Investments, Citadels, and Domains

As players level up, the play of the game starts to shift, allowing them to engage with the world on a higher level. They start as peons at the mercy of their environment, but through the acquisition of wealth, social connections, and personal power, they become the sharpers of that environment

I like this part of the game. What I don’t like is when players are expected to micromanage their world-shaping endeavors to the point that it completely consumes normal play. I sincerely do not care what color the rugs in the party’s castle are, or at what rate they’re taxing their peasants. I want to keep things simple and abstracted, so that the game can continue more or less unobstructed by spreadsheets.

Part of my preference for abstraction is a distaste for periodic money, no matter which way it’s flowing. I don’t like forcing my players to pay some set amount on a regular schedule to represent their lifestyle, or their investments. I’ve been a player. I find that shit boring, and difficult to keep track of. In the same vein, I don’t like my players to have a regular income, from something like taxes on their own lands. I prefer to maintain more control over the inflow of cash to my game’s economy.

With all that in mind, I’ve broken the endeavors of high level play down into 3 subsystems: Investment, Construction, and Domains.


If a player wishes to create an institution or business, they just need to describe it to the referee. Then, based on that description, the referee will determine some boons which may result from getting this venture off the ground. Each business has 3 potential boons, tied to different levels of funding.

The three levels cost 4,000, 10,000, and 25,000, using whatever the base currency is in your game. (For the purposes of this system, every venture costs the same). Those prices may seem high, but they are meant to include both the costs of initially establishing & furnishing the business, as well as the monthly operating costs for as long as it takes the project to become self-sustaining.

The boons can be anything that makes sense based on the type of business. Alex Chalk, who originated this idea, suggested that investing in an Inn might allow players to create new characters above 1st level. Putting money into a wizard’s tower might increase the efficacy of the potions she sells. Investing in a silver mine could allow characters to get their weapons silvered and re-silvered for free. And so on, and so forth.

If players wish, they may upgrade to a higher level of investment at any time by paying the difference between the level they’re at, and the one they wish to reach.

Some Haven Turn complications may require players to take action in order to maintain their businesses. Perhaps there was a fire, or other disaster which requires the business be rebuilt. Perhaps some dastardly NPC is attempting a hostile takeover of the business using some legal trickery. Most such problems can be taken care of by immediately paying 1/2 of the value of your current investment level.

Note that while the default assumption of the system is that the players propose new ventures to the referee, there’s no reason why the referee can’t make proposals of their own. If the players have a reputation for being wealthy, NPC businessmen looking to kickstart their own projects might show up to make a pitch now and then.

Note also that I allow players to use the traditional LotFP investment rules if they wish. (Page 52 & 53 of Rules & Magic). However, funds invested that way do not provide any boons, just as funds invested for boons do not accrue interest.

Here are some sample investments, taken from my ORWA campaign:

Don Harper’s Mutant Hospital
A free clinic which specializes in treating the many peculiar discomforts and maladies that afflict mutants. They cannot cure mutation, but if you’ve got stubby arms, they’ll help you with a prosthetic. And if you’ve got a swollen gland, they’ll schedule regular drainings for it.

  • Level 1: Mutants who use the hospital have a +1 reaction to the party. Mutants encountered in the wild have a 20% chance of having used it.
  • Level 2: PC and Hireling mutants get the best treatment available. They add +1 to their maximum hit points for each level.  Also, mutants encountered in the wild have a 30% chance of having used the hospital.
  • Level 3: The Hospital’s surgeons can reverse One mutation, per mutant, per lifetime. Also, mutants encountered in the wild have a 40% chance of having used the hospital.

Nrrk’s Writing and Propaganda
A writer who chronicles the party’s many adventures, always presenting them in the most flattering light possible. These leaflets are then distributed as a free periodical throughout the Dome.

  • Level 1: The party has a reputation for getting their jobs done, and doing them with style. If they mention their quasi-celebrity status while negotiating pay for a job, they can get an automatic 10% increase in the amount they would be paid.
  • Level 2: If the party does something they are worried will reflect poorly on them, they can cover it up. This only allows them to obfuscate a single action per session, but will not throw off any determined investigation. Instead, using this option will confuse the general public. Nobody will be quite sure what the facts are, and thus no united effort against the party will be able to form.
  • Level 3: The party gets a +1 to their initial reaction roll with anyone who lives on the surface, is literate, and doesn’t have some reason to hate them. For each individual, there is a 50% chance that they’re literate.

Don Harper’s Fun Zone – Front of House
A place full of pinball, arcade machines, and other fun distractions. Also has an adult section with exotic dancer and drugs.

  • Uses the RAW LotFP investment rules.
  • Investment level is RISKY
  • Current Investment amount is 20,000cc
  • Investment was started in February 2517.

Don Harper’s Fun Zone – Back of House
The fun and games of the front-of-house is all just a lure, to get people in the door. Once they’re there, the Cult of Akiovasha will attempt to recruit anyone who seems like they might be dissatisfied with life. In the words of Don Harper “Kinda like the Foot Clan hangout in the TMNT movie.”

