Sunday 11 December 2011

Non-Banal Magic in DnD

I've been thinking about Noism's excellent post about non-banal D&D. The gist is that many of DnD's rules and systematization make otherwise interesting concepts, like monsters and magic, mundane.

DnD magic is already said to be "Vancian". Nevertheless, while reading Vance's, Dying Earth and Eyes of the Overworld, I had a few ideas how to un-banalize DnD magic:

1) Spell Rarity
No one, or at least very few magic users, still have the knowledge required to come up with new spells. Magic spells are found in written form--players don't choose a new spell when they level, and their single initial spell is determined randomly by the DM.

Non-Banal Because: This means that the magic users will need to actively seek out new spells, often times from powerful magic users who guard their knowledge carefully. Similarly, magic users will have to guard their spells carefully. Ultimately makes spells a more valuable and exotic resource.

2) Learning Spell Difficulty
Anyone who wants to memorize a spell for the first time must roll a die to see if they succeed in an hour's time. Chance of success is a function of intelligence, spellcaster level, spell level. They can retry for as many hours as they want, but the chance of success is halved each time(rounding down).

Non-Banal Because: it gives magic more flexibility and less predictability

3) Memorization Limit
The number of spells that can be memorized at one time are the same as DND rules. Characters without spellcaster levels can only memorize a single first level spell. This number can be exceeded, with a chance of going insane.

Non-Banal Because: it gives magic more flexibility and less predictability. Allows players to take chances.

4) Spell Failure
Even once the spell is memorized, there is a chance of failure when using it. This chance is also a function of intelligence, spellcaster level, spell level.

Non-Banal Because: it gives magic less predictability. Spellcasters will be more careful about how they use their spells.

6) Some spells require components.

Non-Banal Because: these spells cost more than the user's time. They may have to seek components from far/dangerous places.

7) Allure of the Unknown
DM shouldn't introduce well-known spells, or when he does, rename them something exotic.

Non-Banal Because: magic is not a closed, well-understood system

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Piquing Player Interest

The role of DM is not just that of referee, but to create an atmosphere which will draw the players into the game. This is especially important for DnD, which can often turn into a bland exercise in rules and die-rolls. Many a DM has found himself with an every-shrinking player-base as players get worn out or lose interest.

This is hard to to well and easy to do poorly. One of the major pitfalls in trying to create this atmosphere is for the DM to become a heavy-handed story teller, rather than letting the players dictate the course of the game. This often has the opposite effect than the one desired, making the game less engaging for players, rather than more.

So here are a few approaches to creating a game atmosphere which will draw players in:


The thirst for knowledge is a powerful emotion and all exploration-based adventures are built around it. Some methods of piquing curiosity are:

  • Exotic setting to discover. Tekumel uses this approach
  • Remote, legendary dungeon to explore, about which little fact is initially known
  • Ever-deepening political web for characters to become enmeshed in
  • Mystery to solve with strange, sometimes contradictory clues/leads
  • Twists! X wasn't what you expected, though perhaps you should have suspected it. This keeps players guessing, although it needs to be done in moderation


Fear is another powerful emotion which is easily lost in the plethora of rules and die rolls. It can add a lot of interest and player commitment to an adventure, though you need to counter-balance it with promise of riches, reward, etc. Fear of the Unknown is a big factor in this:

  • Unknown Monsters- this can mean creating your own monsters, or simply describing a monster rather than naming it, so that players don't immediately associate it with a list of statistics. Also, renaming existing monsters, possibly with randomly generated names
  • Unknown Locations- don't give too much background information about a dungeon, just fearful, possibly contradictory hints
  • Variety of Traps- keeps players on their toes
  • Fog of War- don't map unexplored areas, don't show enemies who the player cannot see(even if they've started shooting arrows!)
  • We're walking into a trap! To proceed, players must enter area where retreat is difficult, they can be easily flanked. Monsters take advantage of this regularly.
  • Real Danger to characters- players know you are willing to kill their characters, though not unfairly. Reward caution.
  • The Unknowable- the ultimate fear of the unknown, in the spirit of Lovecraft


It's still a game right? Isn't that what games are about? Having fun? This factor is perhaps the most variable, depending on your players. One players' fun is anther's tedium. In any case:
  • Puzzle Solving- some players love a challenge to their cleverness/inginuity
  • Mini-Games- there are all sorts of tables and rules to support this. A drinking contest, duelling, hunting, a joust
  • Party Politics- the dynamics between characters, pitting them against one another with a conflict of interest--will they overcome it and work together or constantly plot against one another
  • Player Choice- is a big factor in this, since it allows players to choose what interests them and for them to feel their decisions count. This can be done at the most basic level, allowing players to choose a scary adventure, a political one, one of knavery or heroism, overland vs. dungeon, to fight or to flee, to take risks or play it safe
  • Inspiration- some players want to play adventures inspired by their favorite fiction or historical events. Superhero RPGs and many other specialty RPGs take this approach. Some people want their DnD Tolkienesque, while others want it Pulp Fantasy inspired

Thursday 18 August 2011

Player Skill

Here is a quote I liked from a recent post on Grognardia describing Ed Greenwood's Refereeing style in a game at OSRCon.

