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[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.



[Labyrinth Lord] The Unseen Shadow

I was going to use this in the PBEM game I was doing right now.

The Unseen Shadow
A strange phenomena appears to you as you investigate the workbench in the old forgotten dwarven smithy: situated in the middle of the large stone table, just over the edge, is a sword’s handle that by all means appears to be levitating in thin air, with a finger’s breadth of air between itself and the bench. As you investigate further it appears to be a whole longsword invisible to the eye, except for the handle and a barely noticeable disturbance of light where the blade should be.
The invisible blade is a weapon of duergar manufacture made as a tribute to the inhabitants to the castle above the dungeon. This one seems to have been forgotten or lost when the workmen of the smithy were driven off or killed. The blade is invisible (except via magic) and attacks as a +2 weapon. A small engraving in dwarven runes only traceable via touch proclaims this to be the “Unseen Shadow”.

This one is actually based, believe it or not, on a local legend from my home village. Or at least on something that claimed to be a local legend from my area.
I used to work in a cave that was situated right under a former castle/nowadays church, that had a genuine secret passage through parts of the cave.
We cave guides used to dig local history a lot (and all of us were kind of involved in it) and during one of my many exploits into the legends of the region I came upon an interesting book on local legends that claimed (in not even half a paragraph) that the existence of the secret passage (and the castle’s track record of failed sieges) was veiled by fabricated legends about a pact between the lords of the castle and the dwarves from under the hill. Obviously the dwarves gave the castle’s owners supplies and invisible swords.
That kind of stuck with me, mostly because it sounded so D&D to me, and because I grew up in the place and never had heard that story before, ever. I still think the author of that book might have totally fabricated the legend himself (not an unknown occurrence in local history) or heard it from someone with a very vivid imagination and some interest in old Germanic legends. Considering the cave was just 30km from Bayreuth, and with that from the place of the Wagner festival, I blame the influence of the Wagneranians.

Poker Chip Ideas

English: Poker Chips

English: Poker Chips (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The idea comes from Savage Worlds, a benny is a single token that can be exchanged at one point during the game for a certain effect. Every player (GM included) gains a certain amount of bennies per session. In my game I was thinking about giving it the ability to 1. soak damage for one attack 2. change 1 1 critically failed check into a normal failure 3. Reroll a check and keep the better. 4. Make a normal attack into a +1 attack (including counting it as magical/blessed) The GM has it’s own pool of Bennies and may use them for Monsters and NPCs, or award them to players for especially cool moments

Hit Points

I was thinking about using poker chips for these. Every player has an amount of chips in the size of his/her hp. When damage happens they lose those until they reach 0. Alternatively the GM hands out red chips for wounds. The kobold hits? Here’s three chips. This actually might work together. With the rules I have in place to soak damage (Shields shall be splintered! and maybe the Bennies from above) I might just assign the red chips, and if the character doesn’t soak the damage next round the amount of red chips gets taken from the hp chips.


The idea also would work with spell points or, if that ever happens in my games, power points. I guess it would be easy to keep track of those with chips. Of course I use straight Vancian magic, so most likely not.

Experience Points

Here’s an interesting idea: have the players assign the XP in the end. Just drop a load of chips with the right amount on the table and tell them they can divide the XP among themselves. This actually might be useful even during the game. Character does something freaking awesome? Have an xp chip.

[Labyrinth Lord] Chocobo


Chocobo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chocobo (Riding Bird)

No. Enc.: 1d4 (1d20+4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 60’ (30’)
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 2 +4
Attacks: 1 (bite 1d8+2 or claw 1d6+2)
Damage: 1d4+2 or special
Save: TH4
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: None
Large birds looking like a cross of a giant chicken and an ostrich. With long necks and intelligent eyes they can be found in flocks in plains or isolated forests.
They can run quicker than any other bird, even when carrying an armored man.
On average 7 feet tall and about 400 pound heavy they often react to paladins’ call for mounts or Summon Nature’s Ally III
Black Riding Birds: rare variant that can be bred by selective breeding of other variations. They also have a fly speed of 90″

I have been playing Final Fantasy IX for the last two weeks or so. My mind might be affected negatively. On the other hand: this is not a first. There was an article on Chocobos in some old issue of Dragon Magazine.

