Monday, February 6, 2023

Delegation, Dismemberment, & Disability

This post is still half-formed, but I'd prefer to put it out now and prompt some discussion rather then spend an eternity polishing it into whatever precise point I don't really have.


A sentiment I have seen expressed is that a character losing a limb or otherwise suffering debilitating injuries ruins play for them. While I do not take issue (or I like to think I don't and actively try as best I can not to :P ) with what someone else prefers, I do find there is a note of something ableist about the assumption that a character is ruined once their disabled. At the least it betrays a lack of creativity in playing them. 
Add to this the pervasive notion in action orientated fiction, particularly fantasy, that the protagonists, 'heroes' even moreso, must be men of action (or woman of action still obeying the same archetypes). Characters who coordinate rather than use brute force are usually evil schemers, almost certainly so if they're men. This is part of the general fascistic anti-intellectualism in much of fantasy. A veneration of men of action and a vilification of the weak (and lookatthat, frequently, disabled) 'cowardly' schemers. I realize this is strong language, but it is a prevalent thread in our society and expresses itself in media intentionally or not, and the roots are, well, fascistic obsessions with strong, brave action orientated "heroes."

And among the men (and women) of action, note how rare is it for characters to suffer injuries which fundamentally change how they relate to the world. Or even for that matter to suffer injuries that inconvenience them for substantial periods of time. Power fantasy seems to forbid ever becoming incapacitated beyond a stagger and perhaps leaning upon a friends shoulder. Where are the scars? The amputations? The wounded being carried from the battlefield? 
To that end, often when people seek to include disabled characters in fiction or roleplaying the power-fantasy approach of granting some power, or technological means of circumventing their disability is extremely common. Which is understandable! Its a power fantasy! But what is lost is nuance. As well it comes at the cost of exploring modes of Adventure that aren't bashing things and fighting (a general problem in much fantasy).
Furthermore! Lack of injury also cuts off a source of interaction with the world and ends up obscuring and diminishing people who occupy traditionally supporting social roles like healers.

Injury needn't remove characters from play, it simply requires re-framing how they interact with the world. Dismemberment and debilitating injuries are an opportunity for lateral growth and a chance to change up how you play your character. And debilitating injuries naturally fit into existing structures of play. Namely, hirelings! 

The Hireling To Apprentice Pipeline

Hirelings and henchman are an immensely useful asset, and Apprentices are a natural evolution of the henchman. They form excellent back-up characters, moreso than random hirelings, as your already invested in them, and to add on top of that, they naturally provide structure for retirement and delegation, as apprentices can be delegates that players can play to carry out their characters wishes. In this you have extra-characters, more characterful than a more generic hireling, to act as extensions of the player. 

For disabled player characters this is the natural route to interacting with the game world, the preexisting structure of henchlings offers the means to play a more coordinator type character.


Retiring characters can be unappealing, but becomes substantially more interesting with apprentices involved as there is now a character who has been developed already ready, with direct connection to the previous character and their legacy/impact upon the game world, all ready to be used as the new player character. 
Furthermore, retired does not mean out of the world, simply incorporated into the background. In many ways its an investment, both retirement and apprentices serve to sink players into the social fabric of worlds. And when retirement is a natural life stage for all characters, it makes the prospect of characters who influence things not from the front of the show but the back more appealing.

Delegation & Deliberation

The concept of delegation is simple and stolen from this blogpost for the most part. Its a variation on the basic procedure of play. Instead of "describe situation" "players act" "describe result" it becomes "learn about situation through an intermediary" "order actions to be taken" "intermediary carries them out." It is a naturalistic extension of existing procedure to handle, well, delegating.

It is utilitous both in more broadly for handling expeditionary play, and more specifically for handling characters who work for intermediaries. In many ways it is simply a re-framing of an existing evolution in play adventure games can often go through. 

Now the other option alongside delegation is to simply take directly control of henchlings and lackeys and see through their eyes. Which works well too, however I would suggest that delegation can center play on the coordinating character, keeping them the center of the players play.
The gist of all this is that the existing setup of typical adventure games are well suited for fitting disabled characters easily into the playstyle.

Now it is important to clarify that OSR adventure-gamey aren't inherently better at handling disability, rather they simply offer a different avenue of exploration.

