Picture Thursday 4: Skeleton on an Altar by Courtney Campbell

Courtney Campbell Skeleton on an Altar

I love this piece. Tabletop art tends to focus on characters and monsters. Occasionally you might get a sketch of an item, but most of the time there’s some kind of living creature at the focus of the image. And while that’s all well and good, I think illustrating environments is extremely underrated. As GMs, its our job to describe environments in a way which will paint a picture in the player’s minds. So it makes sense for us to imagine and share pictures of the types of environments we need to describe, doesn’t it? How would you describe this room in a way which is short enough to hold the players attention, but still covers all of the important details?

You can see more of this artist’s work on his tumblr. He also maintains a an OSR blog which you may have heard of.

Fallout 3 Tabletop Game 2: Skills

Fallout 3 Goat Exam Art
Art used in Fallout 3, from Bethesda

This post details the 13 skills used in the Fallout 3 tabletop game which I began outlining yesterday.

Skill Check: For nearly all of the skills, there will be times when a “skill check” is called for. When performing a skill check, the player rolls a d%, and compares the result to the relevant skill. If their roll is higher than the skill’s value, then the check is failed. If they roll equal to, or less than, the skill’s value, then the check is a success.

Barter (C) When buying items from a vendor, the character will be charged an amount equal to the item’s cost, plus 1% for every point that the character’s barter skill is beneath 100. This can be rounded to the nearest 10% for simplicity’s sake.

For example, Kestrel has a Barter of 21, and wants to buy a gun worth 50 caps. Kestrel’s barter skill is 79 points below 100, so rounding to the nearest 10%, that means the vendor should charge Kestrel 80% above the list price for the gun she wants to buy. 10% of 50 is 5, so the vendor should charge Kestrel 90 caps for the gun.

When selling items, vendors will pay an amount equal to [Barter Value]% of the item’s cost. For example, Kestrel would now like to sell the gun she purchased. The gun’s base price is 50 caps, and Kestrel’s Barter Score is 21. Rounding to the nearest 10%, that means Kestrel will be able to get 20% of the gun’s value at sale. The vendor will buy the gun for 10 caps.

NOTE: The Barter skill is by far the most complicated to convert to a tabletop game. This is the simplest rule I could come up with. If you deem it too complicated, simply remove Barter from the game entirely, and allow characters to buy and sell items at their base value.

Big Guns (E), Energy Weapons (P), Melee Weapon(S), Small Guns (A), Unarmed (E) All five of these skills function the same way. When wielding a weapon of the associated type, the character has [Skill]% chance to hit what they are aiming at. When firing a weapon, the character should roll a d%. If their roll is equal to, or less than, their relevant [Skill]%, then they’ve successfully hit their target.

For example, Kestrel has an Energy Weapons skill of 31, and a Small Guns skill of 17.

She takes aim at a Super Mutant, and fires at it with her Laser Pistol. She rolls a D%, and it is a 74. Since this is above 31, she has missed! The Super Mutant fires back at Kestrel, but also misses. It is Kestrel’s turn again, and she fires another blast with her Laser Pistol. This time her D% roll is 22, which is a successful hit! The Super Mutant takes damage, but is still alive. It fires at Kestrel again, and once again misses. Kestrel’s laser pistol is out of ammunition, so she switches to her 10mm pistol. She rolls her D%, and it comes up as an 18. Because the 10mm pistol is a Small Gun, not an Energy Weapon, an 18 is a miss!

Characters can aim at different parts of a creature to improve their chances of hitting, or to improve the damage they deal. These numbers may be modified based on the environment, but generally speaking:

Head: -10% chance to hit. +25% damage.
Arms/Legs: +10% chance to hit. -25% damage.
Torso: Normal chance to hit. Normal damage.
Weapon: -25% chance to hit. Knocks weapon from hand.

Some weapons may also have a better, or worse chance to hit at various ranges from the shooter (Melee, Close Range, Mid Range, Long Range, Distant). These bonuses or penalties are unique to the weapon being used.

Kestrel’s chance to hit with her 10mm pistol is very small. She aims for the creatures exposed arms to try and improve her chances. She rolls her d% die, and it comes up as a 20. Normally this would be a miss, because her Small Guns skill is only 17. However, because she aimed for the creature’s arms, her chance to hit was raised to 27%, and this shot hits! Unfortunately, instead of dealing the normal 4 damage that a 10mm bullet would, this shot only deals 3 damage because it is in the creature’s arm.

