Tuesday, May 14, 2024

With His O'ertaking Wings (d20 Ships and Captains)

 Much of my creative energy has been going to my countries-as-megadugeon, or "megawildernesscrawl", project, a setting I have begun to call Before I Sleep. As I worked on the first draft of my key, I noticed an old pattern. I was sure that if I started to post excerpts from this project, like a kingdom with a little region map and key, it was sure to be outdated almost instantly as I added and changed elements. So for now, I'm going to try to stick to posting the side dishes-- procedures, classes, and fun tables that may be interesting on their own. If you want to see my current draft of the overall setting, warts and all, just message me on the discord or something. 

from Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates

This is a table of notable sailing ships you might find in the big ports, like Danbrag or outside of Hepton. When the player characters have need of transport, the DM should roll two or three times on the table to see who is available to transport them on short notice. If PCs make a habit of traveling by sea, it will feel like a small world indeed. Inspired in part by how much fun it was to write captains for the Sceptre-Shaken World.

d20 Ships and Captains

  1. The Renegade, a large sailing ship captained by Willard Last of Danbrag (Bard 1). Perhaps the last honorable captain on these waters, he would rather die than betray anyone on his ship. Crew of 30, stats as merchants.
  2. The Dicemaker, a small sailing ship captained by Ronvoine the Rat of Coris (Thief 4). A gambler with connections in the criminal underworld of every port, his ship has several discrete smuggler's holds. 1-in-6 chance in every port that one of his annoyed and dangerous patrons introduces an extra wrinkle into his current job. Crew of 10, stats as brigands.
  3. The Grandee, a small sailing ship captained by Terla Goldeneye of Danbrag (Thief 2). A woman of means who made her fortune through years as a porter and thief-finder. Greedy, but with a spine and integrity. Crew of 15, stats as normal humans.
  4. The Dare-Treader, a small sailing ship captained by Hidalga Ageda De La Rosa of Phoenix Land (Fighter 2). She has read all the manuals and studied all the knots, and Ageda plans to excel in seacraft just as she has excelled in everything— tireless preparation, careful financing, and a deep well of natural talent. Superstitious as any lifelong sailor, she subtly passes a holy symbol by any prospective passenger for signs of vampirism. Crew of 18, stats as dervishes.
  5. The Sexy Woman, a small warship captained by Den Happenstance of Hepton (Fighter 1). A senseless, lecherous drunk, Happenstance cuts as imposing a figure as ever a Heptonian officer ever did. His greatest skill is in taking credit, and his career is buoyed by the thankless work of his second, Half-Dead Jim. Imagines that he is in a deep rivalry/romance with the Atlas's Selvine. Crew of 40, stats as goblins.
  6. Impunity, a small warship captained by Branwenn Gayblade of Evardin (Fighter 3). A soggy, vaguely pathetic raider from a family of raiders, she never seems to get any respect. Would kill for a true friend, but would probably betray that friend to make her father proud. Her ship has a subtle ram in its prow, carved to resemble the head of a squid. Crew of 20, stats as buccaneers.
  7. The Fishmonger, a small sailing ship captained by Peg Leg Pew of Hepton (Fighter 3). Massive, barrel-chested, small-minded, hard-hearted is Peg Leg Pew. Passengers who play on his pride have an alright time. Those who wrong him are chained to a special chamber in the depths of his ship that floods with high tides. His ship has a rare "cannonne," a deep metal chamber filled with blasting powder and ignited to fire metal bullets and shrapnel. Crew of 20, stats as bandits.
  8. Beatrice, a large sailing ship captained by Boska Blackbird of Danbrag (Thief 5). An inveterate scoundrel, Boska is likely to betray or abandon her passengers if there is profit in it. There's a 1-in-6 chance at every port that she'll run into one of her many more powerful enemies. Crew of 30, stats as pirates.
  9. The Red Cent, a small whaling ship captained by The Harbormaster of Phoenix Land (Fighter 2). A shadowy figure commonly believed to be some former crusader or insane wanderer, they carry passengers to fund their hunt for a sea creature which has scuttled two of their previous vessels. Crew of 25, stats as berserkers.
  10. The Linerunner, a small sailing ship captained by Davriel Karlin of Danbrag (Thief 2/Fighter 1). During a dispute between Danbrag's guild of porters and its constabulary, the port was effectively shut down and the people suffered. Karlin, a smuggler, managed to sneak in much needed food to the porters at risk of his own neck. For this, his station has been elevated from a common chancer to a merchant of means. He retains the common touch (constant over-the-top nautical similes and saying "ahoy".) Crew of 20, stats as bandits.
