Saturday, 1 February 2020

Tortles for OSE and other B/X clones


They're turtle people. You have a stronger idea of what that means for your setting than whatever guff is in the monster manual.

Physical Detail (d12)

  1. irregular, blotchy shell colours, almost like leopard spots
  2. belly indicates sex: concave is male, convex is female
  3. powerful, bone-crushing jaw
  4. looong neck, as long as your torso
  5. bright red belly in youth, slowly fades to orange with age
  6. overlapping spurs on your forelimbs, like a pine cone or scale mail
  7. upper jaw tapers straight down like a hawk's beak
  8. spiny, crinkly brown head like a fallen autumn leaf
  9. each scute of your shell is pale in the centre, shading to a dark border.
  10. small pig-like snout
  11. spiny ridge down the centre of your shell
  12. light and dark lines run radially through each scute

What trinket do you carry with you? (d6)

  1. a crude knife made from a sharpened clam, given to you by your youngest child.
  2. your great grandmother's claw, yellowed and brittle, bound tightly to your forearm with a woven bracelet.
  3. a jar of toasted seaweed you traded for. you allow yourself little snacks as a reward.
  4. a fragment of speckled sea glass. it throbs in seawater.
  5. tattooing needle and bright ochre inks. you are still unmarked but will be ready when the time comes.
  6. a glass bottle you found floating in the sea, holding a crude map of an island you do not recognise and a letter in the human tongue pleading for help.

Stats for Old-School Essentials and other retroclones

XP Requirements. As Magic-User

Ability Score Requirements. Con 9

Languages. Alignment, Common, Lizard man

Saves. As Fighter. Saves vs wands and breath attacks are made as a Fighter 3 levels higher, due to your protective shell.

Attack. As Fighter. You can wield all weapons, but tortles usually disdain bows and crossbows in favour of slings and thrown weapons more resilient to wet environments.

Hit Dice. 1d8 per level, +3 per level after 9th.

Claws. You can make melee attacks with a hand that isn't holding anything. This deals damage as a dagger, i.e. 1d4, if the optional rule for variable weapon damage is used.

Hold Breath. You can hold your breath for 6 turns (60 minutes). Strenuous activity such as combat consumes air at twice the normal rate, or a minimum of 1 turn.

Navigator. You count as a navigator on the open ocean, reducing the chance of getting lost to 2-in-6. See Waterborne Adventuring: Losing Direction.

Shell. Your Armour Class is as plate armour, i.e. AC 3 [16]. You cannot wear armour over your body, but you can wield a shield, and can benefit from magical bracers and greaves.

Swimming. You aren't an exceptional swimmer compared to other aquatic demihumans, but you are more adept than a typical human. Whenever you negotiate an aquatic hazard, adjust your odds of success by 10% on a percentile roll, or by 2 if the referee prefers an ability check rolled on d20. See Hazards and Challenges: Swimming. Note that a single failure is unlikely to cause drowning, due to your Hold Breath ability, but subtracting 1 or more turns of available air is a possible outcome of a failed roll.

Tortle Progression
Level XP Hit Dice To-Hit Saving Throws
Death Wands Paralysis Breath Spells
1st 0 1d8 19 [+0] 12 11 14 13 16
2nd 2,500 2d8 19 [+0] 12 11 14 13 16
3rd 5,000 3d8 19 [+0] 12 11 14 13 16
4th 10,000 4d8 17 [+2] 10 9 12 10 14
5th 20,000 5d8 17 [+2] 10 9 12 10 14
6th 40,000 6d8 17 [+2] 10 9 12 10 14
7th 80,000 7d8 14 [+5] 8 7 10 8 12
8th 150,000 8d8 14 [+5] 8 7 10 8 12
9th 300,000 9d8 14 [+5] 8 7 10 8 12
10th 450,000 9d8+3* 12 [+7] 6 5 8 5 10

* Modifiers from CON no longer apply.

Optional: Separation of Race and Class

If you are playing with the Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules, tortles have the following benefits.

I strongly disagree with that book's decision to adjust ability scores, and haven't provided such adjustments. Similarly, come up with your own demihuman level limits if you want to.

XP Requirements, Ability Score Requirements, Saves, Attack, Hit Dice: As your chosen class.

Languages, Claws, Hold Breath, Navigator, Swimming: As above.

Shell. As above.

Additionally, your bulk may hinder certain thief-type skills at the referee's discretion.

Your shell doesn't affect divine spellcasting, but does impede arcane spellcasting. If you belong to an arcane spellcasting class, you have half the spell slots (rounded up) that that class would normally have at your level. e.g. a 7th-level tortle Magic-User has two 1st-level slots, one 2nd-level slot, one 3rd-level slot, and one 4th-level slot.

