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Category Archives: Circûmflex

[Circumflex] Social Status as a new ability

I think I am overdoing this whole thing a bit. The whole project was supposed to be a clone of basic D&D with Harnic furnishings. And I am still working on it.

To be fair, right now I am mostly trying to figure out the details for spells and invocations. I converted the spells from the HarnMaster rules, even though in some cases I had to really put them through the wringer to make them fit. Some of them basically are completely different spells, aside from their names. And well, I mostly was converting them for the names anyway. Still, it is kind of a bitch figuring out all those small details like range or duration.

It doesn’t help that sometimes I get other ideas that I then put in. Last week I decided to use the whole idea of starting money as social status in the game. So I now have a new ability.

It makes more sense to me, because the whole society in the setting is stratified and sees things like that as important, but I now have to integrate this ability in the rest of the rules. And already I encountered a problem with one of my players. I tried to bounce the idea of him, and he was generally for it, but then expected SOC to be a variable quantity. Which also makes sense, but not if I treat it as a D&D-like ability. SOC in the case of my rules needs to be static and show the heritage of the character instead of his current social status.

In other words, SOC is the social class the character starts with, and it modifies how much money he/she receives at the beginning and… well, yes, then what?

There should be effects that are based on this quality. It might modify reaction rolls in certain situations. An Earl is more likely to be favorable to a character if that character is of noble birth. As will an innkeeper.

And even if a low born character raises through the social strata, he/she still might be stuck with the disadvantage of a low birth.

“Yeah sure Sir Ered is the champion of Olokand, but he was born a commoner! We don’t associate with commoners!”

But well, that is one effect.

Some other ideas:

  • Social Standing determines the caller/leader of the group (from Planet Algol)
  • social standing gives access to better weaponry (specifically knightly weapons can only be purchased by people of sufficient standing)
  • SOC might also allow for bonuses on other social interactions, it might give bonuses on training rolls (because people might want a noble client), and on carousing rolls.

Speaking of that… I might have to create my own Harnic carousing table. Oh, and speaking of tables, I have to create a “random extremity” table which I already referenced on my “Death and Dismemberment table”.

Sometimes it feels I started with a 30 piece puzzle, only to find at piece 100 that the puzzle has grown and not even halfway done.

[Circûmflex] HP dynamics

Sometimes it is quite interesting what comes out when I just change something small, and then think it through again.

I added one version of the Death and Dismemberment table to the game as an alternative to the original rules. Neither “Death at 0hp” nor “At Death’s Door” really seemed to work for me.

My players naturally gravitate to At Death’s Door. Most of them have played Baldur’s Gate before. They would feel cheated if I told them they died at 0hp. But I think it is cumbersome.

Of course then I replaced it with a whole table and a roll instead of a simple bleeding out rule. Go me.

But adding this table gives an interesting dynamic to the game.

So lets have a look at it. With the rules as I currently have them:

  • hp indicate how much fight a character has in him/her; a character is fine as long as he has positive hp, damage at this point does not cause wounds.
  • if a character falls to 0 hp or below a roll on the Death and Dismemberment table is in order. The character then suffers the consequences according to the table. This can be instant death. Or a very serious injury/lost limb. [I still need to rewrite the table for my own game]
  • A character can use his/her shield to soak up all damage from one combat turn at the cost of the shield (the Shields shall be splintered! rule)
  • A character can use his/her helmet or sturdy hat to turn a fatal blow into an injury instead, at the cost of the headgear and being taken out of the fight by unconsciousness (the Helmets shall be shattered! rule)

There was another idea I found, in that one could use the damage dealt under 0 as a modifier for the roll on the table. Meaning that a good roll from an opponent might make a fatality much more likely.

Here’s the thing though: this idea basically turns hp into stamina; and it provides some interesting player agency (sure you can soak that hit with your shield, but the next one might be worse…). Death on the other hand, only comes when either a roll says so, or when abilities are so degraded that life becomes impossible.

Still working on this one.