The Super Mutant is mad now, and pulls out a sledgehammer. It charges for Kestrel, and before she can get another shot off it has moved to Close Range. She’s not very good at melee combat, so she needs to stop that creature before it gets any closer! She pulls out her sawed off shotgun. It’s a small gun, but it has +50% chance to hit at close range. She aims for the Supermutant’s head for extra damage.

With the 17% chance she has from small guns, plus the 50% chance from being at close range with a sawed off shotgun, minus the 10% penalty she gets for aiming for the head, Kestrel has a 57% chance to hit.

Kestrel pulls the trigger, and rolls a 44! It’s a hit! Sawed off shotguns normally deal 18 damage, but for a headshot that gets a 25% boost! Rounded up, that’s an extra 5 damage, for a total of 23 damage right to the Supermutant’s face!

Melee and Unarmed weapons are unique. Like other weapons, they have a chance to hit equal to the relevant [Skill%]. However, since they can only be used at short range, they receive no increased chance to hit based on range. They do still receive bonuses or penalties based on which part of the target is being attacked, however.

The other unique thing about Melee Weapons and Unarmed combat is that while they both deal an amount of base damage equal to the weapon being used, they also deal an additional amount of damage equal to the character’s strength.

Shit, shit, shit! The super mutant is still up, and on its last turn it closed to melee range and walloped her good! This close, it’s difficult to use a gun, so even though she’s bad at it, Kestrel opts to use a melee weapon. She pulls out a knife, and stabs at the Super Mutant! Kestrel has a Melee Weapon skill of 10, so she does everything she can to increase her chances by aiming for the super mutant’s arm, increasing her chances by 10%. Miraculously, Kestrel rolls a 20 on her d%! Any higher than that, and she would have missed!

The knife’s damage is 6, but Kestrel gets to add her strength to the damage. Unfortunately Kestrel’s strength is only 2, and she deals a measly 8 damage. The Supermutant is still up.

On its turn, the supermutant attacks Kestrel’s knife, and knocks it from her hand. She’s in trouble now! Its her turn, and all she has to attack with is her fists. So she does the only thing she can do: she punches the super mutant in its leg.

Kestrel’s unarmed skill is only 6, but with the +10% she gets from attacking the Supermutant’s leg, it’s just high enough for her to hit when she rolls a 15. Since she’s not wielding any weapons right now, the only damage she deals is from strength. 2 Damage.

Apparently the Super Mutant was only just barely hanging on, though, because that 2 damage is enough to knock the creature to the ground, dead. Kestrel gains 3 experience points for defeating a difficult monster!

Explosives (P) Explosives is primarily used for throwing grenades or disarming mines. But may be used for other tasks, such as safely building an incendiary device, or disarming an undetonated nuclear bomb.

In all cases, the character must simply roll under their [Explosives]% using a d% die. If their explosives skill is 50, then in order to succeed, they must roll a 50 or less on a d%. GMs may offer bonuses, or penalties, to an explosives roll, based on circumstances. (Throwing at a target you can’t see, for example, would be a penalty to success of 25%)

Lockpick (P), Science (I) Lockpicking and Science function the same way, with different devices. Lockpick helps the player pick locks, while Science helps the player hack computers. Players must roll under their [Skill]% in order to succeed at breaking into whatever they’re attempting to breech. If the roll is failed by more than 20%, then the lock becomes jammed, or the computer locks down. Another attempt cannot be made unless a key or password is found.

Super Easy – +50% to Success Chance
Very Easy – +25% to Success Chance
Easy – +10% to Success Chance
Average – Normal Skill Roll
Hard – -10% from Success Chance
Very Hard – -25% from Success Chance
Super Hard – -50% from Success Chance

Medicine(I) For the most part, this is used when the character is using scavenged medical equipment (such as stimpacks) to restore their HP. Each such healing item has a value of how much HP it can restore. The character can effectively restore [Medicine Skill]% of that value. For example, Kestrel has a Medicine score of 30. 30% of 50 is 15, therefore Kestrel’s medical skills allow her to restore 15 HP using the Stimpack.

The Medicine skill may also be used to perform various medical procedures. Gauge what procedures the character can perform using this guideline:

Medicine 1-10: Untrained.
Medicine 11-30: Wasteland Nurse
Medicine 31-60: Wasteland Field Medic
Medicine 61-90: Wasteland Doctor
Medicine 91-100: Pre-War Doctor

Repair (I) Items will slowly degrade as you use them, which will reduce their effectiveness. To fix an item, you must have two examples of the same item from which you can extract spare parts. (For example, if you wish to repair your 10mm pistol, you will need a second 10mm pistol.) This second item is destroyed by the repairing process, and cannot be repaired, or used for future repairs.

