier SV (1/2) Die Descriptor Scale

A 2 (1) D4 Poor Child

B 3 (1) D6 Average         Normal Human

C 4 (2) D8 Excellent         Street Level

D 5 (2) D10 Remarkable City Level

E 6 (3) D12 Incredible National Level

F 8 (4) D16 Monstrous Global Level

G 10 (5) D20 Supreme         Cosmic Level

I'll probably share my working draft sooner than later.

Splay - a 200 word RPG

Tue, 05/28/2024 - 01:21
I just discovered 200-word RPGs, and had to try one. Here's my kitchen-sink game, Splay (exactly 200 words). GURPS needed 200 books, but I only need 200 words. So THERE.
I like this a lot, because the game automatically scales to all power levels. If your game is cosmic superheroes doing cosmic-superhero things, then the challenges are relative to you. If you are military insects, then you're facing the kinds of challenges military insects would face. 
I presume you will be facing comparable challenges and traveling among comparable allies. There is an internal balance that comes from the scenarios, and nothing needs to be balanced against a larger background. The game doesn't have to balance Superman with Robin, because they just aren't in the same league at all. There's no point in trying.
If you are a wizard who wants to cast a spell to open a locked door, this is probably moderate. If you are trying to disintegrate a bridge, this is probably difficult (unless you are an apprentice, then you cannot try yet). I would think that players and GMs will quickly agree on what is the relative power of the setting and their characters, and make decisions from there.

Tomb of Myriad Horrors

Tue, 05/28/2024 - 00:12

The Tomb of Myriad Horrors is now available as a PWYW download (pro tip - you can choose to pay NOTHING. BWAHAHAHA). I went with a 'death by a thousand papercuts' sort of approach; very few things will kill your character outright ('no distegrations'), but everything will eat away at your soul. I like the slow grind of watching your character wither away with nothing you can do about it. The design should basically force you to slowly deal with the hopelessness of getting out alive. I also created 11 pregens, taking the starting characters from the core rules and advancing them to level 5. I envision even endgame characters as relatively 'item light', so even these characters are more 'LOTR' than 'D+D 5E' in terms of their power and items. They still rely heavily on their traits and tags.  

Making Things Harder

Mon, 05/27/2024 - 14:33
Here is a short snippet I'm adding to the Tomb of Myriad Horrors, and it's a game changer:

Note: Recovery of any kind does not work within the tomb. Healing spells will fail, and healing potions are inert. Spells cannot be recovered. Rest is useless; this place is utterly consumed with rot.

This changes the ENTIRE adventure. Now, I can scale the damage way back, and minor threats are really significant. ANY damage you suffer is a huge setback. You lose a point of mana? Uh oh. Hack'D, by design, makes it pretty easy to recover after an encounter is over. You can generally go from one encounter to the next relatively fresh. A trap that deals 10 hits may not seem like a big deal to a character with 35 hits, but is awful when there is no way to get those points back. That one change truly turns this adventure into the meat grinder it is supposed to be. Now, I don't have to do anything to the lich at the end - he doesn't need special things to make him extra difficult; the place, and the dangers the players face before getting to him, makes him difficult enough.

ToH Map

Mon, 05/27/2024 - 02:35

I now have a final map, taking my 5-room mod of Tomb of Horrors one step closer to completion. I'm thinking I might start packaging these and releasing them as PWYW downloads just so I can generate a little more visibility for my game. I like how this is coming together.

ToH MM Riddles

Fri, 05/24/2024 - 16:07
In my design for the Tomb of Horors mini-mod, I want there to be a significant interplay between character problem solving (a classic approach) and the use of character abilities (a more modern approach). I think that giving the characters a riddle that was left by the demilich to others is a good place to build in the 'player thinking' part of the process. Here's the riddle I've written:

To those who’d dare to delve my tomb,

I'll deliver unending doom.

And any who its traps would foil,

I'm trading you incessant toil.

And if you may still my great wealth pursue,

This missive marks your only clue.