  • Level 1: Each Haven Turn, there’s a 3-in-6 chance that the growth of the Cult of Akiovasha is improved by 1.
  • Level 2: The potential extra growth increases to 2.
  • Level 3: The potential extra growth increases to 3.


When players are managing investments or domains, it can be assumed that part of their funds are used to finance buildings. Obviously, businesses need a space to operate out of, and a populace will need houses to live in. Buildings exist, but the specifics are neither important, nor interesting. It’s enough simply to know that there are buildings.

If the players wish to construct a personal stronghold, however, they’ll likely be much more interested in managing the details. And so, a more granular system is required.

The first thing that is needed is a place to build. How the players acquire this will depend on the sort of game the referee is running, and where they want to build. If they’re building in a city, or a civilized land, they may need to purchase a deed, or earn a grant of land from a king. If they’re building out in a wilderness, they’ll need to make some effort to claim the area by clearing out any undesirables who would get in their way. However a territory is claimed, it should be handled through play.

The base cost of construction is 50 money. On the ground floor, each 10′ cube of space costs the base amount. For each floor above or below ground level, the cost of a 10′ cube increases by the base amount.

So, a 10′ cube on the second story (or on sublevel 1) would cost 100 money. A 10′ cube on the third story (or on sublevel 2) would cost 150 money, and so on, and so forth. Players are responsible for drawing out a map of what they would like to build, and calculating its costs.

The cost of construction includes basic furnishings. So the living spaces will have tables and chairs, the kitchens will have pots and pans, the bedrooms will have beds, etc. If the players wish for their furnishings to be of impressive quiality, they may pay the cost for their space as if it were one level higher (or lower) than it is. So a well-furnished ground level would cost 100 money per 10′ cube, and so on.

It should be noted that construction costs do not include the cost of labor. Hiring craftspeople to put everything together for you should be handled by whatever method of managing hirelings the referee uses. Each laborer can perform 250 money worth of construction in a month. So if you’re constructing a 20′ by 20′ ground-level building (four 10′ cubes, costing 200 money), a single worker can have it ready for you in a month. But, if you’re constructing a 30′ by 30′ ground-level building (nine 10′ cubes, costing 450 money), you’ll need 2 laborers if you want it done within a single month.

If the players want to place anything in the structure which requires special craftsmanship, that’s a flat 1000 money fee. That includes traps, secret doors, statues, or any particularly ornate bit of decorating. Anything too large to fit within a 10′ cube may cost more, as determined by the referee.

If the structure is being built by a Magic User, they will no doubt want to make it a magical place. They are free to create any purely cosmetic effects they wish, so long as those effects flow somewhat naturally from the spells the Magic User knows. So, if a Magic User knows any fire spells, they can cause their dragon statue to puff out bits of flame periodically. So long as it’s cosmetic, there is no cost.

However, if the Magic User wishes to imbue their home with any more substantive magics, such as a Cone of Cold trap, they’ll need to make some appropriate payment. In my game, I’ve been allowing players to turn their spells into permanent traps (with 24 hour resets) by performing a ritual that costs 1d4 * 100 experience points.

Most exterior constructions can be handled the same way. Moats, walls, and bridges can all be charged according to the base cost per 10′ cube rule. Roads, however, are a bit of a special case, since by their nature they are a simple construction meant to cover a vast space.

When players want to build a road, I charge them a flat 1000 money per mile.


Managing a Domain

First level characters have been pushed to the edge of society. That’s why they’re willing to to risk their lives delving into dungeons to search for treasure. Then, once they have treasure, they decide to make their OWN societies, in turn pushing a whole new generation of people to the edge, and perpetuating the vicious cycle that has allowed Dungeons & Dragons to persist through the ages.

The initial establishment of a domain is done through play. Usually it starts with the player’s citadel: they obtain some land, build a home, and gradually they invite people to live there. At some point, it stops being a single large household, and becomes a town.

Of course, players may also establish their domains intentionally by gathering together a group of settlers, and finding a space for them to live. This functions the same as acquiring a place to build a citadel. They need a tract of land, which they can reasonably claim to own, and which isn’t full of monsters who want to kill everyone. As above, this should be handled through play.

Once established, a player domain functions much like any other territory. It’ll have notable NPCs, shops, laws, etc. The difference is that the players can directly influence the shape and character of their domain. If they wish, they can write a code of laws. They can find NPCs they like out in the world, and offer them positions of authority. They can found industries, to ensure that certain goods or services are always available.

The possibilities inherent to running a domain are too infinite to be covered in 1/3rd of a blog post. A lot of it will need to be handled just by negotiation between the players and the referee. If the players decide to establish a universal basic income, the referee should figure out the upsides and downsides of doing so. If the players decide that all attractive residents of their domain must report to the castle for harem duty, that likewise should come with some consequences.

As a matter of basic structure, players can grow their domain by investing money into it. The more money a domain has, the higher level the domain becomes. The higher level a domain is, the more resources it will have access to.

The cost of leveling a domain is very high, but it is assumed that multiple high level characters are investing.