When repairing an item, add the current durability score of the item being stripped for parts, to the item being repaired. Players are capable of repairing items up to a durability score equal to their repair skill.

Kestrel has been using her Hunting Rifle a lot, and it’s down to 30 durability. This significantly impacts the damage her weapon does, so when she finds a new hunting rifle, she quickly strips it for spare parts. The new hunting rifle she finds has a durability of 24. Combining the durability of the two items can bring her hunting rifle’s durability up to 54.

Unfortunately, Kestrel’s current repair skill is 51, so that’s the maximum she can repair the item to. The remaining 3 points are discarded.

Sneak (A) Sneak is a very simple skill. If a character wishes to be undetected, and there is a reasonable chance that they may fail in that endeavor, then they must roll a skill check. If they roll equal to or under their sneak skill, then they have successfully gone unnoticed. Note that a sneak check shouldn’t be required if there is not a reasonable chance that the player will be detected.

A new check is required any time the player risks detection. Some examples of times the player might risk detection are:

Attempting to pickpocket a target.
When a new target enters the area.
When an NPC looks in the direction of a character who is not fully hidden.
When an NPC moves close to their hiding place.
If a hiding place requires that the character remain still, then after long periods checks should be required to see if the character accidentally makes noise.

Speech (C) Social interaction should be handled through role playing. The GM should consider an NPC’s interests, and craft the NPC’s reactions based on them. If the player suggests something the NPC would strongly agree with, then the NPC should agree. If the player suggests something the NPC would strongly disagree with, then the NPC should disagree. If the player suggests something which falls into the gray area, then a Speech check should be made. If the player succeeds on this check, then they’ve convinced the NPC. If the player fails the check, then they succeed in convincing the NPC.

Note that neither success nor failure is ever absolute. If the NPC offers the player 200 caps to kill a local Supermutant, and the player demands 400 caps, then success might mean that the NPC offers 300 caps. And if the character fails, then they might be able to earn another check by offering some good reasons why they deserve more caps.

In the coming week I’ll wrap up this exploration of Fallout 3 as a tabletop game with a few miscellaneous rules.

Fallout 3 Tabletop Game 1: Characters

Fallout 3 Wallpaper. Brotherhood of Steel Knight standing in the Capitol Wasteland
Promotional image for Fallout 3, from Bethesda

Every year around Thanksgiving, I have a guaranteed 4 days off from my day job. If possible I get the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving off as well, netting me a total of 6 days to myself. It’s as close as I’m able to get to a vacation, and just about the only time of the year when I can get really invested in a video game. This year I spent an absolutely obscene amount of time playing Fallout 3, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t get as much work done as I had planned to, but I’ve decided that’s okay. ‘All work and no play makes jack a dull boy’ isn’t just a terrifying reveal in a Kubrick film. It’s an adage with some real wisdom behind it.

After spending several days immersed in the game, my ladyfriend and I were chatting about it over lunch. We came to the conclusion that we both loved the setting and style of the game, and enjoyed playing it. But both of us found that we always wanted more options. Why can’t you join the Enclave, for example? Or cart the nuke from Megaton all the way to Tenpenny tower, and blow them up? Or, ya know…fix one of the cars scattered all over the place and drive it around the Wasteland. Obviously the options in a video game are necessarily limited in scope. Every insane whim a player might want to pursue cannot be accounted for.

But tabletop games do not suffer from any such limitations.

It took me perhaps twenty minutes to sketch out the core of the system. It was remarkably simple. Fallout 3’s mechanics are close to a tabletop game already. In fact, the original fallout games were going to be based on GURPS before negotiations between the developers and Steve Jackson Games fell apart. What I cobbled together seems pretty solid to me, and I’m proud enough of it that I thought I’d share.

I must stress that the rules below are imperfect. I haven’t had the opportunity to play test the system yet. And even without play testing it, I can tell you that the rules are math-heavy and complex. I’ve tried to simplify them as much as I can, but there’s only so much that can be done.

Take a look if you’re interested. And if you like what I’ve put together, let me know.

