How I Construct Dragons

Erol Otus DragonLast week, I intended to write an explanation of how I run dragons in my games. I started the post with a little preamble about what I think the current state of dragons is, and what I don’t like about it. Somewhere around the 900 word mark, I realized my preamble had become an impassioned essay all its own. So I opted to split the post into two parts: the angry rant, and the sober rules discussion.

Welcome to the boring half of that split.

Most encounter tables I use have 2d6 possible encounters on them. On on every one of those tables, a result of 2 means the party has encountered a dragon. Because dragons are like any other kind of vermin: they can survive just about everywhere, and you’re never really going to get rid of them entirely.

The formula for a dragon has 8 parts. There’s description, hoard, toll, statline, breath, spells, minions, and specials.

The Description is a few sentences (3 or 4 max) which can be read at the table to give the referee a snapshot of who and what this dragon is. Usually I try to include a little physical description, and some details about personality.

For physical descriptions, I assume anyone reading has a basic sense of what a dragon looks like, so I limit myself to describing deviations from that norm. More relevant than appearance is personality. What drives this dragon? Do they have a particular love, hate, or desire? Give the referee something to work from while the dragon is conversing with the PCs.

(I say “the referee” as if anybody but me has read these. I do plan to publish my dragons someday, but so far they’re just my personal game aides).

As a sample, here’s the description for Grogund the Mammal:

Shaggy grey fur, a long snout, and deer antlers. She is doubly cruel to humans to mask her own insecurities about being a non-reptilian dragon.

Each dragon’s Hoard is unique. They’re not all sitting on heaps of gold. Why should they? What special significance should gold have to them? It’s not like they’re ever going to spend it, or that they need it to survive. The way dragons assign value to objects is based on a logic completely removed from human economics. Indeed, what a dragon values may seem like trash to us.

Of course, like any narcissist, dragons seek the adoration of others. Not just for their raw power, but for their fine taste. So, often, dragons do hoard objects others would consider to be of great value. But even then, it’s not necessarily going to be gold. Grogund, for example, hoards fine rugs. She rests upon a nice soft heap, and has plenty of minions meticulously cleaning her rugs day and night to keep them in beautiful condition.

The Toll of dragon is the cost of having a nonviolent encounter with them. They expect tribute, and will punish anyone who thinks themselves too good to offer it. Generally speaking, a toll will be something the dragon could add to its hoard. So, for Grogund, anyone who meets her must offer a rug, or meet their doom.

It is a quirk of the draconic psyche that that must accept an appropriate toll if it is offered. A mildewed old bathroom rug would be an insult to Grogund, but she would accept it none the less, and allow those who offered it to pass her unmolested. Of course, insulting a dragon may be fun, but it carries its own consequences.

Remember, that if a dragon leaps out in a surprise attack, you may not have time to offer them a toll before they eat you.

Note also that paying a dragon’s toll only entitles a person to turn around and walk away. If the dragon is pleased with the toll, they may be willing to converse, but they will still spring to attack if the toll payer offers any insult or encroachment.

The Statline for dragons is just a basic statline. Armor Rating, Movement, Hit Dice, Attack, and Morale. Normally I wouldn’t bother talking about this part too much, because it’s pretty boring and you already know how to do it. But, for dragons, I do have a very particular set of guidelines for how I put the basic stats together.

Armor Rating tends towards the mid-to-high end. Between 15 and 19 most of the time. Morale tends towards the low end, with 5-8 being average. Dragons are tough to hurt, but cowardly if they feel at all disadvantaged.

Weaker dragons will have around 7 Hit Dice, with the average being around 10 or 11, and tougher dragons having 16 or 17. Of course, there’s no reason you can’t throw together some 30hd dragons for higher level players, but there’s also value in letting players outpace dragons if they reach such loftily high levels. Dragons being scary should not be an inviolate, sacrosanct part of the game. If the players become badass enough, it’s okay for dragons to become less threatening. They can be replaced by other horrors.

ProJared Final Fantasy 1 NES 4 Four FrostD IceD Dragon

For Movement, I just pull directly from AD&D. Dragons are typically fairly slow on the ground, with a speed of 90′ (30′). Of course, they often have flying, or some other type of unusual movement speed (swimming, burrowing, climbing, etc) with which they are much faster. 240′ (80′) is my baseline for their second type of movment.

The two types of movement at different speeds are useful. On the one hand it makes it much easier for players to flee when the dragon is stuck on foot. Most adventurers are going to be able to outrun a dragon in the corridors of a dungeon. However, if the players make the mistake of going into an open area, where the dragon can use its secondary movement, they’ve got no chance. You’ve gotta have mad runaway strats, son.

Finally, most dragons have 3 basic physical Attacks. Two claws that each deal a single die of damage, and a bite which deals multiple dice of damage. That’s the baseline, but there’s a lot of room for variation here. Some dragons have more than the usual number of claws, and so more attacks. Some have powerful tail swipes or horn gores that are more worthy of mention than their bite. The baseline only exists for those instances where no better ideas present themselves.

The Breath of a dragon is its signature. I try to be as creative with these as I can. I have my fair share of fire breathers, of course. To some extent, such traditions have to be maintained, so that deviations from them will continue to be notable. But most of my dragons tend to breath things like boiling oil, a flurry of angry pecking birds, or a suicidal sense of self loathing. Be as weird as you can be.

If a dragon’s breath deals damage, that damage is equal to the dragon’s current hit points. (So, the closer the dragon is to death, the less effective its breath is).

Traditionally, some dragons in D&D have Spells. I prefer to avoid any spells that deal direct damage, since their breath and claws and bite are already such reliable sources for damage. Rather, I like to give dragons spells which buff, debuff, ensnare, control, or alter the environment. Something that adds a new dimension to the threat they pose.

I should note that these days, when I’m giving a monster or an NPC spells, I typically don’t bother describing those spells’ effects beforehand. Usually I just put in a spell name, and maybe add a brief description if I have a good idea I want to remember at the table. Then, if the spell actually comes up in play, that’s when I’ll decide what the powers and limitations of the spell are.

I realize this may seem damaging to agency, and I admit that in some ways it is. But so long as the rules of the spell don’t change once they’ve been decided upon, I think it’s a fairly small sacrifice to make to prevent spells from becoming an overly burdensome part of monster creation.

Minions exist to feed a dragon’s need for adoration. Not every dragon will have them. Some are too moody or misanthropic to keep anyone around them for too long. Others, though, will revel in surrounding themselves with sycophants, slaves, and worshipers. These may perform any number of services for the dragon, but ultimately their true purpose is always to feed the dragon’s ego.

There’s no limit on what form the minions may take. Some dragons may prefer to have only one or two highly capable body-servants. Creatures who can become intimately familiar with the dragon’s habits, and respond to their desires before they’re even expressed. Others may have more extravagant preferences, dragging a cult of worshipers, or a harem of consorts behind them.

Last of all, I try to give every dragon at least one notable Special thing. These can be powers which make the dragon harder to deal with. They can be weaknesses, which make the dragon vulnerable if known. Other times, the special trait is just some incidental thing. Something unlikely to come up in play, but potentially interesting if it does.

So while one dragon’s special might be an immunity to fire, another dragon may take extra damage from fire, while a third perhaps has multiple personalities which they switch between every time they see fire. As with everything else, the sky’s the limit.

Now, generally speaking, I don’t bother paying the Joesky Tax. But last week was particularly gratuitous, and I’ve literally got hundreds of dragons written up that probably aren’t going to be published anytime soon. So here’s 5 of them, all created using the guidelines discussed in this post. Iguanamouth Hoard of Sex ToysXulamara the Serpent Slave

A mammalian dragon with a serpentine body, white fur, eight long cloven legs, and a pair of twisting horns. Fire licks from her mouth with every word she speaks. She has no wings, but a pair of flat-toothed serpents grow from her shoulders. She is simple minded, and territorial.
Hoards: Various dyes, some of which are able to do seemingly impossible things, like dye elaborate patterns directly into cloth.
Armor 19, Move 120′(40′), 9HD, 2 Snakes 2d6, Bite 3d8, Morale 7
Snake Attack: The two snakes attack by spitting acid, which has a range of 30′.
Breath: A wall of fire, 100′ long and 10′ tall. Remains in place for 24 hours before burning out.
Special: Immune to normal missiles.
Special: Xulamara is cursed to remain forever ignorant of the snakes growing from his back. If he is told about them, or even shown a reflection of them, he will deny that they exist. The snakes whisper into his ears constantly, tricking him into doing whatever they want.

Gressen the Shedded

A translucent white creature; the shed skin of another dragon somehow animated to life and intelligence. Able to move and act as her own person. Gressen was originally shed from a male dragon, but chose a female aspect for herself. She has a tendency to sarcastically goad people into attacking her. (“Go on, I’m clearly just a waif of a thing. It’ll be easy to slay me and take my treasure. Just try it!”) In truth, she is terrified of how fragile her body is.
Hoards: Spell books.
Armor 20, Move 90′(30′)/Fly 240′(80′), 4HD, 2 Claw 1d3, Bite 2d6, Morale 5
Cone of cold.
Spells: Enbrittle Skin, Gust of Wind, Baleful Polymorph, Charm Monster, Sow Discord, Geas, Illusory Disguise, Magic Web (An invisible web that ‘catches’ spells, so they can be studied later), Detect Lies, Maze, Invisibility, Magic Armor
Special: Any wind-based attacks used against her deal double damage, and may blow her away.

Jakasset the Silver Teeth

Jakassat wears  golden rings on her talons and tail, a bejeweled necklace, and a diadem on her brow. One of these pieces of jewelry works a magical gender changing effect on her, and all the rest are worn to keep the significance of that one item a secret. Jakasset has also replaced all of her teeth with little silver daggers. She is a contemplative creature, with an unusually short temper, even for a dragon.
Hoards: Polearms of various types.
Armor 17, Move 90′(30′)/Fly 240′(80′), 8HD, 2 Claw 1d6, Bite 3d10, Morale 6
Breath: A hail of spinning knives. These remain on the ground in heaps, and can be used for about 24 hours before they rot away.
Spells: Sleep, Water From the Earth, Teleport, Stone To Mud
Minions: A murder of 6d6 crows which fly around above her, and obey her orders to the best of their crow-abilities.
Special: One of the rings on her tail protects her from all elemental based damage. Special: One of her tail rings protects her from all elemental based damage

Special: Jakasset is highly respected among dragon kind, for some unknown deed that dragons refuse to discuss with outsiders.


