Wednesday, July 31, 2019


I have a problem with Clerics.

At a purely game level, they don't add a problem-solving strategy to dungeon-crawling. While there are certainly approaches to game design that encourage a huge range of available classes (3rd Edition, Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, and GLOG, for example), I contend that classes revolve more about generalized player strategy, with a secondary element of game-interaction preference. The more general the structure of classes in the game, the greater the amount of the game open to participation by all players: hyper-specialized niches leave players with naught to do much of the time. Given that, the classic trio of Wizard, Thief, Fighter provides a range of strategy and interaction:

Maximilien Robespierre
Famously not a fan of
clerics either.
  • Fighters provide a simple, brute-force approach to problems. They are best equipped to tackle situations with violence, in the sense of both dealing and resisting. Because of their greater toughness, they can take more risks than their companions. Their abilities are always "on".
  • Wizards are for lateral thinking approaches. Their toolbox of spells opens them up to possibilities beyond the purely mundane. While later editions (and, to be honest, their origin in Chainmail) situates them more as artillery, they ideally serve to create new opportunities for the adventuring party. Their powers have finite uses.
  • Thieves (which is a bad name, more on that later) are the finesse problem solver. They show up to the dungeon with a broader collection of skills than the fighter but less diverse than the wizard. In a sense they are a middle ground between two extremes, something made explicit in 1975's Tunnels and Trolls' Rogue class. More recent iterations have turned this archetype into an "Expert" with less attention granted to breaking-and-entering-type skills.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Spiritualism: A new discipline for Stars Without Number

Mark Gabriel
    Stars Without Number Revised is a fantastic game by Kevin Crawford of Sine Nomine that has one of the more interesting Dungeons and Dragons-adjacent psionics systems. Most such mechanics are very beholden to Gygax, Marsh, and Kask's original, even if they improve on it significantly. Others are far too enmeshed with awful 3rd Edition-ism, like True20's Adept. Various OSR creators, such as Lexi, Spwack, and Marquis, have taken the concept in less cumbersome and more interesting directions, but none of them really scratch the itch. 

    SWN Revised's version, on the other hand, really does. It gives each discipline a signature, recognizably-psionic power immediately and then every other power is a purchased extension for that. Telekinesis, for example, lets the Psychic move things with their mind, and with investment, they can make themselves fly, create walls of force, generate psionic weapons and armor, or shield themselves from the vacuum of space. All of these are logical extensions of the core power. It also dispenses with power points by replacing them with a very small pool of Effort that's spent in a regular pattern, it has a built-in means of pushing oneself, and it works as both a full class and with the game's sorta-multiclass Adventurer. Six disciplines appear in the core book and it seems ripe for creative additions.

    Between re-reading the Book of the New Sun with its enigmatic witches residing nearby to the Order of the Seekers of Truth and Penitence in the Citadel, thinking about Dune and its Bene Gesserit sisterhood, posts in the OSR about witches, playing Dishonored, and even discussions about how low-powered the original Star Wars trilogy is, (Emperor Palpatine is running around casting an electrical variant of burning hands and Obi-Wan's most famous trick is suggestion) strange, cult-ish magic users have been on my mind. What unites all of these is that witchers are something more fundamental and primal in a setting that had seemingly passed beyond such things. In a science fiction setting, witches wouldn't be needed as herbalists and midwives, and they wouldn't face myths and persecution for being in league with Satan in a generally atheistic setting. How then to capture that feel of unsettling mystique? Dungeons and Dragon's Vancian magic is perfectly fine for its intended purpose but I wanted something a little more mysterious. With the tools available in the core book, particularly telepathy and precognition, you could probably build something close, but then you obviously couldn't build a witch Adventurer. So here's a witchy discipline for characters who want to know more than they should and use it to get what they want.

    Several people on the OSR and SWN Discord servers helped with inspiration or critique. Thank you all.

Thursday, July 11, 2019


The Mechanic

A character starts with two Titles: background and origin. One of these is probably race or species if that is relevant to your game. Each title has a name (class, race, specialty, background), one or more bonuses (probably a class ability, some hit points, and a save improvement), and a deed.

To "level up" meaning gain a new Title, the character has to accomplish a deed matching to each of their Titles, checking them off one-by-one, at which point they write down a new Title and Deed and remove the check from all. Each deed has to be distinct and any particular situation can only apply to one Deed of the player's choice, with the DM having veto power.

DMs might cap the number of titles to control the "maximum level" of a campaign. They instead overwrite the old trait of their choice. The PC is replacing knowledge and tricks as the old bits fall away.

Update (7/15/2019): Lexi of A Blasted, Cratered Land has taken this and adapted it for her own rules hack Mimics and Miscreants. It hews closer to traditional class systems than shown here.

Luke and Obi-Wan in Episode 4.
From apprentice...

A Fictional Example

Obviously, I designed the deeds around what Luke actually did in the movie, but this can still help you understand the idea in practice.
Luke Skywalker has "Peasant (Tatooine moisture farmer): Travel beyond your frontiers," and "Hotshot Pilot: Engage in a dogfight," written on his character sheet, each with some bonuses and ability. Upon meeting Obi-Wan and becoming a PC, he writes down on his sheet "Jedi Apprentice: Use the Force to do something impossible," which he manages to accomplish very soon when he impossibly blocks the remote's zap with a lightsaber blind. Going off planet is far beyond his frontier and the tie fighter attack is a dogfight. So by Yavin IV he has leveled up and gained whatever bonuses that he worked as appropriate for Jedi Apprentices. Ding.

After Apprentice, he wrote down "Big Damn Hero: Do whatever it takes to save others." Which he accomplished on the Deathstar run, after achieving dogfight in the battle above the Deathstar and frontier upon arriving on a jungle planet. But since he applied "destroying the deathstar" to save others, the use of the Force to aim the proton torpedo can't be used for it too. However, he quickly snags it when he impossibly draws his lightsaber out of the snow to free himself and defeat the Wampa. Ding. He writes: "Jedi Knight: Fight a peer using your lightsaber."

Snowspeeder Battle suffices for a dogfight and heading to Yoda on Dagobah (or solo hyperspace travel) for a new frontier. He's already lifted things with his mind but manages to convince his DM that the (impossible) escalating series of Force feats he does under Yoda's tutelage qualify for Apprentice because they are different enough from the lightsaber pull earlier. He runs to his friends despite being entirely unprepared in hopes of saving them. Finally, he (lightsaber) duels with his father. Ding. He writes "Jedi Master" and it's deed on his sheet.

He heads to Jabba's palace to save his friends. Boba Fett is a peer and he uses his lightsaber. Speeder bikes are close enough to dogfight. Death Star was never marked for frontier before, which is nice because it gets marked now. Endless impossible force uses are demonstrated, but invading the mind of Jabba's majordomo qualifies. Finally, in the duel with his father, he achieves "Jedi Master: win without fighting." Ding.

By the end Luke is (and has a marked on his sheet): Peasant, Hotshot Pilot, Jedi Apprentice, Big Damn Hero, Jedi Knight, and Jedi Master.

Luke Skywalker in Episode 6. master.