Category Archives: Campaign Management

The Haven Turn

Romans relaxing during their haven turnI don’t really follow D&D anymore.

I don’t see the point. “Dungeons & Dragons” is just a name. Intellectual property owned by Hasbro Incorporated. Fifth edition seems to have come out mostly fine, but why would I ever settle for ‘mostly fine’ when the OSR is putting out phenomenal work faster than I can keep up with?

As such, everything I know about D&D’s recently released downtime rules is from reading what Courtney wrote about them. And not even all of that. Some of the options are so boring that I couldn’t even read through a description of them written by an interesting writer. Why would anybody even bother writing something if it wasn’t going to be interesting to play?

In my games, players lust after their next opportunity to take downtime actions. I would even venture to say that time has become the most coveted reward in ORWA, more than money or magic items. So lets talk about the Haven Turn.

If you’re a regular reader of Papers & Pencils, the term should be familiar to you. I mention it pretty frequently, but have never actually taken the time to discuss the concept in depth. After all, it’s not really my idea. Most of my experience with it comes from being a player in Courtney Campbell‘s and John Bell‘s games, and the term was originated by Brendan Strejcek. But, as with many things, after using it for years I’ve tinkered with it to the point that seems worth expressing the idea in my own terms.

Haven turns are part of the action economy. There are:

  • 6 second Rounds for combat.
  • 10 minute Turns for exploration
  • 2 hour Watches for wilderness travel
  • 1 month Haven Turns for downtime actions.

Haven turns occur anytime the players return to some secure home-base after an adventure, usually a town, or player-owned citadel. The turns don’t actually last one month, they just sorta “round out” the month to some unspecified degree. So, if the players adventure in May, then return home for a haven turn, their next game will take place in June, regardless of whether the previous adventure lasted an hour, or a week.

Sometimes, if an adventure runs long, players may be able to take more than one haven turn at a time. Particularly trying expeditions, after all, will require more than the average amount of rest to recover from. For every 2 sessions that an adventure lasts, (rounded up), the players may take 1 haven turn without adverse consequences.

So, if the party takes 1 or 2 sessions to complete an adventure, they only get 1 haven turn–and that’s the median I usually aim for. But, if it takes 3 or 4 sessions, they get 2 haven turns. If it takes 5 or 6 they get 3, and so on. This allows me to occasionally throw big, epic, 10-session adventures at my players, without making them feel frustrated about all their delayed haven-turn plans.

Generally speaking, I’d prefer if players didn’t take more than the prescribed number of Haven Turns. After all, downtime action may be fun, but it’s not really the point of the game.

That being said, my players have agency. If they want to do a thing, they can do it, and as far as I’m concerned I have no right to try and stop them. However, taking more than the prescribed number of haven turns means that person is stepping back from the world for a bit. They’re focusing on their own stuff, and letting events pass them by. The world is going to move on without them.

If players take more than the prescribed number of haven turns, then when they get back, they’re going to discover that things have changed to their detriment. The referee has free reign in this, but the situation should be more severe the longer the players have been absent.

Perhaps some of the player’s contacts have died, or moved away. Maybe the players will discover that something they wanted to do has been done by someone else. In more severe cases, the whole campaign could be upset, with the player’s ultimate goals having become more difficult, or even impossible to achieve.

So that’s when haven turns happen, but what can you do with them? What is their purpose?

Like most other units of time in the action economy, two things happen each haven turn. First, the players choose how they want to use the time. Second, an encounter die is rolled.

Haven Turn Actions

Like any combat round, exploration turn, or watch, players can choose to do anything they want with a haven turn, and I will try to resolve it to the best of my ability. My players have used their haven turns to do things like build up their relationships with NPCs, or investigate mysteries they’re curious about.

In these cases, we assume the player spends the whole haven turn pursuing that goal. While planning for the next session, I come up with some appropriate results for their effort. When we meet to play again, I’ll tell the player what happened, and perhaps ask them to make any decisions or rolls I deemed appropriate. This is a helpful time for players to pursue any deeply personal goals that the rest of the party doesn’t want to deal with.

