How I Use the Skills I Hate

I really fuckin' hate this movie. When I started running my most recent campaign, I wanted to keep things simple. “It uses LotFP, rules as written.” I said. Naturally, my players rolled up their characters according to the written rules of LotFP. This, predictably, means that they have skill points in skills which I don’t really like. And now that the campaign seems to be sticking, I find myself in the frustrating position of running a game with a search skill. A fucking search skill. Blerg.

It would be easy to simply never call for the players to roll these skills. But that would be a shitty thing to do. The skill points spent on Search could have been spent on anything–like sneak attack or stealth. The player put them in search because its presence next to those options explicitly implied its usefulness. If the skill is secretly useless, that makes me a liar.

Alternatively I could tell my players that the search skill has been removed, and that they can redistribute those skill points as they wish. While this is appealing from my perspective, players don’t like it. I know, because I’ve done it before, and it kinda bums them out. Nobody likes it when the referee tells them to just erase part of their character sheet because that bit has been retroactively removed from the game. The rules start to feel completely arbitrary when the referee just tosses them out like that.

So what should a myopic referee do when he forgot to disallow the skills he hates? Rewrite the skills he hates!

Climb

Why I don’t Like it: In terms of pure mechanics, I love the LotFP climb skill. Particularly the bit about rolling percentile dice to determine how far along the intended climb the character was when they fell. Unfortunately, climbing doesn’t actually happen that often in my games. So while the skill is mechanically solid, it just sorta sits there gathering dust, which isn’t good.
Fortunately, there are several other niche activities which I think should be resolved by a skill roll, and aren’t in the RAW version of the game.
What I’m doing about it: The skill is renamed “Athletics,” which is suitable, if not very original. It is still used to climb, and when climbing it functions exactly as originally written. It’s only used to climb sheer surfaces without obvious handholds, everybody but specialists have to be unencumbered to attempt it, and on fail you roll d% to determine how far along the character was when they fell.
In addition, Athletics is rolled to move through space that is occupied by another person. If you fail while trying to pass an ally, you make it to your destination, but your ally is knocked to the ground. If failed while attempting to move past an enemy, the enemy may choose either to attack you as you pass, or grapple you and stop you in your tracks.
Athletics is checked when a character is swimming in disadvantageous conditions, such as during a storm or while encumbered. It is checked when attempting to balance in any situation in which that would be difficult (though it cannot be used to counter knockdown effects). Finally, it is checked when a character is attempting to leap forward more than 10′, allowing them to leap up to 30′.

Bushcraft

Why I don’t like it: I imagine Bushcraft would make a ton of sense in a game with a lot of hex crawling. One where civilization is sparse, and settlements are far apart. I’d be really interested to run a game like that, but I never actually have. In fact, the last two campaigns I’ve run were set in a post apocalypse. Neither Dungeon Moon, nor On A Red World Alone had much use for the Bushcraft skill as it is intended to be used.
I have no problem letting the skill work the way it was originally written, but since that’s so unlikely to come up, it needs some additional utility.
What I’m doing with it: In addition to its function as a means of foraging for food and recovering from getting lost, Bushcraft can be used to gain animal companions. If the players have an encounter with a natural animal with a neutral or better reaction, a successful Bushcraft check will allow that animal to be tamed. A tamed animal will follow the character around, and perform simple, safe tasks for its master. If the character wishes to send their animal companion into combat, it must first be trained. This requires 1 month, and 200sp per hit dice of the animal.
When encountering a creature, a Bushcraft check can also be used to learn some basic information about that monster. It is up to the referee to determine if such information would be available, and the information provided may or may not be considered useful by the players.

Architecture

Why I don’t like it: There are two reasons I really don’t like the architecture skill at all. First, if my players are walking down a slight slope, I don’t see any reason not to tell them that. Nor do I see any reason not to simply tell them about any of the information this skill is meant to reveal if they ask me about it.
This gets into my problem with search a bit. From my perspective, part of the challenge of D&D is figuring out what to look for in your environment. So if a player has correctly figured out what to look for–has succeeded in one of the game’s primary challenges–I fail to see the benefit in denying them that success based on a failed die roll.
Second, I don’t like the architecture skill because it seems to imply that I should know a lot more about buildings in my game than I typically know. Do you know what culture built your dungeon? Do you know what specific method they used to build it? Because I don’t know those things.
What I’m doing with it: First off, I’m changing the name to Engineering. It’s a skill less about the art of creating a building, and more about the science of creating a structure.
A successful roll can be used to direct the swift construction of basic structures. While any player can throw together a barricade, an Engineer can throw together a wall. (Or a bridge, or seige equipment). This may be particularly useful when setting camp at night. The reverse is also true; the skill can be used to quickly assess how to demolish a structure.
As a specific consideration for my ORWA campaign, Engineering is also used to move through dilapidated buildings safely. A successful roll indicates that you reached your destination safely; whereas a failed check may indicate that you’ve fallen through the floor, had a bit of ceiling fall on you, disturbed some vermin living in the walls, or had some other misfortune befall you.