Your shell grants you a bonus to saving throws versus wands and breath attacks. This bonus is dependent on your CON score, as follows:

  • 6 or lower: No bonus
  • 7-10: +2
  • 11-14: +3
  • 15-17: +4
  • 18: +5

Other Advanced Genre Rules Class Notes

  • Knight. A tortle Knight of 5th level or higher may train aquatic monsters as mounts at the referee's discretion.

  • Paladin. A tortle Paladin of 4th-level or higher may summon a sacred crocodile instead of a warhorse. AC 5 [14], HD 5+5 (27 hp) Att 1 × bite (1d8), THAC0 14 [+5], MV 90’ (30’) / 90’ (30’) swimming, SV D8 W9 P10 B10 S12 (4), ML 9, AL Lawful

Monday, 6 January 2020

Randomly Eroded Messages

I was reading about WIPP and other long-term nuclear waste disposal sites, and it occurred to me that the proposed warning markers (for after the site is decommissioned in the next couple of decades) are an interesting thing for adventuring PCs to stumble across while hexcrawling. Both the physical shape of the markers -- an attempt to convey meaning through architectural form alone -- and the textual messages, which would rely on maintenance and future civilisations appending copies translated into their own language.

So to facilitate this -- and for any other case where you might want to generate multiple copies of the same text each damaged differently (e.g an abandoned library) -- I wrote a small script. You can change the font to wingdings or something if you want to give untranslated copies to players, or hand them out as-is if they have access to comprehend languages or proficiency in ancient languages. The Python script and a PDF of 20 pregenerated messages are on my google drive. The PDF is A4-sized -- just print out single-sided, cut each page in half, and you'll have 20 copies. Roll a d20 or just hand out a random one each time the party finds a new marker. Even with aggressive "erosion" the message is still quite readable, so if you want to obscure, say, the word "radioactive" some more, tear off the top of the message to simulate a broken marker.

An example message:

These structures mark an area used to bury radioactive wastes and hazardous materials. This place was chosen to put these dangerous materials far away from people and other living things. The rock and water in this area may not look, feel or smell unusual, but may be poisoned by radioactive wastes and hazardous materials. When radioactive matter decays, it gives off invisible energy that can destroy or damage people, animals, and plants.

Do not drill here. Do not dig here. Do not do anything with rocks or water in this area.

Do not destroy this marker. This marking system has been designed to last 10,000 years. If the marker is difficult to read, add new markers composed of longer-lasting materials and copy this message in your language onto them.

Monday, 30 December 2019

A small Python script for die-drop tables

Someone was asking about ways to do die-drop tables online (other than pointing a webcam at a physical sheet of paper and dice, I guess). At first I was thinking about some program that opens a png, picks a random pixel, and looks up the RGB value to determine what's encountered. Then I realised if I could make it work with Hex Kit, it'd be way prettier. And it turns out Hex Kit's .map files are really just renamed .json files, so it's super-easy to just pick a random tile in that json, get the filepath to the associated image for that tile, and look up the filename in some user-defined dictionary.

So here's a quick proof of concept. You'll have to download the script and run it in the command line, since I still have no idea how to make a proper webapp. It's pretty limited, but maybe it's of some use to people.

The example provided is a small random encounter table that's for use in a city, but based on the surrounding surrounding wilderness. Is it a good random table? No. Does it suffice as an example? Sure, I guess.

Human-Readable Version

Roll a d6 on the above hex map. Note which hex type the die lands upon, look it up in the following table. Some entries also use the face-up side of the die. Treat coastal hexes as their land terrain-type, not as ocean.

Hex Type Encounter
Jungle (dark green) Traders from the jungle clans. They have [1. brightly coloured snakes, 2. shavings of bark from various medicinal trees, 3. river-gold, painstakingly panned, 4. six glowing orbs of various sizes, looted from a sunken temple, 5. giant capybaras, excellent pack animals, 6. scavenged goods from the last, failed military expedition into the mountains] for sale.
Meadow (light green) [1. A few, 2-3. Several, 4-5. Dozens of, 6. Hundreds of] farmers angry at the viceroy's new taxes
Mountain (brown) The elephant-powered klaxon sounds. An air-raid from those goddamn mountain pterodactyls again. They carry incendiary bombs in their talons. Parents shoo their children into stone cellars.
Ocean (blue) A ship sails into port, bearing the flag of [1. Redbeard's pirates, 2-3. the Imperial Navy, 4. the Open-Handed Ones, 5. one of the petty river-kings, 6. a PLAGUE SHIP]
Swamp (purple) The swamp-sorcerer has sent envoys to purchase research materials. They are looking for [1. a live bear, 2. a chunk of floatstone from the Flying Fortress, 3. the bitter tears of a child who's just learned Santa isn't real, 4. silt from one of the jungle's more alkaline rivers, 5. tobacco, the good kind, 6. a human heart] and will pay well above market price for speedy delivery.
Volcano (orange) KRAKABOOOOOOOOOOOM! The volcano erupts, huge pyroclastic cloud sweeping over the farming hinterland. You see wealthy folk rushing to buy as many supplies as possible and hunker down, while the poor look on with dread at what is to come.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Variant Social Rules

