"Playing With Fire," a simple system for gunfights in freeform and rules-light games

My game Running With Swords uses a GLOG-based Hearts system to track PCs' ability to avoid serious injury: as long as a character has Hearts, they can engage in hand-to-hand combat without incurring serious wounds or injuries. Losing Hearts represents anything that makes a character more likely to sustain a serious injury in combat: fatigue, stress, illness - anything the referee judges would reduce the character's capacity to fend off serious injuries. Once a character has zero Hearts, the next attack is likely to really hurt them, and the consequences of injuries are whatever makes sense - severe bleeding, internal bleeding, loss of limbs, infection, death.

This system works well for melee in fantasy settings where combat is very physical and direct. I tried running a cyberpunk game with it recently and found that it really doesn't make sense when bullets are flying. Getting shot even one time is a very serious problem; bullets aren't like sword thrusts that can be parried and blocked until you are just too tired and one hits home. So the Hearts system as I've been running it doesn't work for gun fights.

Running a game with guns also showed me that the Hearts system is unsatisfactory for missile weapons in fantasy games as well. In melee, it is essentially an auto-hit system; I don't roll for enemy combatants to hit the PCs; and in most circumstances I don't ask the PCs to roll to see whether they can hit an enemy - it is assumed that someone skilled in swordfighting (for example) can pretty much hit someone standing right in front of them every time. In a hand-to-hand battle, a PC can inflict hits on an enemy at will, and they will lose Hearts at a rate determined by the referee based on the PC's strength and skill and the strength and skill of their opponent - reflecting the ongoing toll of combat leading eventually to the PC risking serious injury. But when missile weapons are in play, it feels natural to me to involve more of a chance element - I find myself asking for rolls to determine hit or miss when a PC is shooting or throwing weapons, and it also doesn't feel right to have a PC get shot without giving them a chance to be missed.

For these reasons, I have created a simple opposed-2d6 system for determining what happens when a PC is being shot at. It was designed with firearms in mind but I think I will try using it for arrows as well. There is a table for situations where a PC is being shot at, and a different table for situations where a PC is exchanging fire with an enemy. For times when a PC is shooting, I would just use my normal technique of asking the player to roll 2d6, as described in Running With Swords.

The injury-level table reflects the idea that a gunshot is always an immediate problem, but will also reduce Hearts (reduce your capacity to engage in hand-to-hand combat without getting seriously hurt). Armor, if it protects the part of the body shot, might reduce the level of injury by 1, or completely negate the injury - whatever makes sense to the referee.

The "hit level", 1 to 3, gives the referee a way to determine the effectiveness of a PC's hit, if desired. It could be the number of hits taken off an enemy's total, if you are using such a system, or the number of enemies killed, in an automatic fire situation - it is there to give the referee a scale for the success of a PC's hit, if desired.

player getting shot at

opposed rolls (player minus referee)

chance with no modifier

player +1

player +2

player -1

player -2

result

-9 or less

0.4%

0.1%

nil

1%

2.5%

level 3 injury 

-8 to -5

9%

5%

2.5%

15%

21%

level 2 injury

-4 to -3

14%

10.5%

7%

17.5%

20.5%

level 1 injury

-2 to 2

52%

50.5%

46%

50.5%

46%

close call; lose 1 Heart from stress

3 or greater

24%

33.5%

44%

16%

9.5%

all good


player exchanging fire with enemy

opposed rolls (player minus referee)

chance with no modifier

player +1

player +2

player -1

player -2

result

-9 or less

0.4%

0.1%

nil

1%

2.5%

PC misses and takes level 3 injury

-8 to -5

9%

5%

2.5%

15%

21%

PC misses and takes level 2 injury

-4 to -3

14%

10.5%

7%

17.5%

20.5%

PC misses and takes level 1 injury

-2 to -1

20.5%

21%

24%

33%

31.5%

both miss; PC loses 1 Heart from stress

0 to 2

31.5%

22%

22%

17.5%

14%

level 1 hit & PC loses 1 Heart from stress

3 to 4

14%

17.5%

20.5%

10.5%

7%

level 1 hit

5 to 7

8.5%

13%

18.5%

5%

2.5%

level 2 hit

8 or greater

1%

2.5%

5%

0.4%

0.1%

level 3 hit


PC injuries

level 1

lose 2 Hearts, will need medical attention after the battle or suffer complications

level 2

lose all Hearts, will need medical attention in the next few minutes or suffer permanent injury or life-threatening complications

level 3

lose all Hearts, instant death or permanent injury with imminent death


hit locations

roll

chance

location

2-3

8%

head or neck

4

8%

leg

5

11%

gut or pelvis

6-9

55.5%

vest area

10

8%

shoulder

11

5.5%

arm

12

3%

hand or foot


play report: Dice Boys episode 23

This is an account of the latest session of my ongoing freeform fantasy campaign entitled Dice Boys. The referee was myself; the players were Seb, Russell, and Jason.