[Circûmflex] Gods, and what happened to Alignments in my homebrew system

I always found Alignments in RPGs to be a stupid idea. At one point I went through my houserules and deleted all mentions of evil or good out of them. At least the lawful-neutral-chaotic axis was a bit nicer to handle. But I never really liked them. On the other hand it always seemed such a big part of specifically D&D that you couldn’t just let it go to waste. Or at least I told myself that.

Circûmflex of course is supposed to hew closely to old school rules, but I also want to use it as a chance to create a system that I personally would want to play with. It helps that the setting is too complex to be easily mapped onto the classic alignment system.

Funnily enough, this is because the whole setting has its roots in what most likely was an early D&D campaign. In 2003 N. Robin Crossby republished Lost Gods: The Libram of the Nushenic Pantheon. This is a fascinating little book, with an introduction by the author about its contents. It turns out that the pantheon described in there was the one used in the author’s private role-playing campaign. The original libram was published in 1978 as a handout for the players of this campaign. The lessons of this campaign were later used to construct Harn, and one of the things that were transferred were the characters of some, but not all of the gods described in this booklet. Originally there were 18 of these gods, 6 each in good, neutral, and evil pantheons. When Harn was created these were changed. Some of the gods were simply dropped (the ninja god Shii), others had their aspects melded with each other (Harnic Halea is a mixture of Halea, the goddess of self-interest, and Hedoni, the goddess of pleasure). Some elements were used in other ways: people familiar with Harn might recognize the name of Tave-K’vier, the God of Cruelty and Depravity, as curiously similar to the name of an important cleric of Ilvir [1].

When everything was said and done the original HarnWorld featured material on a eminently gameable pantheon of 10 gods, with curiously divergent areas of influence.

Technically the goddess Peoni is the goddess with the largest mainstream appeal. She is the goddess of fertility, homes, healing, and most other civilized stuff that is important but not really immediately relevant to player characters. And so it appears that even in places where some of the “evil” religions hold sway, most don’t actually want to mess with the Peonians too much. After all, one might need some food for troops, or bodies to raise.

Both Larani and Agrik are just different philosophies on how to deal with Peoni and her followers. Larani wants to protect the meek, Agrik wants to rule them. Both religions get on like a house on fire with each other, meaning lots of dead and ruins.

One of the interesting things here is that there is yet another war god in the pantheon, Sarajin. Srajin was the war god of the neutral pantheon in the Nushenic Libram, and was basically transferred like that to Harn. His philosophical position is that fighting is glorious. Unsurprising then that he is the main god of the Northmen.

(Oh, did I say another? There also is the largely undefined Kelenos/Kelana who is revered in some parts of the south. So far he was not really fleshed out, and it might be that he is just Sarajin with another name, but who knows? I might have to stat some invocations for him though)

Many of the other gods are specific to certain classes: Halea is the goddess of merchants and hedonists.

Siem is the god of dreams and the elder people (the god of the elves AND dwarves).

Save-K’Nor (how are you supposed to pronounce that?!) is the god of wisdom and riddles. (basically the god of wizards)

Ilvir is the god of wild, sorcerous beasts. (a bit of a wild card, but basically the god druids would go for on Harn)

Morgath is the god of death and undeath (god of bad guys and undead)

Naveh is the god of murder (the god for assassins and thieves)

Now, this pantheon is of course kind of weird. It only resembles a proper pantheon with a lot of squinting, and by taking into account extra material about minor gods and demons published in various places, but it certainly gives an interesting dynamic to the world. For one,  it is not even a pantheon so much, as it is ten interlocking pantheons with their own hierarchies and churches.

Over time more has been written about this particular oddly misshapen bunch of gods, enough actually to see it as a functional unit even. The original Gods of Harn supplement already did a lot of work for that, giving a broad overview of both the mythologies and the churches of the gods. But the best way to understand it was the Summa Venariva supplement, a history textbook for a fictional world, in which the development of the religions involved are traced in a way to make the whole thing understandable.

But what does all of this have to do with alignments?

Well, in the broadest sense the religions of Harn are moral compasses that tell their adherents the why and how of their morals. Being godless is possible (Gargun in general are godless for example), but others pay at least lip-service to what their gods tell them. Now this does not mean that players have to follow these ideas, but they should let their decisions be informed by them.