Here are a couple of variant rules for social interactions. Their goal is to spread around who gets to be the party face, both by lowering the incentive for the character with the highest Cha to make every social roll, and by occasionally forcing other characters into the front seat.


One thing that struck me when watching The Bad Sequel is that:

  • whenever there's an alien language, one of the protags can pretty much always speak it and translate for the others
  • unless C-3PO is around, the translating protagonist is more-or-less randomly chosen

And I like this. It's simple and quick. It's no longer "everyone but the bard can safely dump Cha", since you never know when you'll be called upon to handle negotiations.

So here's a variant language rule:

All PCs, being widely-travelled oddball sorts, are multilingual, but language proficiencies aren't determined at character creation. Don't write down any proficiencies you might have from race, class, background or a high Int score.

When a character tries to understand or communicate with an NPC who isn't speaking Common, the GM decides the following:

  • Is the NPC even capable of language? One GM might rule that a reanimated skeleton understands language, another might rule a skeleton magically follows its creator's commands but otherwise doesn't understand language. This is fine.
  • Do outsiders share the NPC's language, or are they so culturally insular or isolated that this isn't possible? Obviously, secret languages like Druidic fall under this category too.

If the answer to both questions is yes, then the GM selects a single PC at random. Optionally, hirelings and the like can be included in this random selection process. This can be done with a bag of tokens, rolling a die and counting clockwise, whatever. I like the bag of tokens.

That PC can speak the language, perhaps not fluently, but enough to hold/follow a simple conversation.


There are no skills like Persuade, Intimidate, Diplomacy, etc.

You might decide to leave a Sense Motive/Insight skill in place. I would limit its uses to learning an NPC's emotional state, one of their ideals or bonds, or, in combat, judging what their immediate intent might be.

The player roleplays their character's pitch, then someone rolls 1d6 to determine the outcome. On a modified 5 or greater, they succeed.

The GM might raise or lower the difficulty. A Peaceful Villager might only need 3, a Haughty Archmage might need 7. Or the GM might apply the Powerful Enemies rule instead. This is meant to be simple though -- don't overcomplicate things trying to capture every nuance.

Modifiers to the roll:

  • +1 if you have a relevant background
  • +1 for a good social stat, e.g. 13+ in Cha. No further bonuses.
  • +1 if you offer something of value*
  • +1 if you appeal to one of the NPC's ideals, bonds, factional alignment etc.
  • +1 if you act your heart out (can be hammy, doesn't have to be "good")
  • -1 to 3 for demands that put the NPC at risk. -1 is "risk a parking ticket", -2 is "risk divorce", -3 is "be your torchbearer in the dungeon"

*Obviously the thing you offer needs to have value somewhere in the same ballpark as the request -- this is left to GM fiat.


Use a Powerful Enemies rule if you like -- if the NPC has more hit dice than the PC, the difference is added to the difficulty of the roll. The reverse doesn't apply -- a 15th level fighter doesn't magically make every turnip farmer bend to their will. For 5e, use the difference in CR instead of difference in Hit Dice.

Certain NPCs may be immune to swaying the odds in particular ways, or may be more susceptible. Maybe a Magpiefolk gives you +2 to the roll if you offer a shiny geegaw of value, while a Angel gives you -1 to the roll instead, righteously furious that you would dare offer a bribe.

You can simulate regional language groups, loanwords, pidgins etc by putting an extra token in the bag when choosing who knows the language. This token represents whichever character, based on the GM's judgement, is most likely to know a language. e.g. the token represents the party dwarf when adventuring underground, the elf when adventuring in forests, and within the cosmopolitan City States of Arthea, the PC with "Background: Merchant". This isn't really a mechanical benefit, as any increase in one character's odds of knowing a language come at the expense of everyone else's odds. That is, don't make this a feat or anything.

I've presented this as a d6 roll-over, but feel free to reskin it to d6-roll-under, or modify this into a PbtA move or something. You could also multiply all the modifiers by 3 and use d20 roll-over, or use SotDL's boons & banes mechanic, whatever takes your fancy


Yes, this means the polar Snow Elves and the Aquatic Elves of the tropical coral atolls probably don't speak the same "Elven" language. This is intentional.