Search

Why I don’t like it: My distaste for the search skill is already long standing and well documented. The whole process of it feels deeply wrong to me. When a player asks me if a thing exists, and I tell them that it doesn’t because of a bad roll, I am betraying my position as referee. It makes me a liar, and I hate that.
I’ve read all the various ways of thinking about this, I’ve tried all the techniques, and I’ve only become more assured in the fundamental failure of this skill to provide anything but ruin to the game. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen players search for secret doors. Why, when the event is already so infrequent, would I lie to the players in the rare event that their search actually does coincide with the location of a secret door? I worked hard on the cool things behind that door, I want them to see it. Like hell am I going to let a die roll stop them when they’ve actually earned seeing all that cool stuff!
And then, of course, there are traps. “Haha, you were smart enough to ask me if there were traps, but you were stupid enough to believe me when I said no! Now you’re dead!”
Fuck that noise.
Knowing where to look for a secret door or a trap should be the challenge. Not whether or not to trust the die roll. And once a secret door or trap is located, it’s no guarantee of discovering the means by which that door can be opened, or that trap bypassed. There’s plenty of interesting challenge to be had here without muddying the waters with the hated search roll.
What I’m doing with it:Search rolls are not made with respect to a character’s ability to find something. Rather, the search roll is oracular. It is used in cases where the thing being searched for may or may not exist.
For example, a search check might be made to find clues of recent activity (or lack thereof). Success might indicate that the players find the spoor of a wandering monster. If another character came through recently, success might indicate that they left something behind which the players now find.

Search is also used when players are attempting to pursue someone by tracking signs of their passing. Each successful roll allows the players to follow 1 day worth of travel by their quarry.

Sleight of Hand

Why I don’t like it: I don’t even get this skill. It’s like…mini stealth? Really there’s no reason that any of this couldn’t be handled by the stealth skill, except for the fact that Stealth is already a very powerful skill. There’s some logic in wanting to break it up, I do get that.

Except nobody actually does any of the stuff that gets dumped into Sleight of Hand. I don’t think I’ve ever once seen a character pickpocket anybody. Maybe I need to start putting some maguffins in people’s pockets?

What I’m doing with it: Unfortunately, I have no idea how to make Sleight of Hand good. There’s no problem with allowing it to cover what it already covers: picking pockets, hiding small objects, readying a weapon stealthily, etc. To that list you could add cheating at gambling, performing simple magic tricks, and essentially any kind of stealth that is done with the hands rather than the feet.
But even thusly expanded, I actually don’t forsee people putting points into this skill. If I think of anything better, I’ll letcha know.
Edit: I originally finished writing this post on March 11th, and I haven’t really thought about it since then. But now as I’m re-reading it in preparation for it going live on the site tomorrow, I realize I came upon a good use for the Sleight of Hand skill just the other day!
Taking weapons from an enemy’s hands during combat can be accomplished with a successful sleight of hand check. If need be, the character may suffer a penalty to their check equal to the difference in hit dice between themselves and their target. However, I don’t think I’d use that penalty myself. I’m fine with my players being able to take the sword out of a big bad guy’s hand. If he’s really that big of a bad guy, he won’t be helpless without his sword. Not to mention all of the monsters who use natural weapons, and would thus be immune to having their weapons stolen.

Spending Money: Training

Rocky's Training Montage - Meat Punch!I’m still interested in finding new ways for players to spend their money.  Today I’d like to talk about the method I think is the most valuable, and perhaps the most controversial: training. The expenditure of money (and time) to make a character better.

Before I get into concrete rules, I feel some obligation to mention the giants whose shoulders I’m standing on. This post draws heavily on work done by Courtney Campbell for his Numenhalla and Perdition campaigns, as well as work done by John Bell for Necrocarserous. Further, I believe Courtney drew much of his inspiration from the writings of Benjamin David. I’ve taken these ideas and adapted them for LotFP, as well as adding some of my own refinements and twists to make them better suited to my own tastes. But I want to acknowledge that all the really heavy lifting was done before I got here.

There are four types of training: Skills, Weapons, Talents, and Spells.  Spell training might better be titled “research,” but it uses the structure of training, and so falls under the more general term. Regardless of type, training requires that the character invest both time and money before they receive any benefit.

Training is done during down time between adventures, when a character is free to avail themselves of the resources of civilization. What Brendan S. has eloquently titled the Haven Turn. While training, the character may break to continue their adventures, but must return to the same Haven at the end of their adventure if they don’t want to lose their progress (and money!). Training otherwise takes up all of the character’s time, and they are unable to pursue any other activities, such as carousing, until it is complete.

If the players wish, they are encouraged to roll an alternate character to play while their primary character is training. This will allow that character to focus entirely on their studies, and reduce the training time by 1 month. It also creates a handy backup in the event of character death.

Training provides a significant benefit to the PCs, one which cannot be regulated by funds alone. The need to spend time is an important factor. It allows training to be cheap enough to be afforded by low level characters, without the potential to be abused by wealthy, high-level characters. It is pertinent to paraphrase Gygax: You cannot use the training system if strict time records are not kept. Training works when time is a resource to be spent carefully; it doesn’t work when time can be handwaved away without consequence.