But, also similar to the other denominations of the action economy, there are codified actions which require a haven turn to complete. The most notable of these is Training, which by itself makes the haven turn one of the more beloved parts of my game. I’ve written a whole post on the concept, but I cannot overemphasize how useful training is.

It gives the players two disassociated tracks for advancement. On the one hand they have their class; a simple niche that they lock themselves into at first level. Class advances at a slow, steady pace, and requires a minimal amount of decision making, while also providing the lion’s share of the player’s options in play.

On the other hand, there’s training, a completely optional second track. Training has to be weighed against other uses of your money and your time. When players do pursue training, they make short term commitments in exchange for a little something extra, that their class might not normally get.

You’ve got the fun of character customization, and the satisfaction of earning something. But you free the player from a single advancement track, and in the process, avoid the nightmare of the over-complicated level up procedure. Plus, the choices to train is more interesting this way, because it is incomparable. You’re not choosing which skills to put skill points into; you’re choosing between raising a skill, raising an ability score, or saving that money for the next curio shop you randomly encounter.

Other codified haven turn actions include:

  • Carousing, where players can earn extra experience points by throwing their money down the drain.
  • Magic Users can create a new spell, or discovering a new magic word, using the Magic Words system.
  • Magic Users can seek out a new magic wand.
  • Clerics can pray for a new spell using the Glory from God system.
  • Fighters can spend time drilling with their armies.
  • Characters with the Alchemy skill can make potions.
  • Characters with the Technology skill can repair broken tech.
  • Characters with the Engineering skill can construct vehicles, siege equipment, etc,
  • Players can recover from debilitating injuries such as broken legs. (I always have players return to max HP over a Haven Turn, but if they had a particularly severe injury, like a broken leg, they must spend their whole turn convalescing.)
  • Come back from the dead as a cyborg.

Basically, haven turns are where the players can do anything they should be able to do, but which I don’t want them to do mid-session.

Haven Turn Encounters

As I’ve said before, D&D is a game about limited resources, and how the players choose to use them. Time is probably the single most important resource. Players must understand that whenever they use a unit of time, it’s possible for something bad to happen. And so, they will not become frivolous with the actions they choose to take.

For each Haven Turn, roll 1d6:

  1. Complication
  2. Complication & Petitioner
  3. Petitioner
  4. Alleviation
  5. Gun Auction
  6. Gun Auction

Gun Auctions are something for my ORWA game. Rolling this indicates that someone has put up a gun for sale, and the players have a chance to buy it. If they don’t, then it’ll be purchased by someone else, and probably be lost to them forever.

I’ve got a little table of gun ideas that I roll on whenever this comes up. Then I write up stats for the new gun, and present it (along with a price) at the start of the next game session.

Alleviation: Some complications are ongoing issues, which only end when an Alleviation is rolled.

If there are multiple issues requiring Alleviation, only one can be resolved at a time. Which one is taken care of should be randomly determined.

Of course, anything which calls for an Alleviation can also be ended by direct player action, if the players choose to pursue it.

Petitioners are something I recently added, since my players have established themselves as a regional power. It makes sense that people are going to start showing up to ask for help.

For each petitioner, I roll on a weighted table that determines which faction they’re from. Then I roll on the table below to get a general idea of why they approached the players. From there, I use my referee powers to whip up an NPC with more specific needs.

  1. An individual, seeking sanctuary from a bad situation.
  2. An individual, seeking aide in overcoming a bad situation.
  3. An individual, bringing the party information in hopes of a reward.
  4. An official of some small group, seeking sanctuary.
  5. An official of some small group, seeking the aide in overcoming a bad situation.
  6. An official of some large group, looking to hire the party

The petitioner will appear at the start of the next session, and the party is free to respond however they choose. Many times the issue can be solved trivially: “sure, you can live here.” In other cases, the petitioner may spark the party’s interest, and they may become deeply involved.