I don't like how much weight 3e/4e/5e, or The Black Hack's d20 roll-under Cha, gives to possessing a high social stat. e.g. low-level 5e has a difference of about +5 (or +7 with Expertise) on d20, between a trained character with 16 Cha, and an untrained character with 10 Cha. All other factors (bribes, appealing to the NPC's beliefs, good roleplaying, etc) are typically handled with advantage/disadvantage, which doesn't stack.

This just gets worse as characters level up -- their proficiency bonuses increase, they may even find magic items that raise Cha beyond 20. For 3e D&D (faster scaling, stats don't cap at 20, magic skill bonuses are commonplace) the math is even worse, though Rich Burlew did write a nice, if crunchy, replacement Diplomacy rule a looong time ago).

So I want to reward clever manipulation and willingness to perform, but also allow a bit of room for characters being better at social stuff than their players, and not have the outcome be entirely DM fiat. Having a die result to point to, with really simple modifiers that are all worth the same 17% of the die spread, hopefully strikes the right balance for me.

Offering something of value is only ever worth +1. Why? Consider the following two examples:

  • A stranger in the street offers me $10 to do some errand. Sure, I'll probably do it. If he offers me $10,000 for the same errand, he's probably a scammer.
  • You're medieval nobility. A representative of the Pope says if you go on crusade, you'll be absolved of your sins (and oh, how you've sinned). This is theoretically a reward of infinite value, the difference between paradise and eternal suffering, yet not every nobleman went and did a Richard I. Humans are not rational appraisers.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Dungeon Rooms, Factions, and Random Tables for Determining their Relationship

Here is a quick draft of a random generator I wrote for determining how dungeon factions relate to a trick room of the dungeon. It's not fully baked, but I want to share it in the hopes of getting some feedback.

What do I mean by "trick room"? Some examples include the 20 pieces of strange dungeon decor I wrote a year ago, or Nick Whelan's Deadly Dungeons (pdf, print). Now, this isn't "trick room" in the strict AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide sense, as the list of strange decor aren't all puzzles or obstacles. It also includes "environmental storytelling rooms", basically anything odd or seemingly out-of-place that holds the players' interest.

Anyway, if you're grafting a trick room into a dungeon with factions — say, kobolds, goblins, and the peaceful tooth golems that just want some quiet time to relax in their fluoride pools — then it helps to know which faction controls the room, and what their attitude to the room is. You know, so the graft will take.

Roll on the tables, or just use the questions they present as a starting point for your own brainstorming. Embrace apparently incongruous results. Do the human bandits value the room because they are drawn there to spawn? Maybe they're not quite as human as they seemed.

1. Who controls the room now?

1-4. A dungeon faction (choose faction randomly, then roll on [3])
5-6. It's in no-man's-land — roll on [2]

2. Why is it in no-man's-land?

  1. Factions are new to the dungeon. They either haven't discovered the room or are racing to claim it.
  2. Warding spells preserve the room, conjuring spirit guardians who attack those who deface it or linger too long.
  3. The room was controlled by a third, recently ousted faction.
  4. The room appeared out of nowhere just last week.
  5. Factions have agreed to treat the room as a neutral meeting ground, a place of amnesty where blood may not be shed.

3. Faction relationship with room

  1. They don't know it exists
  2. They know it exists, but have put "unravel its secrets" on the backburner while they deal with more pressing issues
  3. They actively fear, avoid, or loathe the room
  4. Mixed feelings, or the room is the focus of some intra-factional conflict
  5. They value the room — roll on [4]
  6. They will defend their possession of the room to the last person.

4. Why do they value/defend the room?

  1. They believe it to be tactically useful in defense against other dungeon factions or marauding adventurers
  2. The room has resources that fulfil material needs — roll on [5]
  3. The room has spiritual significance — roll on [6]
  4. Another faction seems to really want it, therefore we must deny it
  5. We held the room in the good old days, WE MUST HOLD IT AGAIN!

5. Material Needs:

  1. An inportant food source can be found here
  2. They use the room as shelter, living or work space
  3. they quarry the walls for building materials
  4. they are instinctively drawn here to spawn

6. Spiritual Needs

  1. They inter their dead here.
  2. This is a church or temple to them, a place to perform rites.
  3. This is a site of historical significance, a sacred place in their cultural memory.

7. How do they defend/control it?

  1. They garrison fighters within the room.
  2. Barricades and locked doors.
  3. The room is well behind the border/front line — get past that and very little stops you from reaching the room.
  4. They've placed a magical curse upon those who trespass.
  5. They regularly scry on the room, or have tiny animals, insects etc keeping tabls on it. That is, you can easily trespass into the room, but they will know and rapidly respond
  6. They don't defend it. They are a trusting people.