For players with excess funds, the referee may be inclined to offer accelerated training. The means by which this rapid training is accomplished should be thematic to the game world: cybernetics, magical implantation, brain matter grafting, soul mixing, etcetera. In any event it costs 3x the normal amount required. Training time is reduced to a single week covering the procedure, and recovery.

Skills Training

Skill training allows characters of any class to advance their skills beyond a 1-in-6 chance. However, increasing a skill beyond a 5-in-6 chance remains the sole purview of characters who receive skill points from their class.  Training must be undertaken for a specific skill, and each rank of ability must be achieved before advancing to the next. A character with 1 in 6 Tinkering may not pay 12,000sp & spend 6 months training to leap straight to Master level ability. They must first advance to Talented, then Skilled, and so on.

Sneak Attack is not considered a skill for the purposes of training, and remains available only to Specialists.

Talented – 2 in 6 – 1,000 silver pieces & 2 Month of training.
Skilled – 3 in 6 –  5,000 silver pieces & 4 Months of training.
Expert – 4 in 6 –  10,000 silver pieces & 5 Months of training.
Master – 5 in 6 – 12,000 silver pieces & 6 Months of training.

Weapons Training

All characters have a basic proficiency with any weapon they pick up. If a player wishes to train themselves beyond proficiency and achieve true excellence, they must specialize their training to a specific weapon family.

For each level of expertise, a character receives a +1 bonus to attack rolls when using weapons from that family. In addition, each level of expertise grants an Expertise Feat which is specific to that weapon family. The Expertise Feats gained by a character training with a longsword are the same for all longsword-wielding characters.

Expertise Feats may be combined with standard attacks at no penalty. However, only one feat may be applied each round. If an expert longswordist attempts to deflect an incoming attack, they forfeit their ability to use Disarm on the following round. Feats are never passive bonuses, they must be declared during each individual combat round.

Any saving throw called for by an Expertise Feat is a save versus Paralyzation.

Skilled – 2,000 silver pieces & 3 Months of training
Expert – 6,000 silver pieces & 4 Months of training
Master – 12,000 silver pieces & 6 Months of Training

Here are some of the weapon families I am using in On a Red World Alone. This list is truncated for the sake of brevity.

Weapon-Family-Table

Close Quarters: Additional +2 to attack rolls when fighting in cramped conditions, or melees with 4 or more combatants in close proximity.
Swift: Can make 2 attacks per round against a single target.
Hidden: +1 to determine surprise when attempting a sneak attack.
Deflect: May attempt a saving throw to negate one melee attack each round.
Disarm: On a successful hit, target must save or lose their weapon.
Vicious: Roll damage twice, take the higher result.
Sunder: On a successful hit, target must save or their armor bonus from armor is reduced by 1.
Delay: On a successful hit, target must save or take only a half action next round.
Riposte: Once per round when struck in combat you may make a saving throw to attempt an immediate counter attack.
Hold Back: Once per round when a foe attempts to close to melee range, wielder may make an attack roll against them.
Push: Target must make a saving throw or stumble backwards 10′.

Talents

You might think of talents as a kind of “Miscellaneous Training.” Unlike other forms of training which allow you to improve within a given system (Skills, Combat, Magic), talents provide a wide array of character improvements touching on all aspects of gameplay.

Talents marked with an * may be taken multiple times, and their effects stack. Each talent requires 3 months of training time, and costs 4,000 silver pieces to acquire. If a talent is taken multiple times, the training time remains the same, but the cost is multiplied by the number of times the character will have taken the talent.

Charm School*: +1 to Charisma
Endurance Training*: +1 to Constitution
Weight Training*: +1 to Strength
Gymnastics Tutoring*: +1 to Dexterity
Attend Symposia*: +1 Wisdom
Academic Study*: +1 Intelligence

Bravery: Immune to Fear effects.
Penetrating Spells: Saving throws made against your spells suffer a -1 penalty.
Spell Resistant: Gain a +2 on any saving throws made against a spell.
Tough: +3 hit points per level
Innovator*: With a weapon group you have mastery-level expertise with, gain an expertise feat that the weapon would not normally have. (If taken multiple times, must be for a different weapon group each time).
Indomitable Armor bonus from armor is improved by 1.
Deflect Missile*: Negate one ranged attack per round.
Interceptor: Redirect one enemy attack per round to hit you instead of an ally.
Precise Shot: Fire into melee without any chance of hitting allies.
Criticator: You land a critical blow on a 19 or a 20.
Deadly Strike: Critical hits deal triple damage instead of double.
Good Opener*: Once per day you may re-roll a single die used as part of a reaction roll, and take the higher option.

Spell Research

A Magic User can expend a certain amount of time and money to pour through ancient texts, experiment with peculiar creatures, and test the cosmic energies. At the end of the indicated period, the character will have earned a new Magic Word which they can use to create spells according to the normal system.