Complications are shifts in the world around the players, and may include threats to the player’s holdings or interests.

The first 10 of these are all localized issues. For each, I would roll on my weighted table of factions to determine where the issue occurred.

The specifics of each complication are left intentionally vague. A natural disaster may be a minor thing, or it may be a cataclysmic event. It all depends on what the referee thinks would be interesting.

  1. A natural disaster strikes. Randomly determine, or choose a disaster as appropriate: Fire, Earthquake, Tornado, Flood, Landslide, Sinkhole, Volcano, Blizzard, Tsunami, Hurricane, Meteor.
  2. A famine or drought begins. It lasts until an alleviation is rolled.
  3. A plague breaks out, the particulars of which are left to the referee. It lasts until an alleviation is rolled.
  4. A major figure is assassinated.
  5. A whole series of murders take place. They last until an alleviation is rolled.
  6. War breaks out between a faction, and one of its neighbors. Each month until an alleviation is rolled, both sides roll a d6. Whichever side rolls higher took some of their neighbor’s territory, commensurate with the difference in the size of the rolls. (So if a 1 and a 6 are rolled, the gains would be large. If a 1 and a 2 are rolled, the gains would be small).
  7. An insurrection erupts, making a territory unstable, and threatening to overthrow the existing power structure. This lasts until an alleviation is rolled. If it is not alleviated within 1 year, the insurrection will be successful.
  8. A monster begins to terrorize the area, and cannot be stopped. This lasts until an alleviation is rolled.
  9. Two factions announce an alliance with one another.
  10. News of a major scandal breaks.
  11. Reroll, using a d10. That complication is so widespread, it affects every territory in the dome.
  12. A major religious event occurs for a randomly determined religion.
  13. A new faction emerges, and carves out a small space for itself on the map. It may be a group the players have interacted with before, something entirely new, or even something which has technically existed for awhile but which was secret up until now.
  14. A major discovery is made, and becomes widely known: perhaps a new technology is developed, perhaps a new race is encountered, or a conspiracy is uncovered.
  15. A prophecy begins making its way around around. Nobody is quite sure how to interpret it, but everyone is certain that it’s important.
  16. Reroll, using a d10. That complication occurs within the player’s own domain. (Which is too small to be included on the general list)
  17. Randomly determine one of the player’s investments. It suffers a major setback, requiring it either to be abandoned, or rescued with an influx of funds.
  18. Legal claims are brought against the player characters.
  19. The player characters are publicly slandered.
  20. An ally of player characters dies.

Was that totally the best post about D&D you’ve ever read? Probably. If so, maybe you should drop a dollar in my Patreon box! That would be an appropriate way to pay me deference for _totally blowing your mind_ the way I just did.

Encumbrance in Online Games

Metal Gear EncumbranceEncumbrance is a pain in the ass.

Tracking it requires a referee-level attention to detail, from a player.

Which isn’t a slam against players; it’s just the reality of how I expect those two roles to be approached. When I sit down to referee, I know that I need to keep a ton of information straight in my head. But when I sit down to play, I’m looking for a more casual experience. Tracking encumbrance requires more effort than I want to invest.

Encumbrance is also necessary.

In many ways, D&D is a game about limited resources and how the players choose to spend them. Hit points are a resource that determines how much combat the players can endure. Time is a resource that requires players to be selective about their actions. And in a game about dungeon crawling, encumbrance determines both how much equipment you can take into the dungeon (which serve as a kind of arsenal of potential solutions to problems), and it determines how much treasure you can carry out of the dungeon.

While discussing this issue with the erudite Frotz Self the other day, he struck upon a solution: we should just use a Google Docs spreadsheet. It seemed like such an elegant idea that I immediately set one up for my ORWA campaign. We’ve been using it for a few weeks now, and I’m pleased to report that it’s working phenomenally.  Here’s what ours looks like:Before moving on, I should explain what you’re seeing a bit. ORWA’s got an odd encumbrance system, which is currently undergoing some tinkering. At the core, we’re using LotFP encumbrance, where each item goes on a line, and each group of lines makes up one “encumbrance point.” We’re also using the LotFP playtest variant where each character’s Strength score determines how many lines make up one group. Furthermore, I’m experimenting with an armor system where players can wear up to 3 pieces of armor, with each one being only a single encumbering item.