He didn't call for dice rolls a lot and, when he did, they were for things like saving throws or weapon damage. When we encountered a trap or a puzzle, we had to work them it for ourselves; we couldn't just "make a Spot check at DC 15" to find what we needed. The longer I am involved in old school gaming, the more convinced I am that that is the crux of the difference between older games and newer ones. For all the ways that Ed's refereeing might cause some grognards' skin to crawl, he is nevertheless, fundamentally, "one of us." He clearly gets that rolling dice should never be a substitute for individual cleverness and creative thinking.
I think this is spot-on. Games are much more fun when the player is the one playing, not their character's ability scores! For me anyway.

Thursday 16 June 2011

Polish Resistance: Character Creation

As I mentioned, I'm going to make a number of posts about the Cyberpunk 2020 house-rules I'm using for the All Zombies game.

Character creation is basically a simplified version of the Cyberpunk character creation. I did have to stat-up some WWII equipment, which was fun:

Character Creation:

  1. Set movement=8 for simplicity
  2. No attractiveness(generally a dump stat)
  3. Money (1d6+1d10)x100 Zlote(1 Reichmark=2 Zlote)
  4. Divide 40 ability points among 7 remaining stats 2-10(or roll d10's, re-rolling any 1's)
  5. Run=Move*3, Leap=Run/4, Lift=40xBody, Save=Body,
  6. BTM based on Body stat 2=>0, 3-4=>-1, 5-7=>-2, 8-9=>-3, 10=>-4
  7. Lift=40xBody KG
  8. 40+Int+Ref skill points(You already are at Yiddish level 8)
  9. Write backstory
Here's a sample character sheet:

Starting Equipment:


Name Type Conceal Dmg Magazine ROF Range Price(Z)


Club Mel L 1d6

Light Knife Mel P 1d6/2

Heavy Knife Mel P 1d6

Bayonet Mel P 1d6(+2 attached)

Axe Mel J 2d6+3

Brass Knuckles Mel L 1d6+2

Sledgehammer Mel N 4d6

Szabla Mel N 2d6+2



Crossbow Ex N 3d6 12 1 150m 120
Longbow Ex N 2d6+1 12 1 50m 150


Nagant M1895 P P 1d6+2(7.62x38R) 7 1 50m 100
TT-30 P P 1d6+2(7.62x25T) 8 2 50m 150
Vis Pistol P P 2d6+1(9mm) 8 2 50m 300


Winchester 1912 SHT N 4d6(12Gg) 5 1 50m 450


Karabin wz.98a Rif N 6d6+1(7.92x57mmM) 5 1 400m 450
Mosin/Nagant Rif N 6d6(7.62x54mmR) 5 1 400m 500
Lee-Enfield Rif N 6d6+1(.303Mk VII) 10 1 400m 550
Browning wz.1928 Rif N 6d6+1(7.92x57mmM) 20 20 400m 600

Anti-Tank Rifles

WZ-35 Rif N 4d10AP(7.92x107mm) 4 1 400m 1000


KIS SMG J 2d6+1(9mmLuger) 32 20 150m 350
Blyskawica SMG J 2d6+1(9x19Para) 32 32 150m 400
Mors SMG L 2d6+1(9x19Para) 24 24 150m 500


Grenade(F) HVY P 4d6(40m) 1 1 Bodyx10m 30
Grenade© HVY P 5/7d6(15m) 1 1 Bodyx10m 30
Dynamite HVY J 6d6/KG 1 1


7.62 Pistol


9mm Pistol


12 Gg


7.92/7.62/.303 Rifle










Covers SP

Heavy Leather Jacket
Arms, Torso 4

Steel Helmet

Head 14














Riding Horse

First Aid Kit





Magnetic Compass





Cigarette Pack


Film(8 pics)

Small Tool Kit



Morphine(1 dose)


Small Electronics Kit

Pack of Cards

2 Dice






Polish Resistance: Rules

As I mentioned before, the All Zombie on the Eastern Front: Polish Resistance game I'm running was inspired by one of noism's posts about a game he was running. I'd like to make a few posts about the Cyberpunk 2020 house-rules I'm using for the game.