I am not disabled. But I am queer, and the situation feels reminiscent of the matters of queerness in fictional worlds. Namely that a smoothed over "empowerment" style oft feels lacking of a certain meat and chewiness to it. There's criticism to be had with this, perhaps turning disability into some gameable element isn't an ideal route. Furthermore, I have focused upon physical disability here, and also, though unstated, on disability as result of injury. Mental disability is its own ballpark to be honest and I leave to be explored by others.  
When it comes to technological compensation and "solutions" one must be careful, lest you fall into existing traps of eugenistic thinking that see's disability as something to be fixed. Prosthetics and other tools are just that, tools, that come with their own exsperiances and requirements to use.

In general it is valuable not to think in terms of costs or bonuses, as games tend to do, but think laterally in terms of how it changes a characters interaction with the world. The taxonomical math nerd urge to assign mechanical reward or mallus must be ignored. 

Hirelings are a good solution in OSR gameplay context as its part of the existing playstyle, but there are implications to consider nonetheless; the relying upon others, or being a burden on others, not to mention the matter of wage relations for care which are a contentious and tricky subject. For the purposes of an OSR-y game where your playing skullduggerous dungeon delvers its less direct, but nonethelss still there.

See this excellent blogpost that elaborates on the matters here.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Simple Reaction Rolls

When encountering NPC's or a group whose disposition is uncertain to the Referee, use these procedures.
Roll 1d6...
  • High is positive, low is negative
  • The exact number rolled can be used as the number of key social interactions an NPC will field before getting fed up and 'resolving' the encounter*
  • A positive reaction does not necessarily equal full-friendship, but it does mean an otherwise hostile war-band might simply tell players to get lost instead of outright attacking.
  • Likewise a negative reaction may mean outright attack, or it may just mean being snubbed or berated.

* Use it likes this: suppose Jorge rolls up to the wealthy burgher Hesod to try and convince him to sponsor their expedition to the old ruins and see if the burgher knows anything about their rivals plans, the Referee rolls a 3, a fairly neutral reaction with 3 'chances' to get information or make arguments, Jorge must consider how to use this short bit of attention he has out of Hesod. Firstly, he rattles of his request and reasons why, Hesod isn't convinced, he tries again and the burgher is still apprehensive about the idea, does Jorge use his last chance before the Burgher dismisses him to switch tracks and learn about the rivals or try to get funding one more time?

It doesn't need to be overthought, or argued over the precise number of "tries" just use it as a rough resource mechanic, attention and patience is a resource after all! Negotiate with players. One social action could be a Question, or any sort of exchange of goods (seduction leverages sex, intimidation leverages fear or threats, trade via barter is a classic).

Also have a mass combat post

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Secret Santicorn - d10 Imps

Tony DiTerlizzi on Twitter: "Sketchbook Saturday: Hieronymus Bosch-inspired  imps, 2016. #hieronymusbosch #imp #devil #sketchbook" / Twitter
Tony DiTerlizzi

For secret santicorn Morgan requested d10 types of imps and their quirks.

1. Ossiphagos
Femur crunchers who steal and gnaw on the bones of condemned souls, regurgitating up fragments to be pasted to themselves as armour. Carry themselves with a hyena like swagger. Hired out by imp gangs as enforcers.
2. Registrarite
The most bookish and stuffy of imps, oft seen lugging around tomes which dwarf their minute bodies. Overworked and cranky. Can animate their doodled marginalia as ink sprites to perform tasks.
3. Harbinger
Accoutred with clarions, trumpets, and megaphones. Arrive in a cacophony to announce a devil's coming in baroque rhyming rap. Employ (often shoddy) pyrotechnics in time to their sick beats.
Work in teams, tasked with dragging recently departed souls down to hell. Personalities of used car salesmen rolled into a greek chorus, never letting you get a word in. Bribable. Armed with mancatchers.
5. Badinager
A professional conversationalist imp, witty and abounding in japes. Often employed in the retinue of devils as entertainers, holding a jesters immunity. Reviled by their cousins for selling out the one thing imps hold as their own, humor and insult.

6. Psychophile 
An imp addict and connoisseur of distilled souls. Prolonged usage leads to absorbing characteristics of former souls. Psychophiles are beset by conflicting personalities. Often such imps can be found running their own soul-stills.