Also, Lugud’s encumbrance looks weird because he recently died, and the players took all his good stuff.

Like I said, my system is a little disorganized at the moment. But, the shared spreadsheet method has helped clear things up immensely, and should work regardless of what specific rules you’re using.

Previously, the encumbrance system was a set of abstract rules that the players had to understand and apply themselves. Here, I’ve basically done all the heavy rules lifting for them, and all they have to do is plug their items into the slots provided.

You could say that a character sheet would accomplish the same thing, but in an online game, character sheets can be a real hassle. Not every player will have easy access to a printer, and even if they do, a printed sheet can only be used by them. If they have a question, they can’t show the referee what they’re looking at unless they’ve got a fairly high quality webcam. Plus, even in meatspace games, the constant need to write & erase every time an item is picked up or consumed can be frustrating in the extreme.

Allowing a character’s current inventory to be easily shared is another huge benefit of this method. It helps not only me, but every member of the party.

I hadn’t anticipated this, but since we started using this system players are much more likely to ask me questions. It makes sense though, right? When I’m a player, and I’m wondering “is each torch encumbering, or should I bundle them? How big is a bundle?” I may feel like it would be an imposition on the game for me to ask about such a trivial thing. Often, I’ll just make a judgement call as a player, and go with that.

But, if we’re all looking at the same document, there’s more pressure to be accurate and consistent. The first session we used this method, there was a good 30 minute discussion about basic encumbrance stuff that hasn’t changed since we first started playing. Obviously it wasn’t the most riveting 30 minutes of play we’ve ever had, but once we did that, everyone was on the same page, and we were able to move forward with, I think, a more meaningful campaign.

It also helps the rest of the party, because now everyone knows what equipment is ‘in play.’ If player X comes up with an idea that would require a certain tool they don’t have, they can just look at the sheet to see if player Y has the tool. My players have started coordinating their inventories because of this, which has cut down on pointless redundancies (“We don’t need 3 crowbars!”).

The spreadsheet also makes the task of separating a character’s inventory from their possessions feel like less of a nuisance. If a player has collected 30 different potions, which are all written down on a list, it may seem kinda bothersome to re-write a smaller list which contains only the potions currently being carried. Yeah it’s cheating, but it’s cheating out of boredom, rather than cheating out of an attempt to gain advantage.

Using a shared spreadsheet forces players to put in that ounce of extra effort that all of us are guilty of avoiding from time to time.

Lastly, now that encumbrance is running so smoothly, I’m excited to introduce some new complexities.

Which may sound counter-intuitive: I just succeeded in making something simple, why would I want to mess that up? Well, the issue with encumbrance before was that it was unpleasant to interact with it. I had my players track it to the best of their ability, but I knew it wasn’t really working properly, so I avoided poking at it.

But now, I can poke to my heart’s content. I could attack the players with monsters that steal a random item, or introduce a vendor who sells expensive backpacks that allow characters to carry more than they normally could. The more firmly established structure that the spreadsheet provides makes it easier, and even fun, to tinker.

Honestly, my only problem at this point is that I don’t have a method of running encumbrance this effectively around a real table.

Was this helpful to you? Then you should probably put a dollar in my Patreon before I starve to death and die and can’t write useful things for you anymore. =D

Investments, Citadels, and Domains

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

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

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

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

Investments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Citadels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domains

Managing a Domain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And if you liked this post, and you’d like to support me in making more, check out my Patreon.