The party retreated from the magma cavern, back through the mirror portal into the room with the massive silver doors covered in reliefs of terrible demons torturing humans with the inscription “Speak the name of the one you seek.” They had entered this room through a secret door which closed behind them and could not apparently be reopened from this side. The only other means of egress was a large pair of wooden doors which were magically locked.

There ensued a protracted period of discussion about how to proceed. The dragon had been badly wounded in its battle with the phoenix and was now as vulnerable as it would ever be, yet it was still capable of incinerating the entire party in an instant. The status of the phoenix was unknown - it had been buried in rubble when the ceiling of the magma cavern partially collapsed on it; was it possible it was still alive and could be freed from the rubble to fight the dragon again? Was there anything to be gained from trying to parley with the dragon? It had been served by a host of humans, all of whom had been killed by the Dice Boys - perhaps its need for human servants could be exploited somehow? Could using the frightening silver doors somehow allow them to speak with the dragon from a safe distance? Gylvun discovered that the large golden key he had found in the Sorcerer’s chamber did indeed fit the lock of the silver doors, but he did not open them. There was also the mysterious hint from the fortune teller back in Chunchul - the dragon’s weakness was its poor eyesight.

After much discussion, Retch decided to sneak back through the portal to observe the status of he dragon and he phoenix. The dragon was now nowhere to be seen, having either retreated into the depths of the magma cavern or else vanished. Looking at the pile of rubble which had buried the phoenix, Retch observed thick smoke billowing forth from among the boulders, and an orange glow emanating from the depths of the pile. He contemplated climbing down the 110-foot cliff and approaching the rubble pile, but he did not.

The party decided first to secure their means of egress from this room, and with the help of the urchin Paldeen, who had been transformed into a grizzly bear during the battle with the Sorcerer, they broke down the magically locked doors. Next, Speck discovered that the ring he had found in the Sorcerer’s chamber allowed him to control the horrible flesh golem shut in the closet off the dining room. Behaving much like his late father, he impulsively began leading the golem around the dungeon with no clear objective, while the rest of the party stood around wondering what he was about. After discovering the golem could not climb the rope up through the illusory latrine, Speck got bored with his awful toy and put it back in its closet.

The party decided to go back up to the first level and speak with the mysterious stranger who smelled of flowers and sat cross-legged in the bottom of a deep shaft off the room with the dragon mosaic on the floor. As they entered the mosaic room, they encountered a strange woman, dressed in a tattered red gown, wearing a red-gold tiara with red gems, claiming to be a princess who had been held captive by the dragon. She said that the adventurers’ attack on the dragon had given her the opportunity to escape, by means of a hidden staircase at the back of the dragon’s lair. The Dice Boys were suspicious, and asked her to show them the stairs by which she had escaped. She indicated that they could be found in the adjacent room with the giant dragon-head statue in the wall and the joystick-like switch in the floor. She declined to enter the room first, citing fear of the dragon. Speck attempted to cajole her into entering first by pretending not to know what a door was, while Gylvun maneuvered behind her intending to put her to sleep with a blue crystal. Speck’s hamfisted and painfully obvious attempt at deception aroused the woman’s suspicion, and she noticed Gylvun moving behind her, leaping into the air at the last moment, causing the crystal beam to hit Speck and put him to sleep. The dragon-woman flew about the chamber, enraged, and began weaving a fireball in the air. Retch blasted her with the lightning wand, causing her to release the fireball before it reached full size, singeing Retch and Paldeen (who had turned back into a goth teen), and badly burning Emmita and Anlel. At the same time, Gylvun hit her with a green crystal, causing her to shrink by 30%, and she immediately vanished.

Ignoring the obvious threat still posed by the dragon-woman, Speck decided to descend the shaft and speak with the strange flower-smelling man. Speck displayed self-centeredness, impatience, and profound disrespect, and the sage did not vibe with him at all, and so the conversation was fruitless. Speck tried to force the saintly man to help somehow by physically dragging him out of his shaft, but then had an uncharacteristic flash of wisdom and released the man, who leaped the thirty feet down into his shaft, landing gently like a spider, and resumed his posture of serene concentration.

