Monthly Archives: October 2013

A non-sandbox sandbox campaign.

In D&D terms

create seven adventures #1-#7 set to level 1 to level 7 adventures

1) adventures #1-#6 each have two paths:
– the main path set at the specified level
– a path set at the player’s current level leading to a random clue to an adventure #1-#6 they haven’t received yet.

2) the 6 secondary paths would be like mini-adventures or single encounters

2) completing adventure #1-#6 gains 1/6 of a clue to adventure #7

3) whatever direction the players go in at the start they hit a level 1 encounter containing a random clue to adventure #1-6



Level 1 party go east (or any other direction) and encounter something that drops a clue.

GM rolls a 3 so the player get the clue to adventure #3

Fork in the path in adventure #3, main path is level 3 and the players will probably get stomped if they try. secondary path will be the level 1 mini-adventure because the players are currently level 1

assume players run from main path but succeed at secondary path gaining second clue

GM rolls and get a 3 again so re-rolls and gets 5 so players get clue to adventure #5

players get butt kicked again on the main path but the secondary path – using the level 2 secondary path now the players are level 2 – gains them a 3rd clue and it’s a 1

now level 2-3 the players attempt the level 1 adventure and win gaining the first part of the clue to #7. the level 3 secondary path gains them the 4th clue which rolls out randomly to adventure #4


It doesn’t have to be level. In Cthulhu terms you’d just have a bunch of adventures, a randomized first clue and other hook clues in spots in each adventure that could be discovered by beginning characters and and make sure the players understand that running away is a perfectly good option.

The players might stumble on to things that are too big for them early on but if in the process of investigating followed by running away they gain a few skill points each time then gradually tough adventures become less tough e.g. one adventure might have a bottle-neck where the players need 50% Mythos knowledge but they could complete the first third of the adventure and that might contain a hook to another adventure.



A post on another blog made me think of initiative generally being based on attributes e.g. dexterity or agility. Although that makes sense i think experience would make a difference also so i think simple initiative  should go high level first (or level equivalent) and a more complex system would be calculated something like:

In D&D terms it might be:

– Level
– Dex Bonus (+1 per point > 12)
– Int Bonus (+1 per two points > 12)

plus other bonuses for supernatural assistance e.g. a warrior ancestor-spirit could whisper in a newbie warrior’s ear for a +2 bonus or a belt of fast reactions (initiative +1) or a spell of foreseeing (initiative+2)

Other games would need an alternative to levels to measure general experience of life-threatening situations. In Cthulhu or pulp it could be number of completed adventures or one point for every life or death combat or start at 0 with a max of 12 and roll 2d6 after each life or death combat and increase by 1 if roll above current score (as there is probably a limit to how experienced you can get).


Actually this could make quite an interesting leveling mechanic – at least for combat characters. After every combat or task where the player’s character could easily have died the player tries to roll their current level +1 on 2d6. So a 1st level needs to roll 2+ to get 2nd level, 2+ to get 3rd etc, 12+ to get 12th etc.

Actually there doesn’t have to be a limit. From level 11+ the roll could simply be a natural 12 each time so it’s possible to get level 18 or even 124 but it would either take a very long time or very lucky dice rolls.

A small thing which other people may already do but I only just thought of – how to involve players in tasks they’re not skilled in – have them assist the players that are skilled by making assistant rolls which give a bonus to the main roll.

To take a Traveller example the player’s ship is damaged in the context of an adventure where time matters i.e. you set it up so every four hours it takes to repair has a consequence. In the past I’d have just got the character with Engineering skill to roll and because that would leave out the other players I’d avoid situations where a repair might take a lot of separate rolls fixing different systems.

Players taking on an assistant roll could get around that.

In the ship example if the repair is set at 12+ with a DM based on Engineering skill and one character has Engineering-2 then they make the main roll. Other players could then make 8+ assistant rolls based on their skills to give the main roll a DM+1.