Fallout 3 Tabletop Characters


Each Fallout 3 character has seven SPECIAL attributes which range between 1 and 20. When a character is created, the value of these attribute should be determined in order, by rolling 1d20 for each. If you wish, 3 sets of SPECIAL attributes can be rolled, and the player can select the set which appeals to them the most.

The seven attributes are:


Meta Human Races as Player Characters

Most Fallout 3 characters are human. However, players may wish to take on the role of one of the mutated, meta-human races. Doing so comes with some mechanical bonuses and penalties. The GM should also remember that these races are not welcome in most human societies. Super mutant characters receive a +10 bonus to Strength and Endurance, and a -10 penalty to Charisma and Intelligence. Ghoul characters receive a +10 bonus to their Endurance, and a -10 penalty to their Charisma. Racial bonuses cannot reduce a SPECIAL attribute below 1, but they may raise it above 20. (This is the only way a SPECIAL attribute can ever be raised above 20).

In addition to SPECIAL bonuses and penalties, Meta-human races must spend 2 skill points to receive 1 rank in any skills associated with a SPECIAL attribute they have a racial penalty in. For example, if a Ghoul (who has -10 Charisma) wished to raise their Speech skill (which is associated with Charisma), then that character would need to spend 2 skill points to raise their Speech skill by 1.


Fallout 3 characters each have 13 skills. Each of these skills is associated with one of the SPECIAL attributes. The skills, and the attributes associated with them, are:

Barter (C)
Big Guns (E)
Energy Weapons (P)
Explosives (P)
Lockpick (P)
Medicine (I)
Melee Weapon (S)
Repair (I)
Science (I)
Small Guns (A)
Sneak (A)
Speech (C)
Unarmed (E)

Each skill has a value between 1 and 100. When a character is created, each skill’s starting value is calculated by taking the value of the associated SPECIAL attribute, and adding one half of the value of the Luck attribute, rounded up.

Kestrel has a Perception of 14, and a Luck of 5. There are three skills associated with Perception: Energy Weapons, Explosives, and Lockpick. Each of these skills will begin with a value of of 17. (Perception + 1/2 of Luck, rounded up)

Once the starting value of each skill is calculated, the player chooses three skills to ‘tag.’ Tagged skills are raised by a value of 15 points.Kestrel would like her character to be a sneaky explosives expert. So she tags the Explosives, Lockpick, and Sneak skills. This brings her Explosives and Lockpick skills up to 32 each (since they were at 17 before). Sneak is an Agility skill, and Kestrel’s Agility is 11. After everything is calculated, her starting Sneak skill 29 [Agility(11) + Tag(15) + 1/2 of Luck, Rounded Up(3)].


Once a character’s SPECIAL scores have been assigned, and their starting skills have been calculated, there are only two things remaining before the character is ready to play: hit points, and carrying capacity. Players do not begin the game with any caps or equipment. These must be gained through play.

A character’s starting hit points are equal to twice their Endurance score. A character’s carrying capacity is always equal to 100, plus their Strength times Five. So if Kestrel has a Strength of 15, her carrying capacity would be 175.

Leveling Up

Characters can level up by gaining experience points. Each time the character reaches 50xp, they receive a new level, and their experience resets to 0. Experience points are gained by overcoming challenges, with more experience points being awarded for greater challenges. Some examples include:

  • Opening difficult locks, hacking difficult computers, convincing someone of something which they were skeptical of, defeating an easy monster. (1 xp)
  • Defeating a difficult monster (2 xp)
  • Defeating an extremely difficult monster (3xp)
  • Completing a minor quest. (5xp)
  • Completing a major quest. (10xp)

Each time a character gains a new level, each of the following 3 things occurs:

  • The character’s maximum HP goes up by an amount equal to their current Endurance score.
  • The character receives a number of skill points equal to 10 + 1/2 their Intelligence. Each of these points may be spent to raise a skill by 1.
  • The character receives a perk, which will be given to them by the GM according to my Feat Slots system.

Example traits include:

  • Lightfooted. The character will never set off landmines.
  • Child at Heart. +15% to any social interactions with children.
  • Thief. 5 points each to the Sneak and Lockpick skills.
  • Intimidator. +10% to any Speech attempt where a believable threat is made.

Tomorrow I’ll post detailed information on how the game’s skills work.

Critical Hit and Critical Fumble Charts for Pathfinder

Nothing beats a natural 20! Red mage from Brian Clevinger's 8-Bit Theater
Panel from 8-Bit Theater, by Bryan Clevinger

I’ve been trying to write a post about critical hits and fumbles for awhile now. A stupidly long while, actually. Like, a month and a half. I’ve had this general idea about wanting to discuss the various ways I’ve seen people handle attack rolls of 1 or 20, but I haven’t been able to pin down what I want to say about it.