The urchins had seen enough of the dragon’s lair, and were not having fun anymore now that their friends were dying from being burned in the dragon-woman’s fireball, and they began making their way back through the dungeon seeking the exit. The Dice Boys wanted to keep exploring, in spite of the unknown whereabouts of the powerful and dangerous dragon-woman, and they boldly stepped through a teleportation portal they had previously discovered in the mosaic room. This turned out to lead back to the first teleportation portal at the beginning of the dungeon.

The impetuous Speck was leading the way and wanted to explore some doors and passaged they had bypassed near the dungeon’s entrance. Lifting a false wall heading toward the entrance, Speck came upon the dragon-woman, who caught his eye in her dragon-gaze and immediately enslaved his mind, causing him to approach and stand by her side like an obedient servant. Gylvun and Retch dove under the falling  false wall as the insensate Speck released it; Gylvun threw the mysterious warm jar he had found in the Sorcerer’s laboratory at the dragon-woman’s feet as Retch threw his two throwing daggers at her. One of the daggers hit the dragon-woman as the jar shattered on the floor, releasing a crawling and spreading liquid fire that spread across the floor and crawled up the legs and body of the dragon-woman and Speck. She was as unfazed by the fire as she was by the dagger, and she began to laugh villainously as Speck collapsed to the floor screaming, his legs on fire. Seeing no other option, Gylvun threw the Magic Dice, hoping for salvation. He rolled double 3s - a good result - and he became infused with invincibility, his body glowing and lashing with rapidly alternating colors, as a portal to deep space opened behind the dragon-woman. The invincible Gylvun and the brave Retch rushed the dragon-woman, shoving her backward into the portal. As she fell into space, she began to transform back into a dragon, and reached out with her leg which had become a talon, grabbing Retch around the ankle and dragging him toward oblivion. Gylvun used his shadow-dagger and Speck used his dragon sword and the hacked off the dragon-foot just in time, even as it was growing to its enormous dragon-size. The dragon in space immediately froze solid and then exploded in a shower of fragmented flesh, one chunk of which shot back into the corridor just before the portal closed.

The dragon had been defeated, and the Dice Boys had a full dragon claw and a chunk of flesh with a few scales on it to prove it. Speck was in very bad shape, and Gylvun used his healing magic to stabilize him and Retch, then they discussed the new situation. There was enough treasure in the dragon’s hoard to start a war. The treasure had been stolen by the Scorpion People over the centuries in order to meet the dragon’s demands; there was no clear rightful owner of the vast wealth. Once word got out that the dragon was dead there would be a mad rush to find the treasure and chaos would ensue. Right now the only people who knew the truth were the three Dice Boys. If the urchins, still in the dungeon somewhere, saw the claw or scales, they would also know, and soon all the land would know. The Dice Boys now had more power, for good or ill, than they had ever imagined - what would they do with it? And what developments had occurred in the world during their absence? What of the demon who had enslaved the city of Urno at the bottom of the Great Chasm, conscripting the citizens to excavate giant passages beneath the earth to open a portal for more of the Terrible Ones to enter the world, and the Ancient Elders who had been awakened beneath the Dome to battle them? And what of the invaders who had recently landed on the coast and whose spies and scouts had been spotted in the Dead Lands and the Urn River valley? And what of the Grease Beast who had been released into the Gnarly Wood from the portal beneath the Spire? The only certainty was that world-changing events were at hand….


play report: Lost Sword of the Overking, episode 4

This is an account of a recent session of my ongoing Running With Swords campaign entitled Lost Sword of the Overking. The referee was myself, the players were Seb, Jack, Jameela, and John.

As the flames spread among the trees in the wake of the fleeing Forest Spirit, the party was faced with a decision: turn back and try to warn the sleeping villagers about the fire, or head toward the boglands to the south and try to escape the Old Forest before the growing fire barred their way. They chose the latter, but soon found themselves hemmed in by the rapidly spreading fire, which drove them to the cliffs at he forest’s western boundary.

Wolflike demons leaped and cavorted among the flames as the fire grew closer; and as the adventurers attempted to climb out of reach of the flames, three of these demonic beasts attacked. As if made of molten rock, their outer hide was black and crumbly over a glowing orange core, and fiery light shone from their eyes and mouths. Caul bravely threw himself in the creatures’ path, giving Fria and the nimble Canter time to clamber up out of danger. Geortino, still drained from his psychic encounter with the Forest Spirit, was a bit too slow, and and one of the demonic fire-wolves latched on to his ankle with its powerful smoking jaws.