It should also be noted that the maximum extent of any domain is 1 hex. Once a domain reaches level 10, that hex contains a sprawling megalopolis, surrounded by well cultivated farmland. It has grown to its maximum extent, and if the players wish to continue improving their domain, they must expand by establishing a “new” domain in an adjacent hex, which will start at level 1.

Level Cost to Reach Result
1 0 Automatically achieved when a territory is cleared for settlement.
2 10,000 Has a 1-in-6 chance to be able to provide any item or service which is mundane to the game world.
3 20,000 Able to produce an army of 1d4 * 50
4 40,000 Has a 2-in-6 chance to be able to provide any item or service which is mundane to the game world.
5 80,000 Able to produce an army of 2d4 * 100
6 160,000 Has a 3-in-6 chance to be able to provide any item or service which is mundane to the game world.
7 320,000 Able to produce an army of 2d4 * 500
8 640,000 Has a 4-in-6 chance to be able to provide any item or service which is mundane to the game world.
9 1,280,000 Able to produce an army of 2d4 * 2000
10 2,560,000 Has a 5-in-6 chance to be able to provide any item or service which is mundane to the game world.

Armies will function much as Fighter’s Armies do. However, they are not career warriors as those are. Domain armies are made up of farmers who will take up weapons in the name of their homeland, but can’t really be leveled up as fighters, and can’t be expected to stay away from home too long.

A domain army can be kept in the field for a number of months equal to the domain’s level, plus 2. After that, they’ll expect to be able to go home so they can be with their families, and tend to their own affairs.

Mundane Items & Services: If the players want something, this is the chance that their domain can provide it to them. This chance doesn’t include the most basic of items and services. There are some things that every domain will need to have in order to survive. So, if the players want food, or some simple blacksmithing, then that can be assumed.

However, if the players want their domain to provide them with access to siege equipment, casks of fine wine, or a warehouse of plate armor, that is going to require a roll.

Any time a roll is made, the result should be recorded. If a roll is successful, then the domain will always be able to provide that item or service. If it is unsuccessful, then the domain will not be able to provide that item or service until something changes.

The players can move something from the “unavailable” list to the “available” list in one of two ways:

  1. Each time the domain levels up, one item can be moved from one list to the other.
  2. The players may take direct action to to add new resources to the available list. For example, if they go to another land, find a skilled armorsmith, and convince them to set up shop in their domain, then full plate armor would become available.

Acknowledgement as a Person of Importance: As rulers, the players will be able to present themselves as visiting dignitaries in any land where their domains are known and respected.

To determine how far away from their territory the players can travel before they become nobodies again, add together the levels of all the player’s domains. Multiply that number by 5. The result is the number of hexes that a player can travel, and still assert their right to be treated as a visiting dignitary.

That’s all I’ve got to say about Domains for now. I’ve only just started having my players tinker with them, so I imagine I’ll have more to say once problems start cropping up. For now, though, I think this is a pretty solid basis for running a game.

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Establishing a Religion

Cult MembersIf you had told me a year ago that I would need rules for player-run religions, I’d have disagreed. It sounds like a weirdly specific edge case that’s unlikely to come up in play. And yet, here I am, deep into a campaign where my players have invested a ton of resources and time into spreading the word of a god they made up.

As it turns out, the growth of a new religion is a tricky thing to model. I’ve gotten this far just using fiat and my own judgement, but it feels ‘floaty.’ I’m usually very comfortable with fiat, and advocate using it more often in games. In most cases, though, fiat is only a few steps removed from structure. If a player wants to do a weird thing in combat, I know how to quickly construct a ruling, because I know how combat works. But I have no point of reference for how an idea spreads through a game population. I need to pin down some guidelines.

The way I figure it, there are four basic phases of growth to worry about.

First, there’s the initial establishment of the religion. You’ve gotta get your core true-believers going. Gotta find your 12 apostles: the folks who will sell your religion to the masses. There’s really nothing to codify here, because this bit should be handled through normal play. Maybe the PCs make some eloquent speeches, or maybe they just fake some miracles. However they get it done, it will be about planning and execution on the player’s part, which is something the referee should be able to respond to. Any rules would just get in the way.

Getting out of phase 1 requires the players to successfully get some NPCs excited about their new faith.

In phase 2, the core believers have organized themselves into a cult. They are spreading the word, and the religion is growing slowly.

This is a hard phase to break out of. Cults are small, and generally composed of social outcasts. They have to meet in secret, and most people who hear about what the cult believes will think it’s nutso. Each Haven turn, the cult’s numbers grow by 1d4 * 10%, rounded up. So if you’ve only got 12 people to start with, and you roll a 1, then the cult grows by 10%. Since 10% of 12 is 1.2, that means the cult gains 2 new members that month.

Generally I try to avoid percentage based math when I design a rule. I was homeschooled, so I have no math skills, and much prefer mechanics that keep shit simple. But, in this case I think the benefit outweighs the difficulty. It’s the simplest way for the cult’s growth to accelerate as it grows larger. Plus, since it’s all based on increments of 10%, the math is simple: just move the decimal place one space to the left, then multiply by whatever number you rolled on the d4, and add the result to your previous total.