[Tools] OSR Search

By the way, did anyone already mention the OSR Search to you?

It’s a search engine that searches only Old School Renaissance sources (mostly blogs). So if anyone would like to find if anyone else has already written about a specific topic already (very likely by the way…), it might be interesting to look here first.

Not that it should keep you from writing about the topic, but it might give some insight into what other people have said about that topic before.

[Labyrinth Lord] Thief Skills for everyone!

A while back I was thinking about thief skills in D&D. According to the rules they are just for the Thief class, but how much sense does that make? Oh well, we are talking D&D, so it doesn’t have to make that much sense, but really, why should a normal hobbit not be able to sneak unheard around the troll lair?

Of course a lot of the basic abilities of the classes in D&D are not so much different from each other. The level 1 Fighter is a bit better in fighting and getting hurt. The Magic-User can do some parlour tricks. And the thief is a bit better than average in doing illicit things. So this one is more like guidelines for the times when the fighter in the group wants to sneak, or the cleric wants to sneak off to his date with the elf.

Thief Skills for everyone
Every character can perform thief skills as a level 0 human. Thieves are just a little bit better at these skills in the beginning, and improve this edge over time.
Pick Locks 10%
Find and Remove Traps 10%
Pick Pockets 10%
Move Silently 15%
Climb Walls 50%
Hide in Shadows 10%
Hear Noise 1 in 6

[Tools] Creating soundscapes with Syrinscape

I was looking for some interesting programs a while ago, and this popped up on my radar. I came across it when I was looking for ambient music for my games last year, but right now the creator of the software promises an upcoming release of a new version with loads of new features.

Very well…

Syrinscape is a soundscape program that allows the creation of dynamic soundscapes for RPG games. There are a few of that kind around, but Syrinscape is both free and more or less easy to configure. A soundscape in Syrinscape can be created by dropping the sound effects and music one wants to have in it into a folder and renaming them slightly so they are associated with certain channels in the program. Seems a bit daunting at first, but is not really much work. I decided to create a Tavern soundset yesterday and behold, it’s nearly finished today. So, not really hard to use.

The website offers a few different soundscapes that should give a good point to start from, even though some of them are a bit weird (Battle for example has mostly animal noises, and Bells has…  bells). One of the nicer things about it is that ambient music for the game can be added by simply copying it into the soundscape folder and renaming it. In that way one could actually create nice variant soundscapes by simply replacing the playlist for different locales (e.g. music 1 for the catacombs and music 2 for the orc warrens, while both of them have otherwise the same soundset otherwise in it).

One feature that does not seem to see too much use yet are one-off sound effects, or rather: current soundsets barely have one-off effects in them. The only one that actually has nice ones is the Dungeon set that has interesting things like an alarm bell, fireballs, dragon roars, etc. I think it would be nice to have a certain one-off soundset at hand in a few places though, just to make my players jump when they hear it. The howl of wolves in the wilderness, the cackling of a witch in the  distance,  the sound of footsteps coming from somewhere behind them. Hmm…

Syrinscape (Website)

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The unfortunate name of Hârn

I normally take pride in going against first impressions and looking at the core of things to see what these things actually are worth. A while ago I looked into Hârn as a system and saw a game world that might be a bit too detailed and low key for my tastes, but which had a lot of interesting ideas in it. I still wouldn’t play it. And considering that the only thing I ever heard about it in German RPG media were the reviews in some magazines I don’t think many other Germans would pick it up either. And that despite the fact that the only foreign language translations of the game were into German. The game world would fit quite nicely in that German style of low magic, quasi-historical worlddesign that seems to be so common in the German RPG mainstream.
It’s unfortunate, but hardly surprising with a name like that. The word Harn in German is a formal way to say “Urine”.
I guess not too many people would proudly admit to playing with Hârn products…