  11. Moonslave, a large sailing ship captained by Sea-Mistress Calbride of Hepton (Necromancer 2). Capable and proper, she was convinced to come out of retirement to sail again. Unbeknownst to her, many of her recently-hired crew are veterans of the finally-slain dread pirate MaClu, and there is a 1-in-6 chance every time treasure is on the line that her boatswain, Tarsal, will lead a mutiny. Crew of 35, stats as buccaneers.
  12. Morgana's Revenge, a large sailing ship captained by Rhisiart Newblood of Evardin (Fighter 4). A retired adventurer, Newblood named his ship for an old travel companion of his, a magic-user of no small talent. Fair and open-minded, he is nevertheless susceptible to the vices of his former profession: foolish risks, forgetfulness, and extremely poor judgements of character. Crew of 20, stats as nomads.
  13. Atlas, a longship captained by Selvine of Danbrag (Fighter 3).Those who get to know Selvine find her to be a true renaissance woman. Her interest is in exploration, and her ship is well-stocked for long voyages and many surprises. Reduce the effects of weather on this ship by one step. Crew of 90, stats as merchants.
  14. The Starfish, a large warship captained by Clever Cefni of Evardin (Rogue 4). Works under a letter of mark for Danbrag, mostly robbing or capturing Heptonian vessels. Makes a little extra money getting passengers and cargo where it needs to go. If hired in Hepton, he is there under a flag of truce and to exchange prisoners. His greatest wish is to capture and unmask the Red Avenger. Crew of 40, stats as pirates.
  15. The Shark, a small sailing ship captained by Hema of Danbrag (fighter 2). The leader of an unsavory crew, she seeks revenge against the woman who cut off her good left arm in a battle almost two decades hence— one Calbride of the Moonslave. Her ship moves with surprising quiet through surprisingly shallow waters. Crew of 15, stats as pirates.
  16. Medusa, a longship captained by Osk Balborgsdottir of Thognheim (Fighter 3). She and her crew of old salts are under a deep curse, and never can reach their home city. They eat lotus flowers which give them visions of their homeland. If rolled in the port of Thognheim, no it wasn't. Crew of 80, stats as veterans.
  17. The Red Tide, a large sailing ship captained by Lady Craven of no claimed home port, but by the designs of her ship and style of her attire it must be Hepton (Thief 4). Though affecting the persona of a vain fool who loves only baubles and petty rumor, Craven is a vigilante and master of disguise, and if some injustice has been done at her latest port (1-in-6 chance) or if the PCs are wronged by some tyrannical act, she will don the mask of the Scarlet Avenger to set it to right. Crew of 25, stats as thieves 1.
  18. The Northwind, a small warship of sleek design captained by Thorsic of Bes (Fighter 3). He despises the chaotic and oppressive mercantilism of Danbrag, and leads a fleet of one against them. His ship has been enchanted with the ability to submerge itself until only its crow's nest is above the water, allowing for great stealth at night. If hired in Danbrag, he is disguised as Captain Jack Stormwrack of The Reliable. Crew of 30, stats as berserkers.
  19. Seaward, a small sailing ship captained by Kendris of Hepton (Magic-User 1). Tricked into the sailing life by his more ambitious sisters to get him out of the way, Kendris believes he is ready for anything life throws at him. His crew fervently attempts to save him from his own undoing. Crew of 13, stats as merchants.
  20. Fancy Dancer, a small sailing ship captained by Much of Hepton (Fighter 4). How a barking mandrill-like monster such as Much gained a ship and how she managed to win the zealous devotion of her crew is unknown. A black-hearted bunch, they are not above press-ganging those who seem useful. Crew of 15, stats as neanderthals.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Why Are You So Emaciated and Your Face Half-Crazed? (Carousing Rules)

 This is a way of getting experience points through having intense experiences, turning the money-for-risks carousing house rule common to early OSR games into an excuse to wring emotions out of those ill-fated PCs. Players are surrendering some of the normal province of their agency to chance. They should be allowed to look over these tables, and should hopefully enjoy the thought of playing out even a negative result. It will be the player who decides how much the PC spends during this period of intense feeling. The PC themselves may bemoan the expense in retrospect.

