Can I Play an Arcane Trickster Rogue Tiefling?

At FB’s biggest RPG group in Mexico, someone said they really want to play that character in D&D, but no one wants to be their DM. I think it’s understandable, an arcane trickster rogue tiefling is a stupid concept.

One problem with D&D (from 2e on) is that it takes itself seriously, to a fault. Therefore, most players just won’t accept a ridiculous character concept like that of the arcane trickster rogue tiefling, because he makes the whole game look ridiculous. For, like all court jesters, he’s a reflection of the concomitant ridiculousness of the court, however invisible to itself.

Ridiculous courtiers hate those who remind them of their ridiculousness.

My solution to this poor soul? Easy: “Play Troika! Here’s your character sheet:”

Arcane Trickster Rogue Tiefling

You are a child of the devil, a free spirit, and no one will tell you what you can or cannot be, and whoever dares, abide by the consequences.

Possessions

Sword

Thief Tools

Advanced Skills

2 Punch Dagger (Damage as Knife)

2 Darkvision

2 Hellish Resistance

1 Thaumaturgy

1 Tail Fighting (Damage as Unarmed)

New Advanced Skills

Darkvision

You can see in the dark.

Hellish resistance

Fire doesn’t harm you.

Thaumaturgy

You can produce any of the following effects:

  • Your voice booms up to three times as loud as normal for 1 minute
  • You cause flames to flicker, brighten, dim, or change color for 1 minute
  • You cause harmless tremors in the ground for 1 minute
  • You create an instantaneous sound that originates from a point of your choice within range, such as a rumble of thunder, the cry of a raven, or ominous whispers
  • You instantaneously cause an unlocked door or window to fly open or slam shut
  • You alter the appearance of your eyes for 1 minute

Tail Fighting

You can attack with your tail.

Why Troika!?

In Troika! you can play whatever character you want. He won’t. In Mexico, most people won’t play games other than D&D and Vampire. They would rather not play at all than playing other games. This is a true story. I spent more than two years trying to find players for either a LotFP, Into the Odd, Troika!, Over the Edge, or Mutant Future game. It was only after two years that I found three people. One week after, ony one player came, the other two didn’t even bother to cancel. Three months later, I found two new players and she found two new players. We have been player for a little more than a year every sunday.

In conclusion. Yeah, fuck 5e. Fuck wizards of the coast. And fuck weak pathetic fools!

Running away mechanics

These are some quick, easy and no-nonsense rules for running away that would work for most games.

If you are not engaged in combat, running away is automatic. You can be pursued, though.

If you are engaged in combat, in your next action you can run away. If your action takes place before your foe’s (in initiative order), you escape; if your action takes place after your foe’s, he can go after you.

If you are pursued, both roll 1d6, a roll of 1 or 2 adds a point. The first who get 3 points, wins (you escape or he catches you). In a draw, both roll and the lowest result wins.

If a chase doesn’t add enything to the fun, running away is automatic.

If you want to resolve a chase quickly, both roll and the lowest result wins in just one roll. In a draw, the player wins (or roll again if you prefer).

Avoid paranoia-driven dungeoneering

When players become too paranoid and start exploring the dungeon methodically, it’s sometimes fun, but when this behavior becomes too constant, specially when there’s no sensible reason to be extremely cautious (not all dungeons are tombs of horrors and grinding gears after all). Here are some ideas that could solve this situation.

The party

Set a timer

The mission must be completed under a certain number of turns, otherwise something happens and the players know it: when it’s 2 minutes to midnight the sect of evil orcs will kill the unborn in the womb to summon The Hand That Threaten Doom, the crazy wizard eats his pet bat and spread disease, the PC’s clothes and weapons turn to rags and scrap, the PC’s carriage turns into a pumpkin at midnight, the artifact only appears for a few minutes after sunset with a waxing moon before it returns to its dimension of origin, &c.