2,000 silver pieces & 1 month: The MU learns a randomly determined Magic Word.
3,500 silver pieces & 1 month: The referee randomly determines 3 Magic Words, and the MU may pick one.
7,000 silver pieces & 2 months: The MU may create their own, new Magic Word.

For the majority of you, whom I assume are not using my magic word system, this can easily be modified to allow an MU to learn new spells outright. The time required is 1/2 the desired spell’s level with a minimum of 1 month. The same costs listed above determine whether the character learns a random spell of that level, chooses between 3 random spells of that level, or gets to choose their own spell from that level.
Why Training is Valuable
Obviously one of the core benefits here is that training gives players something to spend their money on. That is, after all, the whole point of this series of posts. But there’s more to it than simply balancing the game’s economy.
When you really get down to it, the primary goal of a PC is to improve. They’re on a constant quest for more experience points, and better gear. But the amount of experience they will gain is bounded by the opportunities they encounter during a play session. When the player sits down, they don’t know whether they’ll earn enough XP to gain 3 levels, or whether they won’t earn even a single point of experience. Magic items are likewise a matter of fate. They may occasionally be something the player can strive for over a long period, but in most cases they’re something the player discovers unexpectedly.
This unpredictability is all part of the adventure, and it should stay that way! But there is value in having a stable fallback. At the end of a hard session without a tangible benefit to your name, it’s nice to know that at least you’re a step closer to learning that cool new trick with your sword. In that respect, training is a different kind of character improvement; a new layer which compliments the others. It fills a valuable niche.
Furthermore, training allows for mechanical character customization done right. It’s easy to demonize the mechanical clusterfuck that official D&D eventually became, but it wasn’t all bad. The ability to make choices about your character’s mechanical progression can be great!
The problem comes when choices start to pile on top of one another. When you’ve got to pick a feat and assign multiple skill points, rather than a feat orsingle skill point. It comes when each individual choice has hundreds of possibilities, rather than a mere handful. More possibilities than even a passionate hobbyist can really consider in their mind all at once. It comes when the choices are attached to the leveling system, turning every gained level into an ever-increasing amount of paperwork.
Is allowing characters to train introducing power creep into a game? Yes, but given the cost and time required for training, that power creep is kept at a slow pace. Easy to adapt to.
Is allowing characters to train making your game more rules-heavy? Yes, but not so much as it might seem on the surface. Each layer of decision actually has very few options to it. And players who wish to spend their time and money on other things, avoiding what might be viewed as a source of confusion, are free to do so.
Training, as presented here, is far from perfect, I’ll readily grant. Weapon training in particular feels incomplete to me. Like the seed of a much better idea that hasn’t sprouted yet. But I can confirm from experience that all of these ideas are fun and functional in play–or at least, the systems I based them on are.

d100 Magic Words: Body Parts & Simple Actions

Trampier - A Wizard casting a Web spellTwo more d100 lists of Magic Words! If you’re not familiar with what’s happening here, check out the posts in the Magic Word category, probably starting with the basic system outline.

“Body Parts” is pretty self explanatory. It’s a list of words that name parts of the bodies of living creatures. “Simple Actions” is stuff you can do with just your body, or at most very minimal tools.

If anybody else is actually using the system, by the by, I’d be fascinated to know what magic words are active in your game, and what spells your players have crafted. Email me!

d100 Body Parts

  1. Antennae
  2. Antler
  3. Appendage
  4. Appendix
  5. Arm
  6. Artery
  7. Back
  8. Beak
  9. Beard
  10. Belly
  11. Bladder
  12. Blood
  13. Bone
  14. Brain
  15. Breast
  16. Carapace
  17. Claw
  18. Cloaca
  19. Digestion
  20. Ear
  21. Egg
  22. Elbow
  23. Exoskeleton
  24. Eye
  25. Fang
  26. Fat
  27. Feather
  28. Fin
  29. Finger
  30. Fist
  31. Flesh
  32. Foot
  33. Fur
  34. Gentiles
  35. Gill
  36. Gland
  37. Hair
  38. Hand
  39. Heart
  40. Heel
  41. Hips
  42. Hoof
  43. Horn
  44. Intestine
  45. Iris
  46. Jaw
  47. Joint
  48. Knee
  49. Knuckle
  50. Leg
  51. Lips
  52. Liver
  53. Lung
  54. Mane
  55. Mouth
  56. Mucus
  57. Muscle
  58. Nails
  59. Navel
  60. Neck
  61. Nerve
  62. Nipple
  63. Nose
  64. Organ
  65. Orifice
  66. Palm
  67. Phallus
  68. Pheromones
  69. Pores
  70. Proboscis
  71. Quill
  72. Rectum
  73. Rib
  74. Scale
  75. Shell
  76. Skeleton
  77. Skin
  78. Skull
  79. Soul
  80. Sphincter
  81. Spine
  82. Sting
  83. Sucker
  84. Sweat
  85. Tail
  86. Talon
  87. Teeth
  88. Tendril
  89. Tentacle
  90. Throat
  91. Toe
  92. Tongue
  93. Tusk
  94. Uterus
  95. Vagina
  96. Vein
  97. Web
  98. Whisker
  99. Wing
  100. Wrist