A bluescale with 53 large white horns running down her back, from head to tail tip. Her body is slender and lithe, with muscles that twitch as if always ready to pounce. She is the daughter of Uruk’An, and was exiled from her father’s territory years ago for defying him. She spends hours of every day imagining elaborate ways of getting revenge on the old fool.
Hoards: Tapestries depicting historical events.
Armor 19, Move 90′(30′)/Fly 240′(80′), 2 Claw 1d6, Bite 3d8, Morale 6
Breath: Cone of fire.
Spells: Bear’s Strength, Sphere of Insubstantiality, Animate Object, Imbue Hatred
Special: Her horns act as grounding against spells. Each horn can absorb one spell cast against her per day. After she is killed, the horns retain their function. If cut off, they can each be used once before becoming useless.


An elderly blusescale, with a cascade of soft white horns growing from his chin. Uruk’An is father to 12 other dragons–unusually prolific, even for such an elderly and distinguished patriarch. Uruk’An belives in law, and has scribed 3 tomes of law which anyone in his domains must obey, or face is wrath. Most of his laws are common sense (at least, from a dragon’s perspective), but there are some strange ones. Most notalby, there is an extensive code governing acceptable clothing for halflings, and several statues regarding the proper rate of breathing for various activities.
Hoards: Lawbooks.
Armor 20, Move 60′(20′)/Fly 210′(70′), 2 Claw 1d10, Bite 4d8, Morale 8
Breath: Cone of fire.
Spells: Wall of Spears, Detect Lies, Farsight, Dispell Illusions, Anti-Magic Field, Ring of Law, Hold Person, Dimension Door, Break Weapons, Rust, Imprison, Speak with Animals, Mend Wound, Passwall,  Shrink Person
Minions: 2d6 bluescaled lizard folk. 3 dragon whelps that each have 4 hit dice, and don’t have any breath yet.
Special: When Uruk’An dies, he will leave an egg behind, with himself inside. He will be reborn out of his own death. Even he does not know this will happen.

Your Dragons Suck

D&D Dragon Toy TiamaatBack in 2012, when I had only just started to immerse myself in the OSR, I was playing in Courtney Campbell‘s Numenalla. Because of timezone fuckery, the game started at the ungodly hour of 5am for me. On a Saturday. It was always a struggle to show up, and when I did I was groggy as all get-out. But, Courtney was one of my OSR heroes at the time, and it was worth it to rub elbows with him. Plus the game was pretty damn fun.

Usually the sessions were packed, but on this particular morning, none of the regulars showed up. Aside from Courtney and I, it was just some dude I barely recognized, and a woman I’d never met before. It was a small group, but enough for a quorum, so we delved into the halls looking for a bit of adventure.

Being groggy as I was, and playing a healer to boot, I had become accustomed to letting other players take the lead in our adventures. So this dude I barely knew wound up taking the reins of the party, and leading us around the dungeon. As it turns out, he was kind of a twat.

At one point, when presented with a hall full of doors, he kicked them all open. Not one at a time, just kick, kick, kick, kick, kick. Don’t bother telling him what’s inside the rooms he’s just revealed, that would slow down the process of moving to the next door and also kicking it open. Unsurprisingly, this strategy exposed us to some serious danger. Namely, a dragon.

As soon as I heard that, I wanted to run. Most of my experience up to that point was with D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder. My context for dragons was that they were these immense creatures of unfathomable destructive ability. A challenge meant for a full group of 15th level characters. But the twat wasn’t in any mood to slow down, so he attacked. And, being the loyal dumbass that I am, I refused to leave a party member alone to die.

Then a funny thing happened: we killed it. We slew the dragon.

Not without cost, mind you. The twat got himself killed, and the rest of us were pretty banged up. But the dragon was dead, and for the most part we were alive. That’s how I was introduced to oldschool dragons, and it has stuck with me ever since. The idea of dragon designed to be fearsome and terrible, but also to be conceivably so. A creature that can be an ever-lurking threat, without being a guaranteed TPK.

In other words, a dragon that looks like this:

Rather than like this:

“But wait!” I imagine you saying, because I’m a hack writer who relies on cliches. “Most editions of D&D have a whole range of dragon sizes, some of which are small enough to challenge a low level party without being a guaranteed TPK.

And you are correct, imaginary strawman. But what do they call those dragons? Wyrmlings, Very Young, Young, Juveniles. They’ve got these diminutive fuckin’ names that make them feel like a joke when you encounter them. Nobody tells stories about the cool time they killed a Very Young Dragon at level 3. And anyway, this is about much more than the number of hit dice a creature has. It’s about keeping the game on a relatable scale.

That one encounter in he Halls of Numenhalla changed my whole perspective. Truth be told, I’d long hated dragons at this point. I thought they were a goofy cliche. Something that might have been cool once, but which had been overplayed so often in fantasy games that it was cringe-inducing to see them used. Plus, they never really made any sense to me. They’re these friggin’ apocalypse machines that desire nothing so much as wealth and adoration–both of which they could easily take for themselves. But they don’t go out and get them because they’re…lazy.

If they wanted to, a modern fantasy dragon could rule any world it exists in. But most people don’t want their campaign setting to be ruled by the iron-scaled fist of a draconic dictator. So, instead, dragons spend most of their time sleeping on piles of wealth. It’s bourgeois, yeah, but it’s hardly an act worthy of the pride-of-place dragons hold in the annals of fantasy villainy.

Once the scale is dramatically reduced, though, all that nonsense falls away. Dragons want wealth, and they’re powerful enough to take a lot of wealth, but not all of it. They can’t just knock over castle walls with a sweep of their claws. Indeed, if they cause too much of a ruckus, knights will be sent out to kill them. And since they aren’t towering behemoths capable of squishing knights into paste, that’s a serious threat they need to worry about.

It also helps if you assume all dragons are just walking bundles of mental disorder. Traditionally they’re already portrayed as narcissists. Build on that. Narcissism doesn’t just mean that a person likes praise; it means that a person is incapable of understanding that some things are not all about them. They believe that everything good is somehow a result of their desires, and that everything bad exists only to make them suffer. If dragons are not the god kings of all monsters, then they can be pathetic.

Dragons are also noted for their hoards of treasure. They sleep upon mountains of items they’ve collected and cherish, despite having no use for those items. I’m sure I’m not the first person to point out that hoarding is symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder. Dragons should have rituals and rules which completely govern their lives and the way they interact with others. They should be carefully avoiding the cracks in the dungeon floor, or closing every door they pass through 7 times before moving on. They don’t breathe fire every 3rd round because their breath needs time to recharge, they’re doing it because they have a mental illness.

The best monsters have always been more defined by their flaws than by their strengths. This conception of dragons, as deeply flawed and broken creatures who none the less wield immense power, has transformed them into one of my favorite monsters. It’s why I include dragons on every single encounter table I use.

Which is appropriate, right? They’re literally half of the game’s name. Yet in my experience, I see way fewer dragons than I do dungeons, and that’s a shame.

d100 Mercenary or Bandit Leaders

d100 Mercenary & Bandit LeadersThis d100 table was selected by my generous Patrons. If you’d like a chance to decide what d100 tables I’ll work on next, drop a dollar into my Patreon!

So, what makes these mooks more than just mooks?