– a character with Electro-Mechanical-1, Electronics-1, Gravitics-1 and Engineering-1 could assist with a DM+4 to their assistant roll so only needing a 4+ to succeed and if successful grants a DM+1 to the main roll

– a character with just Electro-Mechanical-1 could assist with a DM+1 to their assistant roll needing 7+ to succeed and grant DM+1 to the main roll

– a character with no relevant skills at all could still make an assistant roll needing 11+ to succeed (standard penalty of -3 for no skill)

The number of assistants allowed would depend on the task and the GM (and possibly the main roller’s skill i.e. it could be decided that a character with Engineering-3 might be able  to manage three assistants, while a character with Engineering-1 could only effectively manage one.) Also if there were multiple tasks to perform then allocating the available crew in the optimal way would be a player task in itself.

This could potentially make a boring task e.g. the players having to build a flat-pack space station out of prefabricated parts, into a more intricate and involved puzzle.


The idea could be extended to combat to a degree:

1) In ranged combat characters with no or low weapon skills could possibly be spotters, loaders, or assist the medic.

2) In melee combat, low-skilled or low level characters could take up refused flank positions to the right-rear or left-rear of a more experienced character and on a successful assistant roll add +1 to his defense so for example the 3rd level NPC ranger faces the 3rd level wild boar while two 1st level players take up positions behind him. When the boar charges the ranger if the players make their assistant rolls then they each give +1 to the ranger NPC’s defense (or subtract two from the boar’s to hit roll in this case.) They *could* roll to attack the boar instead at any time but that might lead the boar to target them so until they’ve got more HP it might be better to refrain unless the ranger stuns it or something in which case all three could get a free hit.


The idea could also work for magic if the magic system had a strong ritual element as each assistant helping with the ritual / performing the chant etc could increase the main caster’s chance of success.

This could suit playing a wizard’s apprentice for real i.e. a 6th level NPC wizard and a 1st level player apprentice exploring a 3rd level dungeon.


Tech Levels

My 3rd Imperium is more of a Silk Road Empire i.e. ribbons of civilization through space connecting the advanced systems with mysterious shadows to either side of the light. I think this feel requires a lower standard jump capability of around J3. So the Imperial tech standard is TL12 and J3 is the max jump.

The core Imperial worlds may extend into experimental TL13 plus they have Ancients tech of higher TL but those items are the “magic” items of the setting.

The Darrians are TL15 but hide it. (The Darrians are actually guarding a warp gate that leads to another plane where the main Darrian civilization is based.)

As this is an Imperium setting the TL is quasi-universal i.e. all the worlds and colonies that are part of the 3I are partially TL12 in that a lot of critical tech like power supply and habitats are TL12 except in most cases it’s imported and often second hand and spare parts are imported. The TL listed will be an indication of how gravpunk the system is.

Systems with a native population which are isolated from the 3I trade network will have the industrial ability indicated by the TL but will also have some imported TL12.


The primary divisions in tech (partly decided on for the purpose of analyzing govt. types in the UPP stats) are

  • low tech (5-) pre industrial revolution
  • mid tech (6-8) post industrial revolution
  • high tech (9+) space


nb this means systems with higher tech levels in the canon data are assumed to be TL12 but a bit ahead of other systems in one or more areas so

  • TL12 = TL 12
  • TL13 = TL12+
  • TL14 = TL12++
  • TL15 = TL12+++


Tech Levels

The main difference with canon is making J1 start at 10 as I wanted a clear break where 08 is rockets and 09 is the big break through with fusion and grav leading to m-drives and systems being fully colonized before interstellar. Part of that is m-drives and j-drives are staggered i.e. the first M-Drives are TL09 and the first J-Drives TL10.

  • 00 stone age pre-agriculture
  • 01 stone age post agriculture
  • 02 bronze age
  • 03 iron age
  • 04 medieval
  • 05 muskets
  • 06 rifles
  • 07 bombers
  • 08 rockets
  • 09 solar system
  • 10 Jump – pioneer Interstellar
  • 11 Early Interstellar
  • 12 Mature Interstellar – new normal
Power Source
  • 06 Coal
  • 07 Oil
  • 08 Nuclear
  • 09 Fusion
  • 09 Grav, M-Drive (A, B, C, D)
  • 10 J-Drive(A, B, C, D), M-Drive (E, F, G, H)
  • 11 J-Drive(E, F, G, H), M-Drive (J, K)
  • 12 J-Drive(J, K), M-Drive (L, M, N)
Weapons & Armor
  • TL6: rifle
  • TL7: auto-rifle, flak jacket
  • TL8: kinetic weapons, cloth, mesh
  • TL9: laser weapons
  • TL10: combat armor, reflec
  • TL11:
  • TL12: plasma weapons, battle dress