Establishing a Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phase 2 ends when the cult has 1000 members.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rules for Gobbos

A GobboMy ladyfriend is not much of an RPG person. She enjoys a leisurely evening of D&D, but mostly as a social event. She’ll interject with a bit of goofy role playing now and again, but tends to just follow along with whatever the rest of the party wants to do. I’ve had a lot of people like that in my games over the years. Folks who are there because they enjoy hanging out. Maybe they’re more into the times we get together for board games, or maybe they went along with a significant other at some point, and enjoyed the atmosphere more than they enjoyed the game. Maybe you know someone similar, and maybe if you do, this’ll help you find something enjoyable for them to do.

It started a few years back when my ladyfriend accompanied me to play in a game where I was a 14th level character. She didn’t want to deal with the hassle of creating a high level character, so we got the referee to let her play all four of the Goblins from Paizo’s “We Be Goblins” module: Rita, Mogmurch, Chuffy, and Poog. It all worked out so well that we decided to use the same plan when she joined my ORWA game. But since this is an ongoing campaign, rather than a one-shot, I decided to put a little work into getting the goblins working.

First off, to remain setting consistent, the goblins aren’t goblins. They’re infant children who fell off a babycart (literally a cart where infant children are piled up for sale) and into a puddle of mutagen. This turned them green and gave them weirdly developed bodies, despite their size. They know how to talk, and call themselves Gobbos.

Gobbos can’t die the way normal characters die. They’re not invulnerable to harm, but they react to harm like a Loony Toon character. If a rock falls on them they get flattened, pop back into shape, and then scamper off to cry and lick their wounds until the next session, when they’ll have forgotten anything bad ever happened to them.

Gobbos also don’t get any share of the treasure, or any of the commensurate experience. In fact, Gobbos can’t level up at all. Players who are running the Gobbos will never need to worry about keeping their character sheet up to date, because it’s an (almost) entirely static thing. They also don’t need to worry about how to spend their money, and the other players never get annoyed at splitting their treasure haul with a quartet of characters who don’t contribute on the same level that they do.

(Though it should be noted that Gobbos are children. Sometimes they’ll see something shiny, and insist that it be purchased for them.)

Any time the other players are getting treasure, the Gobbos are free to scrounge around for something more in line with their own interests. The player they rolls on the “Gobbo Junk” table, which can be restocked by the referee as items are discovered.