8. What happened to the Builders?

  1. They're still around — they're one of the dungeon factions. They may still possess the necessary architectural skills, they may not. They may currently hold the room, or have been ousted.
  2. Their civilisation was destroyed long ago by climate change. Ambient magic keeps this room at the temperature they preferred — a temperature uncomfortable for humans.
  3. They tired of their former lives and shrunk themselves to micrometre scale. Their whole society is still here, busy exploring and documenting the strange vistas and denizens of a mossy flagstone in the corner.
  4. They have embobbled themselves in anticipation of some future age, putting themselves in temporal stasis inside silver orbs blood-warm to the touch. The bobbles are stacked in neat rows in this room and elsewhere in the dungeon. A bobble can be moved, but cannot be breached, nor its contents determined.
  5. Pestilence. Their skeletons, contorted in agony and covered in virulent growths, lie in mass graves under the floor of this room and elsewhere in the dungeon. Erosion may have exposed bodies, or created voids about to cave in.
  6. They were colonists, whose ideology of superiority led them to underestimate their colonial subjects. They were driven out, their monuments destroyed, all except for this one.

Monday, 25 November 2019

A Review of Mausritter

Mausritter is an RPG by Isaac Williams where you are adventuring mice. It's super-cute and packs a lot of tools into its 24 pages. The system is mostly based on Into the Odd, with additional mechanics taken from Knave and the Goblin Punch blog, and layout/usability ideas from Mothership and the Last Gasp Grimoire blog. Isaac also cites Mouse Guard and Mice & Mystics for theme and tone.

The game has a recommended price of US$3, which is more than fair, but if that's a financial burden, the author's set no minimum price.

Adventuring mice is not a new RPG theme, and if you broaden it to other small woodland animals, Bunnies & Burrows is nearly as old as D&D itself. So let's look at what sets Mausritter apart, and why I like it?

Rolling Up a Character

Making a character is simple and mostly random. The author has also provided a one-click online generator. Your starting equipment is determined for you in a way similar to Into the Odd, so you can get straight to the adventure.

You have three Ability Scores: Strength, Dexterity, and Will. For each score in order, roll 3d6 and drop the lowest die. You can then swap two scores.

This method produces scores in the following distribution, in case you want to houserule ability score arrays or point-buy. I like random chargen, but if a player hated it I'd let them take 7, 9, 10 (the three quartile points of the distribution) in any order.

You then roll on tables for:

  • Birthsign, which determines your disposition. Each has two qualities, softly divided into virtue and vice. e.g. Nurturing/Worrying.
  • Coat Appearance
  • Physical Detail.

Only a couple of entries on these tables give any obvious fictional advantage, so again, while randomly rolling on them is fun, letting players choose should be OK.

You then roll 1d6 for starting HP and starting Pips. HP is your capacity to avoid harm. Once it's depleted, damage goes onto one of your ability scores (typically STR). So an HP of 1 is less disastrous than in, say, B/X, but still scary.

You then cross reference your HP and Pips against a table to determine your Background, with gives you starting equipment. Like ItO, worse HP & pip rolls mean you start with better stuff. If you have bad/mediocre ability scores, you then roll on the table as well.

e.g. a mouse whose highest ability score is 8, and who starts with 1 HP and 2 Pips, was a kitchen forager before becoming an adventurer. They start with a shield & jerkin, cookpots, plus what all mice start with: torches, rations, and weapon of your choice. Because their highest ability score is 8, I roll again on the background table and choose one of the items it gives me. I roll (1, 4), and start with a healing spell from the Hedge witch background. Maybe I nicked it off them?

Unlike Into the Odd, the worse equipment given to characters who roll better doesn't include any negative entries like "debt" or "a missing arm". Just less obviously useful stuff like a felt hat.

And that's it! No complicated class features -- if you have a spell you'll need to quickly look over what it does, but the spellcasting rules are pretty simple too.

Core Mechanics

OK but what does a score of 9 mean? Mausritter uses d20-roll-equal-or-under. When outcome is in doubt, roll a d20, no modifiers. If you roll over your score, you fail. If you roll equal or below, you succeed. Situational advantage and disadvantage can apply. Advantage means rolling two d20 and using the lower roll, disadvantage means using the higher roll.

Yes, this means an average mouse will fail 55% of rolls, and the most gifted starting mouse will still fail 40% of rolls. Like many OSR games, if you have to roll at all, you've generally made a mistake or are in a desperate situation. I'll quote from the game,

When you describe your mouse doing something risky where the outcome is uncertain and failure has consequences, the GM will ask you to make a save against one of these ability scores.