In general, the move from the Cyberpunk future to the 1940's Eastern Europe involved a reduction of rules:
  • I dropped the character class system since most of the classes don't make sense in this setting(anyway, the classes are mostly just extensions of the skill-system)
  • A few skills are no longer relevant
  • Cyberware is no longer relevant
I was quite pleased with the result, since it made the highly complex Cyberpunk rules much more focused and concise. I also made a few minor tweaks to simplify the rules even more, like a fixed movement rate for PCs.

I'm going to try and make a few posts in the near future with more details about the house rules.

Polish Resistance: Session 3

The latest session of All Zombies on the Eastern Front: Polish Resistance finally demonstrated the deadly nature of Cyberpunk 2020 rules(shortly after one of the players gave the "constructive criticism" that punching out "helpless" zombies was becoming passe). I had pre-generated the random encounters, but didn't really expect the players to fully-engage the first one due to the overwhelming odds against them. As such I was caught a little off-guard, having to keep track of 20 German troops and 5 Russian POW's. There weren't any major hiccups, but in the future I'll also prepare a chart in advance for tracking the status of all the characters in the pre-generated encounters.

Session Summary
After a short rest and being provided with horses and a rifleman from Jodicus Jecanty's band of resistance fighters, our heros departed for the nearby village of Lipnik. Their purpose: to catch up to the mysterious German convoy seen departing from now zombie-infested Gojcow and learn what they can about it's purposes.

This time they traveled by road, a greater risk, but they were in a hurry to reach the the village by sunset and inquire about the convoy, which must have passed through a full day before them. Riding will weapons visible, they quickly left the road when they saw a large group walking toward them in the opposite direction. Andre, Moriah, and Josafat hid a little ways into the forest, setting up a potential ambush.

A column of 20 battle-worn German troops passed them on the road, leading 5 Russian POW's, several of them barefoot. When they saw the prisoners, the party decided they must try to free them, a daring gesture given the odds. The Germans apparently saw the riders head into the forest because they were on their guard, but the column didn't stop.

At first the party's ambush went well, with Andre's heavy machine gun and Josafat's rifle inflicting heavy casualties on the rear of the column, while Moriah raced through the trees, looking for a vantage from which to throw a grenade.

The Germans split up, with several taking over watching the prisoners while some returned fire and others circled around. A German machine-gunner, followed closely by a medic, raced to the forested area on the other side of the road to set-up his weapon and return fire.

Moriah raced up to the edge of the tree-line, bravely taking the risk of being flanked, and throwing a grenade then ducking behind a tree, thus putting several German troops out of commission.

The Germans returned fire, with Moriah's tree absorbing round after round of SMG and machine gun fire, but her position kept her unharmed. The flanking Germans continued to approach Andrei and Josafat and fired several shots with their rifles but missed. Two surviving Stormtroopers charged them head-on from the road, SMG rounds scattering all around the two resistance fighters.

Andrei gunned down the two Stormtroopers with the machine gun, while Josephat repositioned to shoot at the flanking infantry, his shot hitting a tree. Moria drew her pistol as a Storm Trooper flanked her. She shot him in the arm, wounding him, but two of his shots hit her in her unprotected head, killing the Doctor instantly.

Andrei and Jodicus faced the approaching infantry, with Jodicus' grenade killing or stunning 3 of them and his rifle another, just before he too was shot fatally in the head. Andre faced the remaining two grappling with one, then punching out the other, avoiding the combat-knife of the first, then punching him out too.

Finding himself alone with a flesh wound from a lucky shot, Andrei could not see the remaining 4 Germans and their prisoners, who had repositioned themselves in the deep forest on the other side of the road. Not wanting to risk emerging from the relative safety of the wood(wisely), Andre looted an MP-40 from a dead Stormtrooper as well as a good amount of ammunition and German stick-grenades.

When he saw Moriah's body, he couldn't contain the tears, but ran howling to his horse and rode for Lipnik, intent on continuing their mission at all costs. There he successfully contacted the local resistance(Streetwise skill) where he may potentially find new recruits to help him.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Polish Resistance: Session 2

The second session of All Zombies on the Eastern Front: Polish Resistance started where the previous session left off and mostly took place in the same location, continuing to explore the vacant, zombie-infested village of Gojcow.

The party dispatched the zombies they met pretty efficiently thanks to their Melee/Martial Arts skills as well as to some well-placed SMG bursts. One zombie, who's legs had been shot out from under it, managed to crawl through the melee and bite the good Doctor's leg, leaving her seriously wounded and stunned. Andre lifted her over his shoulder, while continuing to fire his SMG. The zombies were defeated, but Andre was left nearly out of ammunition for his beloved machine pistol.

