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.

Adding Smartphones to your Game World

Wizard Using a Smartphone

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The basic conceit of John Bell‘s Necrocarserous is that a mysterious force is siphoning off the dead from other campaigns. Everyone in the setting  once lived in some other game world, then they died, and while they were on their way to their proper afterlife, they got snatched up by the Necrocarserous Progragm, had all of their memories erased, and were dropped into the world of Necrocarserous. There, these countless kidnapped dead people spend their afterlives serving as unwitting cogs in an unfathomable machine.

Because the world theoretically drew from every other game in existence, you had knights in full plate wielding long swords, living alongside soldiers in Kevlar with guns. In other words, the game was technologically anachronistic, which was a big influence on ORWA’s “Swords, Cyborgs, and Floppy Disks” style. One of the most notable bits of technology in the game were the various phone plans. NecroTel offered a few choices, but once you had a treasure haul or two under your belt, everyone just went for the best one: smart phones. They were friggin awesome, so obviously, I included them in ORWA.

So, how does adding smartphones to your game change it? The most obvious thing is that long-distance communication becomes trivial. In some ways this might be considered a bad thing; for example, splitting the party is much less of a risk if the two groups can stay in communication with one another. But, the benefits to trivializing communication far outweigh the drawbacks, in my experience. (Plus, it was always a pain trying to force players sitting at the same table not to talk to one another).

In Necrocarserous, the existence of phones meant that NPCs basically never left the game. If we met people we liked, we could call them later for information or advice. This fundamentally changed the way we approached relationships as players. NPCs stopped being transient game elements that came and went with each new adventure. Each new person we met was a potential potential ally. It gave us grounding in the game world.

In ORWA, where only a small subset of the population have phones, this effect is less pronounced, but none the less present. If there’s one thing I would change about ORWA, it’s that I would like phones to be more universal. Fortunately, my players have recently set out to bring phone service to the masses (though, the masses only get Nokia NGage phones. No fancy smartphones for them). But, even before my players set out to do this, I could see the greater level of connection the phones gave them to the NPCs who had phones. In particular their boss, The Hangman, became someone they regularly consulted. Sometimes they called to ask her questions about what she wanted them to do. Other times, they just sent her selfies of themselves having killed a big scary monster. It’s gratifying to see my players make my NPCs a greater part of their experience.

I should note somewhere in here that I don’t personally think phone damage or phone battery life are interesting problems for the players to be thinking about. In ORWA, phones are made of futuristic materials which do not easily break, and use cold-fusion batteries which will hold a charge for 1000 years before they need to be plugged in. You may want to be a bit more stingy about this kind of thing, and I could see that being interesting. For my purposes, though, it’s not part of the system.

In its basic form, long distance talking is the only thing phones can do. If players want their phone to be more versatile, they’ll need to make purchases from the Appstore.

Each app improves the phone by adding software, or by unlocking the phone’s own existing hardware. Each app also takes up a certain amount of memory, and each phone can fit a total of 50 memory worth of apps before it’s full, and can’t take any more. (Rare phones with more memory may exist, and could be provided as treasure).

Players may own as many apps as they want, but switching out the apps on your phone takes a Haven turn. That’s purely for game reasons, but in ORWA I guess you could say that download rates are shit in the post apocalypse.

Apps:

Text Messaging (500cc, 1 Memory): Allows silent, more casual communication. As long as a character has one hand free, they can text as a free action.

Camera (300cc, 1 Memory): Unlocks the camera hardware built into your phone, which can take high quality photos and videos. Thanks to HyperRawr compression technology, photos and videos functionally take up no memory on the phone. You can have as many as you want. Camera can also be used for facetime, or even just to peek around corners.

Zoom (1000cc, 1 Memory): Unlocks the Zoom Lens built into your camera, allowing it to function as a telescope. The zoom on these futuristic cameras is powerful enough to read the text on a book up to a mile away, if there’s sufficient line-of-sight.