You'll also have to roll saves to see if you're affected by a spell -- i.e. the risk isn't always player-directed, it be something the character is subjected to like modern D&D's understanding of a saving throw -- but the point still stands. Make a plan that's clever enough, and that accounts for the dangers the GM should be telegraphing to you, and you succeed without having to roll.

Equipment is recovered from adventure sites or bought/sold in mouse settlements. The inside-front-cover is a table of gear for sale in pips, the "standard currency of the mouse kingdom". Stuff for sale is your standard D&Dish nonmagical gear and dungeoncrawling tools, rethemed for mouse-sized characters. Notably the adventuring gear is divided into mouse-made and human-made categories. The latter is only available in mouse settlements near where humans live.

Then we get to the How to Play section. A quick summary of old-school player principles, then the core mechanics. Again, rolling dice is dangerous -- scheme with other mice to make plans that avoid rolling.

Combat and Healing

Attacks always hit. The attacker simply rolls weapon damage and subtracts it from the target's HP. Once that's gone, damage is applied to their Str score.

Weapon damage has no ability score modifiers. Damage dice range from d6 for small weapons to d10 for heavy weapons.

Since there's no to-hit roll, advantage/disadvantage doesn't apply here. Attacks that are impaired (e.g. firing into cover) always deal 1d4 damage, attacks that are enhanced (e.g. a backstab) always deal 1d12. You could houserule that the attacker instead rolls their normal damage die twice, taking the best/worst. I'm not sure why the author chose to do it this way.

Wearing armour (whether light or heavy) subtracts 1 from any incoming damage.

If damage reduces your Str score to 0, you die immediately. Otherwise, if an attack deals Str damage to you, you then make an Str save (using your now-reduced score). If you fail, you are knocked out and take the Injured condition. If you aren't tended to in 6 turns, you die.

Note "6 turns" here means the old-school "dungeon turn" of ~10 minutes. So if you take a wound, e.g. while exploring ahead on your own, you can survive an hour without treatment.

A short rest (one turn or 10 minutes) restores 1d6+1 HP. A long rest (one watch or 6 hours) restores all HP, or 1d6 to a damaged ability score if your HP is already full. A week's rest in safety clears all damage and most conditions. There is a healing spell, if you're lucky enough to have it.

Item Management

Since you have no class features, your abilities come down to creative use of what you carry.

Each character has an inventory with

  • a main paw and off-paw slot
  • two body slots. Worn armour goes here, or other things you want readily at-hand.
  • six slots in your pack. Items here take time to retrieve.

It looks like this:

You can carry more stuff than you have slots, but this leaves you encumbered.

You get these cute item cards to place in your slots:

Most are squares that take up one item slot on your sheet, but some items (armour, large weapons) are rectangles that take up two slots. The orientation of the rectangles is important -- you can't place a spear "sideways" on your sheet so it takes up a paw slot and a body slot, you have to wield it with both paws.

The card geometry is important! e.g. light and heavy armour provide the same defense, but light armour takes up your off-paw slot and one body slot, while heavy armour takes both your body slots. It's unclear whether you can rotate cards 90 degrees to fit sideways in your pack.

Importantly, conditions you might receive, like Hungry or Frightened, are also represented as cards that take up a slot. Hungry actually has no innate effect besides taking up a slot -- as you continue to go without food, you take more Hungry cards that further lower your carrying capacity.

Note that various item cards have three little dots to mark usage. This is a game that prioritises item bookkeeping instead of class features, but it tries to make that bookkeeping as easy as possible. Rations mark a dot whenever you eat a meal, torches every few dungeon turns. Ammunition is tested once after each fight, with a 3-in-6 chance of marking a dot. Spells also have dots, but work a bit differently.

You can store gear and your savings at a bank in any decent-size mouse settlement. Mice in settlements also generally deal in barter and IOUs rather than using pips for every transaction.


Even though the game is classless, there are levels. Leveling up is really quick and can be done in a minute in the middle of a session, but doesn't give you anything beyond some extra resilience and maybe improved ability scores. You progress more or less linearly up to 4th level, with only slow improvement beyond that.

Like many player-directed sandbox games, leveling up is via XP. 1000 XP gets you to 2nd level, then 3000, 6000, and +5000 for each level thereafter.

You get XP for:

  • bringing treasure from dangerous places back to the safety of mouse settlements. 1 pip = 1 XP.
  • spending your pips on selfless improvements for the community. 10 pips = 1 XP. A nice touch!
  • This isn't explicit in the rules, but the NPC tables in the back of the book list how many pips an NPC may reward you with for doing them a favour or service. This could form a basis for awarding quest XP. It's up to the GM whether XP comes attached to reward pips (which incentivises doing favours for noblemice who'll pay you more), or is given when reward pips cannot be (e.g. the humble peasant mice have no pips to give you for saving them from a snake, so you get XP for it instead).