Two of the zombies encountered were recognized as resistance members, which led to some intriguing clues. The street-wise Andre understood that the piece of paper saying "Red Dog Barks" in Polish was some sort of pass-code. Karina Ludmila's house was searched and a couple grenades were found along with love letters from one Waldemar Lubomir from the now Russian-occupied city of Sandomierz. Dr. Zim declared that they must seek out this person and inform him of the untimely demise of his sweetheart.

The party looted the general store and shoe-maker's store, taking with them rolls of leather for repairing their protective leather-jackets and with plans of fashioning similar leather pants. They declined to investigate the church(where they would have found the town's only surviving resident) and then set about looking for mounts to make the journey easier.

Wary from their injuries, they avoided confrontation with a shambling zombie-pack, however, six failed luck-rolls later revealed only zombie-horses, which were quickly put out of their misery.

In the end, the pair left town on foot, headed South on the long walk to Sandiomierz. As they left the road and headed into the forest to avoid the first town on their route, they were accosted by a proud-looking man wearing a Polish cavalry sword and informing them that they were surrounded. Andre wisely used the passcode found earlier and gained the band of resistance-fighters' confidence.

After telling their story, the rebel leader, one Jodocus Jacenty of the 5th Polish Cavalry, told a story of his own. Apparently, the previous afternoon, a small German convoy was seen heading South, away from Gojcow. This was unusual for two reasons:
  1. Most of the German troops had already withdrawn North to Opatow, and the few that remain are fleeing in that direction
  2. The convoy included a halftrack and a truck with a strangely unrecognized insignia
The exchange ended with the party putting off their trip to Sandomierz and accepting a mission from Jodocus: to catch up with the convoy and find out what they are up to and possibly to sabotage it if they are able. Jodocus agreed to provide the party with a place to take a short rest, horses, and one of his men to help them in their mission.

Thursday 24 February 2011

Polish Resistance: Session 1

I was inspired enough by Noisms' All Zombies on the Eastern Front game to run a similar game myself. I'm calling it "All Zombies on the Eastern Front: Polish Resistance" and it's set in Poland 1944 as the Russian offensive gained steam against the tiring German forces.

Session 1 saw Moriah Zim, a prominent medical doctor before the war, and Andre Sokolof a former world-class boxer and wrestler, entering the village of Gojcow just before dawn. The two comprise a cell in the Polish resistance forces and are just returning from a mission on the Eastern Front, delivering a message to Stefanya Iga, a resistance member in the village of Gorzyce. They approach the town through the cemetary next to the forest and are attacked by a strangely unresponsive old man. A well-placed punch from Andre snapped the man's neck while Maria prepared to stab him. Even more strange, the pair found a bullet wound in the man's chest which Maria determined must have been fatal. They bury the body shalowly in a ready grave, hoping that it isn't noticed.

Entering town looking for their contact in the resistance, the pair found the town eerily silent and the ground of town square was stained with blood and a disquieting smell permeated the place. While taking the opportunity to replenish their dwindling supplies in the local General Store via breaking and entering, the pair encountered a pair of townspeople who shuffled towards them in a similar state to the old man. A few gunshots and punches later and the pair was dispatched, with Moriah's newly-looted axe proving especially effective.

After burning the bodies with karosene looted from the store, the pair makes their way to their contact's house in the eery morning-silence, eventually breaking-in and finding the place deserted. They find a letter from one Longin Jozafat detailing various family-members' activities in the nearby town of Opatow. They also uncover a hidden-niche under an antique rug depicting the Prussian Knights in the War of the Cities. The nitch contains a heavy water-cooled machine-gun.

Andre and Moriah then head toward the Nazi guardpost on the South-side of town, but are accosted by an aquaintance, one Karina Ludmila, also a member of the resistance. She and her companion also stare at the party with dead-eyes as they approach. Andre misses with his SMG and a melee insues. The aquaintance is dispatched with a powerful punch to the head, but Moriah amusingly rolled a critical miss, slashing Andre's left-arm through his leather-jacket with her axe with a wound that would have floored a lesser-man. Before the other zombie is dispatched, Moriah is bitten in her left-arm, leaving both of our heroes lightly-wounded.

The bodies are searched and the party finds money and a set of keys on Karina.

Billy Goes to Mordor

I'm starting this blog primarily as a place to post game-session summaries. That said, maybe I'll post some gaming-related thoughts.

For the first post, I'll give a short list of my favorite Old School gaming blogs:

Monsters and Manuals introduced me to a Cyberpunk and Shadowrun. Some really good and useful gaming ideas with a tendancy towards the Lovecraftian and Post-Apocalyptic.

Grognardia helped me understand the roots of the hobby. It also gets credit for my seeking out and reading Lovecraft, Howard, C. A. Smith.

Planet Algol a zany sword and planet hack of DnD. Some really wild ideas and entertaining game-session summaries.