  1. Killer Paul – A psychopathic serial killer, who finds this way of life a useful in providing for his needs. Always likes to take a few alive if he can, so he can ‘play’ with them. Whenever someone joins his band, Killer Paul cuts deep into his own chest, and forces the initiate to ‘suckle at the devil’s teat.’ KP believes this makes his followers “like him.” And, indeed, everyone makes a show of reveling in murder and torture, though most do so out of fear, rather than a sincere bloodlust.
  2. Yeolar the Leveler – Believes the current system of government is not only corrupt, but fundamentally flawed. Only a society that guarantees equal access to wealth is justified. Since no such society exists, Yeolar has determined to make one. Within her band, loot is distributed evenly, and decisions are made communally. They prefer to kill the wealthy and powerful, since such people will never willingly agree to participate in a leveled society. But sometimes, work is work, and they’ll do what they have to.
  3. Faenrik the Slayer – Only a handful of Faenrik’s closes confidants know that he is actually Sir Fulton, an honorable knight of the realm. He leads a double life, disguising himself in a battered suit of plate armor whenever he’s with his band of ne’er do wells. If this fact were discovered, it would be a great scandal.
  4. Gabriel Tellison – Unbeknownst to anyone, the much feared Tellison gang is led by an angel, who has been sent by God to test our faith.
  5. Penelope Croust – Once, she was a paladin. But she was too fond of being paid for her good deeds, always expecting a reward when she saved someone. Eventually her avarice caused her to fall, and lose her powers. Rather than seek redemption, she’s embraced a life of using her fighting prowess to earn as much gold as she can.
  6. Edward Von Kleght – Formerly head of a prominent carpenter’s guild. A few years back, the crown undertook a massive public works project, which required nearly all the carpenters in the guild. Once the project was done, the crown decided the work was too expensive, and cut costs by cheating many of their laborers out of fair wages. The carpenters were in a frenzy of rage, and Von Kleght led them out to prey upon the kingdom that had cheated them. 
  7. General Tusurio – After months upon months of late and missing pay, Tusurio and a group of other soldiers determined they’d had enough, and could make better money on their own terms. The highest rank Tusurio ever legitimately achieved was sergeant, but he and his men decided promotions for themselves were in order after they deserted the army.
  8. Bovilare Ostencluck – Ostensibly, a sickly old woman with an uncanny knack for knowing when and where to strike to maximize profits. She always stays behind a curtain, and no one in her band has seen her face. She maintains this anonymity because she’s actually a highly intelligent chicken who just doesn’t want to lay eggs or get eaten. She usually stays at the groups hideout, but is sometimes carried around in her curtained litter.
  9. Benji Poppinjay – Formerly a rat catcher, who unsettled his fellows with his strange passion for the work. He even went so far as to invent a rat goddess, which he began to worship in weird ceremonies, until he was run out of town. He learned to sustain himself by adapting the principles of rat trapping to trap humans, and a small following began to take shape around him. 
  10. Kinlee Wouldabeen – A prophesied child of destiny, meant to overthrow evil and establish an era of peace. As it turns out, however, overthrowing evil is hard. Kinlee just sorta stopped trying at some point, and turned to the much simpler life of doing whatever was needed to make a few coins. 
  11. Hugo Urasha – is not actually Hugo Urasha. The real Hugo died quietly in his tent, when a doppleganger sucked out his innards through his mouth. The thing now presenting itself as the fierce leader of a notorious band  is not human at all. Some of the men have noticed the sudden shift in their leader’s behavior. They seem to be consistently doing very similar work, against very similar targets. But Hugo has always led them right before, and they’re still bringing in plenty of booty, so no one questions it.
  12. Pogo the Clown – Pogo began his life in the circus, where he had some moderate success as a clown. He always made a little money as a thug on the side. By the time anyone came looking for him, the circus would have moved on, and he’d be safe. Eventually his fellows got fed up with the bad reputation he was giving them, and kicked him out. Now Pogo is a thug full time, still wearing his clown costume and makeup for some unfathomable reason.
  13. Murza Zill – A lesbian who was never very good at disguising her preferences. Rather than force herself to endure the dicks of the conservative culture she was born into, Murza chose to strike out on her own and see what sort of living she could make. A band has slowly formed around her. Some are drawn to her success, while others are drawn to the idea of living in a group where they can safely be gay.
  14. Three Dick Jack – A bunch of people follow him because he’s got three dicks and that’s awesome.
  15. Father Sedgwick – Hoping to save souls, Father Sedgewick started traveling with the band to preach, and to hear confessions. He hoped to slowly show these people the error of their ways, but the opposite ended up happening. One compromise led to another, and to another, and now Father Sedgwick leads the band himself.
  16. Renuar Estavon – Poetry without struggle is trash. At least, that’s what Renuar believes. Believing his own work had begun to suffer from his too-comfortable, too-safe, too-law-abiding lifestyle, Renuar decided to leave it all behind to seek a life of adventure and hardship. Something that would inform his poetry, and allow him to reach greater artistic heights.
  17. Ms. S.C. Rowe – She’s not really sure how it happened, but one day she just…came to life. There, up on a post in the middle of a field, with memories of being an unliving facsimile whose only purpose was to scare off birds. Then bam, she was alive, she climbed down off her post, and ran off into the woods to figure out what the heck was going on. She’s still just a bundle of hay wrapped up in clothes, and yet she thinks and feels all on her own. She’s terrified people will find out what she is and destroy her, so she works on the edge of society, with just her band for company.
  18. Yasui Leiko – A warrior from a far off land, armed with strange weapons, and wearing strange armors. When she was exiled from her home, she set out to wander, going further than almost any of her people had ever gone before. She does not know any local language, but instead communicates with her band through her tone and gestures.
  19. Willie Jopho – Even when he was a young boy, Willie knew he wanted to live this life. He looked up to the men and women who lived by their own law, making money by their strength and ferocity, and he scorned the weakness of their victims. He ran off to join a band when he was a teenager, where he learned the trade, before breaking off to found his own group.
  20. Lanky Jim Wheeler – A former pirate whose ship sank during a storm. Was able to lead his crew to safety, but couldn’t find a new ship for them. Until they can find a good one to steal, they’re sticking to “land-piracy.”
  21. Niklaus Trapp – A con man, working both sides of the law. He moves to a new area, establishes a band of ruffians, skillfully leads them to becoming wanted men, then absconds with the booty and turns his own men in to the law for the reward money. 
  22. Big Nero – A gentle giant of a man who doesn’t realize what he’s doing. He thinks he’s dreaming, living out fantasies of adventure. His own men encourage this fantasy, as they’ve never had so much success as they’ve had under Big Nero. A man completely unafraid, because he doesn’t think the danger is real.
  23. Hugh Mann – On the planet Dasdukk, gold is a bountiful resource. The peoples who live there discovered a way to use it as a source of fuel, and now they travel the stars in great ships powered by gold. Recently, a collision with a meteor destroyed an auxiliary fuel tank on one of their ships, which was forced to make an emergency landing on Earth. Imagine their horror when they discovered how rare gold was on this disgusting little rock in space. They had just enough fuel left to create a single human suit, which they take turns wearing to go out and lead a group of humans in acquiring gold by any means necessary.
  24. Rockington – A creature of the deep sub-earth, who has only recently discovered that the worms of the surface world have been digging beneath their domain, plundering the natural wonders of the subterranean. This infuriates Rockington, who now scourges the surface with a band of treasonous humans. They may take all they like of the wine, the food, the silks, the papered moneys, etcetera. But all precious metals and stones must be returned to their rightful place beneath the earth.
  25. Jordanna Wheeler – Wishes are tricky things. When Jordanna had the opportunity to make her innermost desires a reality, she wished to be the most desirable woman in the land, living a life of excitement. The very next instant she found herself in a camp, surrounded by bloodthirsty thugs who regarded her as their leader. She tried to flee home, only to discover a flyer, with her own face sketched on it, naming her the most wanted woman in the land, with a massive bounty for her capture, dead or alive.
  26. Shimmercoat – A young woman who wears a suit of wolf skins, sewn together. She’s convinced that her true father was a wolf, and that her mother only hid it from her out of shame. Most folks think she’s crazy, but her obsessive striving to be as swift and fierce as “her wolf ancestors,” has led her to becoming a surprisingly effective fighter.
  27. Georgina Louverture – A few months, maybe a year or two. That’s how long a person survives after the black polyps start to appear on their neck. With nothing left to lose, Georgina figured she’d throw herself into danger, to make as much money for her family as she could before she died. That was three years ago. The polyps now cover her neck entirely, and have begun to spread down across her chest. There are some days she can’t do anything other than lie in bed and leak a grey bile. Yet, she isn’t dead, so she keeps going, sending every coin she takes back home.
  28. Simone Ninel – Teaching is a tough job, particularly if you insist on being honest about it. After being dismissed by a few noble patrons for teaching their children the “wrong” facts, Simone found it impossible to find any work.Pushed to the edge of society, she turned to violence to make ends meet. The band which has formed around her is the best educated group of thugs you’ll ever meet. 
  29. Horace – When Horace’ mother laid her eggs in the corpse of a wizard, she thought nothing of it. She thought very little at all, in fact, because she was a turtle. When the homunculic amalgam of turtle and infant was found, it was taken in by an elderly warrior; an exile from a far off land who raised the turtle-child in the warrior traditions of his home. He managed to keep Horace’ existence secret for years, until some people from the nearby village spotted the child, believing him to be a demon. They burned the house, killed Horace’ mentor, and Horace himself only barely escaped into the night. Now an adolescent, Horace uses the skills his mentor gave him to survive, and a small band of ruffians has formed around him.
  30. The Black Tree – The true name of this creature is a very particular sound that can be produced by rustling leaves. No symbols exist in human language to correlate to that sound, as no human is capable of approximating it, so “The Black Tree” will have to suffice. Grown in soil fertilized by the blood of god, the Black Tree grows man-things like fruit in its branches. Each year, 10-30 new men are grown to replace those who have died. All fruit of the Black Tree obey its will: take what men value, sow discord among them.
  31. Wadduda – An exceptionally intelligent horse, with a dead, taxidermied human on its back. Wadduda has become a skilled ventriloquist and puppeteer. She convincingly gesticulates with the ‘man’ on her back, so that no one realizes it’s actually the horse doing the talking, the fighting, and the leading.
  32. Grey DeLisle – A young woman with an almost erotic fascination with fire. It plays some creative role in almost every plan she employs, as well as a terrifying role in her philosophy of enforcing discipline among her band.
  33. Austera Wuster – A complete narcissist, convinced of her own infallibility. Austera is a bumbling moron, but her band of thugs props up her ego, because the more credit she gets for their misdeeds, the less likely any of them are to be caught or punished.
  34. Davberton Jonesmith – ‘Davberton,’ of course, is not a real name. It’s the kind of name someone comes up with when someone asks them what their name is, and they can’t tell the truth, so they play out a mid-’90s sitcom joke. I mean, it’s not like you can just tell people that you’re a dead person wearing the skins of the living as a disguise. Not that Davberton is dead…he’s totally alive. Totally.
  35. Marcia Gallika – A harsh woman who wears a cat-o-nine-tails at her side. She claims it is the same one which tore at the flesh of Christ before the crucifixion, and plays up her identity as a gleeful scourge of all that is good and wholesome.
  36. Gurbo Zalamticus – Lost a hand some years ago, and decided to have a short sword mounted on the stump. He’s a competent leader, but by no means an exceptional one. People tend to overestimate him because of his sword-hand. To his credit, he does realize this.
  37. Taukum – A 12 year old girl whose parents were terrible people. So, she killed them, and left their bodies in the street before leaving her hometown forever. She’s a muscular child, with a brutal temperament.
  38. Ereet Furn: A cultist devoted to the Blue Lady, who will reduce the world to a frozen wasteland upon her coming. Ereet seeks to bring about the dawn of her era through leading this band. Only a few of Ereet’s followers know that her true purpose is not to acquire wealthy, but to foster chaos.
  39. Olso Na – Not a bad guy, really. He’s easygoing, charming, and never cheats in games of chance. But it’s a tough world, and there aren’t a lot of ways for a guy who likes to make his own way to get by. So sometimes you gotta get a little rough to make your money, that’s just the way the world turns. 
  40. Lil’ Bippie –An 8 year old prodigy who was ready to be an adult by the time he was 5. Since his parents insisted on treating him like a child, and since no one was willing to hire a child, he set out to make his own way in the world. Obviously he can’t quite stand up to an adult physically, but Lil’ Bippie is a clever guy, who knows how to set up an ambush, and he’s got enough adults on his payroll to make those ambushes pack a punch. He’s also got a strange way of getting other children to “snap out of” their own childishness, which many people find deeply unsettling.
  41. Alicia Poverdagh – Dying is never really fair. Why should one person starve to death, while others have food rotting in their stores because they can’t host feasts quickly enough to use it all? Alicia may have tolerated that while she was alive, for some reason, but now that she’s a ghost, beyond the realm of consequences, she’d like to enact judgement upon those who have so much, while she had so little. She doesn’t “Lead” her band, so much as she comes to them in dreams, whispers in their ears, and occasionally appears to terrify their victims.
  42. Nadochk: A street performer, who isn’t afraid to engage in a little more dangerous work if the price is right. She and her band prefer to make their money via their antics if possible, but when money is tight they know which end of the sword to hold.
  43. Tzim Aulur: A splinter of divinity, living the first of its infinite lives. As far as it can tell, life is a game, and everyone else is just playing it too cautiously. Tzim does not understand death, believing that anyone who dies is simply ‘out of the game’ until the next round.
  44. Wife: A former daughter of nobility, who always resented her limited role. On the day of her wedding, she ran off, managed to escape capture, and hide aboard a ship destined for lands beyond her parent’s control. Even still, she has needed to live on the outskirts of society, lest her name make it back home, where surely someone would be sent to collect her. She still wears her bridal gown, the only clothes she had on her back when she ran. It’s now been cut into a more functional garment, but is still recognizable. Since she doesn’t want to give out her name, she’s been only too happy to adopt the nickname “Wife” her followers gave her.
  45. Sullas Oulor: As a child, Sullas made a little wish of no consequence. All that matters is that a fairy offered to grant her wish in exchange for some future favor, which she agreed to. A lifetime later, when Sullas had a husband and children, and had forgotten all about her wish, the fairy came again, and demanded a great sum of money from her. Not because it wanted the money, but because it wanted to see if she could get it. She had one year to get the job done, so Sullas frantically set to work. Faeries will do a lot worse than break your legs if you fail to pay your debts.
  46. Spider Dave: Spider Dave lost an eye years ago, and lets his pet tarantula live in the socket.
  47. Finster Mirman: For crimes that are unspeakable in any language spoken through empty air, Finster was banished from the realms of the sea king. It was thought that he would die of exposure on the shores, but Finster refused to go out so easily. He dragged himself into the woods, where he found a pond. There he made his plan. It wasn’t hard to find humans willing to do his bidding, and through them he constructed a set of land-legs, and a glass helmet of seawater to sustain him.