When an adherent of Peoni kills a person he/she should know that this is wrong. When an Agrikan does it he/she should know that his deity likes that. When a Navehan does it he/she should know that the deity demands it.

Players can go against this of course, but they will have to resolve with their own ideas why they don’t fit into their own idea of “normal”.

This gets around the usual problem with Evil alignments in RPGs: nearly no real person will ever see themselves as evil. But they will do stupid shit if they believe their deity demands it. And some will try to do good, even if their deity demands really stupid stuff.


[1] Crossby in his notes does not seem to be aware where the name of this entity was used again

[Circûmflex] Going Berserk

olav_trygvasons_saga_-_uvaeret_hjoerungavaag_-_g-_muntheWell. At first berserkers were just a fighter variant in the draft.

I decided to cut down the classes to the four core classes, but I wanted some variety. After all clerics in Venarive have 10 or more choices that should play differently, wizards have at least 6 convocations, and the specialist… well, that class is basically built to be modified. Yes, I made the thief into the specialist. I think it fits better in a setting that actually takes care to note how many clothiers are in a city.

And of course the fighter is kind of boring otherwise. Oh, sure, a fighter can be basically every fighting hero ever, but it might help to point out what can be done with them.

So varieties it is. There is a more tribal Barbarian Warrior (if you know Harn you might know that this might be necessary), there is a Gladiator (because Agrikans dig their spectacles), and I was thinking about making knights and rangers into further sub-varieties. And then there is the berserker.

It really needs to be there.

Harn, like many fantasy worlds, has fjords. And fjords, for some reason I do not quite understand, contract vikings with alarming regularity.

Of course it is better explained than in other places, after all CGI published Ivinia, their version of fantasy Scandinavia soon after the first edition of HarnWorld, although it is quite odd that all the place names in Kethira seem to made up from fantasy languages, but Ivinian names show Germanic elements…

But anyway. Low fantasy middle age style game. I so totally need berserkers.

After getting some inspiration from various places I came up with this:

Berserker: can enter berserker rage at will during combat. If dealt damage in combat and not in berserker rage, must save against spell or enter rage.

Well, ok, this was longer originally.

But that comes from my realisation that berserker rage might be useful for other effects as well. Some of the invocations for different gods I am converting from Harnmaster cause berserker rage. So right now it is under the heading “Adventuring”.

Berserker Rage: Berserkers can enter this state at will. Some potions, spells and invocations can also cause people to enter this state.
While in this state the berserker has +2 to hit and damage with melee weapons or unarmed, but also -2 to AC. The berserker ignores all non-fatal injuries until after rage subsides or the injury turns fatal, whatever comes first. Berserker rage only ends when no further attack is possible within 1 combat round, or if Save vs. Spell is successful. Afterwards, the character is exhausted, taking a -2 penalty to all actions until rested for at least 1 hour, in addition to the effect of all wounds.

That is… a bit more complicated as a rule than what I was going for. On the other hand this is one of those situations that might come up.

Still, I hope that it will actually be a nice effect in game. It should give this choice for players: yes, you can enter that super state that makes you better at fighting, but people also can hurt you better, and you can’t necessarily stop fighting when you want to.

Note that the rules does not specify what attack is not supposed to be possible, just that none need to be possible.

The injury that is mentioned in the rules is a variation on the Death and Dismemberment chart that was popular a while ago. But I should get to that at a later point.

[Circûmflex] Slaughtering Holy Cows

A person with no fighting skill has a 50/50 chance of hurting someone with no armor at all.

A person with one level of fighting skill has a 50/50 chance of hitting someone with minimal armor.

A person with ten levels of fighting skill has a 100% chance of hitting someone with no armor, and a 90% chance of hitting someone with minimal armor.

Scale up and down as needed.

You know, one of the things I loved about 3rd edition D&D, when I made the switch from AD&D 2nd edition, was how easy refereeing fights became. I never liked THAC0, and I found it a bothersome quirk of an otherwise easy to understand system.