If the players want to, they can continue to grow the cult with direct action, the same way they did in Phase 1. However, they’ll only ever be able to get a few people at a time that way. The hard work of growing a cult is the boring process of preaching, providing spiritual guidance, offering services, reaching out to the disenfranchised, etc. Not really the work of adventurers. It’s best for the party to remain a guiding hand, and let this work happen in the background.

Phase 2 ends when the cult has 1000 members.

In phase 3, the cult has evolved into a full fledged new religion. The faithful, emboldened by their numbers, begin to operate more in the open. Most people in the community will have have some idea of what the faithful believe, and most will be tolerant, even if they don’t agree. Of course, the reactionary forces of more established religions will be ramping up their rhetoric about the evils of this new faith. But, the average person doesn’t have a horse in that fight.

Once a religion reaches this stage, there’s no need to track actual member counts anymore. Instead, the faithful are counted as an abstract percentage of the total population, starting at 0%. Each haven turn, the religion’s hold over the population increases by 1d4. So, if you roll a 2 on the first haven turn, then 2% of the population has converted to the new religion. If you roll a 3 on the next haven turn, then 5% of the population has converted, and so on.

The idea is that now that your religion is both well known, and not considered crazy, all the folks who are slightly more predisposed towards your tenets than they are to the tenets of other faiths are making the switch. They aren’t the same breed of passionate true believers that the cultists were, though. The true believers are still there, but they’re in the minority now.

The new folks are mostly here because their old religion wanted them to attend services on Tuesdays, and the Wednesday services YOUR church requires are really more convenient for their schedule. Of course, if a new faith showed up with THURSDAY services, a ton of them would leave for that one.

Phase 3 ends when the new religion reaches parity with the other religions in its environment. So, if there’s only 1 other religion, phase 3 ends when the new religion is at 50%. If there are 2 other religions, phase 3 ends at 33%, and so on. If you play in a game with tons of different religions, it may be best to simply drop Phase 3, and skip straight from Phase 2, to something similar to Phase 4.

In Phase 4, growth more or less stops. If the players want, it can continue at (1d3 – 2)% each Haven Turn, but that’s not really going to result in much. At this point, the supply of willing converts has been exhausted. Anybody who joins the religion from here on out will be someone who consciously decided against joining the religion at some point in the past.

At this point, the religion has successfully established itself. For many faiths, this will be the endgame. However, players are rarely satisfied with an equal share of the pie. They want all of it. So, if the players want their religion to continue growing, they can do that. But, from here on out, each bit of growth will again require direct action. Not by preaching, but with dramatic public displays that either push people towards the player’s religion, or away from competing religions.

For example, if the leadership of religion X is exposed as corrupt, people’s faith in that religion will be shaken. Some of them, will leave, and as a result, the ranks of the player’s religion will grow. Likewise, if the player’s religion engages in a huge campaign to fight poverty, some people will be inspired by that generosity, and will convert. Those are just two out of millions of possibilities. It’s up to the players to orchestrate a public display, and up to the referee to determine whether those displays are significant enough to count.

Whatever the specifics, though, a successful public display causes the player’s religion to grow by (1d6 + 3)%.

Of course, the players could orchestrate these public displays during Phase 2 if they wanted, but given the investment of time required, it’s not really worth it to pursue until after the religion has gotten as big as it’s going to get on its own.

And there you have it, a system for modeling the spread of a religion, from inception, to complete cultural saturation. So…what is this system good for? What does founding a religion actually do?

In my case, my players started a cult because they wanted to disrupt the majority religion. The more successful their cult is, the more distracted the majority religion gets. They can’t orchestrate crusades against their neighbors if they’re focusing all of their energy fighting the spread of the player’s cult.

More than that, though, establishing a religion has allowed my players to influence the basic worldviews of the NPCs in their environment. After all, what is a religion but a set of shared beliefs and rules to live by? The same system could easily be used to model the spread of a philosophical school or political movement.

In other words, establishing a religion allows the players to set the rules by which people live. If they don’t like living in a world where slavery is normal, spreading a religion gives them an opportunity to change that.

Players Are Never Going To Stop Calling Their Shots

Fallout VATSWhen a player says they’re attacking a specific part of an enemy’s body, that’s a called shot. In my experience, called shots aren’t really a thing. I’ve never allowed them in my games, nor do I recall ever playing in a game where they were allowed. In fact, most folks I’ve talked to are dismissive of the idea. The consensus is that allowing called shots would awkwardly complicate a combat system that is designed to be simple.

And yet, despite apparently being an uncommon, unpopular mechanic, I keep seeing players try to use it.

At some point during every campaign, a player will ask if they can try to hit a monster’s eye, or hand, or poison-gas-spewing-appendage. I’ve seen folks do this whom I know don’t allow called shots in their own games. I’ve done it myself. We all know full well that the referee won’t (and, by our own logic, shouldn’t) allow it. Yet, we ask anyway, because as players, representing our own interests, it’s what we want to do. So, it occurs to me that if players want to call their shots so badly, perhaps we should talk seriously about letting them do it.