The Gobbos Find a…

  1. Really really shiny, smooth rock.
  2. Plastic frisbee.
  3. Well used catcher’s mitt.
  4. Curly blonde wig.
  5. Hula hoop.
  6. Pair of boxing gloves.
  7. Basketball.
  8. Bowling ball.
  9. Potted cactus.
  10. Steel folding chair. The kind you find in a church basement, not the kind you find in your dad’s garage.
  11. Stepladder.
  12. Jar with holes poked in the lid, and 12 beetles inside of it.
  13. Metal wastebasket with a mesh pattern.
  14. Porno magazine.
  15. Bag of disposable surgical gloves.
  16. Big bag of candy necklaces.
  17. Rubber mask of Richard Nixon.
  18. Nice-ish briefcase.
  19. Fistful of indistinct sludge.
  20. Ball of twine.
  21. Doorknob.
  22. DD bra.
  23. Box of mousetraps.
  24. Roll of duct tape.
  25. Chair leg.
  26. Banjo with only 1 string on it.
  27. Conical dunce cap.
  28. Box of letters for a marquee style signboard.
  29. Bundle of plastic 6-pack rings.
  30. Paper bag of paper bags.
  31. Plastic bag of plastic bags.
  32. Rubber boot.
  33. Flip phone with plenty of charge, but no service.
  34. Box of paper clips.
  35. RC car.
  36. Barbie doll.
  37. Roll of wrapping paper.
  38. Ceramic cookie jar shaped like a pig wearing a chef’s hat.
  39. Stretch Armstrong doll.
  40. Tiger Electronics “Home Alone 2” tape recorder.
  41. Pair of Handcuffs.
  42. Ball gag.
  43. Flourescent light tube.
  44. Dozen eggs.
  45. Chicken.
  46. Housecat.
  47. Can of spraypaint. Blue.
  48. Disposable polaroid camera.
  49. Propeller beanie.
  50. Plastic toy sword.
  51. Bag of marbles.
  52. Tube of pogs.
  53. Huge bag of rice.
  54. Sleeve of printer paper.
  55. Dead bird.
  56. Dead Dog.
  57. Huge number “8” made of wood.
  58. Tacklebox full of fishing lures and hooks.
  59. Corkscrew.
  60. Pencil sharpener.
  61. Human skull
  62. Stack of newspapers.
  63. Wall clock.
  64. Padlock and key.
  65. Geode with a little pewter wizard inside of it.
  66. Binder with documentation for some kind of software.
  67. Pair of socks.
  68. Pair of nice slacks.
  69. Needle nose pliers.
  70. Standing, oscillating fan.
  71. Elementary school desk/chair combo.
  72. Bouquet of fake flowers.
  73. Bottle of hand sanitizer.
  74. Really neat spider with lots of cool colors on it.
  75. Metal shopping cart.
  76. Labelmaker.
  77. Sheets of scratch & sniff stickers. Of the “Grape Job” variety.
  78. Encyclopedia Britannica volume for the letter “O.”
  79. Catheter bag full of urine.
  80. Police file on someone named “Dave Bestfighter.”
  81. Empty jar labelled “Dreams.”
  82. Glow in the dark ceiling stars.
  83. Bag of party balloons.
  84. Bag of Frozen Peas. Still frozen, somehow.
  85. The poles to a tent.
  86. Baby rattle.
  87. Box of Mike & Ikes candy.
  88. Hand painted portrait of a randomly determined party member.
  89. The discarded highschool poetry of a randomly determined party member.
  90. Big red “Marks-A-Lot” marker.
  91. Yo-yo.
  92. Blender.
  93. Foam Jack-O-Lantern.
  94. Traffic cone.
  95. Box of matches.
  96. Car tire.
  97. Keyring full of keys.
  98. Bottle of really nice wine.
  99. Child’s devil costume for Halloween.
  100. Treasure map, drawn in crayon, to a toystore.

On a Red World Alone; Handling Factions

On a Red World...ALONE!The other day I was getting ready for an upcoming session of ORWA. Much of the adventure was going to involve the players interacting with various factions. As I wrote up the notes I thought I would need, it dawned on me that over the past year of running this game I’ve come up with a fairly robust set of tools for faction management. It happened without me even noticing, so I never really put it all together in writing. It doesn’t have all the features that I want a faction system to have, but perhaps there’s something here that others will benefit from.

First you should know how ORWA is laid out, since it’s not your typical campaign world. The physical size is very small–a single biodome on mars. I’ve been intentionally vague about precisely how big the dome is, but the point is that there’s not a lot of room for folks to get away from one another. It’s not unusual for my players to spend time in three, or even four different sovereign territories in a single game session

Given all that, the factions have ended up as cross between city states and street gangs. They have traditions and governmental structures, and wars. But their armies are measured in the hundreds at the most, and moving the boarder a few city blocks is considered a significant shift in territory. Within their territories they provide law and order, but unless you’re at the very heart of their turf, then you’re never more than two steps from anarchy.

I keep a simple map with faction boarders on it, which serves as my primary campaign map. There are narrow strips of no-man’s land between each faction, but pretty much all the space is the territory of one group or another. Each territory is keyed to a short description of the faction that holds it. These started out as 1-2 sentence affairs, but have slowly grown larger as the factions were developed through play. As with a lot of things in tabletop games, I’ve found it works a lot better to start simple, and let the details take shape on their own.

ORWA Map

The Outsiders (group “E”), for example, began as giant dudes who’ve learned how to survive outside of the Dome for days at a time. Through play they’ve earned a sort of celtic flavor, and we’ve established that theirs is the best territory to try and start a new life in, so long as you’re okay with always being a second class citizen for lacking the biological advantages they’ve discovered. (Advantages your children will have a chance to achieve).