Seeing Geortino’s predicament, Canter shot the beast with an arrow, allow Geortino to escape, his ankle and foot badly mangled and burned. Meanwhile, Caul the master swordfighter was doing his best to take on all three beasts, slashing with his sword and smashing with his shield. Canter assisted with arrow fire from above and Fria hurled rocks at the beasts. Geortino saw that Caul was outmatched and leaped back to the ground in spite of his injury to add his sword to the melee. Eventually the beasts were defeated, hacked to glowing chinks which melted into the ground like magma.

Climbing up the steep rocky cliffside, the adventurers noticed a high cave at some distance where the treehouse villagers were going to escape the forest fire. Fria caught sight of a teenage boy and had a flash of Knowing from the Goddess: this boy was the one destined to wield the Sword of Arras and unite the warring kingdoms as the Overking.

On a rocky ledge above the inferno, Fria tended to Geortino’s ankle, dressing his burns and crafting a splint to immobilize the joint so it could heal. They managed to get a few rough hours of sleep, and upon waking they discussed how they should proceed. Now that the Overking had been discovered, should they present him the Sword of Destiny and be done with it? Yet this was a mere boy, a strange forest-dweller with no political or military experience, clearly not ready to become a king. Perhaps it would be best to deliver the Sword to the High Priestess as planned, for safe keeping until such time as the boy was ready to fulfill his destiny. And Caul and Canter still wished to find their sister in the Hidden Temple. Fria wished to take the boy and the sword to the High Priestess, so they made their way back to the site of the treehouse village.

They found the village destroyed and the villagers engaged in a heated debate regarding the genesis of the terrible fire and its meaning with regard to their relationship with the Forest Spirit. The village king and the majority of the villagers viewed the presence of the outsiders at the feast as the origin of the disaster, and did not welcome the visitors back. Noting that some of the villagers, including apparently the family of the boy who would become king, were suggesting abandoning the forest and finding a new place to live, free from the tyranny of the Forest Spirit, Fria attempted to foment an open rebellion against the king, but the king and his men-at-arms angrily drove the party off.

They made their way through the smoldering ruins of the forest, south toward the boglands where the Hidden Temple was said to be. That night, they discovered a nearby campfire, and were approached by two strangers in the dark, who turned out to be defecting villagers. In the ensuing conversation, the villagers stated their desire to be free from the rule of kings and forest spirits, and Canter, recognizing their outlaw spirit, offered them a place in his “kingdom,” where his followers lived illegally in the woods in Queen Vauphria’s lands. The villagers gratefully accepted his offer, and agreed to meet in the morning to discuss matters further.

The next morning, the adventurers visited the camp of the defectors, where they saw the boy destined to become king. Caul and Geortino were showing off their swordplay skills to impress the youngsters, which was met by disapproving looks from the adults; they learned that the forest people traced their descent from the Elves (also called the Good Neighbors) and therefore shunned iron and steel.  Fria found an opportunity to address the boy in semi-privacy and she revealed to him her belief that he was destined to become overking of many lands. The boy seemed overawed by this strange revelation. When asked if he ever dreamed of becoming a king, he related a recurring dream which felt significant to him: he was a wild boar chasing a mighty stag; just when he was ready to gore the stag with his tusks, he saw the stag had his own face, at which point he became the stag being gored by the boar, which had the face of a man he didn’t recognize.

The adventurers were fixated on the idea of bringing the villagers into the boglands, I think because they had learned that in generations past the forest people often visited the Hidden Temple. However, no one now living had any firsthand knowledge of the treacherous swamps nor of the secret path to find the Temple. They knew only tales from the past, saying that the Temple was not in a fixed place and could only be found by those who the Priestesses wished to find it. It was said that a mysterious Boatman could ferry people to the Temple. They were also warned about giant alligators that live in the swamp.

The adventurers were insistent about the forest people accompanying them, in spite of the fact that none of the villagers had ever journeyed into the boglands before nor had any contact with the priestesses dwelling in the Hidden Temple. Finally the villagers, out of gratitude for Canter’s gracious offer of a place to live in his “kingdom,” agreed to send one hunter to the dangerous boglands with the party - a man called Vinm.