  48. Rope Burn Tim: A thief and a killer who was tried, and set to be hanged. Then he was hanged, and his neck didn’t snap. For a good minute he struggled at the end of the rope, before the rope broke, and he fell safely to the ground. By law, this was seen as an act of god, and Tim was released. He immediately put together a new gang, and spent awhile terrorizing the community that had tried to kill him. His voice is still hoarse, and his neck still bears the scar. He never took the rope off from around his neck, preferring to wear it as a reminder to his men and to his enemies that he can’t be killed.
  49. Ginny Bo: An older man, well into his twilight years. To look at him, you’d think he was too frail to do the things he’s done. But as he reaches the end of his life, he’s come to believe that all his quiet years of responsibility were a waste. He’s determined to fill his final days with as many adventurous thrills as he can.
  50. Suzera the Slasher, and her Seven Sisters: A group of peasant women who were frustrated by the choice between being a wife and…well, nothing else. Most of them were content just to grouse about it to one another, but Suzera’s the one who got the idea that the group should kill some of the wealthier men in the village, take their money, and abscond out into the wilderness. The band has been wandering around ever since, taking what they need, and killing for money. 
  51. Lord Reggie Windsley the VII: AKA “The Blackguard of Havensforth” Spoiled son of the local lord, Reggie took on the persona of The Blackguard a few years back, and began terrorizing his own lands as a kind of prank. Hundreds of his own subjects have had their lives destroyed, or even been killed, for this childish lark, and Reggie doesn’t have an iota of remorse. 
  52. Bossen Grust: A servant to Folar Est, lord of the lands just to the south of here. Folar sent Bossen north, to weaken his rival’s lands through brigandage. Bossen has taken a real liking to the life, drawing money both through his thievery, and through requests for support back to lord Folar. He’s decided to stick with this life as long as he can, then probably abandon Folar’s service, once the old fool gets wise.
  53. Gin Nolk: A consummate warrior, with complete disdain for any way of life that is not combat-based. She enjoys pillaging farmers, and believes that they deserve it because they are stupid. If they were smart, they’d be warriors. 
  54. Purbo the Brutal: Purbo is lean, and muscular, and completely hairless. His sickly pale skin is covered head-to-toe in tattoos. He walks around naked, save for a belt with his weapons and coin purse hanging form it.
  55. Ferdi Black: Rides on the back of a bear. No one is quite sure how she managed to train a bear to serve as a mount, but it does.
  56. Rattenik: A beefy woman who runs an ostensibly respectable group of caravan guards for hire. Anytime business gets too slow, though, she personally sees to it that every merchant who comes within a 10′ mile radius of town is robbed.
  57. Zurbo the Annihilator: Got his start as a circus performer, who wore colorful masks, and wrestled other performers for the amusement of the crowd. But when you’re as good as Zurbo is, why should you be content with the pennies people pay to see your show? Why not just pin them down and take all their money?
  58. Benito Garveson: Left home 6 years ago to do his mandatory stint in the army. Only made it about halfway there before he lost his nerve. The army is meatgrinder. It sends men to far off lands to get chopped up and die on some forsaken battlefield for no real reason. At some point, Benito just wandered off the road, hoping to lose himself in the woods. He found a cave filled with a trapper’s supplies, and lived off those long enough to get the idea that if he had to be a man of violence, at least he could stick close to home.
  59. Father Routney: Supposedly a priest, disgusted with the godlessness of the world, and “extracting God’s tithe by force.” No word yet from the church on whether Father Routney is an ordained priest, or just a brigand with a collar.
  60. Suzie “Princess” Dulden: A young woman who is shockingly strong, given her waifish appearance. She frequently lures her victims into traps, by putting on a fancy gown, and pretending to be a damsel in distress.
  61. Robolo: As a younger woman, Robolo did something which she refuses to discuss with anyone. Whatever it was, though, would have brought unbearable shame upon her family. To spare them that, she faked her own death, and changed her name. She turned to banditry and mercenary work to stay off the grid, so no one would ever discover the terrible truth. 
  62. Sir Tergio Gault: A decade or so back, a coalition of nobles banded together to revolt against their king. The nobles lost, and were sentenced to death as traitors. Only Sir Tergio Gault managed to escape capture. But with all his lands seized, and a bounty on his head, there’s no work left to him but the life of an outlaw.
  63. Nunak: A massive, muscle-bound woman from the frozen lands of the north. She lives by no laws, and travels the world seeking adventure. Today, she is a mercenary, tomorrow a bandit, the day after a robber of tombs, and always, she is a conqueror.
  64. Kessliger: A clever Kobold, who does his work via traps rather than direct confrontation.
  65. David: A man obsessed with biblical heroes, to the point of renaming himself after his favorite. He has a fetishistic love of the sling as a weapon, and will often launch himself into lengthy monologues about its versatility and elegance. He’s more than a little unhinged.
  66. Hozeron Crous: Once caught a nymph by her toe, and was granted a wish to release her. As a result, anyone working for Hozeron is completely invulnerable to harm. Due to some nymphish trickery, Hozeron herself has no special protection. However, her followers are well aware of this, and will happily leap in front of arrows to protect their leader. After all, the arrow can’t hurt them.
  67. Lucana The Hungry: A woman who ritualistically cannibalizes one of her victims after each job. It’s a purely performative thing, she derives no great pleasure from it, but it makes people respect her, and she likes that.
  68. Tall Sue: ‘Taint got no legs. She rides around on a horse, with a special saddle to help her stay upright and in control.
  69. Bog Boy Jeffy: He’s swamp folk, and his pappy was swamp folk, and his brothers and sisters is swamp folk too. Their home is the deep, fetid places where they will never be found, and where anyone who searches for them will likely die of horrible disease.
  70. Rinny Eyeling: A small woman with an obsessive love of cats. There are more cats in her band than there are people, but despite her compulsive behavior, her followers stick with her because she’s undeniably effective. Outsiders think the cats bring her luck. People who have been with the band for awhile know the real truth: the cats obey her commands.
  71. Zerdia Gabblestan: A young woman, deformed from birth by bulging protrusions of bone, which give her a “lumpy” appearance. They also make her look fearsome, and serve as a kind of natural armor, so that she’s very difficult to harm. She probably won’t live past 40, but she’s intent on using what time she has to take as much wealth for herself as she can.
  72. Lilanio Prussage: Disgusted by the evils of society, and unable to force change through any positive action she ever attempted, Lilanio determined that the only way to make things better was to dedicate her life to making things so much worse that people would be forced to rise up in revolt and demand better lives for themselves.
  73. Bucky The Drunk: A lucky drunk who is in way over his head.
  74. Pustaso Vega: For some fool reason, Pustaso got it into his head that Angelita would love him if only he could prove his boldness. For years now, he’s been charging headlong into danger, and by some mix of charm, luck, and talent, he keeps managing to get out again. In his mind, news of his deeds makes its way back to Angelita, and she’s back home just waiting for him to come and marry her. In reality, she hasn’t heard of, or thought about him in years, and doesn’t really care.
  75. Skello: A very smart skeleton, who wants to free other skeletons from their meat prisons, and make a ton of money doing it. He’s willing to work with meat-jailers to get the job done, if need be.
  76. Higgins: A prim and proper butler to an established and lordly family during the day. A heartless, merciless killer whenever nobody is looking. He has served his noble patrons so long and so faithfully, that he is often trusted with jobs that allow him to work unmolested for weeks or months at a time. 
  77. Crazy Bob Futureman: It’s nearly impossible to take Crazy Bob seriously. He’s a distractable babbler who seems almost incapable of listening to a person for more than 30 seconds before latching on to some random thing they’ve said, and using it as a springboard into his own mad ravings. Crazy Bob is also a skilled diviner, who knows the truth and falsehood of things people say, can speak with plants and animals, locate people and objects at will, and even occasionally see the future. He also knows how to be a violent motherfucker when he needs to be.
  78. Claudio A man who suffers from moderate physical and mental disabilities, which made him the object of derision within his small town. From early childhood, other children were encouraged to treat him like a monster, and the abuse persisted into his adult life. But despite a slowness of speech and a difficulty with reading and writing, Claudio is not an idiot. When it comes to planning and executing acts of theft and violence, he’s actually quiet skilled.
  79. Brandi Marlo A short, athletic, happy-go-lucky young woman who comes from a completely different world. One much more similar to our own world in the year 1985. There are no dragons or magic or boobytrapped dungeons in her world, and she finds what we do a great deal more entertaining. Particularly because anything from our world seems to have a difficult time harming or killing her. She’s a massed a band of followers, and is generally willing to do whatever people will give her money for. She has no moral qualms about hurting us, because she’s not actually convinced that we’re entirely real.
  80. Simple Bartholomew: A jaundiced young man who probably doesn’t have very long to live, though no one has ever been able to figure out quite why. His anger at the inevitable shortness of his own life has led him to become apathetic to the suffering and deaths of others. Everything he does is one big joke to him, and he will typically stage jobs to deliver some sort of existentialist punchline.
  81. Gridin: Though in every way, Gridin acts like a simple brigand out to make as much money as he can, he is actually a devout priest of Kurznak the Chaos God. Gridin’s apparent greed is actually religious devotion, as he attempts to sow as much chaos into the world as he can. All the money he makes personally is donated to the church, to further spread chaos throughout the world.
  82. Ostroggala: Like everyone who lived in her area, when Ostroggala was 15, she visited the local oracle to learn something about her future. For most folks, it was some cryptic nonsense that only made sense after the fact. For Ostroggala, for the first time anyone could remember, it was straightforward: “You will die peacefully in your bed.” So, with the absolute assurance that she would never die a violent death, Ostroggala set out on a life of mercenary adventurism, and banditry.
  83. Dekesh Saum: An escapee from a wealthy merchant’s harem, who led a number of his fellow consorts to freedom. They faced too much prejudice in the outside world to lead any kind of normal life, and so settled on survival by violence.
  84. Wayne Kayle: A vigilante with a warped sense of justice, who believes the poor are only poor because they’re not smart, or good enough to be rich. She punishes the poor for this with her own brand of being ‘smart.’ As in, she takes your shit, and aren’t you a dummy for not being able to stop her?
  85. Pumpanius Drex: Pumpanius and her band don’t really want to live this life. They’d much rather settle down, build some houses, plant some crops, and raise some families. But unless they want to try and live in some of the awful towns in the area (they super don’t), then they’re going to need to settle some new land. And unless they want to go on a years-long, perilous trek across land (they don’t), they’re going to need a ship that can sail them to an empty plot where they can settle. And ships cost money, so they’re going to steal and murder until they’ve got enough. The people around here are assholes anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.
  86. Brettier Sulva: An escaped slave, determined to die rather than go back into servitude. During her escape, she killed several of her “owners,” and as a result there’s a massive bounty for her capture, dead or alive.
  87. An: A woman who’s in way over her head. About a year ago, she was in a tight spot, and used some sleight-of-hand magic to convince some tough guys she was a powerful wizard. One thing led to another, and now she’s leading a band of those tough guys, using smoke and mirrors to keep up appearances. She’s enjoying all the money and respect, but she knows it can’t last, and is a little worried about how she’s going to extricate herself from this mess.
  88. Teguska Dane: A proud old military man, tired of his soft, wastrel grandchildren. Society as a whole has gone soft, as far as he’s concerned, so he’s going to spend the last few precious years of his life living like the old days. Sleeping in muck, and killing men for his pay.
  89. Vera Vateli: A devout, suicidal catholic. She wants to die, but believes wholeheartedly that she will go to hell if she kills herself. Instead, she’s taken up the most dangerous life she could imagine, and hopefully she’ll get killed along the way. Although, much to her frustration, it hasn’t happened yet. Of course, she always pursues targets which she deems somehow sinful, so she can tell herself she’s acting as an instrument of god’s will, rather than just a murderer.
  90. Anthony Caldwell: A doe eyed, green horned, bushy tailed farm boy who has no business being out here doing this nonsense. But as it happens, he’s either got a phenomenal natural talent for it, or he’s just lucky as heck.
  91. Prue Jirard: A puppet, brought to life as an ironic consequence of someone’s poorly considered wish. Feels as though she has no place within society. She puts on a show of being angry and superior, but really she just wants to be loved. 
  92. Timothy Brentwood: Big Jon Jeffy, a notorious outlaw, disappeared without a trace. This was a problem for the local elites, who had spent years covering up their own inadequacies by shifting the people’s focus onto their relentless hunt for Big Jon. Hoping to win some popularity with the mob, they hired Timothy Brentwood, an actor who bore a striking resemblance to Big Jon, to play the role during a mock trial. The plan was that he’d be found guilty, sentenced to a life of hard toil in the silver mines, then quietly released once no one was looking for him any longer. Unfortunately, the plan went awry when Big Jon’s old gang busted Timothy Brentwood out of prison. They think they’ve got Big Jon back, and Timothy is just trying to find out how he can get out of this crazy mess alive.
  93. Jimmy Silver: A jolly fat man who uses the most creative profanity you’ve ever heard. Frequently disguises himself as a beggar so he can bum around towns, listening for information about any juicy scores that might be worth his time.
  94. Kylie Kallgren: A lumberjane with a foul temper. One day, whilst chopping down a tree, a group of wealthy merchants walked by and treated her the way wealthy assholes tend to treat lumber-folk. So she chopped em’ up, threw the bits in the river, and took their stuff. Then she realized that a woman who knows how to swing an axe could make a lot more money killin’ folk than they could choppin’ trees.
  95. Elias Lindsey: A heretical nun, who had a dream that Jesus was a many-tentacled sea creature wearing a man-suit full of water. She’s spread her foul belief to a whole congregation of followers. The Church wants the whole lot of them executed, so they are forced to kill and steal to survive. It’s alright though, because Squid Jesus says the 6th commandment was a typo.
  96. Leisle Mondego: Commander of a local garrison of soldiers. Those soldiers who were forcibly enlisted as punishment for some crime are inducted into her band. If they refuse, they’re executed for ‘desertion.’) She always makes sure to allocate the rest of her forces so nobody is near enough to catch her or her band while they’re in the act.
  97. Daven Schumaker: A mystic who relies on tarot cards to decide when and where to lead his band.
  98. Viktor Hassendorf: A cyberpunk hacker who made some mistakes while attempting to hack a time machine. He got trapped in the past, where none of his technological skills are of any use to him at all. All he’s got is a few combat augmentations, and a healthy disrespect for the integrity of the timeline.
  99. Nathan Weeks: A human with a particular form of dwarfism that not only prevents them from growing taller, but also prevents them from physically maturing in other ways. To whit, despite being 38, Nathan doesn’t look a day older than 11.
  100. Daisy Mills: A woman with multiple personality disorder. Roll on this table several times to determine what her personalities are.

