Tuesday, March 29, 2022

ktrey's Unusual Thief Abilities and Considerations on Niche

 I was playing around with the d100 Unusual Thief Abilities table by the prolific creator ktrey, and thinking about its various uses. The B/X thief abilities existed not only to emulate a particular kind of character but also to define the game they were made for. These early D&D thieves have abilities like "open lock" and "find and remove traps" because those are the abilities that many early D&D games necessitated. If there were no thief class, we might imagine that there would have to be fewer traps and locks in dungeons or that rules would have to be added to allow people to have a mechanical procedure for addressing those challenges in a similar way to how the thief class would.

This reminds me of the later principle called niche protection, the idea that the system of the game should not only give a class certain abilities but ensure that other player characters cannot perform the same category of ability well. While I feel like niche protection became a talking point in the more build-focused style of play that meant people were more likely to feel outshon in play by their friend's meticulously designed character, early D&D certainly has forms of niche protection.

Only a thief gets a procedure to open locks. Only a fighter can use a magic sword. Plenty of considerations like that. One difference is that the game (cum fide) assumes that a PC is competent in all general adventuring practices, and this is actually a great consolation. Even if you don't have the thief's trapfinding ability, at least you don't need to roll a die for every five-foot square you probe with your pole. 

Another difference, it must be said, is that the philosophy of niche protection is not drawn out to its fullest extent in classic D&D. Consider all the reasons that you need a thief to pick a lock but you don't need an elf to find a secret door. I'm not sure that any given edition of classic D&D gets niches exactly right, but it really does feel like a considered design decision.

Finally returning to ktrey's unusual thief abilities table, it sparks my imagination simply because it leads me to think about the games and game systems that would feature them. It's not every campaign where timing fuses or bootlegging is as central as opening locks. I wonder also at how the game is to be played if no PC can pick locks or perform some other typical thief ability. The relationship between a class's abilities and the shape of the system must always persist. and each must be apt for the other.

For your consideration, ktrey's table turned into a table with Spwack's html tool:

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

OSE Hexcrawl Generator

(Superceded by this sequel)

 This tool, using Spwack's list to HTML generator, will make a largely system-agnostic 10x10 hex key for a classic D&D region. It does not generate a map image. If you were planning a campaign with this tool, I would recommend labeling bolded entries on a hex map and very little else.

The region will be dominated by two random types of landscape, with a few outliers. It will also describe various settlements and inhabitants, assuming a Human-majority world. Each region will have a couple "motifs," recurring contents meant to give a sense of continuity to the region, so do not be surprised if the same entry shows up a few times. 

The generator will suggest naming conventions, but has no way of applying those to all the people and places that are generated. I suggest using the search feature of this website, which should have all types of names that the generator suggests. Omissions in naming conventions are based on the fact that I wanted to suggest names that were easily searchable. 

This has been a labor of love, and I can easily imagine spending a lot longer designing this. A future version may one day arrive that includes details like treasure hoards, expanded lists, and greater variety of motifs.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

GLoG Class: Hepticove (💰)

"Red alert, gang! Turns out that compassion, justice, and singing those church songs actually brings you closer to God. Turns out that we're all a part of God, separated long ago and gradually returning to God by destruction of the ego. Your only shot is to embrace materialism, have lots of beef and wine, and never say the name of God. Then, spend as much money as you can on yourself and your mates.

I wish it wasn't so, but if you want to resist the God-That-Is, you've got to keep it sleeping."

A continuation of the Catching-Harvest campaign pitch.

art by George Cattermole


Requires a fabric crown, a manacle, a knife, a beard, a comb, some clean underwear, and three pieces of swag.

For every level of Hepticove attained, get +1 to saves.
  • C: Prominence, Awareness of God, +2 MD
  • D: Education, +1 MD
Prominence: When there is injustice, people look to you. At will, you can make yourself the most prominent or least prominent member of a group.

Awareness of God: The top of your head is a special spot. It warns you when God is near. When you chant a drinking song, you can sense the presence and general direction of nearby divinities. You know magic and can study spells. The first time you become a hepticove, you learn two spells from the list below. 

Education: When you send someone to speak for you, they speak with your grace. Both of you make any called-for charisma rolls, and they take the higher. Your students come to you to resolve disputes. You can always cite scripture for your purposes. You can get together a gang of 1d13 disciplines, but they're not exactly reliable.

The Spells (d8)
     1. Ego: gain [sum] temporary HP and Turn spirits of [dice] HD or fewer.
     2. Attachment: resurrect something dead for [dice] or fewer hours that has [sum] intelligence or less.
     3. Lust: track someone by scent for [dice] hours. Get +[sum] to notice details about them but -[sum] to 
     resist their deceptions.
     4. Greed: Know the way to acquire any valuables or other desired objects within [dice]x30 feet.
     5. Anger: for ten minutes, the next [sum] times someone tries to attack you, you get to attack them first.
     6. Injustice: create a reserve of [sum] iniquity points that you an retroactively add to someones' rolls to:
          flee authorities, break bonds, or incite those with evil intent.
     7. Effability: cease all sounds within [sum] feet of you, except blasphemies.
     8. Reality: move something of a size relative to the amount of MD invested up to [dice] miles: 
          1 a sword, 2 a person, 3 a wagon, 4 a city block, 5 a mountain

Whenever you roll doubles on your MD when casting a spell, or whenever you learn a godly spell, save vs. curses or suffer an enlightenment. Roll a d8 and consult the Hepticove spell list. You are unable to express the sin that the rolled spell is named for. If you know that spell, the DM will replace it with some more virtuous spell and you cannot relearn the old power. If you roll a sin you've already lost, lose the top sin on the list that you do possess.