d100 Simple Actions

  1. Ask
  2. Attack
  3. Awaken
  4. Belch
  5. Bellow
  6. Bite
  7. Blink
  8. Blow
  9. Breathe
  10. Build
  11. Carry
  12. Clap
  13. Comb
  14. Come
  15. Contemplate
  16. Cough
  17. Crawl
  18. Crouch
  19. Cry
  20. Dance
  21. Defend
  22. Dig
  23. Draw
  24. Drink
  25. Eat
  26. Excrete
  27. Exercise
  28. Fart
  29. Flap
  30. Flee
  31. Flex
  32. Flick
  33. Frown
  34. Give
  35. Glare
  36. Go
  37. Grind
  38. Grip
  39. Hear
  40. Hold
  41. Hug
  42. Jump
  43. Kick
  44. Kiss
  45. Laugh
  46. Lean
  47. Leap
  48. Learn
  49. Lick
  50. Lift
  51. Look
  52. Make
  53. Move
  54. Pat
  55. Play
  56. Point
  57. Pound
  58. Pull
  59. Punch
  60. Push
  61. Reach
  62. Read
  63. Recoil
  64. Release
  65. Rub
  66. Run
  67. Say
  68. Scratch
  69. Shake
  70. Sit
  71. Slap
  72. Sleep
  73. Slither
  74. Smile
  75. Snap
  76. Sneeze
  77. Speak
  78. Spin
  79. Spit
  80. Squeeze
  81. Stack
  82. Stand
  83. Stare
  84. Step
  85. Stomp
  86. Strain
  87. Stretch
  88. Strike
  89. Stroke
  90. Swallow
  91. Swing
  92. Tap
  93. Tear
  94. Think
  95. Touch
  96. Use
  97. Walk
  98. Wave
  99. Wiggle
  100. Write

LotFP Class: Djinn Kin

Djinn Kin - Ronnie WhelanSometimes people fuck genies.

It’s gross, and it’s shameful, but there it is. And when it happens, they make horrible, affront-unto-god genie babies. Or, as they prefer to be called, “Djinn Kin.”

The skin of a Djinn Kin is tinted some unnatural color; green, blue, red, purple; so at least it’s easy to tell them apart from the rest of us. Their body temperature is also significantly higher than a proper human’s, such that it’s uncomfortable to touch one for very long. Not that any decent person would want to touch one anyway.

Djinn Kin have a d4 hit die, and they advance as specialists for experience gain and saving throws.

At first level, and each time a Djinn Kin levels up, they can make a single Wish. Their wishes must be phrased in the terms of the game world, without reference to mechanics or metagame materials. It is a desire put into words by their character, and should reflect that.

As with any wish, the referee should act in good faith. Discuss openly the outcome of the character’s wish. Be receptive to refinements of its phrasing, and suggestions for its potential effects. The referee always has the final word on when the discussion is over, and what the effects will be. However, a Wish should be a player’s blank check to make something awesome happen, not an excuse to fuck the player over.

Likewise, players should view a Wish as a blank check to make something awesome happen, not an opportunity to make themselves game-breakingly powerful. Infinite money, invincibility, more wishes, if those’re is the sort of things you wish for, you’re an asshole. Why not just wish to “win” D&D? All you’re doing is creating a situation where the referee has to figure out how to ‘beat’ you just so the game can continue.

Wish for a great big beard of iron twine that will protect you from oncoming attacks. Wish that every creature you encounter will view you as a member of its own race. Wish you could punch with the force of a battering ram. Wish that no blade could ever touch you. Wish to be able to see in every environment as though it were a brightly lit room. There’s a universe of cool possibilities.

Anyway, that’s Djinn Kin. I’ve had this idea on my mind for ages now, and wanted to share it with you. But there’s really not much to say about the thing. It’s a class that gets wishes ever level. So you also got a little rant about the proper use of the Wish spell, plus some specially commissioned art from my brother Ronnie Whelan, and the post still clocks it at under 500 words.

Making Languages Relevant

Loading Ready Run ForeverDoes anybody actually use language mechanics? I suppose there must be some not-insignificant number of people who do. There wouldn’t be so many games that include languages if nobody was using them. But the people using them sure aren’t playing with me. I can’t recall the last time I encountered an NPC who only spoke some specific non-common language. Occasionally I’ve encountered non-common inscriptions or writings. Usually, though, those seem to be intended as set dressing, rather than as something meant to have an impact on the game. That’s a poor justification for having a language skill.

It makes sense. Both why we have languages in the game, and why nobody uses them. Language barriers are intrinsic to the sort of genre fiction a lot of us have in mind when we play D&D. But games and fiction are different things. In a game sense, language barriers don’t work out to be very fun for anybody.

For players, encountering a language you don’t know generally means you’re going to miss out on information that is helpful, but not strictly necessary to move forward. You could waste time finding a translator, or you could waste a spell slot carrying around “Comprehend Languages,” but usually there’s an easier way around the problem.