I first got to thinking about this when I started playing in my friend Gustie’s Anomalous Subsurface Environment game, where I am a thief named Nire the Dead. Gustie has a really cool method of handling critical hits, where the attacker can either deal double damage, or do ‘something cool.’ It’s a mechanic which doesn’t simply allow players to be creative and try crazy things, but encourages it. A player can always say they want to try something cool, but often the odds of success make a simple attack the obviously better choice. By pre-confirming that something cool will work, the mechanic has an incredibly freeing effect on the player’s imagination.

All of that said, I don’t know if I would want to implement Gustie’s system in Pathfinder. Combat maneuvers already provide a working structure for ‘cool stuff,’ and it’s an extremely efficient one which rewards player ingenuity. I feel like the two systems might not mesh well with one another. Despite not wanting to use Gustie’s system, though, I do want to try something a little more colorful than the basic double damage / critical miss system that Pathfinder uses.

For the last few weeks, Brendan’s Vaults of Pahvelorn game has been using a pair of tables he got from a Lammantations of the Flame Princess supplement. I don’t own LotFP, so I can’t speak to the table’s full content. But anytime a 1 or a 20 is rolled, Brendan asks us to roll a 30 sided die, and something wonderful, or terrible, results. I’ve been fascinated to watch how this table has affected the group. We’re all on the edge of our seat, waiting to find out what the d30’s roll will produce–and there have been some doozies. Like the time one of us rolled a 20, which resulted in a miss, but they then ‘learned from it,’ and gained 1 point to their wisdom score. Or the time one of the party’s cleric’s was granted a new level on the spot.

We’ve had an immense amount of fun with the LotFP tables. But for my Pathfinder games, I wanted to find something a little more grounded. That’s when I discovered a post on Delta’s D&D Hotspot with some fantastic tables from an old dragon magazine. You should definitely take a moment to look over those tables. They’re very nearly perfect. All I’ve done below is parse them down from four charts, to two. And from a d%, to a d30.

Note that a little creativity, and judgement is required from the GM when using these tables. What does it mean in game terms when an orc loses an eye? (Perhaps they’re easier to backstab or flank)? What exactly happens to a shortbow when it’s damaged? (Perhaps the character cannot bend it as far without breaking it, and thus the bow’s range is reduced by half)? I’ve tried to predict circumstances which would make any of the results invalid, and provide contingencies for them. But if you choose to use these tables, I’m sure you’ll discover a few that I missed, and need to either re-roll, or make a judgement call.

Critical Hits (Roll 1d30)

Any attack roll of 20 is a critical hit. Any other other attack roll within critical range must be confirmed as per Pathfinder’s rules.

1-10) Standard critical damage as indicated by the weapon type.
Critical multiplier increased by 1. (If a weapon deals double damage on a critical hit, then it would deal triple damage. If the weapon deals triple damage, then it would deal quadruple damage, and so on.)
Normal damage, and weapon is knocked from the opponent’s hands. (If enemy uses natural weapons, such as a bite attack, those weapons are damaged and rendered unusable.)
Normal damage, and opponent’s shield is knocked out of their hands. (If no shield is present, weapon is knocked away instead, as described for 16)
Normal damage, plus opponent’s armor (or natural armor) is damaged, reducing its AC bonus by 1. Armor can be repaired for 1/2 base cost. (If armor is magical, re-roll.)
Normal damage, plus the opponent’s ear is struck, and destroyed. (If the target is wearing a helm, attack deals normal damage, and helm is knocked off.)
Normal damage, plus the opponent’s eye is struck, and destroyed. (If the target is wearing a helm, attack deals normal damage and helm is knocked off.)
Normal damage, plus the opponent’s knee is struck. They are reduced to 1/2 movement speed.
Critical damage, plus the opponent’s right arm is destroyed (Either cut off, or damaged beyond usability).
Critical damage, plus the opponent’s left arm is destroyed (Either cut off, or damaged beyond usability).
Critical damage, plus the opponent’s right leg is destroyed (Either cut off, or damaged beyond usability).
Critical damage, plus the opponent’s left leg is destroyed (Either cut off, or damaged beyond usability).
Critical damage, plus severe damage to the abdomen. (Heavy bleeding, either from a wound, or internally). Target will continue to lose 10 hp every turn (10 minutes) until bbleeding is stopped.
Critical damage, plus severe damage to one of the target’s lungs. Target is left gasping on the ground until tended to. Suffers a permanent loss of 4 Constitution (which also causes a loss of 2hp/level). This ability loss is from the destruction of a lung, and cannot be recovered by anything less than a Regenerate spell.
The attack strikes the chest, and severely damages the heart. The target is immediately reduced to -1 hp.
The attack strikes the head. The target immediately drops to -1 hp and suffers the permanent loss of 4 Wisdom. This ability loss is from brain damage, and cannot be recovered by anything less than a Regenerate spell. (If the target is wearing a helmet, this attack instead deals critical damage, and knocks the helmet from the target’s head).
Roll twice.