In hindsight the problem was that I was introduced to RPGs through DSA, and there combat is done via attack rolls and defense rolls. It had problems of its own which made combats last way too long (a fight between people with low attack and high defense could take hours), but at least everyone intuitively grasped the concept.

And then 3rd edition came along and it all became easier. +1 AB vs. AC 1 was exactly 50%, what could be easier?

When I look at older editions of D&D this always has been the case. It has been hidden away under weird formulations and strangely formatted tables, but if one actually bothers to do the math you can reduce the whole combat section of D&D to 3rd edition’s formula of

d20 + Attack Bonus > 10 + Armor Class

The differences were in the details. And a lot of those details were brought over from other games.

Why exactly has early D&D armor class that gets better the lower it gets?

Well, it was like that in a Civil War naval game Dave Arneson played, and he brought it over into D&D.

Why did it start at 9, and not at 10?

Because all the characters the rules cared about were at least level 1, and had as much fighting prowess.

Speaking about fighting prowess: why did it take until 3rd edition to straighten out that?

Pre-3rd edition rules had weird quirks in there that might have been intentionally designed like that, but which ultimately didn’t matter.

In AD&D the fighter stays at +1 attack for two levels, then gains +1 at every further level.

In 3rd edition each level of fighter gains +1 on the character’s attack bonus.

In my opinion this makes the whole process more streamlined, because now the fighter becomes the baseline for combat progression. I actually am thinking of going even further and making the first level of clerics, wizards, and specialists into +0, to show that no, they really aren’t specialized in fighting. (which might be better, because I already increased their chance for multiple spells a day)

So here we go, the homebrew I am building will use attack bonuses and ascending armor.

Fighters now gain +1 per level, the others are slightly more useless in a fight.

[Circûmflex] Messing around with spellpoints in an OSR-style system


This last week I have been sick. With lots of time on my hands I have been working on a version of Labyrinth Lord that is more suited for playing on HârnWorld. By now the whole thing does not look much like Labyrinth Lord anymore. Although it still is pretty close to the mathematical values, and more of a homebrew than an actual new system. I call it Circûmflex, because if you know Hârn, which is like calling something D&D-connected Ampersand.

These posts will be basically meditations on why I decide to do certain things one way or another. Please feel free to comment, especially if you know more about the maths of games than I do (which is not hard).

In any case, one of the things I decided to overhaul was the magic system. I adore the Vancian magic system, I really do. But it just is not a good fit for the setting I intended this to be played in.

So I started to fiddle around with spell points a bit.

One idea that was floating around in various places was that one could just use the number of spells wizards gained per level, and give them a value of points per level, connected to the Fibonacci sequence. I liked that. It made lower level spells cheaper, while making more powerful spells more difficult to cast.

Piety and Mana

To use spells and invocations wizards and clerics use a pool of points each. For clerics this is called Piety, for wizards this is called Mana. Both are determined by the level of the character, modified by the modificator for Wisdom for Clerics, and the one for Intelligence for Shek-P’var.
Mechanically they work almost the same. A spell or invocation of a specific level has a cost in piety or mana. When it is invoked or cast it reduces the amount of points by the set amount. When the pool of points reaches 0 no further invocations or spells are possible until they are replenished.
If the last spell cast would bring the pool of points under 0 the cleric or shek-p’var has to Save against Spell. If this roll fails he/she might incur the displeasure of their deity (cleric), or the spell might misfire (according to GM’s fiat). In any case the cleric/shek-p’var will feel burned out and not be able to invoke/cast again until at least half the pool is replenished.
Piety and Mana points replenish at a rate of 1d8 per night of rest spent in prayer or meditation.

The cost of spells and invocations is determined by the level it has. At level 1 it costs 1 point, at level 2 it costs two points, at level 3 three points, at level 4 five points, etc.