Something wicked comes

This is mostly arbitrary, but if the party spends more than two turns in the same room, a special random encounter check is rolled. If the d6 comes up 1 or 2, this special monsters or ghostly NPCs or something, appears, causing a drawback: “You are under arrest”, “You smell tasty”, “It smells funny, please make a saving throw versus poison; if you fail, you fall asleep”; falling asleep is too boring, though. Maybe this gas contains some mutagen agent which modifies the PC’s DNA, causing a mutation. Don’t abuse this or it becomes more boring than the alternative.

Rival party

Describe a few areas showing traces of another party of adventurers in the same dungeon. “It’s clear this party is not being methodical, but reckless, they really want to get to the treasure sooner than you. What are you gonna do?” The rival party works better if you introduce it, or its leader, beforehand, without specifying what its role in the campaign will be.

Rival Party

You’re not supposed to explore every inch

This works better in a wizard tower or a more linear dungeon, but with a lot of dedication, it can be used in almost any dungeon (but perhaps it’s not worth it). After a period of time, some parts of the dungeon are permanently blocked. For instance, water springs from the bottom of the tower, and you can only explore one or two rooms on each floor before it becomes impossible to explore another and have to go to the next floor; or opening a door permanently seals another, but make sure sealing a room won’t prevent the party to further explore the dungeon or move to the next level; multiple stairs, stairs in hallways, and teleportation pods are helpful.

Make traps reasonable and obvious

Traps should only be put in a room, door or item when it makes sense. Corridors full of traps induce paranoid behavior and should be avoided (unless, of course, it’s a special dungeon of traps or something). I have an ambivalent feeling for visible, obvious traps, I usually prefer classic, hidden traps, but telegraphed traps are useful when you really need to set a faster pace. If your players spend more time searching for traps than doing anything else, maybe obvious traps are for you.

Don’t measure time, measure turns instead

I quote what I wrote in Hidden Shrine of Setebos: “One turn equals a few minutes, maybe ten but that’s not important. Most standard actions take one turn. You don’t have to measure time rigorously. Ignore time, focus on turns.” This means that 6 actions add one hour, it doesn’t matter if six characters take one action each at the same time, in the same room, each one still adds one turn, total six turns or one hour, not because they spent one hour in the room, but because time is fictitious and malleable, which meants that after (6 x 8) 48 actions (specially actions that demand a roll), 8 hours have passed. Let’s just assume there is a lot of dead time between turns and separate actions. I hope it makes sense; in my head it does but it’s not easy to explain.

Goblins are halflings gone mad

Halflings are a peaceful people, who mind their own business and are more worried about what they will have for second breakfast than how to acquire wealth and political power.

“What would cause this to become a monster?”

Other races, especially humans, view halflings as unworthy of respect. Even the most venerable of halflings are considered little less than children. It’s no wonder that when a human kingdom seeks to expand its lands, halfling lands are the first to be taken, much like the lands where animals live are taken: no one would think they are stealing anything, animals don’t own their lands.

Halflings can sometimes be invited to live among humans, but most often are assigned reservations. Many halflings accept these conditions, since they know they are at a disadvantage, but others, more proud, perhaps a little too proud, decide to leave in search of other lands.

But there is less and less good land for a civilized people, so, many halflings have formed small villages in dark forests and underground tunnels. But the halflings are people of the prairie, of the open field, the lack of sun and space and freedom, has acted negatively in some of these communities.

Leaving behind civilized customs, such as tailor-made suits, elegant haircuts, and hot showers, but above all abandoning their pacifism, many have nurtured resentment against those who have taken over their lands; entire generations have given way to these new, aggressive and savage halflings, who form hordes to invade human towns, with the aim of killing and destroying, of sowing terror in human hearts, of bringing a bit of vengeful chaos, knowing that they won’t be able to recover their lands. Anyway, that is not what they want, they have become used to living in their unsanitary villages and their abysses without fresh air. Most likely, they don’t even have a goal: it is resentment, hatred, and anger which drives them.