When you level up, you:

  • roll a d20 for each of your ability scores. If you roll greater than that ability score, increase it by 1.
  • roll d6 equal to your new level (maximum of 4d6). If the result is greater than your current max HP, it becomes your new max HP. Otherwise, increase max HP by 1.
  • You also get a resource called Grit, which is basically virtual inventory slots you place conditions in before they start taking up your real inventory slots. It maxes out at 3.


Like in Knave, each spell is represented by a physical item taking up an inventory slot. Spells (beyond any you start with) must generally be recovered as treasure or stolen. Though since they can be sold, presumably you can sometimes buy them?

Spells have three usage dots. When you cast a spell, you choose how much power to cast it with, up to the number of unmarked dots. Roll that many d6 to determine effect. Higher rolls are a stronger effect, but will also cause dots to be marked, or cause you to take Will damage.

Each spell has a unique ritual that must be conducted to coax the spirit back into the item and clear usage dots. e.g. Ghost Beetle (a spell similar to Tenser's Floating Disc) is recharged by burying the spell tablet in a beetle graveyard for three nights.

This is a really cool alternative to the level-less Vancian system that Knave uses for its spells, particularly if you like magic to carry some risk.

GMing Tools

The GMing section has some standard OSR principles: let players find their own adventure, present the world honestly, telegraph danger, be an impartial arbiter, reward bravery. It also tells you to make the world seem huge -- they characters are mice!

It then suggests a few tools, like an X-in-6 roll for luck-based events outside the characters' control, various possible consequences for failing a save (besides damage), weather tables, random encounter rolls, reaction and morale rules, all the usual old-school stuff.

NPC creatures have ability scores similar to player characters, probably a special power or two. Each also has a 1d6 table unique to that creature, e.g. NPC mice have 1d6 Rival Mouse Adventurers, Ghosts have 1d6 Ghostly Powers, Faeries have a list of 1d6 Agendas. I love this idea, it really emphasises how these creatures are intended to be used.

Then there's instructions for creating a hexcrawl, with a prepopulated example so you can start playing immediately.

The rest of the book is a bunch of random tables for hex contents, landmarks, mouse settlement details, adventure sites and their denizens, adventure seeds, and NPC mice.

The last page is a quick reference sheet summarising basic mechanics and the rules for resting and spellcasting.

Some example rolls:

Adventure Site

Construction: Noblemouse's country manor Ruination: Disease Inhabitants: Rat King's warband ...Searching For/Protecting: The last scraps in a picked-over ruin Secret: Monolith humming with arcane energy

Mouse Settlement

Name: Figdale Size: Village (150-300 mice) Inhabitants: Spend their days lazing by a stream Notable Feature: Ornate gate guarded by statues Event: Wizard tower arrives on tortoise-back (!)

An NPC mouse:

Name: Sorrel Grant Position: Common Birthsign: Mother (nurturing/worrying) Appearance: bent-twig walking stick Quirk: quick, erratic speech Wants: Power

Adventure Seed:

a Mouse Matriach's home is under attack, the antagonist is very drunk.

Why This Game May Not Be Your Cup of Tea

Now for some things that may mean this game isn't your cup of tea. Or possibly that it's more your cup of tea?

  • there's no incredibly novel mechanics or unique theme in this game, only the tried-and-tested rejiggered into a fresh, cohesive whole. If you prefer games on itch to explore radical design space, or be hyper-focused on a particular experience, this isn't it.
  • there's no metanarrative currency or any other way to ameliorate a bad roll.
  • there's no mechanics, or GM advice, around testing the characters' beliefs, like there is in Mouse Guard. Similarly, there's no rule (beyond XP for community improvement) that disincentivises being a murderhobo. That's left to in-fiction stuff like villages ostracising you and other adventurers hunting you down.
  • The creatures of the setting have baked-in morality. If you're not a fan of games that cast all rats as wicked brutes, or all cats as cruel and overweening, you'll get less use out of some of the GM-facing material.
  • If you want character abilities outside of what stuff they carry, or hate any form of item management (even the easy visual version this presents) then I don't know how you made it this far??????
  • If you want a ruleset that rewards players for making the "badass" play like charging in to fight the scorpion one-on-one, uhhh, this isn't the game for you. The scorpion will snip their head off! This is the ruleset where you try to negotiate with the scorpion (from a safe distance!), avoid it altogether, or lure it under a cinderblock you've positioned atop a ditch.
  • The dying rules may not be to your taste. This is easily changed -- just temporarily incapacitate mice, have them captured, or forced to retire from adventuring instead of character death.
  • Finally this game requires a full set of polyhedral dice. You could hack it so that all player-facing stuff is d20 & d6 only -- the other dice only get used for weapon damage -- but as with D&D expect some slowdown if you're playing with ppl who can't tell a d8 from a d10 at a glance.


