Homerules: Something Unexpected Happened Along the Way

In this post I want to share the “Random Encounters and Vistas” house rules that we use in my ongoing D&D campaign. This set of rules has crossed game editions from OD&D (using the Rules Cyclopedia) through 2nd Edition AD&D and into today’s 5th Edition D&D incarnation of this campaign. Before you say it, yes, I know, every D&D blog under the Sun has their own random encounter rules. While some groups out there find the very concept of random encounters completely anathema to their style of play, there are still dozens of approaches to the rules for groups that find them useful. That’s one of my favorite parts about this grand new digital age for my most beloved hobby: there’s any number of ways to do any one thing in your games, something for everyone and then some. So here are mine.

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Lately we’ve been playing a lot of exploration-heavy games in our main group. Be it exploring a newly-discovered southern continent in our Forthalome campaign (which I swear I will get back to some day), or traveling cross-country back in the northernmost reaches of the homeland in our Northwarde campaign, the process of The Journey has become a core focus in many of our sessions. The flow we use is in many ways similar to the “Hex Crawl” approach to gaming, albeit with a few personal twists and less of a main stage focus. For us, we always have a starting point and a destination in mind, and everything in between is largely undefined. Random encounters mixed with direct requests for improvisational player input help us flesh out all of that intervening space while also making it an active play event at the table. Continue reading

HAMMERCRAWL! Roguelike Random OSR Gaming, Part 1: Tools

(This post has turned into something much larger than expected, so I’m breaking it up into multiple posts)

Last year at Gamestorm 2014, a few conversations on “roguelike” gaming experiences led me to come up with an on-the-fly method for character-grinding adventure gaming. With but a single simple Chessex d12 Dungeon Die, a handful of those custom Warhammer Fantasy Third Edition RPG dice, a Swords & Wizardry monster book, and a stack of random characters from Save vs Total Party Kill, we had a rip-roaring time plunging into unknown dungeons (and looting the bodies of fallen compatriots after every battle).

From this was born HAMMERCRAWL! – my nickname for this evolving method of using collated existing tools for immediate, “procedurally-generated” roguelike tabletop dungeon crawling. The idea is to have everything I need to run such a game on-hand in the size of a custom GM screen, or less. This year, I want to give HAMMERCRAWL! a second go at the coming Gamestorm 2015, and hopefully get things into a more well-oiled machine than the previous attempts. To assist with this, I’m keeping notes here on the various pieces and how they fit together.

First off, things that HAMMERCRAWL! is not:

  • HAMMERCRAWL! is not core game mechanic: It uses old-school D&D/retroclone rules – pick one of your choice, there are plenty!
  • HAMMERCRAWL! is not a system for generating story: If you want Story, you’ll have to add that part yourself.
  • HAMMERCRAWL! is not a method for campaign gaming: The various tools here are collected for the primary purpose of one-shot gaming; long-term use of HAMMERCRAWL! might not be fun, unless you and your group are exceptionally masochistic.

Instead, HAMMERCRAWL! is a system for randomly generating the “bottom line” elements of a dungeon crawl: Characters, Dungeon Rooms, Traps, Monsters, and Treasure. And it’s certainly not for everyone, especially those who want a more stable, fleshed-out gaming experience that lasts more than a single pick-up or con-game session. Continue reading

Failure Padding: Stealing Success from the Clutches of Failure

As a gamer, I’ve never been a fan of “casual failure” in any test mechanics. It just isn’t fun. Failure in an exciting story should have purpose and effect, and should be just as interesting and – dare I say it – rewarding as success. I am certainly not the first gamer to tread upon this ground. So here’s a system I’ve scribbled up which can allow you to keep playing your otherwise “pass/fail” RPG systems while inserting a new degree of excitement and consequence into their failure mechanics.

Failure Padding is based upon the concept of “degree of failure” – not a new concept to many of you, but folks whose only RPG exposures come in the forms of D&D, Pathfinder, and other similar games might not have this term in their current notebooks o’ gaming lexicon. “Degree of Failure” is a way of measuring the distance between your failed dice roll and the difficulty target number you actually wanted to roll. This is usually handled simply by subtracting the number you rolled (dice result, successes, hits, what-have-you) from the number you needed in order to succeed. Thus if you needed eight successes to get the result you wanted, but you only got five when your dice hit the table, then your Degree of Failure would be three (8 – 5 = 3). Or if you needed a roll of sixteen but only scored a nine after all modifiers, then your Degree of Failure would be seven (16 – 9 = 7).

Using this degree of failure, you can very easily eyeball “how bad” your failure actually was. Some RPG systems already have rules in place for determining grades of failure, but that’s okay, because Failure Padding isn’t as concerned about grading that failure as it is about transforming that failure into hard-earned success. In other words, Failure Padding is about re-imagining your failed dice rolls as very price-heavy victories, “padded up” with collateral damage.

Let’s say you roll eight successes, but you needed eleven in order to shoot the terrorist who is currently using your girlfriend as a hostage human shield. That’s three degrees of failure, which would likely have resulted in the terrorist getting away, with your girlfriend in tow. Instead, the GM lets you “spend” those three degrees of failure to buy other consequences related to the situation, each raising your original roll up to the required level to succeed. So in this case, you buy off those three needed successes, and you and the GM work out that you shot him but the bullet went through your girlfriend’s shoulder, he got a shot off at you which went straight through your thigh, and as your girlfriend is running away another terrorist grabs you and throws a bag over your head. Your initial goal was accomplished, but now the situation remains interesting and the story evolves.

Using this mechanic, the GM offers to “sell” you extra successes in exchange for you agreeing to additional consequences of your success. Each degree of failure is one such consequence acquired. In games with greater number scales, the degree of failure should probably be based on a range of numbers. Say, every two points missed in a D20 test is one degree of failure, or every ten points missed is one degree of failure on a D100 test.

Here are some various ideas of things that can go wrong for you – consequences you can take in order to pad up the failure:

  • You take additional damage in the strained effort to succeed.
  • Some piece of important equipment takes damage, or is rendered temporarily useless or inaccessible – armor degrades, greaves seize up, electronics malfunction, zippers get jammed, etc.
  • Your situation is made narratively worse somehow – enemy reinforcements arrive, the bridge collapses, your vehicle’s airbag unexpectedly deploys, etc
  • Some threat level is increased, if your game system keeps track of that kind of thing.

Hope it works out for you!

…and yes, I have a Gamestorm 2012 post coming very soon.

Using Unknown Armies for a Zombie Survival Game

In order to get ready for the Project Dismember game,
I’ve hammered out four new sets of house rules for use in running zombie survival campaigns with Unknown Armies. I was initially using the RPG.net forums to work on them, but I’ll move them here for collection and further updating.

Included are the following five sets of House Rules:

  • Relationships add skill-modifying percentages to your character to use when relying on, helping, or working against other characters in your team.
  • Infection is a mechanic for tracking the spread of the zombie infection after you are exposed to it. It is implemented like a new Madness Meter, with some unique modifications.
  • Hordes are my attempt to transform the core Unknown Armies Riot mechanics into an effective representation of the infamous Zombie Horde.
  • Fortification rules allow the survivors to work together to locate, acquire, and enhance hideouts and safehouses.
  • Scarcities are a way to implement the danger of dwindling necessities, inspired by the core Madness Meter mechanics.

Read on for the details! Continue reading