Before departing the forest, Fria used her magic bowl to divine the path to the Hidden Temple.  She filled the polished silver bowl with pure spring water and waited until the water was mirror-still, then gazed into the bowl. The path was revealed to her, but in order to keep it in her mind she would have to concentrate intensely; any distraction could cause the vision to be lost from her mind. She learned in her vision that the path was not merely physical but was a kind of magic spell; by walking in a very specific way, stepping in specific places, and concentrating her magical faculties, she would be able to lead them into the parallel world where the Temple was hidden.

The party set off into the swamp, proceeding slowly and carefully, Geortino limping on his injured ankle, everyone following Fria and taking care to step exactly where she stepped. Unfortunately, after a few hours they were attacked by a giant alligator. The creature burst out of the murky water and grabbed Geortino by his good leg, dragging him down to drown him. Caul told Canter to continue following Fria and leaped onto the beast, driving his sword up to its hilt through the alligator’s massive neck. Fria maintained her concentration and continued on the magical path. Caul nearly lost his sword as the alligator retreated under the blood-darkened water. Canter threw a rope back to Caul while taking care to follow Fria’s path, and at that moment Fria and Canter entered the hidden world, disappearing from the world where Caul, Geortino, and Vinm stood; Canter’s rope lay coiled on the ground where a moment before he had stepped. 

Caul tried in vain to follow but the path was lost to him. However, at that moment they say the Boatman, poling a flat-bottom skiff across the marsh in their direction. The Boatman stated that he would ferry them to the Temple but they must pay a price: whatever is most precious to them. Caul offered up his knightly ring, bearing the seal of Queen Vauphria, entitling him to hunt and conscript men and horses in her lands, as well as to courtly treatment in the neighboring kingdoms. He hoped the Boatman would be fooled; the ring was actually of little value since he had disobeyed the Queen and helped his outlaw brother to escape her justice.

Geortino did not wish to part with his most precious possession: the enchanted sword of his great-grandfather Edwall; he and Vinm chose to remain behind in the swamp as Caul stepped onto the Boatman’s skiff.

Fria and Canter were surrounded by swirling mists when suddenly the barge of the High Priestess was upon them. Standing beside the High Priestess Canter recognized his sister Dwarna; she seemed to be the High Priestess’s chief assistant. Fria began to explain the reasons for their visit; that they had brought the Sword of Arras destined to unite the kingdoms, and that canter wished to visit his sister. The High Priestess stated that all sworn priestesses renounced their families when they entered service in the Hidden Temple; during the boat ride Dwarna gave Canter a significant glance indicating that she was indeed happy to see him but was unable to break the decorum her position demanded. The High Priestess explained that men are not permitted within the Hidden Temple; Canter would be provided lodging on the grounds outside the temple walls while she would stay within and dine with the High Priestess that evening, when they could discuss her visions and the Sword of Destiny.

Caul shortly arrived on the island of the Temple and encountered his brother in a yurt that had been made available to him for the night. Geortino and Vinm were left alone in the dismal boglands, still carrying the Sword of Arras. Fria entered the Hidden Temple and was conducted to her guest quarters to rest and prepare herself for dinner with the High Priestess.

play report: Lost Sword of the Overking, episode 3

art by Sebastian Forray

This is an account of a recent session of my ongoing Running With Swords campaign entitled Lost Sword of the Overking. The referee was myself, the players were Seb, Jack, Jameela, and John.

Sir Geortino, knight of King Andrel, and Fria, witch of the woods, had successfully recovered the ancient sword of the Gerse King Arras from the tombs below his ruined keep. Fria had received a vision from the Goddess that this sword must find its way into the hands of one who would become the Overking, uniting the petty kings and queens and bringing peace to the Frandlish lands. 

Having recovered the Sword of Destiny, they intended to deliver it to the High Priestess in her Hidden Temple, somewhere in the boglands south of the Old Forest, so they set out southward from the ruined keep.

Sir Caul and his brother Canter were also traveling through the Old Forest, seeking the way to the Hidden Temple. Caul had been a knight in the service of Queen Vauphria, and his brother Canter was the “king” of a band of free people living outside the law in the queen’s woods. When Caul was appointed by the queen to capture his brother, he betrayed his kinghtly oath, helping his brother to escape, and together they fled the queen’s lands.

Caul and Canter had a sister, who at a very young age had been given to the priestesses of the Hidden Temple, to serve and to be trained as a priestess. Having fled their homeland, they decided to seek their sister in the Hidden Temple, hoping to live as a family again.