Losing access to any four sins is deemed unplayable, but that's a decision for each table to make. For each oppressive reign of terror or for each saint martyred, you may regain a sin.

Some Swag from the Criminal World
  • Really Good Hair of the Dog: imbibe to suppress 1d4 fatigue for five hours. For a hepticove and only a hepticove, you can replace your next MD roll with a d4 or a d8. If you roll a d8 and get a 7, treat it as a 6 and a 1 for the purposes of mishaps. If you get a 8, treat it as a 6 and a 2.
  • Ring of Holding: a sharp 9-inch throwing ring that deals 1d6 damage, rolling an extra d6 whenever you roll a 6. While it's sticking out of a person or a fresh corpse, you can reach inside the ring to retrieve or store objects, filling a volume equal to a coffin fit to your exact dimensions.
  • Torture Wheel: makes you popular with your subjects. Said to be able to make saints recant their faith, but examples from history are lacking.
  • Sword of the Self: dark sabre, in which your reflection stands, always ready to reassure you that you are on the right course. Deals 1d8 damage and confers +1 MD each day.
  • Power Box: polished stone ark, perfectly square. Can only be opened by someone who knows what it is. When it is opened, someone who is not present immediately dies. Inside is a new Sin, and a new hepticove spell that can be learned immediately. Engravings on the outside give a clue to the context.
  • Pillar of Wisdom: a wooden pole with a little platform at the top. While preaching from the top of this pole, a hepticove may decide the first MD roll they make that day, provided they haven't touched the ground since sunrise.
  • Beggar's Shoes: or rather, formerly beggar's shoes.

Monday, March 14, 2022

GLoG Class: Crackshot (Buckets of Blood)

 Nerds in their basements talk of "fighting men," soldiers in the battle between Good and Evíl. Their games are always set in some magical past, with Kings Arthur and Rings of the Lord, since they stopped making right and wrong when the world went crazy. "Fighting Men?" There's plenty to fight against but nothing to fight for.

Starting equipment:

  • Practical Motorcycle: Off-roads quite well. You can get it through any space larger than a small coffin, even if you have to wrangle it yourself, at at least walking speed. Always theoretically repairable. Maximum speed 100 MPH, going 0 to 70 in six second.
  • Sniper Rifle: or rather, a rifle with a scope. Deals 1d8 damage, 3d8 if you take an extra round to aim. If you take a whole minute to measure the wind and prepare and so on, you ignore range penalties out to a mile, and a struck target saves vs. death.
  • Two Hundred Bullets: of a very common kind. For duck hunting, say. If you're isekai'd, you need to make these count.
  • Leather Jacket, Jeans, Helmet: For road rash. Used to look cool. Counts as unarmored, but whenever you crash you take minimum damage. A crash deals 1d6 damage for every 10 MPH.
  • Tool Kit: Quiet plastic case. Allows bypass of all domestic and most commercial doors, among other uses.
  • Tin of Coffee and Little Pour-Over Set: Works about half the time. Counts as rations. You've got coffee grounds between your teeth. If you're isekai'd, you need to make these count too.
  • 12x9 Envelope: Bubble-padded interior. Contains half-written manifesto.

Class: Crackshot
Starting Skill (d3):
1. self-defense law, 2. Living off the grid, 3. Identifying phonies

  1. Goon: This is one of those "starting equipment-forward" classes
  2. Dragoon: Overwhelm, Guzzler
  3. Operative: Practiced Repair, False Heraldry
  4. Road Warrior: 360 No-Scope

Overwhelm: when you crash into someone with your bike, deal maximum damage. When you jump out of nowhere with a knife and yell "surprise", deal maximum damage. When you roll out from under a car with a rifle, deal maximum damage. 

Guzzler: You can use lamp oil, grease, corn syrup, a particular personal excretum, or similar fluids to fuel your motorcycle.

Practiced Repair: Your gear is always in optimal condition. You can disassemble a rifle so it fits into an overstuffed 12x9 envelope, then reassemble it in only a minute. When you repair or modify a mechanism you find, it takes half the time. This charms edgelords.

False Heraldry: You could always steal some plates and wear a helmet to conceal your identity, but now you can do it off-screen with a fifteen minutes of downtime in an urban area. You can seem like nobody in particular, like a particular biker, or like a particular kind of biker.