7. Jacobin
A radical imp emancipation who stuffs themselves and other imps full of fiery pamphlets, literally, reasoning that the only sure way to make sure their message reaches people is to put the words in their very heads. Carry hacksaws.

8. Artillerist
Powder-stained, hauling shells bigger than themselves, they work the dispaterian artillery batteries and are deaf as doornails. Have a disconcerting, even by imp standards, gallows humor about them.

Small, contortionist imps, armed with a variety of prying and jamming implements tasked with carrying out all sorts of petty malfeasance. Excellent working knowledge of joinery and construction with a compulsive eye for mischief. Talk like mechanics.

10. Bottled
An imp condensed down and packaged up for transport. Squirm and wriggle, peering out of their little bottles with big eyes. Plead to be let out and will almost certainly wreck mischief and revenge if released.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Skorned Cyborgedpunks One Shot - Play-Report

Min Yum

Play report of a cyborgedpunk one shot I ran for Wizard Lizard.

Rules were barely modified Skorne (str/dex/wil got swapped for bod/ref/mox), and FKR thinking. WizLiz's character was Zardoz, a low down paranoid punk in a trenchcoat with 4 hits, a 3d-printed pistol, and a brain linked drone. Accompanying him were two fellow punks Tom and Chelsea, similarly equipped (except for Tom who had one grenade). The scenario was a simple meet and trade of some non-gmo seeds that were stolen from Uber-Santo, a calory-company with a stranglehold on foodstuffs. Of course it went horribly wrong....

It was late at night in the Noreaster Megalapolis and a storm was blowing in. The streets were already half-flooded with scummy water and through the sheets of rain the sea-wall's red eyes blinked on and off.

Zardoz, alongside his fellow cyborgedpunks Chelsae and Tom were crammed into their shitty little car, parked somewhere in the recesses of the old port district down below the sea-wall, among the looming concrete warehouses. It had been a difficult drive through the ankle deep floodwaters and for a week they'd been feeling the heat of the calory-companies for the packet of gmo-free seeds they'd stolen. Which is why they'd arranged a meeting to sell them off with a certain De Graaf, a gangster of ill repute.

They had the address and decided to show up early, parking the car in an alley across the street from the warehouse. Chelsae nervously played a digital game while Tom slicked back his hair, and Zardoz stews in mix of pills and muted frustration.

Settling in for some reconnaissance , Zardoz pops out his little brain-linked drone and sends it out into the rain to do a bit of preliminary scouting. A brief look in infrared tells him that the buildings still a tad busy this time of night, light leaking out of the shuttered windows. An attempt is made to fly the drone in through a ventilation shaft but the rain and thick walls cut the signal (failed a moxy roll) and the drone returns on auto-pilot.

Zardoz mutters to themself and notes the old cctv cameras on the place then settles in to wait for the pre-scheduled time. 

Map of the warehouse

The waiting ticks on and Zardoz is just about ready to get up and drag Tom and Chelsea in early when a silvery SUV comes splashing out of the night and pulls up in front of the warehouse. Five figures in suits and raincoats hop out, two dashing inside through the main entrance, and the other three briefly staying outside to attach something to the wall, then going in leaving one reaming standing guard over the door. Presumably the mafiosos had arrived.

Zardoz, with some colorful language, tells Tom to check out the SUV while he and Chelsea saunter up to the door. They all hop out of the car into the pouring rain, and jog across the street. As they approach the raincoated guard goon's hand briefly strays to a bulk under his coat, but Zardoz belts out the password and he gestures them inside. Zardoz stalls for a moment with some excuses about arriving early but not wanting to scare them, in order to gauge the situation. Tom's glance into the SUV reveals its empty and he surreptitiously rejoins the other two. As well, a glance to what the goons had been attaching reveals a camera-jacking unit, the kind burglars use to setup an impromptu warning system using a place's own security.

Zardoz is feeling mighty paranoid and fingers his gun as they pass the guard goon.

Inside they tromp through a dingy reception room, down a hall, and into a cubicle filled office space. A lone late night worker scampers away after the guard-goon gives a glare, and the trio are shepherded into a tiny little conference room (upper left hand, pink dot).