But before we do that, I want to frame the discussion by first talking about why we don’t allow it.

Combat is not the central focus of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s an important aspect of the game, but fundamentally, D&D is about exploration and discovery. The game’s core mechanic is the Three Step Conversation:

  • The referee describes an environment.
  • The player describes how they interact with that environment.
  • The referee describes how the environment responds to the player’s actions.

That’s the essence of the game, and it’s where the referee should try to keep the game’s focus. However, combat is a frequent occurrence, and the 3 Step Conversation isn’t good at satisfactorily resolving it. A separate resolution mechanic is required. But, since combat is not the core of the game, part of that mechanic’s job will be to get us back to the 3 Step Conversation as quickly as possible.

Which isn’t to say combat needs to be boring. It needs to be simple, and it needs to be fast, but hopefully, it can be both of those things and still be fun. What we want to avoid is the mess that was D&D 3rd edition, where combats became so complicated, and so lengthy, that they were the de facto core of the game. Despite the fact that 3rd edition combat still relied upon systems that were designed with the intent of minimizing the role of combat. 3rd edition’s mechanics are literally working at cross purposes to one another.

Hit points are part of keeping combat simple and fast. They are meant as a convenient abstraction not only for a character’s level of physical injury, but also for their luck, their experience, their level of fatigue, etc. To quote the man himself:

It is quite unreasonable to assume that as a character gains levels of ability in his or her class that a corresponding gain in actual ability to sustain physical damage takes place. It is preposterous to state such an assumption, for if we are to assume that a man is killed by a sword thrust which does 4 hit points of damage, we must similarly assume that a hero could, on average, withstand five such thrusts before being slain! Why then the increase in hit points? Because these reflect both the actual physical ability of the character to withstand damage–as indicated by constitution bonuses–and a commensurate increase in such areas as skill in combat and similar life-or-death situations, the “sixth sense” which warns the individual of some otherwise unforeseen events, sheer luck, and the fantastic provisions of magical protections and/or divine protection.

-Gary Gygax, 1979
Dungeon Master’s Guide, page 82

Ergo, attempting to codify a system for called shots would require doing one of two bad things. Either you’d need to complicate combat by getting rid of overall hit points and coming up with some location-based hit method. OR, you’d have to stretch traditional hit points to fill a role they were never intended to fill, thus committing a the sin of 3rd editionism.

Obviously, the goal of this post is to come up with some method for including called shots in games. But how do we do it without also doing one of the two bad things?

Simple Called Shots

If a player wishes to make a called shot, they must first hit their foe, and roll damage in the upper 50% of their attack’s damage range. For example, if a character hits with a sword that deals 1d8 damage, they’ll need to roll a 5 or higher in order for their called shot to be successful. Likewise, if they’re dealing 3d6 damage (with a range of 3-18), they’ll need to roll 11 or higher.

When that happens, the player may choose to make a called shot. The hit point damage for called shots is reduced by 1/2 of the die’s potential maximum damage. So, if the attacker rolls a 5 on a d8, and opts to make a called shot, they’d subtract 4 from their damage, dealing only 1 against the target’s hit points.

In exchange, the referee should fiat some detriment upon the victim. It should be something appropriate to the body part targeted, the weapon used, and the amount of hit points the target has left. There are really no wrong answers, so long as the referee makes a good faith effort to respect the player’s success. Remember that in order to earn this, the player had to pass two tests  (first hitting the target, then rolling damage over 50%), and make a significant sacrifice by reducing the damage they dealt. The player has earned a cookie.

That’s it, really. What’s written above is all that is necessary to run the system, presuming a good referee. However, I’d like to make a further attempt to create guidelines for helping referees make good decisions. What’s written below boarders on complication, so feel free to disregard it and just use what’s written above if that works for you.

The severity of the detriment the referee comes up with can be determined by checking how many more hits from the player’s weapon it would take to kill the target, assuming they got maximum damage every time.

Let’s assume the player is using a d8 weapon, so that their maximum damage is 8. That would mean that:

  • Any foe with 8 or fewer hit points would take 1 hit to kill. (“Near Death)
  • Any foe with 16 or fewer hit points would take 2 hits to kill. (“Struggling”)
  • Any foe with 24 or fewer hit points would take 3 hits to kill. (“Injured”)
  • Any foe with 25+ hit points would take 4 or more hits to kill. (“Safe”)

This sounds complicated, but really it’s just taking the die type of a weapon, and multiplying it by 1, 2, and 3 to figure out whether a foe counts as Near Death, Struggling, Injured, or Safe. Of course, these are just terms. A perfectly healthy 1hd goblin will always be considered “near death” when attacked by someone wielding a two handed battleaxe.

If the target is Safe, then whatever detriment they suffer should be very temporary.  Perhaps 1d4 + [damage dealt] rounds. So, if the called shot is made against the creature’s eyes, then perhaps the hit caused a small cut in the creature’s brow. Blood obscures the its vision until it has a second to wipe that blood away.