  • a great melding of Into the Odd and Knave with ideas borrowed from other authors/bloggers
  • The illustrations throughout are adorable, print-friendly and set tone well
  • Monsters and GM tables are dense with setting detail.
  • If you're at all familiar with OSR games, you already know how to run this.
  • If you're not, it has a good summary of GMing principles, avoids the peculiarities of retroclones, and has straightforward, classless player-facing rules.
  • Like all good OSR games, it's eminently hackable, reskinnable, and adaptable.
  • Unlike a typical B/X clone, characters are a bit more resilient to damage at 1st level, though attacks always hit. Beginning spellcasters can cast a spell more than once.

This game is great. It's a steal at $3.

The OSR has a bit of a reputation for producing rehashes of OD&D/BX and/or Keep on the Borderlands, and edgelord "body-horror lair of the tiddy-hydra" stuff. So it can be hard to draw outsiders' attention to great work that they might enjoy. Mausritter is one of the games I will now point to as an example of what the OSR is capable of.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Recent Projects and Future Plans

Axe for the Frozen Sea

So the d10-based game that I alluded to in my last post has been out for a few weeks. Axe for the Frozen Sea is available on itch and drivethrurpg. For the foreseeable future, you can also pick it up as part of the Corazon Bundle that @cartweel has put together.

The game mechanics are heavily inspired by old-school D&D, but adapted to use a d10 for every roll. The purpose of this is to be agnostic about what kind of randomiser you have available. I've tried to write it for situations where dice aren't practical, like standing in line or while bushwalking, or where dice aren't allowed, like many prisons. Of course, prisoners have come up with all sorts of ingenious methods to simulate the full range of polyhedral dice and play D&D.

There are also several system-neutral random tables, like the 1d10 Sacred Lakes table from last post, that hopefully spark referees' imaginations. And so far, I've been ploughing the revenue from Axe into commissioning more tables from writers I admire. There'll be an update to the game files soon that includes the first such table, plus some minor revisions and cleanup.

Reimagine the Dragon

I started a game jam, #ReimagineDragonJam. The idea is to take names of magic items from old issues of Dragon Magazine, then, without looking up what the item does, write a new description. The jam is still open for another week.

My submission is free/PWYW until the jam finishes, after which it'll have some minimum price I haven't decided upon yet. Here's a couple of the items I submitted:

Hypnotic Cauldron

This foot-wide bronze cauldron has four hands serving as handles. Each makes a different gesture cast in intricate detail, but the proportions are unlike any human hands. The cauldron weighs 5 pounds.

When you pour in any liquid, the cauldron will levitate a foot off the ground, and heat the liquid until thick vapours issue forth.

The vapour can be guided and shaped into elaborate shapes by using the four indicated hand gestures. Observers are likely to find the display enthralling, though obviously not real. However if four hands are used to guide the vapours, enthralled creatures are fooled into believing the illusion.

Use whatever procedure your game has for magically affecting a group of creatures. For example, the rules for turning undead could be adapted so a result of "turned" means "enthralled", and "destroyed" means "fooled only if four hands are used, otherwise enthralled".

Finally, if you cast the shed hair or nailclippings of a creature into the roiling brew, you can intuitively shape the vapour into whatever the creature most desires.

Leech Dust

More practical and easy-to-store than real leeches, this fine powder is made by distilling soil from around a vampire's coffin. The powder can be mixed with water to form a paste and shaped into tiny leeches. After an hour, the clay will cure, and the leeches will come to life.

The leeches can reliably extract bloodborne diseases and poisons, as well as treat fevers, gout, inflammation, and other illnesses caused by humoral excesses.

Forming the clay into forms other than leeches is inadvisable -- the higher the form of life, the more wilful it becomes. Leech dust formed into other invertebrates has a 2-in-6 chance of breaking free from the sculptor's control each day. Vertebrate animal forms have a 4-in-6 chance each day, while humanlike forms instantly rebel once cured. Once the creature rebels, it will seek the blood of humans. Insatiable, it is a mockery of vampirism as much as it is of life.

Future Plans

Besides updating Axe, I have some dungeons I need to finish writing, a selkie-themed supplement for 5e and Old School Essentials, some collaborative projects I've let fall dormant... hopefully the turn of the seasons will help me be more productive -- I find it hard to get things done in the winter months.