360 No-Scope: you always hit targets more than five feet away, and always count as having taken time to aim (and therefore deal 3d8 damage and cause saves vs. death)

d10 Unpickable Locks

 Some old-school dungeon modules have the bad habit of including secret doors, unspoken trap mechanisms, unpickable locks, and other keyed items that make sense in a certain game procedure but that lack vital information for understanding them in a fiction-forward game. When I design game elements like these, I ensure I have an idea of how they're supposed to function in the fiction of the game world so I can reliably respond when a player describes interacting with that element. Without knowing that a secret door has some kind of seam or handle or trigger, I can't represent an investigation of the area around that door outside of the Searching For Secret Doors procedure.

In some ways, the problem is worse for a lock that the text deems unpickable. Both the average player and the average DM have little theoretical knowledge of how a lock, modern or medieval, functions. The player doesn't know how to approach a lock from a fiction-forward angle once their lockpicking roll has flatly denied, and if they did a DM likely couldn't elaborate. 

Here I offer ten good-enough justifications for a door to be considered unpickable, that shouldn't be too jarring to apply if you notice at the last minute that it's listed as such in the room description. Since the PC attempting to pick a lock is presumably proficient in doing so, err on the side of telling them all about the mechanism of the lock before them. As it is said, any locking mechanism is also an unlocking mechanism, so these can all be theoretically bypassed with significant effort (which, remember, OSRly is a good thing.) Anything below that would be deemed implausible by a real-world expert is acknowledge and accepted.

d10 Unpickable Locks

1. Picking this lock in the usual way will actually snap a “trap pin” into place, making it impossible to open, even with the key. If you recognize the reinforced ring around the core that thwarts drilling, you might know the trick, lifting certain pins higher than you normally would to avoid triggering the trapped pins.

2. The lock is enchanted to only yield for a key with a matching enchantment. Dispelling the door renders it unopenable for the duration. Arcane thieves and rich city locksmiths could enchant any key or narrow bit of metal to match the lock if they had access to it.

3. The lock has two cores, the hidden second one activated when the other one has turned 30 degrees. This means a prospective picker doesn’t have access to the pins at a time they can apply tension to them.

4. A retracting plate inside the lock prevents a picker from applying pressure while inserting the pick. Its mocking devil face-shape adds insult to injury. This feature is obvious on sight even to someone who hasn’t seen it before.

5. The lock cylinder curves sharply, requiring a key formed from a tight chain. Normal picking tools cannot reach the back of the cylinder. This lock is easy to break, which renders the door inoperable.

6. Additional pins in the side of the cylinder need to slide inward for the lock to turn. The key is magnetic in just the right areas to pull the pins into place. A typical set of lockpicks has no means of pulling these extra pins in, and a thief may not even notice them.

7. The half-circle faced key rotates under a metal plate as it is inserted, in a motion that typical tools cannot replicate. They are prevented from even entering the lock chamber.

8. When the key locks a lock, the last third detaches in the cylinder, lodging it in place and rotating it out of position, making the last few pins inaccessible until the key is reinserted to snap onto the tip, or until or a precise facsimile is manufactured to fish it out

9. The pins of this lock are made from ghost bones, and provide no accurate sense of touch or tension through lockpicks. Accordingly, a thief cannot tell when a pin is in position. A cleric Turns this door as a 2* HD undead, which doesn’t unlock it but renders it pickable. While it is Turned, the key will not work.

10. Two-factor Authorization 😨! What is apparently the locking mechanism of the door is in fact simply a trigger for a spell to telepathically send a unique password to the wizard-smith who designed this lock, which must then be spoken aloud. Dispelling the door renders it unopenable for the duration. A mind reading spell can secure the password as it is sent out.

Monday, March 7, 2022


 Here, you'll find some horses for Four Devastating Judgments. It is also where I will put extra HORSE rules, if it comes out that they're needed.

  • Hope-Anew Charger (dull grey) purpose: to charge fearlessly into battle
  • Greathorse (brown-gold, white mane) purpose: to have five hit points
  • Reneging Bronc (vibrant brown, burr-studded) purpose: to clobber and bite
  • Drafthorse (dark grey, mouth turned into smile) purpose: to haul heavy loads
  • Chromic Cob (shiny, muscular, brown-black) purpose: to charm foreigners
  • Bloodhorse (reddish, small face, sense of humor) purpose: to outrun pursuers
  • Bad Mouth (Palomino, big ears) purpose: to regurgitate medicinal pellets
  • Terrible Leaper (white, sunken eyes) purpose: to jump 20 feet and not be harmed
  • Staring Rouncey (buckskin, staring happily) purpose: to frighten large animals
  • Green Balker (kney-green, clumsy gait) purpose: to shit when magic is near
  • Dek-Trust Anticorrant (roan) purpose: to charge fearlessly into holes in the earth
  • Cutter (flushed saffron, furry) purpose: to chase down men and small animals
  • Goat Dragger (black) purpose: to let the rider grab a heavy load without slowing down
  • Foppotee (red-brown, white extremities) purpose: to understand three-word requests
  • Grizzled Smoothmouth (chestnut, light snout) purpose: to always come back
  • Sigil Horse (red-splashed white overo) purpose: to comfort the wretched