Flux Space in Dungeons

Nonspecific Dungeon SpaceBefore there was On a Red World Alone, there was Dungeon Moon. I spent hundreds of hours working on on that game, and to this day I love it as much as anything I’ve ever done. For years, friends have been gently pestering me to get it written up and published, which I would like to do someday. The only problem is that Dungeon Moon was an unplayable mess.

My whole approach was based around striving towards this false ideal of a fully realized megadungeon. Even the least important bits of space beneath the flagstone surface of the moon had multi-paragraphs long descriptions. “It’s a kitchen” was never good enough for me. I had to figure out if there was something special about the pots and pans, or if maybe there was a secret passage that led to a trapped treasure vault.

Likewise, the map was as much a labyrinth for the referee as it was for the players. I spread it across a stack of graph paper a quarter in thick, with alphanumeric codes written on the corner of each page to identify which “column” and “level” it depicted. More than once, a single room had to be spread across two pages just to maintain the geometry of the thing.

All for what? Despite my extensive prep work, a group of adventurers could walk off the edge of the map within an hour if they made the right choices. And as bad as that sounds, it would probably make the game better. If the players are off the map, the referee would have to improvise, and whatever they come up with in the moment has gotta be better than pausing for 5 minutes at every door to cross-reference maps and read room descriptions.

I certainly seem to have made it work back in the day. (People don’t show up every week to play in a game that they hate). But it could have been better, and if nothing else, the excessive notes killed my own enjoyment. It was murder, trying to keep up with the pace I had set for myself. If I’m ever going to run it again, Dungeon Moon needs to go easier on the referee.

Dungeon Moon Mk1 MapIt’s not just a matter of drawing simpler maps and writing shorter room descriptions, though. The problem of scale is inherent to the setting: its a dungeon which literally fills the entire internal structure of a moon. Constantly branching pathways and infinite expandability are built into the premise. A more manageable size would ruin the setting just as surely as my bad notes did.

Yes, dungeon moon needs shorter, table-ready notes, and a map that doesn’t have to be laid out across the kitchen floor to be viewed properly. But it also needs to feel huge and interconnected.

Recently, I was puzzling over this problem, and recalled a conversation from years ago. I must have been complaining about the issue, because  Gus L. told me I should try running Dungeon Moon as a point crawl. At the time, I kinda blew the idea off, because I didn’t want to waste all the work I’d already done on my maps, but with a few years of distance, the idea is way more appealing. Sorry for blowing you off, Gus. You were right.

In a point crawl, the referee maps a wilderness environment as a series of locations, and paths between them. The players don’t just wander straight towards their objectives, instead following roads, or deer paths, or whatever else they can find. At intersections, (the titular “points,”) they come upon something interesting. They can choose to engage with what they found, or continue on past it to the next path.

Flux Space is a way of doing the same thing for dungeons. Megadungeon feel without megadungeon effort. The big difference, though, is that the paths aren’t just direct connections between points. They’re a series of corridors and rooms just like everywhere else, but they’ve been abstracted to keep the game moving and to make the referee’s job easier.

Like a point crawl, there are two basic building blocks here: Locations, and Flux Space. The locations work the same as any dungeon: there’s a map, and there are notes which describe the map’s locations.

To keep things manageable, a single location should be able to fit on a single sheet of graph paper. Locations also should not directly connect to other locations. Some exceptions can be made for areas that play with vertical space, or for secret shortcuts to other locations. But, for the most part, players should need to go through some Flux to reach a new location.

So what is Flux Space? It’s an abstracted section of the dungeon that exists to connect locations together. It’s mostly hallways and empty rooms, without any specific layout. Each section of Flux has three elements: a description, a size, and an encounter table.