Note: I am not talking about Tolkien hobbits, I talk only about D&D halflings and goblins.

What’s a good trap? + Crown of Negativity

Into the Trap

I’ve been flipping through Grimtooth’s Ultimate Traps Collection, which is huge and full of ideas, just as perverse one than the last, but not as easy to use without some preparation work (some traps are one or two full pages long, and include diagrams; you can’t read that mid-session, you need to learn how the trap works before the game starts).

I also have been thiking about what Chris McDowall means when he says traps should be obvious:

Then he gives two examples:

This means there are no passive rolls to detect traps, but also that the player doesn’t need to actively search for traps (making the referee specific questions) to detect them.

Does it mean that characters in Into the Odd automatically detect traps? It seem so. So traps are fun not because they can harm the characters, are they fun, then, because characters can trump them? I am not sure Chris McDowall implies that, but it’s unlikey he means the opposite.

When I write a dungeon, I always want to add some traps but I always struggle to make interesting traps that are fun not matter if they are activated or bypassed. It’s not a easy job. What’s a good trap?

In this entry, he lists 34 traps and says these are the rules to make a good trap:

  • At least one part of it is immediately visible.
  • It allows interaction and investigation.
  • It has impactful consequences for the victim.

Let’s see a few:

  • Metal sword audibly humming, hooked up to electric charge.
  • Green Devil Face with gaping mouth. Anything going into the mouth is annihilated.
  • A fishing rod propped up and cast into a lake. The rod is covered in fast-acting glue and tension on the line triggers a springboard beneath the victim, casting them into the lake.

If you touch the sword, you suffer damage. To remove it, you should wear special gloves or find a way to cut the charge. But that’s a lot of trouble for a sword. That trap is there just to deal some damage to a character, it’s not a trap you would want to overcome, you simple don’t touch it.

If you enter the gaping mouth, you die. No save vs death roll, no nothing. You die. Sounds harsh but no sane person would enter a gaping mouth like that, right? Well, no sane person would be exploring dungeons, either. This trap is put there just to fuck the players, to teach them you must not interact with the features of the dungeon, or at elast, not with every feature, specially if it is a green devil face.

The fishing rod is another “fuck you” trap.

Unavoidable traps, then. Except, that is not really the case.

This article, and Into the Odd, assume, or at least expect, for the players to inspect the metal sword, the devil face and the fishing rod BEFORE they interact with them.

When a player inspects the sword (At least one part of it is immediately visible), she must explain what her character does, exactly (It allows interaction and investigation). If it makes sense, the referee then grants her the information about the trap. If the character makes something that triggers the trap (“I put a finger on the tip of the hilt”, “I enter the hole and go to sleep; it’s getting late”), she suffers the effects of the trap, electric discharge or sudden and instant death (It has impactful consequences for the victim). No rolls are made, other than damage.

In other words, a trap is triggered automatically if a character interacts with it incorrectly.

Sounds hardcore, but since rolls to detect traps aren’t required, it’s actually pretty easy to spot the trap. That’s not the important part. The important part is choosing between finding a way to disable the trap or just ignore it and move on.

So far, so good. It works well in a game like Into the Odd, which is pretty minimalistic and everything runs fast, and which most people seem to consider better for one-shots and short adventures, not for long-term campaigns (understandable since the game offers little concerning advancement mechanics and benefits).

Does it work for more traditional, Moldvayian (or Gygaxian) games?

Enter BX and Old-School Essentials

OSE, following BX, states that

Using the same examples from before, the sword and the rod are triggered by touching them, and the devil face is triggered by entering its gaping mouth. But traps don’t trigger automatically. When a character makes an action that would trigger the trap, the referee must roll 1d6, and if it comes up 1 or 2, the trap works; otherwise, it doesn’t work against that specific character. Other characters making a triggering action require their own 1d6 checks.