Within the Old Forest, Canter stepped into a snare fashioned from a thick grapevine and was hoisted into the air by his ankle. Geortino and Fria, walking nearby, heard he noise and came to investigate. While the travelers were becoming acquainted and cutting Canter down from the trap, a strange beast approached, bellowing frightfully and smashing a very large club against the trees: Like a man, but over nine feet tall, covered head to toe in thick shaggy fur and otherwise naked. Fria tried to talk to the creature but he seemed not to understand, and smashed his club against the ground in a display of anger and strength. Canter, wise in the ways of woodland creatures, reasoned that this creature might be dealt with in the manner of a bear; he made himself large and displayed his own strength and willingness to fight, and the others followed his lead. The Shaggyman decided the four of them were more trouble than they were worth and strode away through the woods.

A short time later, a knight and his squire approached the party and called out a greeting. He stated his name as Sir Boury, knight of King Brutlas, and inquired whether the travelers had seen a giant hairy beast recently. They admitted the had, and Sir Boury proclaimed his sworn quest: to capture the Shaggyman and bring his head to the king. The travelers did not like the idea of killing the Shaggyman for sport, so Fria pointed the questing knight in the wrong direction and he and his squire rode off through the woods.

Toward the end of the day, the party entered a part of the forest eerily devoid of bird song and animal sounds. They found a tree with blood stains, claw marks, and bits of old rope clinging to it. As they made camp, they rigged a rudimentary alarm system by stringing a perimeter rope with bits of armor. During the night, something unseen disturbed the hanging armor and frightened the horse, but nothing further occurred to disturb their rest.

The following evening, after hiking all day through the eerily silent woods, as they descended into the watershed of a forest stream, they came upon a collection of treehouses linked together by rope bridges.They were greeted enthusiastically by some of the occupants standing on a balcony, and invited up for a feast in celebration of the full moon.

Geortino was reluctant to leave his horse Gh’o alone on the forest floor so he stayed with the animal, in spite of ominous warnings from the tree house folk that it would be very dangerous to pass the night on the forest floor.

The tree house people, who dressed in hide and fashioned their necessary items from wood, bone, antler, and stone, explained that every full moon they celebrate a feast in honor of the Forest Spirit, who allows them to take trees and game from the forest for their survival and who protects them from the wild wolves that prowl in the night. They were shown to the dwelling set aside for pregnant women, where there was room for them to sleep, and given time to rest and wash before the feast.

During the feast, they met the king of the treehouse village, Sinon, who showed deference and respect to the title of Canter, “king” of the free people of Vauphria’s wood - the two leaders shared a disdain for the traditional social hierarchies dominant among the Frandlish people, and a belief that people should be free to choose their leaders and to govern themselves according to their own principles.

Fria learned that in generations past, there had been commerce between these forest people and the priestesses of the Hidden Temple to the south, but that a schism of obscure nature had severed those ties. She also learned that the boglands are treacherous to those who know not the secret path to the Hidden Temple, and that without guidance there is little hope of finding the way.

Canter learned that the forest people traced claimed descent neither from the Frandlish nor from the Gersemen who inhabited these lands before the Frandlish came to drive them out, but from an ancient lineage who has always occupied these woods since before either of those societies existed.

Fria went down to offer Geortino some of the roast meat and wine, and to perform a divination ritual, gazing into her polished silver bowl filed with pure spring water. In the mirror-still water, she was given a vision - first of Gh’o disemboweled on the forest floor, then of several of the treehouse women weeping and sobbing inconsolably.

Meanwhile at the feast, a special cake was brought out for the children, and cut into perfectly even slices by the eldest woman in the village using a bone knife. The children seemed reluctant to eat the cake at first but soon gave in to their desire. Two of the children found carven bone totems hidden within their slices - a deer and a bear - and as each was discovered, one of the women at the table was stricken with grief at the sight. Canter inquired about these strange goings on, and was told that the children who found the totems were to be specially honored, and that their mothers were weeping from  joy at their families being so honored. Inquiring further about the nature of this honor, he was told that it is forbidden to discuss it in more detail, and that their ways might seem strange to outsiders but had served them well for many generations. Canter and Caul realized some dark deeds were imminent, and they went to the pregnant women's’ dwelling to retrieve their belongings so they could join Fria and Geortino on the forest floor. A pregnant woman named Amalie was weeping among the furs, and Canter asked her what was the matter. She was reluctant to speak, but finally blurted out “Please save my little Lucas! They will kill him!”

As the travelers descended from the treehouses, they were watched sternly by silent men. The party began to debate their course of action - should they leave these strange people to their dark rites, or should they impose their own ethics on the situation? Should they accept lodging in the treehouses, knowing that their hosts may be sacrificing their own children? Should they grant Amalie’s request and rescue her nephew Lucas from whatever fate was allotted to him?