The description is a vague idea of appearance, which remains consistent throughout. Something like “Worked stone,” “Oozing walls,” or “filled with garbage.” This gives each section of Flux a distinct personality, which the referee can use anytime they need to improvise some specifics for it.

The size of a section of Flux Space is just a number. In order to pass through to the next location, players will need to roll that number of encounter checks. Once they have, the referee randomly determines which of the connected locations the players emerge out into. Usually, there shouldn’t be any chance for players to wind up back at the location they started from. Optionally, though, that could happen if the players roll a “lost” result on their encounter die.

The encounter table for a Flux is like any encounter table. It has some locations on it, some wandering monsters, and probably some creatures from its connected locations. (If the Hall of the Gnomes is connected to a Flux, that flux will have some gnomes wandering around in it).

Once a group has encountered everything on the encounter table, that space is considered “mapped.” Players can move through mapped fluxes with only a single encounter roll, and may choose which of the attached locations they emerge into.

The overall dungeon is depicted as a sort of spiderwebbing flowchart, showing how all the locations and fluxes connect with each other. Hopefully you can do a better job of coming up with reference codes than I did in the example above.

As a final note, I want to make clear that when I say Flux Space is ‘mostly empty,’ I do not mean that literally. What I mean is that it’s mostly devoid of tricks, traps, monsters, or treasure. There may be bedrooms, or gymnasiums, or warehouses, but none of it is valuable, or interesting, or trying to kill the players. (Unless it’s on the encounter table, of course).

So if your players ask about where they are and what they see, don’t tell them it’s empty. It’s not empty. It’s just boring compared to moving on to other locations.

Space Ships: Revisions, & Modules

Space ShipI recently wrote a a pretty long post on the subject of adding Space Ships to D&D. I’m stoked to transform my post apocalyptic game into a space opera, but designing rules to make it work the way I want has been tricky. I thought I was on a pretty good track, but as I was hammering out the closing paragraphs of that post, it occurred to me that there was a much simpler way to achieve pretty much the same ends.

In this post, I’m going to reexamine that original idea, building off the simplifications I posited before. I’m also going to fill out a list of potential ship modules, so this isn’t entirely a retread of what we did last week. By the end of this post, we should have everything we need to start making and playing with spaceships.

Fundamentals & Combat

Little about how either of these were written in the previous post needs to change at all. Ships have Hit Dice, Hull Points, Maneuverability, Space, and Power as their five core attributes. The only thing that changes here is that you do not add 10 to to your Hull Points. Just roll your pool of hit dice, and add them together.

In combat, attack rolls are made against maneuverability, and on a successful hit, damage is dealt to hull points. Ships do not have negative hull points. So, if a hit would drop a ship below 0, then it merely drops to 0 instead.

Once a ship is at 0, each hit damages one of the ship’s systems. Which system is hit can be determined randomly, or may be chosen by the attacker if they have that ability. When a system is hit, it and its operator both take damage equal to the damage roll. One point of system damage can be restored for each round  a character spends repairing it. So, if the life support is hit for 6, then it will take one person 6 rounds to repair it, or two people can repair it in 3 rounds.

If a module takes 10 or more damage, then it’s too extensive to be fixed simply. Each point of repair will take an hour, and will probably require access to the outside of a ship, either by landing, or by using space suits.

If a module takes 20 or more damage, it is irreparable in the field. It will have to be taken to a ship dock.

Ships still move in abstracted units called AU, but it should be noted that ships can share the same “space,” and that this is the only way to fire most weapons without penalties.

Power Allocation

In order for a system to function, it needs power. 1 power powers 1 system. It’s up to the engine operator to determine how power is allocated throughout the ship at any given time.

If players wish to, they may “overpower” a system, by putting 2 or more points of power into it. By doing this, they can enhance the effectiveness of that system in some appropriate way, which the referee can adjudicate at the table. Some modules have suggestions for how overpower can function, but don’t allow these to impede your player’s creativity.


Modules are what the players use to take actions while on the ship. At any given time, each module can be used by a player to do something. What that is, depends entirely on the shared creativity between the player and the referee. Players could perform fairly typical tasks (like using the cockpit to fly the ship, or using the weapon systems to attack), or they could try to be unconventionally clever (perhaps by opening an airlock to cause the ship to move in an unexpected way, or modulating the shields to protect a smaller ship).

Engine (Variable Space)

Engines have 2 functions. First, they produce power, which is used all over the ship by various systems. A basic engine will produce 1 power for every unit of space it takes up. Most take up 10, but larger or smaller options are common.

Second, they consume power to move the ship through space. When powered, the basic engine allows a ship to move at 1 AU per round. Overpowering the engine may allow it to move faster.

The engine operator controls the allocation of power around the ship, as well as being able to make adjustments to the ship’s thrusters on the fly.

Speedy Engine (Variable Space)

Functions as a normal engine, save that when powered it allows the ship to move at 2 AU. Overpowering the engine may allow it to move faster.

Workhorse Engine (Variable Space)

Functions as a normal engine, save that it produces 2 power per unit of space it takes up.

FTL Drive (1 Space)

Allows a ship to accelerate beyond the speed of light, traversing light years of distance in mere hours. FTL drives only function in open space. Ships within a gravity well will stall if they attempt to jump into hyperspace.

Because space is a vast empty void, a malfunction could easily leave a ship stranded in the literal middle of nowhere, with no chance of rescue. To minimize this, FTL jumps are carefully planned to pass within communications range of as many inhabited planets as possible. This means most trips require careful planning using a Navigation Computer.

Navigation Computer (1 Space)

Allows any crew member to calculate a safe FTL jump. A proper, safe jump requires a full turn (10 minutes) to plot out. Emergency, short-range jumps can be plotted in as little as 1 minute (10 rounds), but have a 1-in-6 chance of encountering a hazard, causing the ship’s hull points to be reduced by half, and dealing 5 damage to every ship system. In extreme emergencies, players can plot a course in a single round. However, such a course is extremely dangerous. Roll a d6. On a 6, the jump completes successfully. On a 2-5, the ship encounters a hazard, as described above. On a 1, the jump fails. The ship loses all power, and both the engine, and the FTL drive take 15 damage.

Cockpit (2 Space)(Does not require any power)

Allows the pilot to control the ship’s movement. The basic functions are simple enough for any crew member to perform. However, a trained pilot may add their skill level to the ship’s maneuverability rating, making the ship more difficult to hit in combat. An individual pilot’s skill cannot be higher than 6.

Large Cockpit (4 Space)(Does not require any power)

Allows for both a pilot and a copilot. They may both add their piloting skill to the ship’s maneuverability. However, they cannot add more than 6 total.

Autopilot (1 Space)

Can perform any of the basic ship’s functions, as if it were an unskilled pilot.

Premium Autopilot (1 Space)

An autopilot which can function with a skill of 1-4. (Autopilots cannot have more than 4 piloting skill). More advanced autopilots are progressively more expensive.

Artificial Gravity (1 Space)

Produces gravity in the ship without requiring any spinning. Can be manipulated to produce more or less gravity, or to orient gravity in whatever direction may be useful for making repairs. Do note that any shifts in gravity may cause damage to unsecured items.

Without artificial gravity, movement through the ship becomes much more difficult, and resting in the ship becomes impossible.

Atmosphere Recycler (1 Space)

Maintains oxygen and heat to human comfort throughout the ship. Without it, the crew would need to wear environment suits to survive.

If the AtmoRecycler loses power, conditions will degrade rapidly. One minute after the system loses power (10 turns), the maximum hit points it will be possible to have within the ship is set at 25, and any action that must be taken by people within the ship takes twice as long. (This means, for example, that it takes 2 rounds to repair 1 point of system damage).

Each minute this condition persists, the maximum hit points of the crew is further reduced by 5 (to 20, then 15, and so on, until after 6 minutes the maximum hit points of the crew hit 0). Also, the number of rounds required for any action is doubled (so that after 2 minutes, it will take 4 turns to repair one point of damage, after 3 minutes it takes 8 turns, etc).

Fire Suppression System (1 Space)

Rooms are equipped with foam sprays which can can be used to safely and quickly put out any fires that ignite there. If powered when the fire begins, the system will automatically come on.

Door Blast Shielding (1 Space)

Without power, this central control can still be used to open, close, and lock any external or internal doors. With power, this module generates a shield around each door, which makes them dramatically more difficult to force open.

Spartan Living Quarters (Variable Space)(Does not require any power)

Can house 3 people for every 1 unit of space. (Bunk beds)

Allows a players to remain on ship for longer than a day without taking penalties for exhaustion. Only functions so long as gravity and atmosphere are maintained.

Proper Living Quarters (Variable Space)(Does not require any power)

Can house 1 person for every unit of space. Includes space and amenities sufficient not only to sleep, but to get some proper exercise, enjoy some entertainment, and eat meals that aren’t freeze dried rations.

Having proper living quarters allows the ship to serve as a Haven for the purposes of rest and recuperation. Proper living quarters do not enable most forms of Haven activity (such as training), but are required in order to have a Haven turn at all.

Magic Laboratory (Variable Space)(Does not require any power)

Functions as any magic laboratory. Shipboard labs require 1 space for every 2,000 total value they have.

Prison (Variable Space)(Does not require any power)

Can house 2 prisoners for every 1 unit of space.

Cryogenics (Variable Space)

Requires 1 space and 1 power for every 2 frozen people. If power to this room is lost, each frozen person has a 1-in-6 chance to die, re-rolled every hour.

Communications Console (2 Space)

Allows communication with anything within the same hex you’re communicating from. (If there is a relay satellite there, you may be able to connect to a communications network)

Long Range Communications (3 Space)

Allows communication with anything in the same hex you’re communicating from, or an adjacent hex. (If there is a relay satellite in rage, you may be able to connect to a communications network)

Shields (5 Space)

Reduces all incoming damage by 1.

If shields are directed in a specific direction (fore, aft, port, starboard, up, down), then their effectiveness is doubled in that direction, but completely removed in other directions.

Weapons (2 Space + 1 for each Weapon)

In order for a ship to have weapons, it must have a weapons control system. The weapons can be fired whether or not anyone is personally manning them. But if someone is manning a weapon, they can use their attack modifier to improve the attack roll. They must divide their modifier between all the weapons they’re controlling (which can be as many or as few as they want)

If someone is manning an individual weapon (rather than operating multiple weapons), they can attempt to target specific systems on the enemy ship, robbing it of capabilities.