If we follow Moldvay’s steps closely, then there’s another problem:

Let’s obviate for the moment that only Thieves can detect and disable “treasure traps”, which is the name Moldvay and OSE give them, but which not necessarily are traps found in treasure items; Moldvay also simply refers to them as “small traps”, and the example given is a lock.

Anyway. Are these room or treasure traps?

The green devil face is big enough, and should clearly be considered a room trap (so anyone can detect it, 1-in-6 chance). The sword and the fishing rod are most probably small traps because the traps are placed on an item, but not “to prevent it being tampered with or stolen” (the evil orcs are not trying to protect neither the sword nor the rod), but then why?

Still, the three features are obvious, so when the party enters their respective rooms, the referee would state that there is a sword stuck in a stone, or lying on a slab; a wall covered by a big green devil face with the mouth opening the size of a priest-hole; and a lake, next to which there’s a fishing rod propped on and cast into it.

“What are you going to do?”

If a player says he touches either the sword or the rod, or enters the devil’s mouth, the referee rolls the trigger check, and, if needed, also rolls damage. In some cases, it’s stated that a Saving Throw is needed to avoid the effect.

But sometimes damage (or other effect) is automatic. That sounds worse than it actually is, remember that traps are not triggered automatically even if a charatcer interacts with it incorrectly.

Risk can be lowered even further, even if a trap is hidden, simply because there’s a mechanic to detect room traps:

And a mechanic to detect and disable treasure traps (only for Thieves):

There are no mechanics to disable room traps, but that’s just natural, since most traps that fall into that category are not meant to be disabled but bypassed, and it depends on the player’s ingenuity more than on a mechanical standard. A pit in a room can be bypassed by jumping, placing a wooden table as a bridge, by a flight spell, or using a rope to descend and then climb from the other end, each solution requiring its own unique roll, if at all.

Hidden Traps. Something else

Into the Odd disencourages the use of hidden traps. Since there is not a mechanical way to avoid a trap, hidden traps feel cheap and bullshit.

But classic D&D inspired games, with their triggering, Saving Throw mechanics, detecting and possibly dissabling or bypassing mechanics would not suffer from that, most of the time. Instadeath traps first have to be triggered, which is not automatic, and can also be detected and disabled/bypassed, then the player has a chance to avoid death making a saving throw. If he dies, it’s his damn fault.

Crown of Negativity | A (good? bad?) trap

So, this is me trying to make a good trap. But this is also me doing what I like: screw with the (campaign) world and the adventurers. Finally, this is what happens when I listen to Tool’s Lateralus (their only good album, which I must have listened to more than 5,000 times for the last 20 years) when I write.

A room in a dungeon

A boarded door (secret door roll) in a dark hallway leads to this room.

This room is different, maybe it’s dimly lit and there are purple or crimson courtains, while the rest of the rooms are crude and dilapidated; or, on the contrary, it’s ruined and full of dust, while the rest are tidy or sumptuous.

There is an altar, and a medium size wooden chest, chained, barb wired, and locked. A dry skeleton lies next to it. “Someone doesn’t really wanted this opened.”

Tell the players that a Thieve’s Remove Traps roll is needed to avoid damage from the barbed wire (1d4, perhaps). No other trap is present. If there is no Thief in the party, or if they come up with a different solution, let them try.

Inside there is a black crown, looks like obsidian or basalt, but it’s harder than steel, harder than any material you know. It seems to radiate darkness, or better, to devour the few photons around it.

“What do you do?” Ask them.

“I put the crown on”.

The person who puts on the crown, must pass a Saving Throw vs Spells, and in a failure, disappears completely, the crown falls to the floor, making no sound, as though it also devoured soundwaves.

If someone else puts the crown, it doesn’t trigger its effect, no saving throw is rolled.

Go back to the first one who failed the ST.

When you put on the crown, you feel your body disappear and now you’re falling into darkness. The crown is no longer on your head. There is someone else there, you can’t see it but you can feel it. It is a darkness in the dark.