Critical Fumble (Roll 1d30)

Any attack roll of 1 is a critical fumble.

1-10) Complete miss.
11-12) Fumbler’s movements put them off balance. They take a -1 penalty to their armor class for the next round.
13) Fumbler’s movements put them severely off balance. They lose Dexterity, Shield, and Dodge bonuses to AC for the next round. If losing these bonuses does not reduce the fumbler’s AC, then they still must take a -1 penalty.
14-15) Fumbler trips, and falls prone.
16) Fumbler trips, falls prone, and strikes their head. Stunned for 1d4 rounds. (If fumbler is wearing a helmet, then they are not stunned, but their helmet is knocked off).
17-18) Weapon is damaged and loses some of its effectiveness, but is still usable. Specifics are up to the GM. Weapon can be repaired for 1/2 of the weapon’s base cost. (Magical weapons are unaffected, and merely miss).
19) Weapon is damaged and loses some of its effectiveness, but is still usable. Specifics are up to the GM. Weapon can be repaired for 1/2 base cost. This includes magical weapons.
20-21) Weapon is destroyed. Can be reassembled for 3/4 of the weapon’s base cost. (Magical weapons are unaffected, and merely miss).
22) Weapon is destroyed. Can be reassembled for 3/4 of the weapon’s base cost. This includes magical weapons.
23) Weapon is dropped.
24) Weapon is sent flying.
25) Shield is dropped. (If no shield is held, weapon is dropped).
26) Fumbler twists their ankle, and is reduced to 1/2 speed until they have a day to rest.
27) If fumbler wears a helm, it becomes twisted, leaving them unable to see. (If no helm is worn, this is simply a miss).
28) A nearby ally is struck for 1/2 damage. (If no ally is nearby, this is merely a miss).
29) A nearby ally is struck for normal damage. (If no ally is nearby, this is merely a miss).
30) Roll Twice.

Simple, Deadly Poisons

Mr. Yuk says POISON BAD!
Mr. Yuk

In appendix 1 of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, a number of poisons are listed. Each poison has a bunch of attributes under their fancy schmancy names. The type indicates how the poison gets inside the body. The onset is how long it takes for the poison to begin its work, while the frequency is how often the poison’s effects will repeat, and for how long. The fortitude save varies by poison, and may be attempted each time the poison’s effects repeat. Normally a single save at any point will cause the poison’s effects to end, but sometimes multiple saves may be required (noted under “cure.”) To be fair, most of these poisons can be deadly, but they don’t really suit my needs when I’m designing a trap.

Poisons highlight a problem I have with Pathfinder: the numerous opportunities to save. It’s an excessive amount of rolling which seems designed to give players a better chance to resist whatever effect is directed at them. But I don’t see why. I prefer a game where an effect either happens, or it does not. A save is either passed, or failed. Allowing 6 saves for a given dose of poison just means that poison won’t be a very large threat to players, because they’ll almost always save within their first few rolls. And the one time that the odds are against them and they roll poorly numerous times in a row, dying because of it, they’re going to feel cheated because their fate was left up to random chance. Survivability from poisons should come in the form of the player’s ability to avoid becoming poisoned in the first place through intelligent play. It should not come in the form of an increased number of die rolls. Many effects, such as enchantments and diseases, suffer from this same problem.

For my own use, I’ve devised a simpler system for poisons which are much deadlier, and simpler to remember. Instead of being enumerated individually, poisons are created by the GM according to these basic guidelines. I don’t find that it’s important to identify the method of contraction, because that’s implied by the delivery method. If the poison is in cloud form, then its inhaled. If it is delivered by a needle, then it needs to be in the bloodstream to work. If it’s in food, it’s an ingested poison.