Weapon: Blaster Cannon

Deals 1d8 damage.

Takes a penalty of -1 to hit for every AU away from the target you are.

Weapon: Halberd Laser

Deals 2d4 damage, Cannot strike more than 2 AU away.

On an 8, the target vessel is cut open to space.

Weapon: Space Torpedo

Before this can be fired, a target lock is needed. This is done by making an attack roll. If the ‘attack’ hits, then the lock is established and the torpedo can be fired.

Deals 2d8 damage. Ignores shields. Takes a -2 penalty for every AU of distance away the target ship is.

Weapon: Flak Cannon

Designed to overload shields. Takes a -2 to hit for every AU of distance away the target ship is. On a successful hit, target’s shields are down for 1d6 rounds before they can automatically recharge.

Drones (2 space + 1 for each Drone)

Each active drone requires power. Not because it is drawing power from the ship (they have their own internal power source), but because the Drone Control System needs more power in order to direct each active drone.

Drone: (External) Anti-Missile

Has a laser on it. Combines its own targeting data with its mother ship’s to get a perfect lock on incoming missiles and shoot them down before they hit home. Has a 4-in-6 chance of shooting down each missile fired at the ship. Up to 2 per round.

Drone: (External) Probe

Equiped with a full range of sensors. Can be sent out at a speed of 1AU/Round, or may be left sitting somewhere. Probes are very difficult to detect, and will relay their information to the ship up to 1 hex away.

Drone: (External)  Laser

Has an automated blaster cannon on it, which will move at up to 2 AU to keep up with a target ship, firing on it every round from whatever position it is in. Attack is unmodified.

Drone: (Internal) Repair

A robot which can perform repairs as if it were a PC. Will follow directions, or will move to repair whatever is currently the most important damaged system (with life support, shields, engines, and weapons being at the top of that list) and work on it until it is done.

Cloak (5 Space)

Blocks all incoming sensors, AND outgoing sensors. Makes a ship invisible, but blind.

Advanced Cloak (7 Space)

Blocks only incoming sensors. Makes a ship invisible. Taking obvious action (such as firing weapons) will enable others to calculate your ship’s position.

Hacking (2 Space)

Someone with the Tech skill may attempt to use a Hacking station to hack into enemy ships. 1 Power allows the hacker to access ships sharing the same AU as them. Additional power allows hacking to be attempted from further away.

A successful check allows the hacker to break into the enemy ship’s computer. After which, each successful hacking attempt allows them to manipulate a single action from one of the ship’s systems. They can choose to reallocate power, redirect shields, etc. Any failed attempt causes the hacker to be immediately booted from the target computer.

If a hacker is discovered, ships may try to protect themselves in various ways, such as modulating their shields to the hacker’s frequency, or having someone with a tech skill attempt to counter-hack.

Arms (2 Space per Arm)

Tractor beams are expensive. Mechanical arms mounted on the exterior of the ship allow the operator to directly manipulate objects within the ship’s direct vicinity.

Tractor Beam (1 Space Per Beam)

If you can afford them, tractor beams are superior to mechanical arms in nearly every way. As an energy-based manipulator, they have greater flexibility, range of motion, strength, responsiveness, and even take up less room. Just about the only drawbacks are that they must have line of sight (rarely a problem in open space), and that they can be disrupted more easily than physical arms can.

Sensors (2 Space)

Allows the operator to find information about their environment. Can scan up to 1 AU away for every point of power pumped into the system.

Without sensors, players are limited to only the most basic information about their surroundings. Just what their eyes can tell them by looking out the view ports. They may not even be aware of an enemy ship until it’s in the same AU that they are.

Science Station (4 Space)

Allows for analysis of data gathered by sensors. Science stations allow players to simulate the answers to complex questions, such as “if we took some of that unknown element and ate it, what would happen?”

Teleporter (4 Space)

Disassembles the teleported object, transmitting it as energy to another location, where it is reassembled again. Teleporters cannot work through energy interference, such as shields, or ion storms.

Each person being teleported at a given time requires 1 power. If they are transporting outside the same AU that the transporter is in, they will require even more power.

ExoPod (2 Space)

A small, 1 person pod with thrusters to allow it to move independently of its host ship. Power, atmosphere, etc are provided to the ExoPod via a cabel, which can reach up to 1 AU away from the ship. ExoPods can be equipped with one of the ship’s weapons if the players so desire.

Gravity Well Generator (12 Space)

Creates a miniature gravity well, preventing any ship from entering hyperspace within 30 AU. Can also be used to drag ships out of hyperspace, if you know where they’re traveling. Being dragged out of hyperspace unexpectedly works like encountering a hazard, as described in the Navigation Computer module above.

Knowledge Database + Training Area (5 Space)(Does not require any power)

Allows a ship to serve as a Haven for the purposes of training.

Docking Bay (Variable Space)(Does not require any power)

Docking bays may be any size. In order for a ship to successfully dock within it, the docking bay must be 1 space larger than the total space of the docking ship.

Docking bays are often kept open to space, with only a mag-shield keeping heat and atmosphere contained. (Though docking bays do tend to be chilly, as heat does leak out). If need be, they do have sliding doors which can move into place if need be.

Docking bays are useful for storing shuttles and fighter craft.

Escape Pod (3 Space)(Does not require any power)

Each pod can house 2 people. They have minimal life support, thrusters, food for a week, minimal sensors, and a robust communications package.

SpaceshipEnemy Ship Statblock

Complexity in the player’s ship can be good. It gives the players something to tinker with, and allows them a full range of interesting options.

Complexity with NPC ships is bad, because it makes the referee’s job way too hard. Keep it simple: a single line of basic stats, followed by a list of systems that will be relevant in combat (weapons, drones, hacking, etc) If it comes up, the referee can rule at the table about precisely what other systems they have–just like the referee does when the players ask what they find in a random bandit’s pockets.

This should be good enough for most encounters:

Crew 5, Maneuver 7, Movement 2, 3 HD (12hp), Shield 1, Morale 8
2 Blaster Cannon 1d8 (-1 per AU distance)
Space Torpedo 2d8 (Requires Lock, Ignores Shield, -2 per AU distance)


I feel good about this. I think that, through play, this could really grow into a fun, robust system.

Space Ships for D&D

SpaceshipIn session 3 of my ORWA campaign, the players successfully retrieved an ancient artifact. It was a flat green square, with little cylinders and boxes on one side; what you and I would recognize as a circuit board. They decided they weren’t getting paid enough for all the trouble they went through, and wanted to negotiate for more.

Figuring out who was even paying them turned into a little adventure all its own. By the end of session 4, the players had figuratively sold their souls to the devil, and sealed the pact by killing an innocent man. In exchange, they were inducted into “The Internet,” a secret society of techno-wizards, united in their efforts to someday escape from their doomed little habitat on Mars by building a space ship.

Ever since then, a dramatic change in the game’s genre has been looming on the horizon. Because, of course, my players want that space ship for themselves. If and when they do get it, ORWA will stop being about a group of post-apocolyptic primitives trying to make a life for themselves on a dying world. They’ll be able to go anywhere they want, and ORWA will become a wide open space epic.

It’s a change I’m excited for. Much as I love ORWA, the idea of having a campaign so completely shift from one style to another is enticing.

As of this writing, it’s been over 50 sessions since the possibility of the spaceship was first introduced. And that shift in gameplay doesn’t seem so far off anymore. I’d be surprised if we weren’t exploring the galaxy in another 20 or 30 sessions. And, once we get there, I’m going to need some rules for running a D&D game in space.

Unfortunately, none of the space games I’ve read will work for me. The majority seem to have drastically different design goals from classic D&D. The few games which do attempt “D&D in space” range in quality from “not what I’m looking for,” to “fucking awful.” There are useful tidbits here and there, but to get what I want, I’m going to need to stitch things together myself.

This shouldn’t be terribly difficult. Most elements of Science Fiction can be modeled by processes I’m already using. Aliens are just monsters, and planets  are just hexes. The one big sticking point is space travel. Nothing in my D&D experience has really prepared me for dealing with that.

Of course, I’ve played in games where sailing or air ships have featured prominently. But they’ve always been treated either as a means of conveyance (moving the characters between adventure locations), or as a setting (actions take place on the vehicle, rather than with the vehicle). A space ship can (and will) serve in both these capacities, but I don’t want that to be the limit of its function in the game. The space ship should be a collective playing piece.

On land, each player has a character to serve as their piece, and through that piece, they interact with the game’s world. In space, those characters get stuck together in the ship. Wherever the ship goes, they all go, and if the ship explodes, they all die. That’s interesting to me.

That’s also why ships are usually relegated to being either a conveyance, or a setting. If the players only have a single collective playing piece between them, then most of the group doesn’t have any interesting decisions to make moment-to-moment. That needs to be fixed if this is going to work.

Given all that, I believe a higher level of complexity than I usually prefer is justified here. Ships need to explicitly facilitate every person on a space ship being able to make interesting decisions in every situation. It should feel like a true team effort, rather than just having a few decision makers, and a bunch of passengers.


Ships have 5 core numbers, which describe their basic capabilities.

First, there’s the number of hit dice the ship has. Ships of poor quality may have only 1 hit die, with better ships having commensurately more.  A ship’s hit dice can be raised if the ship is overhauled by a skilled mechanic, which takes 1 month.

To determine the cost of increasing a ship’s hit dice, compare it’s current hit dice to the fighter’s experience table. All values are multiplied by 10. So, to get a ship from 1hd to 2hd will cost 20,000 money. To get it from 2hd to 3hd will cost 40,000 money. Values are not cumulative.

For each hit die a ship has, roll a d8, and add the results together, then add 10. This determines the vessel’s ship hull points (shp). In combat, successful hits against the ship cause shp to go down. At a repair dock, players may pay to restore their ship’s hull points

. Each restored hull point costs 250 money.

In order to deal one hull point worth of damage, an attack must deal at least 10 hit points of damage. Most of the weaponry that will be encountered in space probably deals shp damage directly. However, if a ship is attacked using a smaller weapon (like a sword), then divide the damage by 10, drop any remainder, and subtract the result from the ship’s hull points.