Inside, sitting at the table end closest to the door, was De Graaf, a smiling dutchman in an art-deco suit, with a little mustache and a colorful brain-cartridge showing behind the ear. Next to him, a reedy, officious looking youth in a too-big trenchcoat covered in faded patches whose clutching a duffel bag to their lap. Behind De Graaf stand two goons, near twins to the doorman.

De Graaf smiled sleazily as they entered and beckoned them to sit. Met by  Zardoz giving him the evil eye, before he sits and beckons Chelsea and Tom to as well. De Graaf begins to welcome them with a beaming smile only to be cut off by a rather rudely worded "lets get down to business" from Zardoz. He sours, but regains his composure and does indeed get to business, gesturing for the youth and saying "Busara, this is your deal, will you be a dear and show them the money." To which the youth obliges, unzipping the duffel bag and tilting it to reveal the rubber-banded cash wads within.

Zardoz wishes he had taken his meds. Then asks Tom to pass them the packet, is corrected that he's the one with the packet, and produces it from his coat. The kid looks ready to hand the cash over there and then but De Graaf politely asks for a sample. Zardoz wrestles a single seed out and holds it up. But before anyone can do anything one of the goons (who has opaque eyes) behind De Graaf starts cursing.

Everyone suddenly realizes their wi-fi connection is down, no signal. Somethings jamming the building. De Graaf's smile vanishes. The kid looks nervous. Chelsea curses something. A snatch is heard of the opaque-eyed goons frantic whispering "cameras are down" and De Graaf hisses a challenge, "Did you sells us out you fuckers" the kid is eyeing the seeds and the goons hands are straying into their coats.

Zardoz screams "YOU MOTHERFUCKER YOU CALLING ME A SNITCH" and whips out their shitty little 3d-printed pistol to shoot De Graaf there and then. The situation has escalated so rapidly that De Graaf doesn't get a chance to respond as Zardoz caps him in the neck and torso, jerking the mafioso back in his chair as blood splatters on the wall and goons behind him. Dead.

The goons have whipped out their pistols, sleek metal deals and open fire on the trio. Chelsea had already hit the floor, but Tom and Zardoz get the choice to shoot back (and suffer 2 hits) or dive beneath the table.

Zardoz flashes back to their time "training" with Tom in their shared living room "if things go to shit Tomy, what do we do?" "we de-escalate?" slap "no, Tomy, we blow shit up"

As they dive under the table Tom chucks his lone grenade, and they hear it clunk, thump and bounce towards the goon's end. Zardoz belatedly realized they didn't grab the seed pouch. And then the grenade goes off.

Deafened. The table splits under the explosion. A shard of wood buries itself in Zardoz's arm (-1 hit). Chelsea's curled in a ball. And Tom's panting. The two goons and the kid two are dead, slumped against the walls with the ruins of the table before them, faces and torsos torn up by shrapnel (made a luck roll for each, and all came out bad).

The seedpacket was blown to smithereens but some of the money and duffel bag managed to survive (luck roll bad, luck roll good), fluttering around in the air. Zardoz starts grabbing wads of cash. The door had been blown off its hinges, and the guard-goon was lying groaning a little ways away. He starts struggling to his feet. Zardoz yells for Tom, who stumbles to the door way pistol drawn.

Not fast enough unfortunately (failed opposed reflex roll), the goon outside had struggled to his feet and whipped out an uzi which he promptly sprayed through the doorway into the room catching Tom square on (-3 hits). Tom topples back into the ruins of the table bleeding from slugs lodged in his torso, thigh, arms.

Zardoz curses and dives for the door, unloading his entire pistol at the goon till the plastic frame melts. The goon screams as his legs are hit (-2 hits) and he crumples to his belly again. He sends a few wild shots, but Zardoz is hiding behind the door frame. Tossing his melted pistol aside, Zardoz dashes over to the other side of the table ruins and loots the dead goons metal pistols.

She yells to ask if Chelsea had gathered the money, only to find she's not listening at all but yelling in air the way people do when talking over head-comms. Without a moments hesitation Zardoz shoots Chelsea dead watching as she crumples with bullets through her jaw, brain and lungs. Zardoz crawls over, searching the body frantically.

"Tom, Chelsea was a fucking rat"
"Oh wait, you're dead"
Moans of protestation from the not yet dead Tom.