Spoilers Ahead (so, like, stop reading if you think you might end up playing in this one day and want to be surprised)...
The doors at the opening would each have a clue in the six lines. I am thinking the number of words (8, 4, 7, 5, 9, 6) are labeling the doors (so the order would be 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). Since last line of the poem has 6 words, that would be the correct door. All others are trapped. The players would enter through the first line (8), since that is the first line of the poem. Five other halls lead out from the center chamber. I guess they could try the 'why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 ate 9' approach, but that will lead to remarkable pain and suffering. But whatever.
The next clue is that the first letter of every line spells TIAMAT. You will have to spell that name out to bypass one of the puzzles. I am thinking that the four statues each have the Old Gallan letters A, I, M, and T. Six keys are requied to open the door at the far end. Statues have keys in their gaping, toothy maws. The A and T statues have two keys each, the I and M have one. You have to gather keys in order. Only physical touch can remove a key. Taking a key out of order results in the hand being bitten off. The players will have recovered a bag of severed hands of undead - getting a hand severed will allow you (if you survive the shock check) to affix an undead severed hand with strange powers in place of the lost appendage, Vecna-style. So that's nice. There is no door out of this room - but there are three pit traps. Two of the traps have terrors at the bottom, but a third has a secret door, with only a keyhole revealed (successful sense mind check to see it).
Thirdly, the alliteration of the lines (D, T, M) would be the clue to defeating the gargoyles. You must destroy them in that order or they are immediately reborn. When the M gargoyle is destroyed (after destroying D and T, in that order), then its corpse would spit out the key to the next door. I might combine the alliteration with the end rhymes, so the statues would be marked 'D-M', 'T-L' and 'M-E'. Maybe even combine clues - lore checks on the letters reveal these are in two different ancient languages, so you'd be able to use either or both clues in tandem to make the same conclusion.
The final room would have two pathways - life and death. You must choose one and travel forward. Life will lead out of the dungeon - and the dungeon finally falls into a distant pocket realm for all time. Death leads into his tomb (because that is what he seeks above all things). I could be really mean and have 'life' instantly disintegrate you, because that is an immediate entry into eternal life. Maybe then I'll mark these 'eternal life' and 'eternal death'. I guess that it depends on how I'm feeling (or what the GM decides to do - maybe include both as options, so players never know which one it is - but either way, 'death' leads into the tomb and the demilich, which is the path they'd want to follow regardless).
By the way, I just googled how much a 10'x10'x10' slab of stone weighs, and it's like 80 tons. So if that falls on someone (which is likely to happen), they are not surviving. I am thinking of mechanics like this: any character in the square when the door is opening must check reflex. Failing means they are crushed by the stone. Making it without a 12 means that they get partway out; either an arm or leg is crushed entirely, and has effectively been decapitated. The character must make a system shock roll (might check) or die. That's fun. A natural 11 means that they leaped inside (and are stuck on one side), and a 12 means that they actually jumped to the correct side and avoided it entirely. Good on them.

A Commission for Skald

Thu, 05/23/2024 - 23:57

Letter of Commission for Skaldaric Silverblade

The Bardic College of Mistledawn

Issued the 33rd day of Spring, 813 A.R.

Please accept this writ as confirmation that Skaldaric Silverblade, third son of Utharan Silverblade of Reverie, has been commissioned by the Bardic College of Mistledawn as an apprentice bard of our order, granting him the authority and status that this title confers. In his studies, he has been remarkable for being unremarkable. His grasp of history, eye for art, ear for song, and gift of oratory can all be described as unmistakenly pedestrian. However, he excels in one characteristic: unrelenting determination. He has made up his mind to be a bard, and he appears unwavering in this course, despite his significant natural deficits. While more gifted storytellers and singers, artisans and cartographers failed to matriculate through our program, 'Skald' (as he goes by) has managed to trudge forward through his rigorous studies. Whether this is a product of the foolish tenacity of his human parentage or the patience of his elfin heritage, or perhaps the stangest alchemy of the two, the effect is the same. He is an apprentice of our order. 

His commission for the next four seasons is to complete a map of the Broken Lands under the jurisdiction of the High Marshal, and deliver this to the Marshal's High Council on or before the first day of Summer of 814. Any aid noble folk may give as appropriate to this station and task would be appreciated by the college. 

Finally, as a form of some recompense, Skald may be able to provide minimal entertainment with his recorder, presuming that the audience is composed of either the hard of hearing or those well into their third mug. In lieu of that, he is capable with a shovel and fork, and has some experience in the cleaning of stables. Take that final recommendation as you will.