[Labyrinth Lord] Achievement System

I was lately thinking if it might be possible to have a bit more metagaming aspects in the development of my campaigns. Yes, I know, metagaming is EVUL! but I thought it might not be a bad fit for something like Labyrinth Lord. The main problem, in my opinion, is that people in the beginning of  a campaign are often given too many options which they don’t really appreciate or even understand. The idea I had was that I would only allow players in a campaign the use of a limited amount of classes, and all further classes have to be earned in play.
This is of course very metagamy. After all it would not be the character which would earn things, but the player. On the other hand this might be a good way to introduce people to a game world first before allowing them to take on characters they don’t have a clue about. At the same time I thought about connecting this to an achievement system that gives other benefits as well (titles and bonuses on reaction rolls), and a variation of the Dark Sun character tree. Labyrinth Lord, and the other OD&D retroclones, might be good for that, considering the amount of PC deaths that might be caused by applying the rules as written. So there might be both a constant need for new characters, as well as a reason to have a system that keeps people interested in the game even when their characters die over time.

Starting Character Options
Race: Human
Class: Fighter, Thief (or Specialist)
Optional (limited, only with special reasons, maybe stats): Priest of local god, Magic-User (Apprentice of NPC  wizard or witch), Hobbit

The Achievement Tree

Players (not characters) start out with only a few possible character options. Some of them are available to everyone (e.g. race: human or class: fighter), others are only of limited availability (e.g. a variation of cleric or magic-user). Further options have to be unlocked over play.
Players can hire minions/henchmen/retainers as usual.
Starting from Level 3 onward a character gains the ability to train 1 protégé in a master/pupil or similar relationship. This character can be rolled up as a separate character according to the usual rules for character generation (limited by the players available choices), or can be taken from the ranks of the retainers following the character already. They count against the character’s count of retainers.
The character gains further protegees on level 7, 12, and 17. These protégés can adventure with the group as retainers/secondary characters, can be used as characters in their own right, or be left at home/on some secondary mission. If the main character snuffs it they will be available as replacement characters, even if left somewhere else entirely, within a reasonable amount of time. The highest ranking replacement character will take on the role of master from that point on (at least until someone manages to raise the former master).
Protegees themselves are limited in protegees, they can only take on one protegee of their own on level 7, that is until either their master is killed or retires. Retirees can be brought back from retirement by the DM’s discretion.

Achievements are awards for certain deeds and situations that reflect in one way or another on the character. Achievements might be rewarded for the successful completion of certain tasks or quests. Some grant titles with appropriate bonuses. Most grant additional XP. All of them are subject to the DM’s wishes for his campaign. He might or might not make these public.
Bonuses might give an option to choose from for the sake gameplay (the second time a player receives a character option bonus it’s basically worthless, so he receives an experience bonus instead)

Participating in the killing of 1 dragon
Bonus: Title “Dragonslayer” +1 reaction roll from lawful folk, 400xp

Friend of Dwarves
Saved the life of at least 5 dwarves
Bonus: Title Friend of Dwarves, character option Dwarf (raceclass) or 100xp

Rescuer of Dwarves
Saved the life of at least 500 dwarves, Friend of Dwarves
Bonus: reaction roll +1 from dwarves, character option Dwarf (race/class) or 500xp

Saviour of Dwarves
Participated in saving a nation of dwarves from extinction, Rescuer of Dwarves
Title: Saviour of Dwarves, reaction roll +3 from all dwarves or 3000xp

Talk of the Town
Came back alive from an adventure
Bonus: 100xp, +1 reaction roll from local townfolk

Talk of the County
Came back alive from 5 different adventure situations, Talk of the Town
Bonus: Bonus 500xp

Local Hero
Reached level 3, Talk of the County
Bonus: 1000xp, title “Hero”

Arcane Scholar
Studied at an academy for wizards for at least one semester of courses (6 months)
Bonus: 1 spell of the academy’s specialisation, character option magic-user (specific Academy)

Magister Arcanis
Arcane Scholar, at least level 5 MU, added at least 1 completely new or 3 previously lost/unknown spells to the repertoire of the academy
Bonus: Title “Wizard/Sorceress”

Studied with an illusionist for at least 3 months
Bonus: 1 spell of the school of illusion, character option Illusionist


Studied the methods of necromancy with an appropriate teacher
Bonus: 1 spell of the school necromancy, character option Necromancer