Facial Recognition (5,000cc, 5 Memory): With facial recognition software, the phone can be set to flag certain people based on a photograph, or a detailed list of features. The phone will notify the user if anyone is flagged within the camera’s field of view.

GIMP++ (20,000cc, 5 Memory): A successful Tech skill check allows photos and videos to be modified to believably depict pretty much anything the user wants, so long as the key elements of the photo area real. (You can’t show a person being dead on the ground unless you’ve got a photo of that person, and a photo of someone being dead on the ground. Etc.)

Infrared Camera (15,000cc, 5 Memory): Allows the camera to capture infrared light. This functionally allows characters to see in the dark, as they can hold up their phones and look at the screens while the camera is open. It doesn’t attract as much attention as illuminating the environment would–though the light from the screen will still cause a small penalty to stealth in some situations.

Dragon Warrior Monsters GO (Free, 1 Memory): An augmented reality game which depicts monsters in the real world, which you have to fight with your own arms and legs. If you defeat a monster, it becomes your pet. The game is all the rage among Internet Operatives, and they may be willing to trade rare monsters for services.

LiveJournalMini (Free, 1 Memory): A microblogging platform, where each post is restricted to a maximum length of 200 characters. It’s used actively by members of The Internet as a means of releasing random thoughts out into the ether. Can be a good way to socialize with other Internet members, if one was inclined to do so.

Immediagram (Free, 1 Memory): A place for sharing photos, or short videos.

Hulu+ (Free, 1 Memory): The best way to keep in touch with cool people who make and do cool things.

Fantasy Calvinball (Free, 1 Memory): A game where players build teams, selecting real Calvinball players, then competing with one another based on the game-to-game performance of the players they chose. Obviously, Calvinball hasn’t been played since the apocalypse, but an archive with full data from hundreds of seasons was discovered a few years ago, and an enterprising member of The Internet set up a script to lock off all the data, only spitting out individual game results periodically. It costs 500cc to buy in to the Internet’s pool.

Light (1000cc, 5 memory): Serves as a lantern, with no chance to go out.

Peepl (3,000cc 5 memory): A site where people review other people. For each NPC encountered, there’s a 4-in-6 chance that the app contains some useful information about them.

Mars-O-Pedia(500cc Per Use, 1 memory): Various skills in ORWA (Bushcraft, Technology, etc.) are sometimes used as knowledge checks. If the check fails, players may pay to consult Mars-O-Pedia, which has a 5-in-6 chance of having whatever information they’re looking for. Whether the checks succeeds of fails, the player looking must spend 1d6 – 1 exploration turns looking.

Encounter Maps (Free, 5 Memory): The designer of this app has secretly tagged thousands of people within the dome, who are always passively passing data about the locations of potentially dangerous creatures and situations. This allows the app to calculate safe(ish) paths through the dome. For the price of 500cc, the next 5 encounter checks the players roll will have a reduced chance of resulting in an encounter. (a 1-in-6, instead of the usual 2-in-6).

Megaphone (2,000cc, 5 Memory): Sounds directed into the phone’s microphone will be broadcast by the phone’s speaker at a louder volume. Can be set anywhere from x1, to x10.

Voice Modulator (500, 5 Memory): Sounds directed into the phone’s microphone will be broadcast by the phone’s speaker in a different voice. The phone also produces a sound inverted to user’s actual voice, effectively muffling them, so that the only sound which can be heard is the modulated one.

By default, the voice is a robotic, “Microsoft Sam” style voice. However, additional voices can be purchased for 1,000cc each. There is a wide selection of voices, including specific accents, and famous people.

Soundboards (1,000cc Each, 5 Memory Each): A soundboard is a collection of pre-recorded audio samples, which can be played quickly in any order. Some common packs might be Movie Quotes, Fight Sounds, or Animal Noises.

Waterproofing (10,000cc, 5 Memory): Unlocks the waterproofing features on your phone. The phone can now be operated normally while underwater.

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.

Players Are Never Going To Stop Calling Their Shots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple Called Shots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thoughts and theories on tabletop games.