  • flak jacket: heavy armor, partial ballistic cloth
  • cloth: heavy armor, lighter full body ballistic cloth, good vs kinetic, less good vs lasers
  • mesh: light armor, light version of cloth reinforced with internal mesh
  • combat armor: heavy armor, cloth with improved laser resistance
  • reflec: light armor, mesh with improved laser resistance

no TL distinction between laser carbine and rifle

  • carbine: shorter, shorter ranged, more powerful – for shipboard actions
  • rifle: longer, longer ranged, less damage


  • standard civilian = kinetic weapons, cloth or mesh
  • standard military = lasers, combat armor or reflec
  • elite military = plasma, battle dress


Early RPGs used random die rolls in character creation which were random – so people often rolled characters that sucked or sucked relative to the class they wanted to play. So nowadays games mostly have ways of giving players the kind of character they want to play and ensuring they don’t suck.

This is fine but sometimes i quite like the idea of trying to make the best out of a bad character at least if there are ways in game to improve him. Turning your physically sucky fighter into Conan could be a quest in itself.

One way of making random rolling work – better in a fantasy setting maybe but possibly universal – is if you make a player character’s low or very low or lowest attribute or attributes the result of an illness, disease or curse then you could have a temple or wizard that will cure / remove the disease / curse in return for a service (or a lot of service, say gold or items worth 1000 GP).

So the temple/wizard says yes your dexterity is cursed / diseased by D6 points and we can fix it for 1000 GP worth of stuff (or fix up to that D6 amount one point at a time for 1000 GP each time).

The players might eventually find that wizard / temple is doing the cursing itself – sending minions around putting curses on people to get them to work for a cure. Or even the cursing is done to attract adventurers to provide sacrifices to temple’s evil god or bodies for necromancy i.e. most of the adventurers are sent off to places where most don’t survive.

That’s not necessary though. It could be a simple quid pro quo.

The main purpose of the idea is simply to give a reason why the party all meet up in the starting location. They could all have a curse or disease effecting one of their starting stats (one of their stats can be increased by D6 points) as divined by a sage or priest somewhere in their birthplace and so they have all travelled to the same place try and get their curse removed.

They get turned into a party – rather than a bunch of individual travellers – by the temple.


Ranged Combat WIP

Latest attempt at collecting thoughts over RPG ranged combat based on Traveller but applies to all gun combat where the lethality of the weapons makes things like hit points seem silly.

Combined some earlier posts.



  • combat as a series of interesting decisions
  • combat that feels realistic in cinematic terms i.e. if you pictured an RPG combat as a movie scene it would be cool
  • fast and dramatic
  • some element of tactics: suppression, fire and movement


Key Point

  • lethality of weapons unless target behind cover or running to cover
  • hard to hit under those circumstances, easy to hit otherwise
  • maybe target roll: 12+, 11+, 8+
  • sci fi armor can reduce this lethality issue



  • melee, guns and energy weapon types
  • weapons should all represent an interesting decision e.g.
  • shotgun/smg good at short range if low skilled
  • pistol good at short range if skilled
  • rifle good at long range if skilled
  • energy weapons good in zero g
  • sniper shot takes a turn to aim


Fire Mode

  • semi, burst and auto
  • reason is to provide tactical decision
  • burst and auto have chance of multiple hits at short range
  • main purpose is suppression
  • suppression, no damage but easier to score a hit
  • suppression chance: 6, 8, 10
  • suppressed character morale check to not miss turn
  • downside is ammo usage
  • if roll a 2(semi), 3(burst) or 4(auto) -> low ammo condition



  • minor importance unless sci fi
  • passive armor: mesh (melee), cloth (ballistic), reflec (energy)
  • weapons do nd6 damage
  • armor reduces total or armor reduces each die or armor gives a saving throw
  • active armor: combat armor
  • material has properties which diffuse energy of attack
  • effectively gives armor hit points
  • replacement plates / repair options -> tactical decision



  • exo-skeleton
  • power armor
  • gadgets



  • shotgun
  • pistol, rifle
  • ballistic or energy
  • semi, semi+burst, burst+auto
  • sniper scope
  • RAM



  • highest weapon skill goes first



  • weapon skill as defensive DM if in cover or running to cover



Sci Fi Armor: medieval analogy

  • padding, mail -> coat of plates, plate mail -> plate
  • mesh/cloth/reflec -> combat armor -> power armor



Imagine a standard D&D type start point – a bunch of adventurers arrive somewhere from various other places, meet up somehow and are given a quest of some sort from some NPC or other.