Most poisons belong to one of six types. These correspond to the six ability scores.

Strength poison weakens the muscles of the victim, and can eventually stop the heart. Constitution poison causes nausea, and makes it difficult to breathe, eventually leaving the victim too weak to swallow food, leading to death. Dexterity poison afflicts the victim’s control over their limbs, and can eventually leave the victim paralyzed. Intelligence poison causes the victim to lose focus, and can eventually leave them in a vegetative state. Wisdom poison tampers with the victim’s connection to reality, and can eventually drive them mad. Charisma poison is rare, and expensive. It saps the victim of their cheer, and personality, leaving them ill-tempered and prone to lashing out at their companions. Eventually Charisma poison can drive a person into such misery that they will wish to kill themselves.

Each of these poisons is available in five levels of potency.

Very Weak poison is old, and may have largely dried up. The save to resist it is 12, and it deals 2d4 damage to the indicated attribute.
Weak poison may be watered down, or perhaps not enough was applied. The save to resist is 15, and it deals 2d6 damage to the indicated attribute.
Normal poison has a save to resist of 17, and deals 3d6 damage to the indicated attribute.
Strong poison may be fresh, or taken from a particularly potent source. It has a save to resist of 20, and deals 4d6 damage to the indicated attribute.
Very Strong poison may have been refined by a master alchemist. It has a save to resist of 24, and deals 3d10 damage to the indicated attribute.

The five levels of potency scale nicely with the levels of character power in a given attribute. Weaker poisons are deadly if the character has a very low score for that attribute, while the stronger poisons are deadly for characters who have high scores in the given attribute.

Screenshot of Ability Score Damage by Poison Strength. Graph created using AnyDicea

Graph made with AnyDice

If the save is failed, then the poison will run its course unless an antidote is applied. The first die of the poison’s damage is rolled immediately when the poison is contracted. Every 15 minutes after, another die of the poison’s damage is rolled, until the damage has been dealt in its entirety. If the character takes strenuous action which gets the blood pumping (such as running to get the cure) then the poison may act more quickly (a die rolled every 10 minutes) while a character at rest may be able to hold out longer (a die rolled every 20 minutes)

If the poison reduces the character’s attribute below 0, then the damage is permanent, and the character suffers the fate indicated by the attribute the poison afflicted: death for Strength, inability to eat for Constitution, paralysis for Dexterity, vegetative state for Intelligence, insanity for Wisdom, and suicide for Charisma. If the poison ends its run (either naturally, or because the antidote was applied) before the character’s ability score reaches 0, then the score will regenerate at the standard rate of 1 point per day of rest, until it returns to its previous state.

Non standard poisons may exist, such as poisons unique to a specific creature. But when stocking a dungeon with traps, these six simple poisons in 5 different potencies are varied enough to be interesting, and deadly enough to make players think twice before they open a door with their bare hands.

The only flaw I see in the system is that since the poisons do not have names, players can’t seek antidotes for them. But that’s simple enough: give them names, and have shops sell antidotes for them. Or, better yet, come up with specific plants which can serve as antidotes for them, so players can learn those plants and search for them if they’re poisoned and don’t have any antidote on hand.

Merciless Monsters 9: Kolera (a.k.a. Beetle People)

Close up photograph of a terrifying, and beautiful, Tiger Beetle. Photo be Ted Macrae
Photo of a tiger Beetle by Ted Macrae

The Kolera, or ‘Beetle People’ as they are commonly known, were not forged by the gods as other races were. Centuries ago they were created by a mad wizard who wished to enshrine herself forever in the annals of history. A mad wizard whose name has, ironically, been forgotten. She conquered and enslaved numerous villages of humans, and performed twisted magical experimentation on them to bring about a new and powerful race of creatures with insectoid characteristics. Poetic justice was served when the very abominations she’d created devoured her.

In the time since, the Kolera have proliferated, and are now commonly found inhabiting a variety of caves, burrows, and dungeons. Due to the mutations to their formerly human mouths, Kolera cannot speak common. They could understand it if they chose to study it, however they have little desire to deal with humans, or any other non-Kolera for that matter. They are an introverted people, who while not strictly isolationist, are extremely territorial and suspicious of outsiders.