Some notes on that:

  • I renamed spells for clerics to invocations. This is in line with the terminology in HarnMaster, even though in this case it does not make any difference ruleswise. Likewise I used the word Piety, which has an actual value in HM, to denote something completely different. The word Mana does not even appear in HM I think, but I am trying to dress Labyrinth Lord in the right guise, I don’t try to emulate the rules of HM.
  • Wizards are of course Shek-P’var in HârnWorld. Technically Shek’P’var are just the most common and widespread of wizards, and there are quite a few hints towards other traditions, but I will go with that right now.
  • The spellpoint management is actually inspired by older editions of Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye). I don’t know if newer editions still have it (5th edition just came out and I haven’t even seen a book of it yet…), but I felt it might fit the setting well if spells cannot be easily regained from day to day. Mana and Piety in this system replenish at about double the rate as hit points. Which means that spellcasters start pretty strong, but have to keep their resources in mind better.

Ah yes, about that last part…

This is the point when I decided to have a look at the amount of spell points available to my spellcasters. Now, I have to add here that in the previous version of my houserules I decided at one point that all the levels I really needed to think about was the ones up to level 12. In the last few years barely any of my players managed to reach even these lofty heights, and I mean the years since I started playing AD&D 2nd edition back in the 90s.

Funnily enough I noticed something interesting when I calculated the spellpoint equivalents to the usual Labyrinth Lord spell slots: if I calculate according to the Fibonacci sequence I mentioned earlier, with one 1st level spell as 1 point, and 1 6th level spell as 9 points, at level 12 I reached exactly 66.

If I would let that go on further the Quadratic Wizard effect would of course be in full effect. That was one of the things I found was easier to avoid with a soft level limit of 12. But even like that, this is pretty strong, isn’t it? Especially considering that I was already thinking of getting rid of spell books and memorization. Kind of strong for the nominally low-magic world Kethira.

On the other hand I was toying with another idea: why not give spellcasters a roll for their spell pool that is equivalent to their hp pool?

Well, ok, because people might hate not having a clear level progression, and because bad rolls happen (although I do have an idea to mitigate that) and because it would benefit some people but not others. But other than that?

I actually did see something similar in Das Schwarze Auge. True, there the system actually started with 25 or so “astral points” and leveling added to that, but DSA always was a bit of a slugfest with all those points. So lets say we start with a mana pool of 1d8 for shek-p’var, and 1d6 for clerics. This still might be too much actually. This would give an average of 4.5 points, plus Int-mod. At the top of the range this might mean a wizard could have 11 spells a day on first level. Hmm. Nope, not good.

Ok, lets go with 1d6 for both. this would give an average of 42 points, a minimum of 12, and a maximum of 108 spell points on level 12.

I gave the Shek-P’var a requirement of Int 9, so no negative modifiers should be possible. After all one needs to be at least able to read to study old musty tomes of arcane secrets. No Int 3 wizards in this system. Sorry.

Ok, a super-genius wizard who can spam 12 level 6 spells on level 12. A bit over the top, but doable. On the other hand even someone with the worst possible kind of luck and no modifiers should be able to blast off at least 12 spells at once.

In this case it actually might help that either of these wizards only get back a maximum of 8 points per day.

Luckily, there are some limitations for both clerics and wizards in this setting. Clerics only have access to a limited pool of spells. Some of the spells, sorry, invocations, might be downright useless from an dungeoneering point of view (which is okay, there aren’t that many straightforward dungeons in the setting anyway). There is not really a reason to invoke “Marriage” for example, except to replenish piety points. And where do you find a willing couple in the middle of the dungeon anyway?

Ah yes, that latter one is an actual invocation from HarnMaster Religion. There it of course makes a lot of sense. The clerics in HarnMaster are not only walking hp-fountains. In fact a lot of the gods don’t even have healing invocations. But doing some good work like baptising new adherents, and performing weddings for others, actually increases the piety for the priest. This would not actually have much sense with the usual Vancian magic, it does make more sense if clerics have to replenish their piety somehow.

Wizards actually have it a bit better, at least in higher levels. The Pvaristic system the setting has actually keeps wizards from having access to all the cool spells at once. A shek-p’var starts as a specialist in one of six convocations. This means he for example only has access to water-aspected spells. But shek-p’var can attune themselves to the other convocations the more experience they have. So over time they can gain access to all convocations. Or they just stay a specialist in their field. Whatever floats their boat.