It is important that the downtime containing this procedure is long enough that it makes sense to cast the party's activities into abstract. At least a week. It often makes sense to allow a PC to do other things during that downtime, but they almost certainly can't have two melodramatic actions going unless prompted by a table result. When using these melodramatic action procedures, they should not be used to replace more intentional, measured downtime activities. If you normally have a rule for PC funerals contributing XP to a new PC, consider rolling the gold spend in relevant bouts of Insane Grief into that total. If you normally require a certain cost and time investment to create a magic item, consider counting Running Yourself Ragged With Obsession about that magic item towards the requirement. Ex chetera.

Two tips for players. First, notice that rolling for one of these activities will seldom give an outright solution. Marrying your amore doesn’t solve any issues that may have come up, Obsession won’t give you a neat resolution, etc. Roll on the table and go from there. Second, you can and should have your PCs borrow money to roll on these tables. That’s like an advance on your next level, baby.

Insane Grief
Spend any amount of gold in funeral rites, sacrifices, or senseless destruction. If you mourn a deep loss, like a close relative, battle-brother, limb, or personal tragedy, gain the gold spent as XP. Otherwise, get half. Then, roll a d6. If you spent more on this bout of Insane Grief than you ever have before, you can reroll if you blanch at the result
1. Go feral. Abandon worldly things and, if you wish for a bonus, speech, hairlessness, and clothing. Live as an animal does, only roused to continue your adventures by your friends.
2. Commune with the spirit you've lost, or a psychopomp. Learn from them hard truths.
3. Swear an unwise vengeance oath. Against your named victims, you get an extra turn when reduced to half HP and when reduced to 0 HP, interrupting other characters' turns. You may roll on the Run Yourself Ragged With Obsession table for free.
4. Dissociate. Feel a great, numb anti-epiphany drape over you. Reroll any number of your attributes. If you reroll at least 2, the DM can choose another to reroll.
5. Carry On. Fill an inventory slot with grief. One day, you can set it down.
6. In cold arms find warmth. An NPC, like a family member or friend, gives solace. They gain a level and become your fierce defender. If appropriate, you may roll on the Passionate Romance table for free. If you have no one, another PC can comfort you but gains no bonus. If none does, save vs death.

Passionate Romance
(If you don't already have an amore in mind, force the DM to roll up 3d1 romance-ready NPCs.)
This is not simple courtship. This is to throw yourself from your ship into the sea of love and not to know if you will ever stand at the helm again. Spend money with wild abandon. If the amore loves you back by the end of it, or if endeavor fails spectacularly, gain that much XP. Otherwise, gain half. Then, roll a d6. If you fear death’s nearness, you can roll twice and get both results.
1. A rival intercedes. They offer something you cannot. Their heart is less fragile than yours.
2. Your love is forbidden. To proceed risks everything for one or both of you.
3. Swear an unwise devotion oath as you are swept up into an intense fascination. If they are attacked when you are nearby, you can intercede to take the harm. This either ends in mutual love or a spectacular failure, so you’re sure to get the full XP reward. You may roll on the Run Yourself Ragged With Obsession table for free.
4. Unrequested, your amore renders aid. They may have learned a useful scrap to your other endeavors, or secured a favor for you. They’ve been thinking about you. 🥰
5. Fruit of the union impends— either a child or another shared enterprise. To accept this is to change— reroll an attribute of your choice. To defer this may be loving, but it risks a reverie from the passion.
6. Their hand in marriage they offer— to you! They would brave any obstacle— the world’s scorn, a misapproving family, a fault in your stars. If you accept, you must prepare an appropriate Triumph roll for anything from a grand celebration to a covert elopement. Their family may give you gold, goats, etc. Get +1 to any two attributes for the duration of the relationship.