Kolera live in tightly knit colonies, which are typically ruled by consensus. Though they are not hive minded, conflict rarely occurs within a colony. Social rules and the role of each individual appear to be almost instinctual in nature. and rare disagreements are either arbitrated by a third party, or settled by a non-lethal combat to establish the dominance of one party. Very rarely, one Kolera in a colony will rise to a position of leadership, and lead it as a king or queen. As with other aspects of Kolera society, this appears to occur instinctively. The leader knows their role is to command the colony, and the others of the colony know that they must accept orders from this ruler.

Young Kolera are hatched from eggs, and spend the first year of their life as large, starfish-shaped larva. From a distance, an adult Kolera could easily be mistaken for a human. They have a torso, arms, legs, and a head all in the same arrangement as their human forebears. It is up close when the alterations of the mad wizard become obvious. Kolera have large, lidless, compound eyes. They lack lips or a tongue, and instead have a large pair of pincers on each side of their mouth, and in place of teeth, they have dozens of prehensile ‘brushes,’ which funnel food directly into a stomach filled with digestive acid many times more corrosive than a human’s.

Instead of hair atop their head, Kolera have a large shell which serves as a natural helm. There are wings beneath this shell, but they are flightless. Instead they serve as a means of communication between Kolera. Similar shells form on the shoulders and knees. This is combined with hard plates growing on the chest and back, which altogether serve as natural armor for the creatures. Each of a Kolera’s wrists have a retractable antenae growing from them, which serve as a powerful sensory organ which can detect subtle traces of scent or texture which would be indetectable to a human. Instead of hands, Koleran forearms end with six opposed digits–three on one side, three on the other–which resemble large, powerful insect legs.

The lifespan of a Kolera is a mere 25 years. It is a flaw the mad wizard was never able to correct, and she suspected that the gods themselves had cursed her creation with brief life, because they were angered by her hubris. Whether or not the gods were angered that a mere mortal dared to create a new species, the Kolera believe it. Many colonies have attempted to earn the patronage of a deity, who might lift the curse and allow each Kolera to live longer lives. So far they have been unsuccessful, but it is unclear whether that is because no god is willing to life the curse, or because there is no curse and the Kolera are merely constructed poorly.


The creature ahead of you looks like an unholy amalgam of human and insect, fused together almost at random.

Kolera; CR 1/2; [Humanoid] [Caves, Burrows, Dungeons] [Active 12-16 hrs/day. Activity not relative to time of day.]

XP: 200
LE Medium Humanoid (Insect)
Init +2; Senses Darkvision 120ft, Perception +5


AC 18, touch 14, flat-footed 16 [10 + Dex(2) + Natural(4) + Shield(2)]
HP 8 (1d10 + 3)
Fort +5 Ref +2 Will -1;


Speed 30 ft.
Melee Spear; + 4 (1d8 + 3)(Piercing)(20/x3)(20ft. thrown)
Ranged Light Crossbow (Custom Grip); +3 (1d8)(Piercing)(19-20/x2)(80 ft.)


Str 17 Dex 14 Con 16 Int 11 Wis 09 Cha 07
BAB +1; CMB 4; CMD 16
Languages Kolaric
SQ Regurgitate Acid


Regurgitate Acid Kolera stomach acid is highly corrosive, and Kolera have the ability to vomit their acid out of their mouths. The process is not pleasant and takes about a minute to complete, so the ability is not viable to use in combat. However, it is frequently used to create hazards, or to destroy locks. The acid deals 1d6 damage per round to whomever it comes in contact with (including the Kolera themselves). An individual Kolera can produce about one gallon of stomach acid each day.


Environment Most commonly in farmland, where the necessary resources are plentiful.
Organization Band (6-12) or Colony (100-300)
Activity Cycle An individual Kolera is active for between 12-16 hours a day, but a colony of the creatures is often active 24/7
Diet Omnivorous. Smaller insects and meats from animals and humans primarily, but also a variety of algae and fungus
Natural Enemies Orcs do not get along with them well at all
Treasure Typical


+2 Strength, +2 Constitution, -4 Charisma: Kolera are physically powerful, but it is obvious from looking at them that something is not quite as it should be. These creatures were not created by the gods, and it shows in the small imperfections.

Darkvision: Kolera can see in the dark perfectly, up to 120ft.

Perception: the compound eyes of the Kolera allow them to see around them much better than most creatures can. This grants them a +4 bonus to perception checks.

Natural Armor: The hard carapace and shells which grow on a Kolera’s body serve as an effective suit of natural armor, granting a +4 bonus to Armor Class. Unfortunately these bulky plates also make it nearly impossible for a Kolera to be fitted for more traditional armor.

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