Skaldarik Silverblade (‘Skald’), Resolute half-elf bardic student 1

Armor 1; Hits 7; Move 40’; Shortsword 3

Might 2; Mind 2; Reflex 2

Charisma, Mystic (Common, Wild), Thievery

Leather Armor; Shortsword 3; Toolkit

Originally, I had Inspire and Lore in the tag list, but swapped those out for mystic with common and wild for better versatility and survivability. I think he takes healing word as his signature spell, so that he can self heal (and maybe live a little longer). He’s going to have to be someone who thinks first and fights later. He carries a recorder, because I had one in third grade, and that’s just what you do when you’re starting out :). I almost didn't give him charisma, but I think that the force of his personality is not in his natural attractiveness, but in his absolute resolve. He's confident, even when he's not very good at what he is confident in.


Inspired: 1E Bard mod for Hack'D

Thu, 05/23/2024 - 23:02

I was thinking earlier about how to make a bard in Hack'D, and looked back at the 1E bard. The original bard had a huge cost of entry - several levels of fighter, thief, and (eventually) druid to become a bard. In Hack'D terms, you'd need the following rough equivalents:

Traits: Might 2, Mind 2, Reflex 2 (I consider 2 the rough equivalent of a 15 in 1E)

Tags: Charisma, Inspire, Lore, Mystic (Common, Wild), Nature, Thievery

You'd need 6 trait points (which you have at level 1, so no great shakes there), but you'd need 7 tags (!), which you can never have. So, in the game as written, this is an impossible class.

At first, I was thinking that level 4 would be a great place to 'unlock' the bard (since that would feel like old school D+D in some way)... but it's just not possible. The math doesn't math.

However... the game caps at level 6, but I could always consider an elite designation a character could take after earning level 6. If I was to use my modified XP progression (which is in the Companion), you achieve level 6 at 3,000 XP. If we put in a new final tier - let's say the 'elite archetypes' become available at 6,000 XP. You get a seventh tag, but this also grants you the archetype (and its bonuses). You'd now be a true bard. This would give some kind of bardic voice that can charm in incredible ways, and your name and reputation would grant remarkable bonuses. I'd have to really think about it, but I like this as a true prestige designation. This could also work for a designation like 'warlord', 'paladin', and 'archmage' (or arch druid, grandfather of assassins, and that sort of thing). 

This also aligns better with 1E D+D thinking - getting to level 10+ was really endgame... and a bard was at least comparable to a level 10 character. This would give the game a level 6+ tier, but still keep 6 as the official end of progression (which is comparable to level 12 in 1E to me).

I'd have to think more about this, but I'm tempted to make a character and start working towards his earning the title of bard... 

Mini-Mod Brainstorming: Tomb of Horror

Tue, 05/21/2024 - 22:07

For my tomb of horrors Mini-Mod, I'm thinking of compressing areas (obviously), and layering several traps/tricks into each encounter area. For example, the 'entry' would have five doors to choose from (I am thinking of counting backwards Sesame Street style.... five doors, four statues, then three gargoyles, then two paths, and then one demi-lich). It would be designed for characters of level 5+ in Hack'D... 

1. Five doors. Pretty easy: one of the doors is the entry (but has a trick to opening it) while the other four are guaranteed death.

2. Four statues. Each statue activates something in the room (mostly traps and magical effects), but you have to trigger one to get into the pit that has a secret door at the bottom into the third area. All have big open mouths you have to interact with. One pit has flames, one has reverse gravity to hit the ceiling with spikes sticking out of it... stuff like that.

3. Three gargoyles (because there was a gargoyle in the original, natch). I'm thinking of some sort of round robin thing, or puzzle where the gargoyles take turns inhabiting the characters, and the characters pop into gargoyle bodies randomly. Or something. They have to kill one gargoyle in particular, but not the other two (damage to 2 and 3 restores 1?)

4. A false tomb with two doorways. They are revealed only when you defeat the false lich and figure out the clue in the bottom of his casket that it's not him. One doorway teleports you to someplace really bad (hades?) and the other leads into the actual tomb (probably just as bad).

5. Real tomb with real demi-lich. As close to the original encounter as possible.