Hateful Feud
This is not simple antagonism. This is to hold the ruin of another as dearly as your own success. This is to make the bastards pay, regardless of the cost to you. This is to dig two graves. Spend any amount of gold on projects, schemes, bribes, spies, and the like. If you're escalating above and beyond the most recent sleight in the feud, gain that much XP. Otherwise, gain half. Then roll a d6. If you live for nothing else, you can roll twice and get both results.
1. A misstep exposes someone or something you love to the bastards, and they strike hard. You may want to roll on the Insane Grief table, for free.
2. Your least-defensible means of attack are discovered by authorities or a trusted ally, making them suspicious or prompting opposition. If they only knew the truth about those base villains!
3. An opening presents itself! You get advanced warning of when one of the spiteful worms will be unprepared. Maybe they're leaving behind their guard detail or relaxing without their armor or celebrating some triumph. 
4. Muckraking turns up a shameful secret of those infuriating freaks.
5. Spite calls to the spiteful. One of the cucks' old enemies gets in contact with you, expanding the feud to a whole new front.
6. A sudden rumble! Your and those philistines' mutual hate impels you to fight it out on neutral ground with only a couple hours to gather your followers. Depending on the outcome, you may roll on the Insane Grief and/or Triumph tables for free.
7. Your foe makes reparations and submits themselves to your judgment.
Spend any amount of gold in feasting, games, performances, and other celebrations. If you have a hall or other appropriate venue, gain the gold spent as XP. Otherwise, gain half. Then, roll a d6. If your victory was total, you may reroll an undesired result.
1. Ambush! Like flies fouling sweet fruit, the scattered remnants of a foe you defeated strike when you are unprepared. If you pull through, you may roll on the Hateful Feud table for free.
2. A leak breaks the confidence of your councils. Someone, somewhere knows your secrets— perhaps not some great sin, but the workings of your defenses and the people you rely on.
3. Swear an unwise conquest oath. Against your named foes, you are never surprised and give followers +1 loyalty. You may roll on the Fix the World table for free. 
4. You win renown. A random interesting personage arrives to pledge service as a hireling or retainer in exchange for humble terms.
5. Much conversation fills your ears. Learn 2d4 rumors from your guests.
6. Your celebration leads to a consolidation of victory. Your less powerful enemies flee the area, cowed by your triumph. See how they run!

Fix the World
Spend any amount of gold in philanthropy, careful expenditures, and good works. Gain the gold spent as XP. Then roll a d6.
1. Rule fairly. Someone close to you turns against you. The DM might not say who.
2. Speak the truth. The common people turn against you. 
3. Be inquisitive about how power is used. A local authority turns against you.
4. Display generosity. You may negate one bad result of a future Fix the World roll.
5. Come up with a wise solution. Ask the DM one question and they will answer honestly. They may not be straightforward.
6. Show respect. An enemy contacts you, explaining earnestly what it would take to bury the hatchet.

Run Yourself Ragged With Obsession
First set a goal— initiation into the deeper mysteries of your faith, the solution of an arcane riddle to rhyme a spell or craft a magical object, a spiral of paranoia to make a place impregnable, training new techniques into the body, or anything else. Then spend any amount of gold in research, drugs and medicines, consultants, and related expenditures. If you’re overreacting to something relatively minor, gain the gold spent as XP. If not, gain half. Then roll a d6. If you spent more on this bout of Running Yourself Ragged With Obsession than you ever have before, you can reroll if you blanch at the result
1. Fatigue betrays you, inviting illness and malaise to thwart your pursuits. Save or contract a random disease, then reroll all your hit dice.
2. Shove off dead weight— phony friends, false platitudes, too-convenient insights. Gain -1 to a mental attribute of your choice. 
3. Gain the knack by frantic rote. Learn the use of a tool or technique which will help with your obsession. Yours is not the common way, and a normal practitioner will balk at your methods.
4. Learn how to listen for secrets that long to be held in the tongue and mind. Invite a presence to slide easily into communion with you, for most who know the things you seek are not living, safe, and sane. Learn from them dangerous truths.
5. Come up with a wise solution. Ask the DM one question and they will answer honestly. They might not be straightforward.
6. Incorporate the perspective of someone like-minded— a person with the same obsession, or an expert. If they are still living, they are now your ally. If, against all odds, appropriate, you may roll on the Passionate Romance table for free.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

d20 Random Button and Lever Effects

 In the vein of my classic goo table and my more recent shrine procedure, I have come to value these workhorse lists and tricks that can be referenced or tacked onto the design of a dungeon space or scenario.