Its voice speaks directly to your mind: “I can help you get out of here, my child. Just wear my crown on your head.” You can feel that it is handing you its crown, but some afterimages form in your mind: if you wear the crown, yes, you can come out of this well of darkness, but your body will be possessed by that other darkness, whose name, you know as well, is Grudge, who others call Saturn for it habit of eating its children.

There’s no salvation for you. If you leave this well of darkness, your body will cease to be yours and you will only exist as a remnant in Grudge/Saturn’s memory, ignorant to the damage done (but see the next section).

If you stay here, you will prevent that darkness from invading the world, but your only company will be the darkness and the darkness in it, to the lonesome end. Worst part? All this pain is not an illusion.

Hope this is what you wanted.

Hope this is what you had in mind.

’cause this is what you’re getting.

What I did here

There are obvious hints that the trap is there, that it is not a good idea to open the box. The room is concealed behind a secret door. The crown is hidden inside a protected box. The players don’t have a reason to put on the crown, but they still might (the fun in these games comes from experimenting and interacting with the environment, right?) The first character to do so still has a chance to avoid the consequences of the fatal mistake in the form of a Saving Throw.

It all comes down to one bad choice: wearing the crown.

Once a character fails that Saving Throw, he’s as good as dead.

If you want, you can ask for a Saving Throw vs Posion or Death one the player accepts the second, abstract crown. If he fails, he is devoured and his essence no loger exists, only his body, now possessed by the dark god. If he succeeds, though, he will live inside the god, unable to influence its behavior or controlling his own body. He will be the eternal spectator. And you better come uo with a very dark and very bleak and very grim spectacle, please. A world-changing event, maybe light ceases to exist in this planet, and only magical light is possible, but scarce.

If this trap was made with Into the Odd in mind, instead of rolls, everything is automatic once a character interacts correctly with each element. Traps don’t work (and cause disaster) because they follow a series of mechanics and the dice hate you*. Traps work (and cause disaster) because you make the wrong choices.

This trap can’t be disabled, the only way to bypass it is ignoring it entirely. Next time I should write one that can actually be disabled and bypassed by actively interacting with it.

*Magical thinking is bad for you.

One single bad decision. Will you enter?

James Maliszewski Returns!

2012. That’s the year James Maliszewski posted the last Grognardia entry, one of the best old-school renaissance blogs ever, and no doubt the very best of its time. Over the course of almost 5 years, Grognardia won the reputation of being the reservoir of all wisdom in the world, concerning old-school games, a reputation that stands.

And today, almost 8 years later, there’s a new Grognardia entry. And you can see time hasn’t passed in James’s style, he can still make interesting reviews that help people understand and decide.

Long Live Grognardia!

The Middlebrow (aka The Normalizer), a monster for LotFP

The Middlebrow (aka The Normalizer)

AC 12, HD any, MOV 90′ (30′), ML 9, #ATT 1 (weapon)

This creature looks like a bald human head with legs where it should have the neck and arms where it should have ears. It has green eyes, a sharp nose and thin pink lips. It would be beautiful but it only has an eyebrow and gives it a weird appearance, and this eyebrow is not above its eyes but in the space in between the natural location of eyebrows (procerus).

Its only purpose is making everything plain and normal and samey and boring. It will attack characters that are out of place or our of the norm. If a player is a stereotype of its class (or race), the Middlebrow will ignore her unless attacked.

When it’s attacked, the player must roll 3d20 to hit and choose the middle result. If two or three dice give the same result, use that.

Special: When you look at it, you feel mediocre. Make a saving throw vs magic or a random social/mental stat (Cha, Int, Wis) must be re-rolled. In this case, make the roll used to create your character (usually 3d6) but make three rolls instead; remove the best and worse results and keep the remaining one. This effect is passive and is always active.

The Hidden Shrine of Setebos | An expedition for Into the Odd

The Hidden Shrine of Setebos, in the making for seven months (that’s me, slow as a snail, how can you continually make adventures for your weekly games, people?) is finally here, for your amusement. It was born as a little experiment, after having read this article, but it grew bigger than a few rooms, into the weird thing it is now.