If the target is Injured, then whatever detriment they suffer should last for the rest of the battle. If the attack was against their eyes, then perhaps it causes the eye to swell shut. It’s not a permanent injury, but it is something that will be impossible to take care of while mid-combat.

If the target is Struggling, they could be dealt an injury which will permanently reduce their effectiveness, but which is not debilitating. To use the eyes again, perhaps the attack causes the creature to lose one of their eyes. They can still see, but they lack depth perception. Or perhaps their corneas are scratched, causing their vision to become blurry.

If the target is Near Death, they could be dealt a permanently debilitating injury. Eyes will be cut out, arms or legs will be cut off, etcetera.

Hopefully that method is simple enough for the referee to easily memorize. The point is not to create an exact method which must be followed, but a guide to help referees make their own decisions at the table.


If there’s one skill that almost every specialist trains, it’s stealth. Stealth is almost an obligation. If the party wants the specialist to climb or to search, and they say “sorry, I don’t have any points in that,” then the group will just move on to other possible solutions. If the party wants the specialist to stealth, and they don’t have any points in that, they’re probably going to have to endure some jokes about how useless they are.

Stealth is also one of those things that every referee seems to run just a little differently. There’s no consensus on what can and can’t be done with the skill. Players end up learning one way of doing things in one game, then, they carry those assumptions into other games where the skill is run differently. Because they’ve got these false assumptions, they ignore opportunities that other referees wouldn’t have allowed to them.

For my own sake, I thought it would be a valuable exercise to articulate exactly how I run Stealth. Hopefully, someone out there will find something they like about my methods. Or, maybe somebody with better methods will share them in the comments.

And no, I totally haven’t done this before. This is the first time. Don’t look through the archives, you won’t find it.

When Should Stealth Be Checked?

If there’s nothing that might detect the player, then there’s no reason for them to roll a check. Every game has that player who announces the success or failure of their stealth check anytime the party goes anywhere or does anything. It’s boring. I want to find out what referee has taught them this behavior, and punch that neckbeardy fuck in the face.

In most cases, a stealth check can be reactive. If the characters are walking around through city streets, exploring the wilderness, or crawling through a mostly empty dungeon, it can simply be understood that the stealthy character is trying to move with some degree of subtlety.

When something does appear that a character would want to be hidden from (i.e., an encounter), then the character can make a check. If they’re alone, it means the encounter simply doesn’t see anyone. Maybe they thought they heard or smelled or saw something, but now there isn’t anyone for them to find.

If the character is with the rest of their party, then a successful stealth check probably means that the encounter is so distracted by everyone else, that they don’t notice the stealthy character blending into the shadows.

In other, rarer circumstances, the environment may be full of people the stealther doesn’t want to be detected by. This might happen if they’re infiltrating an enemy fortress, or trying to move around in an active combat zone. In these cases, the stealth check should be made up front.

When Does Stealth Need To Be Renewed?

When a check succeeds, stealth lasts until it is disrupted. Characters do not need to make a new check just because it has been awhile since the last one, or because they’ve entered a new area.

Rarely, a disruption may cause stealth to be forcibly ended. In most cases, though, a disruption only requires that a new stealth check be made. If the new check fails, then the disruption caused them to be discovered. If it succeeds, then they managed to skillfully avoid being noticed.

There are three types of disruption which require a new check to be made:

  1. The stealthed character makes a non-obvious attack. This includes stuff like a silent ranged attack made from a reasonably good hiding spot, or any attack which successfully kills the target. You can’t notice where the attack came from if you’re dead.
  2. The stealthed character ends their movement in an observed location. Quickly dashing across a guarded hallway is easy. There’s no need to check stealth for that. Moving down the length of that same hallway, however, would be significantly more difficult.

    In other words, a stealthed character can easily pass through someone’s line of sight, so long as they start and end their movement in a reasonable hiding place. If they can’t, that will require a new check.

  3. The character performs any action which requires them to disrupt their environment, or act in a conspicuous manner. This includes most actions other than simply moving around. Stuff like picking locks, searching rooms, listening at doors, or even opening doors if there are people on the other side. Some judgement calls from the referee are needed here to determine what can easily be done with subtlety, and what would be likely to draw attention.

What is a “Reasonable Hiding Place?”

Anywhere that no one is specifically looking, or which provides some kind of cover or shadows to hide in. Standing right behind an NPC is a reasonable hiding place from that NPC.

When Does Stealth End?

Aside from a failed check, there is only one way* for a character to be forced out of stealth.

If they make an obvious attack against someone, and that person isn’t killed, then the jig is up. The stealthy character has been spotted, and cannot attempt to re-enter stealth unless they escape from combat, or succeed on a Vanish check. (I’ll discuss the Vanish check more below).

An obvious attack is any melee attack, or a ranged attack made from somewhere out in the open.

It hardly seems worth mentioning, but Stealth also ends when the character takes any obviously non-stealthy actions, such as openly conversing / traveling with their non-stealthy party.

*If the game includes guns, then using a non-silenced gun is also enough to end stealth, whether the target is killed or not.