d20 Random Button and Lever Effects 

  1. Self-Destruct. Room is destroyed, then the damage radiates at 1d4 rooms per Turn, increasing in die size on a 3 or higher.
  2. Overload. Dungeon functions speed up and increase. 50% chance they malfunction after an hour. If no dungeon function, undead and constructs and so on become hyperactive. If no such creatures, a few walls explode.
  3. Portals. 50% all doors and windows open. Otherwise they are stuck in their current position.
  4. Dispenser. D6: water, snakes, acid, fire, treasure, supplies
  5. Klaxon. Monsters approach. Make an extra encounter roll right away, but encounters are less common elsewhere in the dungeon for 1 hour.
  6. Exit. d4: ejector seat, evactuation chute, whole room an elevator, teleportation rune.
  7. Convenience. Activate internal furnishing. d6: fireplace, music box, sharpener, chamberpot, laundry, loom
  8. Open. Hidden desk or door clicks open. 
  9. Do Not Disturb. Defenses or signage deters random encounters.
  10. Missive. Those in another room can hear and be heard by those in this room. 25% chance of a magical hologram granting vision.
  11. Magic. Casts a random spell.
  12. Lights. Illuminates dungeon with a random color.
  13. Memento. Reveals a symbol, trophy, or art piece.
  14. Screen. Displays dungeon information. d6: map, life signs, roster and biographies, history, inventory
  15. Vent. d4: hot, cold, dry, wet.
  16. Layout. Non-Euclidiciously rearranges a section of the dungeon, changing connections.
  17. Relocate. Dungeon moves to a new spot 1d20 x 5 miles away at 1d100 miles per hour (1d100 x 2 kilometers per league, for European readers). d6: burrowing claws, muscular strides, crab legs, helicopter wings, slithering, pioneer boulder scooting)
  18. Lockdown. Shuts off egress from another sector of the dungeon. Ingress unaffected.
  19. Defenses. Designed to protect the button-presser, not harm them. d4: alligator pit trap, laser-eyed statue watches door, fiery perimeter, reveals weapon rack.
  20. Launch. Fires ze missiles!


  • Capacity. 50% chance that dungeon denizens lose a special ability, like poison or infravision. Otherwise, they gain a new one
  • Reset. Returns dungeon to original state, perhaps absent some important creatures and magic items.
  • Gravity. Either deactivated or reoriented.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Prayers of Ways and Means (Shrine Procedure)

 Sometimes, when I'm writing up a shrine or other location where PCs might encounter the image of a divine figure of some sort, I feel like I want a standard procedure to handle any attempts to gain the favor of that divinity. So, here is basically what I end up reinventing every time.

  1. When the PCs interact with a shrine, make a reaction roll, using all the normal bonuses and penalties. Add an additional +1 if a PC is a cleric of the divinity or an allied divinity, and -1 if they're profane before the divinity. Extra -2 if the interaction that causes the reaction roll takes the form of robbing or breaking the shrine. You can infer from these relatively minor bonuses and penalties that divinities are fickle.
  2. On a negative roll, consult the divinity's d6 Means Table and apply an immediate penalty. Save vs spell or be cursed, summon a hostile animal, whatever makes sense. On a positive roll, give the party a d6 Orison Die. On a more neutral roll, err on the side of the divinity's personality-- did they make an offering? Might the divinity slam into their minds and make them promise to do something for it? That kind of thing.
  3. You can only have 1 Orison Die in your party at once, and it goes away after a week if you haven't used it. To expend the die, pray to the divinity for help with a specific problem and roll on the Means Table. Whatever the means, it will be conjured with the intent of helping you with that problem. If you pray for help doing something that would offend the Divinity, treat it as a negative reaction roll.
A divinity's Means Table will be a combination of concrete and abstract. 

Example Means:
1. Snakes
2. Mercy
3. Blindness
4. Temperance
5. Knives 
6. Healers

Imagine you have prayed to a divinity with this table, asking for help convincing a cruel king to let you into his city. The divinity is not insulted by this request, and you roll a "1". Perhaps this summons a giant snake you can use to threaten the king with. It could be that you didn't want to risk threatening a powerful man, and the help you've received could potentially make things worse. Imagine instead that you are trying to reach a high ledge and don't know how you will do so. Your friend suggests spending the Orison Die, but you think about it and decide that many of the means on the table aren't likely to be all that useful. You've just exercised judgement.

Here's three more example Means Tables. As an added bonus, the varied tools in a divinity's tool belt are a good way to remind you to design less one-note gods, if that's the kind of thing you're into.

1. Writing
2. Birth
3. Deafness
4. Endurance
5. Grandparents
6. Boats

1. Sun ray
2. Arrows
3. Horse
4. Messengers
5. Funeral
6. Distrust

1. Mice
2. Pit
3. Barbituate
4. Doctors
5. Plenty
6. Call of the Void

Friday, March 15, 2024

Adventuring Tavern Generator

 In Wuxia storytelling, the term "Jianghu" refers to a rustic otherworld, a secondary society at the margins of the official and the regulated. It is a backwater where all the interesting characters can be found dueling, gambling, drinking, and meteing out vigilante justice. The comparison to many old-school RPGs is clear.

Use this generator to set the scene of a drinking hole in such a scene, where village locals may find themselves rubbing elbows with haughty adventurer types.