It’s a 2-level dungeon with a third, extra level that works as a denouement. It’s crazy, weird, bizarre, terrifying, decadent, lowbrow and highbrow, but never middlebrow! Huysmans would approve!

Who, or what, is Setebos? And imaginary god? Who knows, who cares!? It’s there and there are solver and gold to be looted, secrets to be acquired, and strange artifacts to be trafficked.

–> Download for Free <–

If you really think I should get some gold pieces, you can pay what you want through itch.io. But, really, I made this because I like to make things for the community.

Nanty narking!

House rules | Defeat a foe in combat without killing him

Sometimes you want to immobilize, incapacitate or somehow defeat a foe in combat but you don’t want to kill him, and some games add complex mechanics to do that, while other doen’t add any mechanics at all.

Here’s an easy way:

  1. State your intention. “I want to immobilize him but not killing him”.
  2. Attack the enemy as normal, using non-lethal weapons or no weapons at all (punches and kicks might deal anything between a single point of damage to 1d4). When the target reaches zero or less hp, he’s defeated and you achieved what you intended to do.

If mid-combat you decide to try it, and the enemy has suffered damage from lethal weapons, you must use non-lethal weapons or your own hands from now on. But if the target reaches negative hit points, he’s dead, he only survives if he reaches exactly zero (then it’s a good thing to make punches and kicks deal only one point of damage, right?)

Of course, if you want to immobilize him so your friends can kill him, you have to use whatever grapple rules you have.

If you really need more complex rules that these, you know where to find your path to them, if you know what I mean.

Simplified Firearms Rules for LotFP and OSR games

In 70s and 80s D&D, mêlée and ranged combat was always an abstraction that kept the game simple and easy, but this ethos of simplicity over realism is broken in LotFP when firearms are introduced as an appendix.

One way to solve this is simply reskinning classic ranged weapons as firearms, and other is to integrate firearms into the general ranged weapons charts, and add special rules for each kind of weapon the same way rapiers, polearms or light crossbows are given.

Reskinned firearms

  • Pistols work like light crossbows
  • Arquebuses work like heavy crossbows
  • Muskets work like a long bow

Reskinned weapons deal the same damage and have the same ranges as their wooden counterparts. The only difference is that, if used to strike a person as a mêlée weapon, pistols deal d4 damage, and both arquebuses and muskets, deal d6 damage. Light crossbows and long bows maybe deal d4 damage, and heavy crossbows, d6, but perhaps they are damaged or destroyed if used that way.

Choosing between a classic weapon and a firearms doesn’t depend on which is better, but from an aesthetic point of view, with one exception, though: firearms are louds and should trigger a random encounter roll immediatly (if in combat, maybe a third faction arrives or waits for an ambush).

Integrated firearms

Get the PDF

These descriptions are based on, but changed from, the charts in the Firearms Appendix (Rules & Magic p. 157).

  • Pistols have a short, medium and long range of 25′, 50′ and 100′.
  • Arquebuses and muskets have a short, medium and long range of 50′, 100′ and 600′.
  • Pistols and arquebuses have -4 and -8 penalties to attack at medium and long ranges.
  • Muskets require a fork rest to shoot, getting -2 and -4 penalties to attack at medium and long ranged but cost more; lacking the fork rest, muskets get an additional -2 penalty to shoot (including at short range).
  • Pistols, arquebuses and muskets deal a damage of 1d8.
  • If the attack roll comes up a 1, the weapon explodes and deals d4 damage (pistol) or d6 damage (arquebus or musket) to its owner. The weapon must be repaired before it can be used again. Optionally, weapons are destroyed and must be replaced.
  • Pistols, arquebuses and muskets can be shot only once before needing a recharge; recharging takes 8 rounds for fighters and 10 rounds for all other classes.
  • Firearms are noisy. They trigger a random encounter roll immediatly, even if in combat.