2d6 OSR games: Make monsters special

Brian Harbron wrote a very good and inspiring blog post yesterday. His goal is to make Into the Odd monsters, even the average, familiar and boring ones as memorable as possible. His solution is elegant, and it helps all you referees out there even when you’re tired: Use critical damage to make your critters memorable.

In other words: Whenever your monster rolls a crit, have it do something to the player character that’s gruesome, feral, disgusting, and (fill in your word here). One word of caution, though: A critical hit in Into the Odd means that a character has lost all of his hp, and damage has eaten directly into his STR, and now he’s failed a roll-on-or-under save against his STR and loses consciousness.

In games like Blood of Pangea, Barons of Braunstein and Pits&Perils, there is no such critical hit. But in my Tatzelwurm game (a variant of Blood of Pangea), I included it. Take a look.

So, in a nutshell:
When you, the referee, roll a 12, roll 2d6 again. When you score exactly 9, your monster has landed a critical hit and DOES SOMETHING TO THE PLAYER CHARACTER THAT’S MEMORABLE. When you roll any other number, the monster does 5 points of damage.

Your landshark rolled a crit? It might swallow the player character.
Your giant octopus rolled a crit? It might pull the player character to the deepest depths of the ocean.
Your air elemental rolled a crit? It might turn into a tornado, stripping the player character off of everything he’s wearing and carrying.
Your ghoul rolled a crit? He rips off the player character’s arm and feasts on it.

From OD&D to Pre-D&D: Short play report

(liberated from my G+ feed)

The adventure:

So my players and their characters (3rd level) continued their misadventures in Yoon-Suin. After helping a village fight orc hordes (beautiful battle, using our simplified Chainmail-ish system), they found out that they had been caught in a full-sensory illusion the entire time. After the sorcerer had tried a sleep spell against the mayor of the village and failed, and after the “thief” had experienced curious perception shifts after a couple of strong schnappses (the beautiful little homlet looking rotten, devastated and foul), they managed to break the spell and kill the being that was responsible for it. Oh yes, and they found good loot in a small dungeon hidden behind a subterranean temple room.

The rules:  

We started out with OD&D, the first three books. A couple of house rules, nothing major. After the battle, the first thing I tried was dropping the to-hit numbers. I replaced them with impromptu numbers, going with what felt right (“Your opponent is pretty close to you, not very experienced in melee, you have a dagger, but are no fighter, so give me a 12 or more”).

I kept d6 damage for the first fight, but dropped that also later. I replaced all saves and tests with 2d6, roll 7+ for simple stuff, roll 9+ for demanding or difficult tasks, or even higher, adding +1 or +2 when a character had some sort of expertise or advantage. 

Even later in the game, I replaced the d20 for to-hit rolls with 2d6, using the target numbers above. Combat went lightning fast, and we had a lot of fun 🙂  The numbers I used are familiar to all those of you who play Barons of Braunstein, Blood of Pangea or Pits&Perils.

What’s next:

I might keep OD&D hp, but maybe I’ll replace them with something simpler (lower hp overall, roll average and do 1 pt of damage, roll really high and do 2+ pts of damage). For now, I’ll keep the spells and Vancian magic, but I can see them leaving, as well.

What you have is what you are

So if I’m using Into the Odd as my go-to system for OSR fantasy gaming and I roll this character: (STR14, DEX11, WIL14, HP4 (pistol d6, saw d6, spyglass, animal trap), I’m starting with a someone who might be a trapper.

My next character is STR11, DEX10, WIL11, HP3 (speargun d8, oddity), and this is interesting, too. I like to combine all sorts of things with all other sorts of things, and that’s why I decide to roll not on Chris’s Oddity table, but on the Index Card RPG’s Starter Loot Table: I get Meditation Beads (“by counting the beads, the mind settles. Senses heighten, intuition improves”, +1 WIL). What do we have here? A monk living by the sea? A deeply religious fisherman?

Let’s shake things up and stay with this guy.
If I want my fantasy campaign to be strictly elves-dwarves-orcs fantasy, I consider the Oddity table a no-go. So let’s grant the player a roll on the Index Card RPG’s Ancient Loot Table: the Cloak of Aras,  an armor that deflects one attack against the wearer per turn. Wow. Powerful. So our character might be the son of a legendary warrior. Or the Chosen One.

I roll on the Shabby Loot Table instead: a Wool Cloak, granting the character 0 armor, but warmth in cold weather. Well, might be a poor fisherman.

If I feel adventurous, I roll on the Epic Loot Table and get: The Amulet of Thunder (when rolling for damage, if the die is showing half of its maximum value or less, I’m allowed to reroll, the second roll is final, though). So now we have a fighter with a speargun who does huge damage on a regular basis.

Let’s get back to the Index Card RPG tables one more time. I’m rolling on the Starter Loot Table again: Weapon Kit, +2 damage. All kinds of doo-dads that make this character a force to be reckoned with. Okay, so now this is a full-blown warrior, I’d say. Or a fisherman with an enormous skill for doing damage.

I like this. And I’m considering using Milestone Awards for Into the Odd: not only do character level up when they meet the requirements, but they also get rewarded for it.