It seems to me this isn’t very realistic.

Now realism or otherwise doesn’t matter in an RPG *unless* it adds to or detracts from the imagination-immersion.

So how could you do it differently in a way that was more realistic in the good way i.e. it added to the sense of immersion?

Most of world history had some version of feudalism or partial feudalism where the primary political units – kingdoms, city-states etc – were divided up into a heirarchy of smaller geographical areas and each area had its own local political authority who was responsible for defending that area and maintaining law and order within that area. Armies were the agglomeration of all these small local forces under regional leaders.

There are lots of possible variations on this theme but let’s take the standard european version as the model for an example.

(Using D&D for the examples although the same basic idea would work in all systems.)

1) The base terriotorial unit is a knight’s fief made up of a main village, maybe 2-3 smaller ones and 4-6 farms.
2) 3-6 of these units makes up a barony centred on a small town
3) 3-6 baronies make up a county centred on a large town
4) 3-6 counties (or more) make up a kingdom or duchy centred on the capital city

5) The standard political authority in the base unit might be something like a level 6 knight with a posse of retainers:
– level 3 squire
– level 3 sergeant at arms
– level 3 magician
– level 3 agent (one of the bard/thief type classes)
– level 3 scout/forester
– level 3 village priest
– up to a dozen level 1 or 2 guards

6) The higher rungs of political authority would follow the same pattern except the barons might be level 9, counts 12, dukes/kings 15 and their retainers in proportion i.e. baron’s retainers level 6, count’s retainers level 9 etc.

( Point 6 would only be the default pattern. In reality it would diverge from this as described later.)

7) Lastly in the knight’s fiefdoms there would be a levy of the young people among the villagers as they came of age who were drafted into being future retainers (based on having better attributes than the average) who then became apprenticed to whichever of the knight’s retainers was suitable.


So now you have a start setting where the players are part of a group based on a small territory that contains all these NPCs and themselves. Groups of heavily armed adventurers outside of that feudal political structure roaming around the realm are treated with great hostility and suspicion as suspected bandits keeping the players initially in their starting area.

What this allows is the possibility (to me) of a lot more interesting early game adventures instead of the usual rats then kobolds then orcs then etc sequence.

For example a level 8 troll comes down from the mountains and is spotted in the territory so the whole posse goes out after it, knight, retainers, guards and the players making for a kind of mmorpg raid type boss battle. The players have to help defeat the troll, make sure the knight doesn’t die, pull wounded NPCs away, distract etc.

Exp might be awarded something like
victory +400
knight dies -300
retainer dies -100
guard dies -50
pulling a wounded posse member away +50
healing +50 per point
damage +10 per point

Most missions wouldn’t have the whole posse as that would distract from the players too much. Another mission might be to repair a shrine up in the hills so the players might go with the priest and forester and a couple of guards. Another might be patrolling a religious festival with the sergeant and a couple of guards breaking up any drunken fights. However in most cases the players will be led by one of the higher level NPCs and have some redshirts in the form of guards. This i think creates a lot of opportunity for realistic (in the good way) early missions and allows the enemies to vary more in level e.g. you could have a 6th level bandit chief with some 3rd level retainers and level 1 minions. With the players trying to avoid becoming the main target of the higher levels and instead taking out the minions of their own level and helping their side’s higher levels.

This would proceed until around 3rd level.