What Does a Successful Stealth Check Mean?

Stealth is not about crouch-walking, or wearing black clothing. It’s a whole suite of skills. Sometimes it does rely upon acrobatics or camouflage. Other times, though, it’s as simple as walking around with enough confidence to convince people that you’re supposed to be there. If all else fails, maybe they’re just scooting around in a cardboard box.

What Does a Failed Stealth Check Mean?

You’ve been spotted, and you’ve probably gotta either fight, or run away. If the stealthy character was making a specific movement when their check failed, roll a d% to determine how far along they were when they were spotted.

That’s how I run things. But, as you can see, I’m also pretty liberal with what stealth can do. I like to balance that with potentially harsh consequences for failure.

I’m going to divert for a moment here to mention a different way of resolving a failed check, which works well when the stealth skill is more limited.

When the check fails in my friend Brendan‘s game, it doesn’t mean the stealther has been noticed. It just means that they, as an expert in stealth, can’t see any way to do what the player wanted to do without being noticed.

So if the player says “I want to stealth across this room,” then rolls a failed check, Brendan will say “If you move across the room, you will be spotted. Do you still want to do it?” In most cases the player says ‘no,’ and the party goes back to the drawing board.

That’s some tasty retention of player agency, right there.

What is the Vanish skill?

The Vanish skills is a completely separate skill from stealth, which I use in my games. Unlike the Stealth skill, which can be trained by any character, the Vanish skill is available only to specialists.

A successful check allows the character to become stealthed, even in situations where stealth would not be allowed.

So, if a specialist is surrounded by a dozen men pointing crossbows at them–when they definitely would not be allowed to make a stealth check–they can make a vanish check. On success, everyone will have lost track of them, and they can then move around as though they are stealthed, using the same conditions listed above for when stealth ends, or needs to be renewed. (Renewals are rolled using the stealth skill. Vanish is used only for the initial disappearance).

In addition to requiring a whole separate skill, using vanish is also more costly than using stealth, in an ‘action economy’ sense. A stealth check can be made for free, as part of whatever else the character is doing. A vanish check requires a full round of action, so the character can’t do anything else until the next turn.

As an aside, I also allow my players to purchase flash pellets, an encumbering item which grants a +1 to their vanish check.

Can a Group move with Stealth?

A character with investment in the stealth skill can “carry” others who don’t have any subtlety of their own. For each person they’re carrying, they take a -1 penalty to their check. So, if a character with a 6-in-6 stealth wants to, they can take 2 unskilled characters along with them, and make their check with a functional 4-in-6 chance of success.

If the characters who are being carried have some stealth ability themselves, then every 2 of them provide a penalty of -1 to the trained character’s check, rounded down. So if you’ve got one character with a 6-in-6 stealth, and three characters with a 2-in-6 stealth, then the better trained character can make their check at -1 to carry the other three along with them.

Fighter’s Armies

Caesar in Gaul

This bonus post is paid for by my supporters on Patreon. If you’d like to see more frequent posts from me, a dollar or two a month would be phenomenal.

I spend a lot of time coming up with interesting subsystems for magic users. I’ve done this a bit for clerics as well, and I suppose specialists benefit from my extensive tinkering with skills–even if part of my tinkering is to make skills available to other classes. But what about fighters? Why don’t they get any love?

It’s not because I don’t love fighters. I actually think they’re the single most important class in the game.  But these days, when I sit down to roll up a new character, I’m never thinking thematically. I’m not choosing between the feeling of being a wizard or a fighter. What I’m choosing is how much complexity I want to deal with. If I play a magic user, I need to prepare myself for dealing with spells, and spell systems, contributing to combat without putting myself in direct danger, etc. If I’m a fighter, literally the only thing I have to worry about is the game itself. When combat happens, I jump forward. When I level up, some numbers increase in a pre-determined way.

The simplicity of the fighter is important. It allows the players to engage in the game without worrying about extraneous rules. To me, that simplicity is sacrosanct. It’s something I want to protect. However, there is one bit of complexity I want to explore: armies.

It’s an ancient tradition of the game that at some point the fighter reaches “Name Level,” and recruits an army. I’ve never seen it happen in play, but I’ve always wanted to try it out, tinker with it, make it work for me. And now, finally, I’ve got a player who is forcing me to do so. He’s high level, he’s recruiting some dudes, and he wants to start an army. So…how am I going to run this?

If, at any point during a fighter’s adventuring career, they establish a stronghold, then they may recruit an army. Strongholds can take many forms, but they all count so long as 1. they are large enough to house the fighter’s army; and 2. the fighter, or the party as a whole, can reasonably claim & assert ownership of the place. (For example, having a deed to an old castle doesn’t count, unless you’ve cleared out all the monsters first).

Eager young men and women will flock to the fighter, seeking to make a name and a fortune for themselves. For each experience level the fighter has, they attract 1d4 recruits, modified by their Charisma. So, (assuming LotFP’s ability modifier table), a level 4 fighter with 14 Charisma could recruit 4d4+4 young folk; while the same fighter with 7 Charisma could recruit 4d4-4.