For the referee, why bother doing anything in any language other than common? If your players do speak Elvish, then the only benefits from adding anything Elvish to the game are:
1. Atmosphere, and
2. to validate the usefulness of speaking Elvish.
On the flip side of things, if none of your players speak Elvish, you’ve either got to put work into making something interesting that they’ll probably never see, or you’ve got to validate their apathy by making something trivial.

None of which is to say that languages can’t work in their current form. I realize that the above criticisms are an oversimplification. But I do think it’s a reasonable assessment of how languages work in practice. So instead of modifying the way we play to accommodate the rules system, I thought I’d take a shot at modifying the rules system to accommodate the way we (I?) play. I have two proposals.

The first is to divide languages into two groups. There are the languages of the common folk, and the languages of the uncommon folk.

Common folk are any species that has a widespread, peaceful presence in the game world. In a standard fantasy setting that’d be stuff like elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, humans, and so on. Every single member of all of these races speak Common. There will never be any language barrier to talking with them. However, everybody prefers to speak in their native languages when possible. If you meet a dwarf, and you speak to them in the dwarf tongue, it will be taken as a sign of respect. Speaking to a member of a common race that is not your own in their native tongue grants a +1 bonus on reaction rolls and social actions.

The uncommon folk are the sorts of things that aren’t part of normal society. The creatures your players don’t normally talk to. Oozes, Dragons, Beholders, Orcs, Goblins, etc. These creatures only speak their native tongues. So if you want to parley with them, you’ll need to speak it as well.

Using this system, knowing a commonplace language grants the player a significant, logical benefit, without requiring that the referee change the way they prepare their game in the slightest. Meanwhile, knowing an uncommon language ‘unlocks’ the ability to speak with a whole group of monsters. There’s no need to make an individual orc particularly interesting to make knowing Orcish worthwhile. The very fact that you can talk to any orc ever at all is the interesting thing.

Alternatively, language could be used as a kind of fence. A way to keep your players penned into an easy to manage area without being too heavy handed. After all, this is pretty much how language works in the real world.

Ya see, here they speak English. You can undersatand what everybody is saying. Because of that, you can function effectively in this part of the world. If you go too far to the east, then everybody will speak French. You don’t speak French, so you won’t be able to understand anybody in that area. You can go there if you want, but it’s unlikely anybody will want to hire you, and even if they do you’ll have a hard time understanding what they want. Probably easiest just to stay within these English-speaking hexes here.

If you were to use language this way you’d probably want to alter the language system to be more limited. I’d start players off speaking only their native language. They could spend X amount of time and gold to learn a new language, thus allowing them to go to a territory which speaks that language without difficulty. (Not to mention giving me some lead-time to prepare interesting stuff to go there).

Thoughts?

d100 Objects of Moderate Value

Wooden Elephant StatuetteWe already know that coins are boring treasure. I mean, a sack of gold is fine now and again, but in general, treasure is a lot cooler when it’s some kind of valuable object.

I’ve got this bad habit, though. Anytime I go to make a treasure object, I make something of phenomenal quality. An item whose manufacture exceeds what ought to be possible with the technology available in my game world. It’s fun to let your imagination run wild, and describe solid gold cat statue of perfect lifelike quality. But when you go wild describing an object, you’ve got to give it an impressive value in coins to match. And before you know it you’ve unbalanced your game’s economy again.

It’s more interesting if treasure is down to earth. Something the player can expect to earn a few hundred coin for; but not the lost opus of some ancient master craftsperson. In the end it just makes sense if most valuable objects are a little bit mundane.