Taking this setting realistically implies imo

1) If the knight caste was hereditary the knight might not always be 6th level, a young one who had recently taken over from a parent would not neccessarily have had that much experience yet

1b) The parent in this case may have hired a more experienced sergeant to compensate e.g. level 3 knight, level 6 sergeant

2) If the knight caste was appointed then they would almost always have experience

3) The retainers are in a career as place-ronin. This is their job. They were levies once like the players and gained experience as levies and then took a position as a place-ronin in a knight’s posse. As place-ronin any extra experience might be slow in coming – especially in peaceful areas away from the frontiers – so a place-ronin village priest in a peaceful area might have been 3rd level for years

4) Alternatively, place-ronin who gained enough experience to get to level 6 would likely seek a new position with a baron and then if they gained more seek a position with a count etc. Being a place-ronin would be their career

5) An alternative to the place-ronin career could be free-ronin. Once they reached around level 3 levied place-ronin (e.g. the players) can choose either to seek to be place-ronin for some knight or other – which would generally entail the players getting positions with different knights and the party splitting up – or become a group of free-ronin where free-ronin are a caste with it’s own distinct legal status. Groups of officially sanctioned free-ronin can wander the realm looking for work as temporary additions to a knight’s or lord’s retainers for a specific task.

6) Free-ronin would have a distinguishing mark or badge of some kind that prevented them being treated as bandits.

7) Parties of free-ronin would gain a reputation over time and so could start to receive offers to become place-ronin at higher levels in the hierarchy or offered free-ronin missions from afar.

8) A realm could have multiple groups of free-ronin of varying levels at any time

9) If they don’t get killed in the process free-ronin will generally “retire” eventually to become place-ronin somewhere. Occasionally a free-ronin is made into a knight with a fief of their own.

10) If the system is hereditary then generally it is the eldest sibling who inherits a fiefdom while the next younger becomes a squire for a nearby knight as a spare. Any other siblings generally become ronin. In a hereditary system ronin from noble families have a higher chance of becoming enfeoffed knights.

11) Away from frontiers missions are more likely to involve human cults, thieves, bandits, murder mysteries and low monsters. On the frontiers it will involve more monsters.

12) The knights and barons don’t have to be fighters. Depending on the setting the nobility could all be wizards or priests or a mixture.


Alternatives to the standard quasi-european model migt include:

1) A city-state divided into rural and urban cantons (or mixed rural and urban). Each canton might have an elected district official who appoints a canton captain who organizes a levied militia. The bulk of the militia would be level 1 townspeople but it also includes a levy from the wizard’s guild, priests etc. The players would have been levied and selected for training into their class by their attributes. Above the canton level might be a quarter and/or city level depending on the size of the town/city with higher level NPCs. The early missions would be similar except more urban and above a certain level the players could either move up a level in the city hierarchy or become a named free company similar to free ronin.

2) A thieve’s guild version of the above if all the players were into that. A large city is divided into fiefdoms each with a local gang who pay tribute to a crime baron who pays tribute to one of the 2-4 crime counts in the city.

3) Many cultures had a more individual form of feudalism where individual soldiers were given plots of land in return for military service so instead of peasants working on the lord’s land and a few independent farmers you’d have a lot more independent farmers. In this case a base territory might contain fewer and smaller villages and more individual farms. Each farm would be expected to provide a recruit to the local defense force. Like the city-state example the levies might be trained and organised by a paid captain while the district authority itself was in the hands of a district steward of some sort – not necessarily a combatant themselves, more of a bureaucrat. The players would be part of that levy with players of non-fighter type classes being assumed to have been singled out (due to their attributes) to be apprenticed to one of the district specialists who are attached to the levy.

4) In a non-fantasy setting like Traveller you could do the same thing if all the players were okay with all starting in the Scouts or the Navy/Marines and you could make their early adventures be their service experience i.e. the players are part of a scout squadron alongside some experienced scout NPCs (early on at least). One mission per tour of duty. However the idea is better suited to fantasy imo.


Players wanting to be dwarves, hobbits, elves etc would influence the nature of the fiefdom the players start in.
– if an elf character then you could have a wood or an island in a lake in the knight’s fiefdom with a small elf hamlet
– if a dwarf then you could have a small mine or a quarry in the knight’s fiefdom with a small dwarf hamlet
—- mines and quarries would often belong to the king but the hamlet itself might still be bound to provide a recruit to the local levy
– if a hobbit then a hobbit farming hamlet or even the main village

I think that could be fun and allow the DM to only need a vague idea of the world at the start (and for the players to only know a limited amount about the world).