Third is Maneuverability. Each ship has a base maneuverability according on its size. Large ships start at 0, mid sized ships start at 3, while tiny ships start at 6. When a ship is attacked, the attacker must make an attack roll to hit, as in normal combat. The maneuverability serves as a ship’s armor rating.

If there is a pilot in the cockpit when an attack is made, the maneuverability of the ship will be modified by the pilot’s skill. Cockpits, of course, are a necessary module in order for the ship to function.

The fourth number is Space. Space is an abstraction of the internal size of a ship. Each module, explained below, will take up some amount of space. Any unused space is considered to be cargo holds, until it is used.

Finally, there’s Power. Power is provided by the ship’s engine, which (along with the cockpit), is one of two modules that are necessary for a ship to function. Without it, a ship’s power is 0.

SpaceshipMovement & Combat

At its core, combat functions the same way it does on the ground. Players operating weapons modules roll a d20 to attack, adding any modifiers they may have, and trying to overcome their target’s defense–in this case, represented by maneuverability.

On a successful hit, they deal damage to their target’s shp according to the type of weapon they are using.

If an attack rolls damage in the upper half of its range (so, for example, 4-6 on a d6), then one of the target ship’s systems is also affected. The referee should prepare a table of all a ship’s systems, and roll on it whenever this occurs. The system that is hit will take a penalty of -1 for every 3 points of damage dealt. These penalties apply to the system’s maximum power.

So, if a system can take up to 5 power, then with a -1 penalty it will only be able to reach power 4. Players may spend an action attempting to repair a damaged system, removing one -1 penalty for each round they spend in repair.

Each round, the ship can move at any speed up to its full movement rate, determined by how much power they’re feeding back into the engine module. Movement in space is measured in abstract units called AU. (Astronomical Unit). There is no specific distance tied to this measurement.


Modules are everything that makes a ship interesting. Without them, it’s just a big, empty, zero-gravity hull, where everybody needs to wear space suits to survive. Like a rowboat without any oars, in the middle of the ocean.

Each module is like a cross between a mini-character class, and a piece of equipment. Which module a character is standing at determines what actions that character can take. But, like equipment, characters can switch between them freely. Also, like any piece of gear, there’s always a better version out there. So instead of rewarding your players with a +1 sword, you may want to give them a +1 life support system.

There are two categories of modules: Passive Systems, and Action Stations.

Every type of module will have Capabilities, which are benefits they add to any ship they are installed on. Most of the time, these will be delineated by power consumption. The more power you pump into a module, the more it can do for you. Though, there are some passive systems which don’t require power at all.

In addition to its capabilities, action stations will have Manned Options. These are only available if there is a character currently attending to that station, and will require them to spend an action.

The lists of manned options are not meant to be exhaustive. Rather, they are meant to give both player and referee an idea of the capabilities of that system. And, like any piece of equipment, systems can be used in creative ways.

The purpose of a sword is to stab enemies. But only a bad referee would refuse to allow a player to use their sword to lift a rug, or pry open box, or conduct electricity, etc. Anything that seems reasonable for a sword to do, we allow the sword to do. The same is true of spaceship systems.

Here are a few illustrative sample modules:

Engines (Action Station)(Variable Space)

The engine of a ship has two functions. First, it produces power which is used all over the ship to power its various systems. Second, it consumes power to move the ship through space. A basic engine will produce 1 power for every unit of space it takes up. Most take up 10 space, but larger or smaller engines are common.


  • 1 Power = 1 AU of movement.
  • 2 Power = 2 AU of movement.
  • 3 Power = 3 AU of movement.
  • 4 Power = 4 AU of movement.
  • 5 Power = Faster than light travel.

Manned Options

  • Allocate Power (1 Combat Round): If no one is attending the engine, it takes a full adventuring turn to change the way power is allocated around the ship. If someone stays at the engine, and tends to it, they can do the same thing in a single combat round.
  • Coordinate Maneuver (1 Combat Round):  By communicating with the pilot, and manipulating the engines to assist in their actions, the engine operator can add 1 to the pilot’s skill for that round. (Even if this would push it above the normal maximum)
  • Flare Engines (1 Combat Round): Intentionally unbalance the fuel mixture, causing a brilliant flash of energy to erupt in space. This will temporarily disrupt the sensors of any ship that is too close, and will confuse any target locks currently on the player’s ship.
  • Overdrive: Enable the ship to move up to double the speed allowed by its current level of power. Each round this persists, there is a 1-in-6 chance the engines will fail, taking a penalty equal to the amount of power they were using at the time of failure. So, if the engines were consuming 4 power, then a failure causes the engines to take a -4 penalty, which will need to be repaired.
  • Overproduce: Enable the ship to produce double the power allowed by the amount of space it currently takes up. Each round this state persists, there is a 1-in-6 chance that the engines will fail. Their output will drop to 1d6 – 1 power. Each successful repair check will restore one point of lost power.


As the players adventure, they may discover, or have the opportunity to purchase, better engines.

  • Level 2 Engine: The first four power levels all produce +1 AU of movement.
  • Level 3 Engine: Creates 2 power for each unit of space it takes up, rather than only 1.

Cockpit (Action Station)(2 Space)

Someone must be stationed in the cockpit in order for the ship to move at all. Anyone can handle the basic functions. Getting from points A to B, taking off, landing, docking, these are all things that anyone qualified to work on a space ship at all will know how to do. They are trivial.

However, there is a piloting skill, which characters may train in, or put skill points into. Unlike most other skills, this is not a die roll where the chance of success improves. It is a static number, starting at 1. It can be raised as high as 6.

While a character is piloting a ship, their pilot skill is added to the ship’s maneuverability rating.


  • 1 Power = Basic Function. Allows the ship to be controlled. Without this, the ship can only stand still, or move in a straight line.
  • 2 Power = Enables the autopilot, which is capable of performing any simple flight function. Has an effective pilot skill of 0.
  • 3 Power = Autopilot has a skill of 1.
  • 4 Power = Autopilot has a skill of 2.
  • 5 Power = Autopilot has a skill of 3.
  • 6 Power = Autopilot has a skill of 4.

Manned Options

  • Evasive Maneuvers (Combat Round): Prevents any enemy weapons from gaining a target lock during this turn.
  • Subtle Flying (Combat Round): The pilot may make a stealth check using their own stealth skill, to fly their ship with subtlety. This functions similarly to how stealth normally functions. However, bear in mind that there’s pretty much nowhere to hide in space, so most movements will end in an “Observed Location.”
  • Formation Flying (Combat Round): Position your ship close to another object, while moving.
  • Navigate Obstacles (Combat Round): Move through an environment full of potential hazards without taking damage.


  • Cockpit Requiring 4 Space: Has room for a copilot. Both pilot’s skills can be added together. Cannot add more than 8 total to the ship’s maneuverability.
  • Level 2 Cockpit: The autopilot has +1 skill at each level.

Life Support (Action Station)(2 Space)

Standard on most ships.

  • 1 Power = Either artificial gravity, OR, a livable atmosphere.
  • 2 Power = Both artificial gravity AND a livable atmosphere.
  • 3 Power = Enable Blast Shielding on doors.
  • 4 Power = Enable Foam-Based Fire Suppression System

Manned Options

  • Selective Application (1 Combat Round): Can single out rooms to have, or not to have, any particular aspect of Life Support.
  • Remote Door Operation (1 Combat Round): Open or close any door in the ship, including external ones.
  • Reorient Gravity (1 Combat Round): Determine a new direction for gravity to pull in. May be done selectively.
  • Adjust Atmosphere Mix (1 Combat Round): Usually, the atmosphere is a healthy mix of oxygen and nitrogen. This can be manually adjusted to be more or less pure oxygen, or even to include other compounds which the player may have access to.


  • Level 2 Life Support: The listed options for each level of power move down one.

Living Quarters (Passive System)(Variable Space)

A comfortable living space, where the crew can rest and relax. For each unit of space devoted to living quarters, a ship can support 2 people.

Having living quarters allows the ship to function as a Haven, for the purposes of rest and recovery. Does not allow for other haven turn actions, such as carousing, or training.

Living quarters do not function unless Life Support can be maintained at 2 power for the full period of rest.

Obviously this is just a few of the possible modules. I’ve got a whole list of ideas, which I plan to share in a later post. Hopefully, though, this has given you an idea of how modules should work. It’s not terribly difficult to write up new ones, making the ship system infinitely extensible.

SpaceshipReflection, & Presentation

If I’m being honest, I have to admit that the complexity of this system already terrifies me a bit. There’s a good idea here, but I worry I maybe took it too far. I’m not sure what I’d want to remove, but it’s difficult to imagine how this system would work at the table. I’m sure, once I have some play experience, I’ll have plenty of ideas on how to simplify.

For now, the ship is going to need its own character sheet. Something prepared by the referee, with all of the ship’s modules listed. and a space to notate each module’s current power and damage. Each player would need a copy of the sheet to help them describe where they go and what they do.

NPC ships, like NPCs themselves, would need a dramatically simplified statblock. Something a referee could throw together in a moment anytime their players are going to be accosted by mooks.

If these ships really are too big to handle at the table, I could see removing the whole concept of power from the equation. That would dramatically simplify things, but it would be sad to lose. Forcing the players to choose between having gravity, and having an extra punch to their lasers is a really interesting dilemma, and a classic aspect of any SciFi adventure.

I could also see dropping the explicit “Manned Options” from the action stations. They exist in their current form because I want to make clear to the players that they can get creative with systems they might not normally think of, such as life support. But the classic danger of this, exemplified by 3rd edition, is that players will think they’re locked in to only the explicit options, which is the very opposite of my intent.

Potentially, you could break the various modules up into component parts. So “Life Support” would go away, and become Atmosphere, Gravity, Door Control, and Fire Suppression. Power, instead of being a gradient of increasing effect, could be a simple on/off. A module either has power, and is functioning, or it doesn’t, and it isn’t.

What we lose there is a clear guide for how to do something like “divert all auxiliary power to the shields!” Though, I suppose that could be handled via adjudication at the table.

…fuck. I think I just came up with a better idea for a ship system while writing the closing paragraphs. I honestly might end up going that way.


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