He finds a suspicious wad of cash, and a business card that says "special manager" and a phone number on it. Shoves both in their pocket, then glances over the ruined table. The goon outside has been crawling on his belly towards the door, leaving a smear of blood on the floor. He lifts his uzi up too shoot, but Zardoz ducks down again into cover.

Thinking fast, he props Chelseas dead body up and uses the corpse as a meat shield, popping up without warning. The goon panics and unloads his uzi, most of the shots sink into the corpse (armour 2) but a stray bullet catches Zardoz in the shoulder (-1 hit). Fortunately Zardoz's own fire makes short work of the goon, ending him for good.

Zardoz is crying, and whips their nose on their arm shoving the last of the cash into the duffel bag. Distantly they hear the sound of tramping foot and banging doors coming from the main entrance. He grabs the duffel bag and books it, leaving Tom for dead.

Zardoz makes a run for it through the cubicles, and exists south just as figures in black armour burst into the office space and head for the conference room. As they run down the hallway they briefly pass the late-night worker from earlier, cowering in an office. Asking for directions, the worker points southward. Zardoz continues on but darts into one of the rooms along this hall and angles for one of the narrow windows.

He chucks the duffel bag through and start carefully squeezing out, almost dislocating his already injured shoulder, halfway through and nearly stuck they hear the tread of boots from the south, and manage to squeeze out landing on a dumpster in the alley behind the warehouse just in time to hear the room's door kicked in and weird garbled radio noises.

Zardoz sneaks northward through the rain down the alley, heading for their car, and ends up out in calf-deep floodwater creeping along the northside of the building. Peering out onto the road between him and the alley with his car. There is a black APC parked, with two black clad uber-santo paralegals toting smg's guarding it (and the front entrance of the warehouse) standing next to them is a severe woman in an executive suit and mirrorshades with a translucent umbrella, intently fixated on her PDA.

Zardoz uses their drone to create a diversion, flying the poor little thing through the rain and past the paralegals, before turning its little speakers to full blast and playing music. The corpos all turn, and he makes a dash across the street, easily concealed by the pounding rain. As he runs he hears a burst of automatic fire and (failed a luck roll) the brave little drone dies in a fiery pop.

Safe in the alley, Zardoz crams himself into their shitty little car and starts the engine up, luckily the rain masked its starting, and carefully backs down the alley and out the opposite side.

Zardoz drives away into the rain, taking a hit of some hypno-air and calling up Mannie their contact, to tell them everything went to shit.

And then, to quote the player....
""....and then I drive with no destination, just for the sake of it, and my hands are shaking and I'm biting my lower lip so hard it's bleeding
And I stare at this massive ad in the distance of some kind of playboy millionaire chilling on a real beach at the sea and it says "THIS COULD BE YOU"
so I don't see the truck
End scene"
All together a very good one shot.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

How I Run Diceless Violence

I enjoy using Hits, their simple and effective lending themselves well to decisive combat with clear stakes. Generally I give player characters 4-6 hits (depending on the degree of grittiness) and have 2-3 hits as the "base damage" from blades and simple weapons or so such.

Hits are an ongoing event, not a thing you Have. It's an abstraction to tell you what sort of effect to expect. It's more about showing the effect violence will have, rather than an individuals resistance to it.

Conversely you can treat hits more traditionally, as dramatic points of saving grace, if you were so inclined. I would argue however, it is easy to give a bit more cinema to fight simply by upping the number of hits (as Skorne does) while keeping their impact. A more horror-violence approach, would use less and place more cost onto actions. To do something will cost something, to do nothing will cost more.


The "I pick, you choose method"* where one side declares their intent and the opposite decides whether to let it succeed or take exchange damage. With the small margins that Hits give a player this becomes a very attractive bargain. And vice versa for npcs, monsters, and so forth. 

Riffing off this we come to more general dilemmas, "suffer hits" becomes an easy mechanisms of imposing costs onto choices. I personally mix it up between pick and choose and entirely player facing costs.

Example :

Margot is brawling with a guard. She has the option to take 2 hits, while giving none, but ensuring the opponent is pinned down and takes it; wrestling the guard to the floor despite his slashing knife...
Example :

While dueling a pig-man, Lot is charged and given the option of taking 3 hits, or getting bowled over the parapet edge onto a nearby roof, and out of the fight. Lot chooses his own skin over blocking the walkway and takes the tumble...