Professor MAR Barker’s rpg rules, in full: Perfected

Modify to taste. Introduce hit points, if you want. Play it RAW. But, in a nutshell: This is all you need to play like the founding fathers of our hobby did.
To quote Chirine ba Kal: 

“Doing it by the book” was impossible; the book – and the game rules – hadn’t been written yet. The GMs of the day came up with adventures and worlds that they were set in, and we played our Faferds, Grey Mousers, Conans, and Belits in these new worlds with all the gusto and swashbuckling vigor that we could. It was, as I’ve suggested, ‘lighting in a bottle’. We learned to run our own campaigns by being apprentices, and we in turn had our own students.

I will say this: I made the same experience with this style of play. One of the best rpg campaigns we ever played (it lasted five years) used similar rulings.

The image you’re seeing IS the entirety of the rules. Have fun.

The Black Hack: turning it into a roll-high system

Okay, so this one is really simple. As the headline says, let’s turn TBH into a roll-high system. If this is what’s floating your boat.

Situation: You haven’t rolled TBH characters yet.

Suggestion 1: Do it like the “Stay Frosty” hack does it:

1) Roll 3d6 for attributes, just as usual. Lower is better.
2) Add a “+” to every attribute you rolled. So for instance a 10 becomes a “10+”, meaning you have to roll 10 or higher to be successful.

Suggestion 2: Do it like “knave” does it:

1) Roll 3d6 for attributes. Pick the lowest die and add it to 10. This is your attribute. The number on the die is your attribute bonus.
2) To do something, roll your trusted d20+bonus and try to beat a target number of 15. If you feel inclined, include Advantage or Disadvantage.

Situation: You already have a TBH character.


1) Every attribute becomes (21-its value).
2) Add a “+” to every attribute you rolled. So for instance a 10 becomes a “10+”, meaning you have to roll 10 or higher to be successful.

And a bonus rule just because I like it:

Regular TBH:
To give the GM the opportunity to roll attacks for his minions, he rolls 1d20 and must roll higher than the player character’s STR (melee) or DEX (ranged combat). Powerful Opponents rule still applies.

Roll-high TBH:
To give the GM the opportunity to roll attacks for his minions, he rolls 1d20 and must roll under the player character’s STR (melee) or DEX (ranged combat). Powerful Opponents rule still applies.

The Principle of Narrative Truth: for traditional rpgs

I’m a fan of Dan Bayn’s Wushu rpg. As I’ve written before, it’s a criminally underrated game, and neglected way too often. One of the reasons might be that it’s demanding. Wushu actively engages you, it forces you to come up with tons of descriptions — if you don’t, your character is not very good at what they’re doing.

Wushu is special. It uses the so-called Principle of Narrative Truth:

Within the imagined world of your shared narrative, everything the players describe happens exactly how they describe it, when they describe it. This is called “the Principle of Narrative Truth” and it’s the nitrous that makes Wushu fast and furious. Actions should always be phrased in the present tense: “I kick him,” “I fly over that,” “They crash through the wall like wrecking balls.” No need to wait for the dice to tell you what happens.

So, Wushu is really special.

But what happens when we transplant the Principle of Narrative Truth (PoNT) into traditional roleplaying games? Would it work? Let’s give it a try.

I’m taking Into the Odd as example. You could also take any other old school or OSR game.

The rule:
Your character attacks as usual. They do damage as usual. But instead of describing what your character attempts to do, you tell what happens. You can keep doing that, as long as their hit points (or, in the case of ItO, STR) allow, or as long as they are not KO’ed. You are NOT ALLOWED to narrate the defeat of an enemy as long as he still has hit points (in other words: as long as he isn’t considered KO/dead mechanically). When you defeat an opponent mechanically, you are allowed to narrate his “coup de grace”: Will you kill him? Or spare his life? What happens exactly?

Adam (3 hp, STR 10) is sporting a huge serrated machete (d8). Bert (3 hp, STR 10) is fighting with a knife (d6).

Adam: I see Bert and start running. After a few steps, I leap, swinging my machete like crazy, and hit him right in the face with it. (Rolls 1 for damage. Bert now has 2 hp)

Bert: Aaaaah! You see blood spraying from my nose as I’m stumbling back. That chair behind me, it trips my leg and now I’m lying on the floor. (Rolls 3. Adam now has 0 hp and STR 10. Bert still gets to roll damage because damage in this rules variant is not mirroring the narrated actions. It’s a pacing mechanism. Note that Bert is narrating himself getting pummeled; this is possible without any repercussions because fictional positioning does not have any impact on his rolls.)

Adam: I land straight on his chest, with both knees! He cries out in pain. I grab his collar with my left and start pounding his face with the hilt of my machete. One! Two! Three! (Rolls 4 for damage, taking Bert down to 0 hp and STR 8. Bert makes a successful STR save and can keep going.)

Bert: I claw at Adam’s face, but he simply blocks my strikes. With a triumphant grin, my blood on his face, he’s bringing down the machete like a hammer, with both hands. (Rolls 2, bringing Adam’s STR down to 8. Adam rolls his save — and blows it. Now, Bert gets the Coup de Grace — the narration of his opponent’s defeat. Which, in this case, is really interesting, because it’s a real surprise)

Bert: Slow motion! As the blade almost touches my bruised and battered face, I turn my head sideways! The blade hits the ground, and then we get a close-up up of Adam’s face. “…”, he whispers, with the strangest smile. He coughs. Then, stillness. You see my knife buried in his back.