They decided to hide in the dark nearby and wait to see what would happen. After midnight, two children were brought down by two men. The children were dressed in a deer mask and a bear mask, with corresponding hide garments. The children wept and trembled in fear as they were led into the dark woods. Fria and Canter followed them and watched as they tied the children to trees at some distance from the village. A snapping twig alerted the men to their presence, but Canter threw a pinecone into the trees and led the men away from their position. After a time, the men decided nothing was amiss and returned to the village. Canter freed the children while Fria went to retrieve Geortino and Caul and bring them to the place of the sacrifice. There was some debate about what to do next, as the children clung to the legs of their rescuers in relief and fear, when the forest began to shake and resound with the crashing of falling trees as some unimaginably large beast stirred and began moving toward the party. At this, panic overtook the group and they scattered: Fria clambered up a nearby tree, Geortino galloped off toward the treehouse village, the children ran after Geortino, and Caul and Canter stood paralyzed wth indecision. Soon the demon was upon them - fifty feet tall, with spindly deerlike legs improbably supporting a hairy bear-like torso, skinny human arms hanging all the way to the ground with long skinny fingers dragging through the underbrush, a chaos of fanged mouths where a head might be expected, and two eye-like fires at the top shining with evil intelligence and penetrating psychic power.

Fria began to prepare a fire spell, retrieving a tinder box and making a small fire in a dish, from which she could weave a mighty fireball. Canter carefully took aim and shot an arrow into the demon’s eye, while Caul charged at the demon’s leg with his sword in a suicidal rage. Geortino turned his horse around, scooped up the two children, and galloped back toward the demon.

Canter’s arrow caused the demon’s head to form a huge red glowing bubble, within which other lesser demons flew about and screamed in rage. Caul’s sword had as much effect on the demon’s leg as it would on a stone. Geortino threw the children at the demon’s feet, causing the demon to turn its penetrating gaze upon the night, instantly laying bare the cowardice and weakness of his soul, branding his spirit indelibly with the evil of his act and causing him to collapse to the ground weeping. The demon scooped up the children and the horse in its spindly fingers and devoured them.

Just then Fria, using all of her remaining strength, mustered a tremendous fireball and hurled it at the demon’s hairy trunk. Fire being the one thing the Forest Spirit could not tolerate, it turned and fled back the way it had come, spreading fire to all the trees in its path.

FKR APA inaugural issue

I was pleased to contribute to the inaugural issue of The Neverending Drachenschwanz, the amateur press association publication of the FKR Discord server. Download it here.

d66 magic dice


Here is a pdf version.

It is most fun when the players don't know that odd results are good for them and even results are bad. Mine don't even know that it is a d66 roll and not a total. When they roll an even result and there is a referee choice, I often ask the player to choose something that might be good for their character, then turn their choice against them. For example, on a 14 I might ask the player to choose an animal they want to turn into, then have their enemies turn into that animal instead.

Setting Notes: What Is Magic?

Working on the explanation of the nature of magic in my game world:

There is no magic. What may seem like magic is merely the skillful application of certain hard-to-apprehend deep truths about the nature of reality.

The world as you experience it appears to be something firm “out there.” This appearance is reinforced by the fact that people are largely able to agree on what seems to be “out there” – any five people can look at a horse and agree that it is a horse, that it is brown, etc. The few people who see things that others don’t can easily be dismissed as crazy and everyone can happily go about their lives as if they have a solid and unproblematic apprehension of their immediate surroundings.

It is therefore easy to remain ignorant of the fact that the world as we experience it is only a convenient presentation created by our brains – light, sound, and matter impinge on our bodies, and the raw sensations thus created are processed in our brains and organized into a coherent tapestry of perception. This presentation is generally 100% successful in allowing us to navigate our surroundings and to communicate about them. So it is easy to ignore the fact that we actually have no direct knowledge of external reality – we only have the interpretations our brains make based on the limited and discrete inputs of our sensory apparatus.

Those who are able to really apprehend the plasticity of “reality” as presented by the brain may be able to shape that reality in ways that seem magical to the uninitiated. Through rigorous training, they may be able to open new avenues of perception to see things that are normally invisible. They may learn to access the unconscious processes and schema used to organize ordinary perception, both in their own minds and in the minds of others, and manipulate those processes to astounding effect. Just as the baby is amazed when the ball “magically” reappears after it had vanished from existence when their parent hid it behind their back, so ordinary people are amazed when the initiate performs seemingly miraculous feats by applying their arcane knowledge of the hidden nature of reality.