Each recruit begins as a level 0 fighter, with a morale score equal to 1/2 their general’s level. Groups of soldiers check their morale collectively, and have a maximum morale score of 10.  If their general is leading them personally, add 3 to their morale score. (again, with a maximum of 10)

Recruits can be leveled up as a group. Each new level requires 1 month of time, and some amount of money. To get the recruits up to level 1 from level 0 costs 500 money per recruit. After that, the cost per soldier is equal to half the experience totals listed in the fighter’s class description. So, to reach level 2, the general must spend 1000 money for every soldier. Level 3 requires 2000 money for every soldier, and so on.

Soldiers can also level up through combat. After any session where a significant battle took place, each surviving soldier rolls a d6. If they roll over their current level, they level up once.

If the general wishes, they can elevate individual soldiers to become commanders. Commanders must be trained to at least 1 level higher than the rest of the troops, and this training must be done at full cost for each level. Normal hirelings can also be employed as commanders, so long as they are fighters who are at least 1 level higher than the troops they will be leading.

Each commander may lead a group of up to 10 soldiers at a time. That group gains +1 to their morale. This bonus does not stack with the +3 the troops gain from being led directly by their general.

If any soldier reaches 1/2 of their general’s level (rounded up), they must check morale. If the check is failed, then the soldier has chosen to strike out and seek adventure in their own right. This check is repeated each time they level, so long as they continue to be 1/2 or higher than their general’s current level. If a whole group of soldiers reaches this point, they check their morale individually.

During combat, each time a group of soldiers loses 25% of their total fighting force, they must check morale by rolling 2d6. If they roll higher than their morale, they will flee the field. If they roll equal to or lower than their morale, they hold. If a group of soldiers sees another group flee the field, then they must also check morale.

Combat with armies is based off of Zak Sabbath‘s rules for skirmishes, presented in A Red & Pleasant Land. Assuming there is no special strategy in place, friend and foe are paired off, one-to-one, in  groups of roughly equivalent level. In any battle that takes place between two NPCs, roll a d4 for each side, and add the NPC’s levels. Whichever side rolls higher has slain the other.

Given the low die and the matching of levels, ties will likely occur often. When there is a tie, neither side is killed, and the battle continues next round.

If multiple NPCs gang up on a single foe, each NPC rolls a d4, and adds them together. However, only one of the group (the one with the highest level) should add their level to the roll.

Note that these rules are only a loose groundwork, meant to keep battles fast-paced in a game which is not built for large scale combats. The referee should be flexible, making adjustments for any cleverness on the part of either their players, or their monsters. But do not bog yourself down attempting to create an accurate simulation of events. Since everyone involved is an NPC, it’s best to get things out of the way quickly so the actual players can resume playing.

Some (non-binding) thoughts on adjudicating tactics:

  • If the general has their soldiers swarm a target rather than stay organized into ranks, their soldiers will be vulnerable to flanking. Flanked soldiers cannot add their level to their d4 roll.
  • If the general equips their soldiers with spears, the folks in the second rank can also attack a target, effectively doubling the number of soldiers who get to roll d4s against a single foe.
  • If the general equips all their men with long pole-weapons, then the enemy troops will not approach close enough to be killed unless they also have long pole-weapons.
  • If the soldiers are heavily armored, are using a shield wall, are fighting defensively, or are otherwise trained/equipped to be well defended, then if their foes roll higher than them by 1, it is considered a tie. (They do not get +1 to their rolls).
  • If the soldiers are mounted, and there is room on the battlefield for them to move between their foes quickly, then they may also add 1/2 their mount’s hit dice to their rolls (minimum 1).
  • If a mounted soldier is attacking a fleeing soldier, it is an automatic kill, without any roll required.
  • If soldiers are under an arrow bombardment, they may roll as usual, but success only indicates that they survive, not that they kill their foes.
  • Soldiers equipped with ranged weapons in a melee combat take a -2 penalty on their rolls.

Replacing dead soldiers is difficult. A fighter’s army is not a mercenary force which can be sustained by throwing money at it. Men and women pledge themselves to the fighter, because the fighter is an inspiring figure. And so, to replace fallen soldiers, the fighter must do something inspiring.

Each time the fighter levels up, or their army wins some notable victory, the fighter may re-roll their recruitment dice. (1d4/level, modified by Cha). If they roll higher than their current army size, then they gain enough new recruits to cover the difference. So, if they currently have 10 soldiers, and they roll a 12, then they gain 2 level 0 recruits.

As a final note, I’ll point out that armies are a limited tool. It would be difficult, and pointless, for a fighter to drag their troops along on every adventure. Armies are noisy to move, require a lot of rations out in the field, and cannot fit into smaller areas, such as dungeon corridors. Furthermore, they’re bad at fighting anything which strays from what they would consider “normal.” In a historical fantasy setting, this would limit an army to fighting other groups of humans. Whereas anything like a wizard or a monster would require a morale check every time their foe did anything weird. (Eat a man whole? Morale check. Spray fire from its mouth? Morale check. Etc.)

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