  1. An unfinished painting comissioned for a duchess who died before it could be completed. The painting is only a little more than half done.
  2. A tribal mask from a far off land, carved from a single piece of wood.
  3. A brass tree, with many twisting branches of thick wire. Tree is flat, meant to hang on a wall.
  4. An ancient clay vase, cracked down the side. Was clearly decorated at one time, but most of the paint has chipped off.
  5. A 4′ picture frame of mahogany, inlained with pearls at each corner. No picture inside of it.
  6. An intact piece of old correspondence which sheds some light on a minor historical mystery.
  7. An erotic candelabra depicting a nude woman with her back arched, and her breasts pointing straight up. A pair of candles can be mounted where her areola ought to be.
  8. The embroidered green vestments a priest might wear on special holy days.
  9. An erotic sundial depicting a man reclining, with a large erection casting a shadow on the disc.
  10. A jewlery box of birch, with braided steel trim. The box is empty.
  11. A fine wood chalice with gold inlaid on the interior of the cup. Religious symbols are carved into the base.
  12. A steel monstrance with eight rays radiating from the center. The hinge is rusted shut.
  13. An oversized stein, large enough that it would be difficult to lift safely to your lips with one hand. Decorated with art of men on horseback hunting a boar.
  14. A small ivory bust depicting a veiled woman on one side, and a skeleton on the other.
  15. A silver hairbrush, decorated with spiral ivy patterns. Most of the bristles are missing.
  16. A jade comb with a simple spiral pattern at the center. Has one missing tooth.
  17. Steel thinning-shears with a gold handle.
  18. A steel hand mirror with a handle shaped to look like an angel. The angels wings rise up on either side to frame the glass, their points meeting at the top. The glass is cracked, but usable.
  19. A decorative dagger sheath, with silver inlays, and spiral patterns imprinted into the leather.
  20. A decorative longsword scabbard, dyed blue with a crisscrossing lattice of gold thread binding it.
  21. A single tile, clearly meant to be one of many. It depicts a castle tower, with a guard standing on it. The side of a tree is also visible. The art is superb.
  22. A stack of decorative tiles, decorated with swirling blue patterns. A few are cracked, but most are in perfect condition.
  23. An oversized, ornamental key made of tin. Clearly meant as a trophy, rather than as a functional key.
  24. A steel chamberpot. It has been embossed to look like the head of some villainous person or other in caricature. It’s unlikely you’d be able to find anyone who was familiar with the person depicted, and it’s probably the result of some personal grudge.
  25. A lyre, carved with small depictions of birds along the left side of it.
  26. A birdcage of brass wire, twisted to look similar to wood. An occasional brass leaf protrudes from the wire.
  27. A cross made of several woods, which have been polished and pressed together.
  28. A marble bust of Virgil.
  29. A woodcarving of a bear with a sword in its mouth. Meant to hang on a wall.
  30. A distinct warbanner, colored green with two strikes of yellow and one of black. This is one of many once used by a famous army of conquest, which many of the player’s grandparents likely fought with, or against.
  31. A 1′ by 8″ portrait of a woman, perhaps a merchant’s wife. It is painted with skill, but the subject is of no great significance.
  32. A bronze elephant, raising its trunk into the air. It is hollow, and made with no great skill, but still attractive.
  33. A clay circle inlaid with a variety of smooth stones. The stones form a simple spiral, with larger stones towards the center. The item has no obvious function.
  34. A ceramic pitcher, painted tan and brown, and adorned with a simple painting depicting the coronation of a king.
  35. A wooden statuette of a ram, about 1.5′ long. It’s light weight, and painted to more closely resemble the animal.
  36. A single arm, broken off of a lovely chandelier. Brass, plated with gold, decorated with a dangling chain of crystal from the tip.
  37. An artist’s sketchbook. The artist is signed “H.G.,” and doesn’t conform to any widely known style. But some of the pieces are quite good.
  38. A parish bible, complete with painted scenes, fancy lettering, and gilded pages.
  39. An unpublished Hymn, written in the handwriting of a moderately well known composer of hymns from 60 years ago.
  40. A lost manuscript written by Catherine Parr, titled “The Lamentations of a Gleeful Sinner.” Apparently an early draft of her later published work.
  41. An ancient game. There’s a block of wood with six peg holes in a circle, one peg carved from ivory, and four dice, each of which is painted with a skull on a single side. Evidently there are some missing pieces.
  42. A lantern with small paintings of birds on the glass. When lit, these birds appear as shadows on the walls.
  43. A recipe for preparing halibut with cabbage, sugar, and pigs feet. A note, scrawled at the bottom like a signature, reads “Fit for a king!”
  44. A bronze sphere of exceeding smoothness. It is remarkable in just how perfectly spherical it is.
  45. A leather scroll, on which is printed an ancient formulation of a mathematical proof. A proof which was lost, and only rediscovered a dozen or so years prior to now.
  46. A leather satchel with gold-colored silk inlays, a silver tie cord, and an intricate braid pattern pyrographed around the outside.
  47. A marble head. The neck is jagged, and was clearly broken off of a larger statue. Knowledgeable players may recognize the head as being a depiction of a man whose memory was banned 150 years ago. While the law is still technically on the books, no one takes it seriously anymore.
  48. A richly appointed pair of trousers. Dyed black, with a pair of gold braided cords down the right leg, and a single red braided cord down the left leg.
  49. A neck chain with thick, heavy links. Mounted on the chain is a large cross of polished mahogany.
  50. A hanging wooden sign for the Cobbler’s Knee Pub, stolen long ago from the establishment where an infamous assassination took place, setting off a decade long war.
  51. A refracted glass cylinder with small wooden birds and cotton clouds within it. As you walk around it, the refraction of the glass make it appear to contain gently drifting clouds.
  52. A belt buckle depicting a cheerful dog. The belt coming through the buckle would look like the dog’s tongue.