At some point I put all of the factions on a D% table. The amount of space each faction takes up on that table is weighted by how often they’re likely to have an impact on events beyond their own boarders. Five of the factions equally share about 70% of the table. These are the big, established powers. They provide the closest thing to stability the dome has.

Then next 20% of the table is for the two up-and-coming factions. Small territories with ambitions of expansion. The final 10% of the table is shared between three groups. There’s the Lords of Light, who are the vestigial remainder of a defeated power. There’s The Fighting Mongooses, a territory of mercenaries who are understood to be a neutral party by all the other territories. And, finally, there’s the territory of The Friends of Needletooth Jack, which is a completely insular territory. No one goes in, no one comes out.

Anytime I need to determine where something happens, or who did a thing, I roll on this table. Pretty much anytime anything happens I randomly determine who or where, because why not? It adds an interesting texture to the world. If I come up with everything myself it’ll make a bland sort of sense. But if you give me two dots and I have to figure out how to connect them, that’s where things start to get creative.

For example, a couple adventures back, my players needed to raid a building and recover a machine. Randomly determining where the building was determined which encounter table they’d be rolling on during their travels, and what sort of purpose the building might have been put to since the apocalypse. This particular territory happens to factor into one of the conspiracies that drive the campaign, so sending the party there on completely unrelated business gave me an opportunity to drop hints about what was coming.

In their last adventure, the party needed to rescue someone who had been captured, because I thought a rescue mission would be interesting. I rolled to determine which faction had this person, and that helped me determine why this person was being held, and whether it was an official act of the faction as a whole, or whether it was an individual acting without official sanction. The whole character of the adventure was determined by that roll.

In the party’s current adventure they need to protect a third party during a war between two factions. The location of the third party didn’t really matter, so long as it was fixed once determined. I randomly rolled an aggressor, then flipped a coin to decide which of their neighbors they were attacking. When that was done I rolled opposed d6s as a rough measure of discerning how successful each side of that conflict would be. The player’s goals really had no bearing on that, but the result of the war would have a huge effect on the territorial balance in the dome.

The different territories also correspond to different encounter tables, which allows me to show my players, rather than tell them, the difference between each faction. In the territory of the Redstone Lords (Faction “A” on the map), for example, the government is unusually organized. There are fewer encounters with monsters, and more encounters with thieves, aggressive agents of the state, or non-combat stuff, like slave markets. Meanwhile, in the territory of the Dukes of the Dome (“B”), where mutants are hated, there are no encounters with mutants. Or, if you do encounter a mutant, it’s being harassed / arrested / killed.

For interfactional relationships, I’m so far keeping things simple. Every faction hates the factions which boarder it, and are neutral with the factions that don’t. The simple fact of the matter is that everybody wants to grow, and there’s no territory to take that doesn’t already belong to someone. That means your neighbors want your territory, and you want theirs.

There are a few exceptions to this which are easy for me to just keep in my head. For example, the priests of Technotopia (“I”), have a particular grudge against the Lords Beneath the Black (“C”), because they are the two largest religions within the dome, and both would prefer to get rid of the other. Likewise, nobody likes the Friends of Needletooth Jack (“G”), but nobody is ever going to fuck with them either, because their territory is small and they’re scary as shit.

I don’t really have any means for tracking the player’s reputation with each faction, but I’ve found that I don’t really need it so much. Even with factions as small as these, the PCs are beneath the notice of the faction as a whole. I do track the player’s relationship with pretty much every NPC they ever meet, which serves as an adequate substitute. So while The Outsiders as a whole have no feelings about the PCs, the leader of the Outsiders (known as The Highlander) did once have a meeting with them. They brought him reliable information, but he repeatedly caught them lying about the details. So the party is useful, but he doesn’t trust them.

What I’ve put together for ORWA does lack a lot of the features I have always wanted from a faction system. Things like a reward/penalty track for building a reputation of working for or against each faction. But what I do have has been working surprisingly well, so hopefully others can get a little use out of it.

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