Two men are wrestling on a bridge as one of them holds a knife and the other is bleeding

Don't think of fights happening in discrete segments, like a turn-based video game's trade of blows, actions flow into and from one another; momentum and weight matter. The previous positioning informs further actions and positioning.

Example :

The dragon slams Jorge into the ground, knocking the wind from him and crushing ribs (-3 hits), he drives his sword into the wyrm's leg as it pushes down, and the wound makes the dragon recoil (-2 hits),dangling Jorge in the air as he holds onto his sword...
Alternatively fights can be abstracted out, hits taken can be elaborated into broader pushes and retreats or the tallied results of a dust-cloud obscured brawl. Likewise time can be stretched and contracted as needed.

Example :

Pent and their hirelings held the line against the grub-dog onslaught suffering 2 hits each in the process, while Maureen cut her way to the capstan, taking 1 hit, and released it, dropping the gate closed...
Note also how in the previous example a numerically superior enemy is treated more as an environmental hazard than as discrete individuals. 'Blobification' of monsters and npcs (friendly or hostile) is a useful tool. For visual reference consider Kurosawa film where large groups move as one, and repeat emotions and movements for larger impact.

When running proper blob on blob violence; that is, unit skirmishes; said 'blobs' or detachments, to steal a turn of phrase from Into the Odd, can be assigned with stats as an individual. Maneuvers for units should be broader and more basic, retreats, pushes, and holds mainly. Consider morale heavily, when units break (at 0 hits perhaps), and so forth. A handy way of handling large scale fights is to treat them as series of decisive clashes, punctuated by retreats, regrouping, and repositioning.

Example :

Holland holds the road with his spear armed villagers against the mercenaries, the two groups collide and the villagers fall back having suffered a whopping 4 hits, but held firm thanks to Holland's exhortations. They retreat behind the nearby stonewall, and Calliope's villagers ambush the pursuing mercenaries, bloodying their noses (-1 hit) and sending them back onto the road...
Individuals in mass combat, unless targeted, can come out suffering a lesser form of whatever was inflicted on the detachment. So an individual fighting in a shattered unit might come out with musket ball through the leg and bleeding from a head wound. But a character fighting with a lightly scuffed unit may come out perfectly hale.  

Hits should renew frequently with rest, in fact it may be best to have them automatically renew any time there is an interval between fights. Rely instead on injuries and effects to have lasting consequence and inform future conflicts. A grievous leg injury, for example, would effect a fight.
This is of course suited for a grittier aesthetic approach.

Saturday, September 24, 2022


Born of rapacious destruction. To feast on manflesh prepared by a gnoll is to become one. They grow the heads of hyenas to better reflect their nature. 
Gnolls may be found anywhere war scorches the earth and freely ally themselves to those that would supply them with plunder and prey, turning to brigandage and reaving in times of peace.

Wish I could find a better quality version

Gnolls - 2d12
1 HD; Muskets, polearms, & swords; AC as leather; boisterous & cruel
  • Take strength in their large numbers
  • Covet finery, dress gaudily
  • Habitual cannibals
  • Prefer to attack the defenseless

Friday, September 16, 2022

Thats No Castle!

1d4 alternatives to castles for when you need a fortification up on that hill.

1. Tax House 
A fortified storehouse and bureaucratic center where taxes paid in local bulk goods (such as cloth, or salt) are collected, tallied, and made ready for transport. Could have a small garrison, or just a handful of sword/gun toting officials.

2. Agadir 
A sort of collective fortified granary, with individual chambers for different local families. Built as a citadel usually on elevated, rocky positions to protect surrounding farmland. Often used to store other valuable such as deeds, records, jewelry, clothes, carpets, and so on.

3. Signal Tower
Either optical semaphore or a classic pyre. Built high up with good lines of sight. Minimum garrison, and lightly fortified. Might double as a lookout and base for scouting parties. Of a similar vein, a relay or post station with stables of fresh horses and a cantina for tired messengers. 

4. Monastery (abbey) 
Big, isolated, and well-built religious compound. The monks likely own a significant amount of local land which they work themselves or rent to tenant farmers. Poorly defended with a lot of valuables.
Illustrated Heading with Castle