  53. A pair of ceramic hands mounted to a base. Between the fingers is a silver thread, held in an elaborate string-figure pattern.
  54. A chunk of marble from what was once a beautiful statue. It depicts a hand grasping some piece of flesh. The way the fingers indent the flesh shows exceedingly superb craftsmanship.
  55. A housecat-sized statue of an ant, made from tin. The statue is mounted on a cedar base, and has pearls for eyes.
  56. A key, the handle of which depicts a blacksmith swinging two hammers. The shaft and teeth of the key depict the haft and head of the hammers.
  57. A censer shaped to resemble a funeral pyre. The ‘body’ can be raised to fill the container with incense, and the smoke rises from slats between the ‘wood’.
  58. A small collection of 2d6 pewter figures of knights in armor, shown  in different battle postures.
  59. A glass bottle with a tiny cottage built inside of it. There is dirt, and fake grass. The cottage is simple, of the sort that people lived in a few hundred years ago.
  60. A bit of silver shaped to look exactly like an acorn. Exactly.
  61. A fragment of a tablet. Something is written on it in a pictograph language. The language is known, but has never yet been translated.
  62. A coin purse filled with false teeth. There are ivory, wood, steel, silver, and gold teeth. Several of each.
  63. A ceramic statue of a horse, about 4′ tall. It is crudely shaped, limited by the artistic expertise of an earlier era, but that history lends it a sense of gravitas.
  64. A fine box with a silver clasp and velvet lining. The box contains a crystal inkwell, a small knife meant for cutting quills, and a small book detailing the best way to pick and to cut quills.
  65. The nameplate of a ship. Players with any knowledge of history may recognize the ship’s name as being among 77 that were sunk during a great battle some 25 years ago.
  66. A simple brick mounted on a plaque. The plate indicates that this brick was once part of a very famous building, demolished some 43 years ago.
  67. A sword, rusted into complete uselessness. Notably, the design of the sword is one that has not been common for some 500+ years. Despite it’s condition, it is a valuable antique.
  68. A wooden box filled with carefully organized tools of good quality–drills, a hammer, files, and the like. These are a set of carpenter’s tools for a true craftsman. The sort of set that would be purchased once, and used throughout their whole lives, then be passed on to their children.
  69. A ceramic teapot of great delicacy, with a meadow scene painted on the side of it.
  70. A clay tablet with the cycles of the moon etched into it. Beneath that is a depiction of a lunar calendar plotted out for several hundred years. The last year plotted was 18 years prior.
  71. A glasswork lightning bolt, tinted a metallic sort of yellow. The bolt is fused to a clear, flat base, also made of glass.
  72. A chamber pot with a primitive depiction of pooping kings all around the outside of it.
  73. A steel bell embossed with images of clumsy stupid servants running around, failing to perform their duties competently.
  74. A milking stool of unusual quality. It has a padded seat, gold tassels, and ornately carved legs resembling praying cows.
  75. A birdcage of delicate reeds, arranged with perfection.
  76. A quilt large enough to cover any bed the players have ever seen three times over. Each patch is completely unique, and depicts some scene from rural life.
  77. A heavy steel lock. In inscription, in Latin, warns thieves to stay away or be struck down by Mars.
  78. A crude fasces. Several of the rods are cracked at the base, but it is otherwise in good condition.
  79. A blue Mitre, with knee-length tassels dangling from either side, and an embroidered white sun on the front.
  80. A single chess pawn. It obviously comes from what would have been an amazingly ornate chess set. Even this single small piece is crafted in bronze, affixed with a wireframe soldier on one side, and capped with a large pearl.
  81. A pair of manacles ill-suited to restraint. The links are loops of silk, and the cuffs themselves are polished wood, padded with cloth on the inside, and closed with leather straps.
  82. A roll of cloth containing a collection of 33 stone knives. The knives range from apparently very old and dull, to relatively recent and sharp.
  83. A phallus of leather and clay, with a wooden core. Stitched to perfection.
  84. An arrow of red, with peacock-feather fetching, and a heart-shaped ruby tip. Obviously non-functional.
  85. A large glass jug, sealed with a cork. Within is a functioning miniature biome, complete with dirt, plants, and a moisture cycle.
  86. A cylindrical steel container, shaped like a tiny angry man. The top of his head can be pulled off to open the container.
  87. A paintbrush with a jade handle, encircled with a braid pattern. The bristles are horse hair.
  88. A life-size statue of a woman, which appears to be made of stone. It’s crudely done, but notable in that it is remarkably light. Perhaps enchanted in some way, or made of some unknown material. It can easily be carried by a single person, though it is still oversize and awkward to hold.
  89. A handwritten & illustrated book describing some 350 fictional monsters. The disturbed ravings of a madman, but none the less an item of intense curiosity to the right buyer.
  90. A dogwhistle shaped like a running dog,
  91. A false nose, made of ivory, and held to the face by two leather straps that go around behind the head.
  92. A barometer, along with a leather-bound book written by an unknown German woman who experimented extensively with the strange device she inadvertently invented.
  93. A taxidermy mouse with tiny diamonds for eyes.
  94. A freestanding suit of plate armor, 3′ tall, with human proportions.
  95. A set of table silverware. Each spoon, fork, and knife has a tiny human face carved into the pommel. Each face is unique, and they display a range of emotions.
  96. A Grecian wine bowl, with pornographic images at the bottom. When you tilt the bowl back to drink, you also get to see dicks and tits!
  97.  A reproduction of a famous piece of art. It’s not really convincing enough to fool any but the completely uncultured.
  98. A map made by an ancient people of a now well-populated area. The map is crude, but has historical value.
  99. A sadomasochistic erotic novel written by Isabella of Castile
  100. A star chart on a roll of leather. Clearly made by a people who did not need to use leather, but chose to for ceremonial reasons.
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Thoughts and theories on tabletop games.