1d20 vs. 2d6: Doing The Math

The differences between using 1d20 and using 2d6 are a frequent topic of discussion. This post takes a closer look at the actual math to clarify what these differences really are. Three types of dice systems are considered: systems in which players and referees roll against each other, systems in which players roll against a target number, and systems in which player rolls can have three possible results (success, partial or mixed success, and failure).


Opposed Rolls

In opposed-roll systems in which the magnitude of the difference between opposing rolls is not considered, the only possible outcomes are player wins, referee wins, or tie. The type and number of dice are of little consequence in such systems as the player and the referee will always each have an equal chance of winning. The only difference is the likelihood of a tie: 5% for opposed 1d20 rolls versus 11.27% for opposed 2d6 rolls.

More common are opposed-roll systems where the magnitude of the difference between opposing rolls does have meaning. In such systems, the mixed result is commonly expanded from a pure tie to rolls that are “close.” In addition, a very large difference between rolls may be interpreted as an extreme success or failure. So we have 5 possible results: Extreme success or failure, regular success or failure, and close (tie.) For these systems, using 1d20 allows greater flexibility in determining what counts as close and what counts as extreme.


For opposed 1d20 rolls:

if close is a difference of:

the chance of close rolls is:

2 or less

23.5%

3 or less

32%

4 or less

40%

5 or less

47.5%

if extreme success or failure is a difference of:

the chance of extreme success or failure is:

13 or greater

7%

14 or greater

5.25%

15 or greater

3.75%


For opposed 2d6 rolls:

if close is a difference of:

the chance of close rolls is:

1 or less

32.87%

2 or less

52.17%

if extreme success or failure is a difference of:

the chance of extreme success or failure is:

6 or more

5.4%

7 or more

2.7%


Clearly with opposed 1d20 rolls one has more options for defining close and extreme results, allowing more flexibility to tailor the game to suit the table.

Some opposed-roll systems may also count rolling the maximum or minimum possible to indicate extreme success or failure. The chance of the player rolling a 1 or a 20 on 2d6 and the referee not rolling the same number is 4.75%. The chance of a player rolling a 2 or a 12 on 2d6 and the referee not rolling the same number is 2.7%. So for these systems, 1d20 also provides more frequent extreme results than 2d6.


Rolls Against a Target Number


1d20

target number:

chance of rolling target number or higher:

13

40%

14

35%

15

30%


2d6

target number:

chance of rolling target number or higher:

8

41.67%

9

27.78%

10

16.67%

11

8.34%


For target-number systems, 1d20 once again provides greater granularity for setting different target numbers. It also makes it quite easy to know the probablity of hitting a target number without having a table–it simply varies by 5% at each step. With 2d6, the steps are not equal as the target number increases, making judging the odds of hitting the number non-intuitive. And once again 1d20 provides more extreme results in games where the maximum and minimum rolls have special meaning: the chance of rolling a 1 or a 20 on 1d20 is 5%; the chance of rolling a 2 or 12 on 2d6 is 2.78%.


Three-Way Player Rolls


1d20

range

chance of rolling in range

1–8

40%

9–16

40%

17–20

20%


1d20  with alternative ranges

range

chance of rolling in range

1–6

30%

7–14

60%

15–20

30%


2d6

range

chance of rolling in range

2–6

41.67%

7–9

41.67%

10–12

16.67%


2d6 with alternative ranges

range

chance of rolling in range

2–5

27.78%

6–8

44.44%

9–12

27.78%


Using 1d20, one can easily adjust the probabilities of success, mixed success, and failure in 5% increments to suit their table or the specific situation at hand. With 2d6, the options are more limited and small adjustments to the ranges make bigger changes to the probabilities.


At this point one might ask, is there anything 2d6 can do that 1d20 can’t do? When we look at the probabilities of various results, the bell curve of 2d6 results doesn’t actually make much of a difference; 1d20 can be made to approximate the same probabilities by adjusting target numbers or result ranges. The only things you can do with 2d6 that you can't do with 1d20 are make the odds of rolling the maximum or minimum less than 5%, and make it difficult to guess the odds of a particular result without a table.


In conclusion, the type of dice you use is far less important than an awareness of the probabilities of various results and of your ability to adjust those probabilities to achieve the kind of game you want.


Big thanks to anydice.com for helping with the math!