Sunday, November 4, 2018

Updated Initiative Rules

The initiative rules in the early drafts were effective, but frankly I just didn't like them. They didn't fit with the rest of the system. After a few experiments, most of which I'll mark as failed, the following was decided upon. It does a few things:

  1. It allows for a GREAT initiative roll to really impact how much time you've got to do things. surprising the enemy is bad-ass again.
  2. It is easy math that the players can do and doesn't depend (as much) on what other people rolled. 
  3. Spending END on initiative makes sense now (had little impact before)
  4. Additional Initiative dice have a better impact as well, making that a worthwhile advance.
  5. The ambush rules are much clearer and a good ambush plan GUARANTEES the entire party will go first and quickly if it is well executed and really makes it likely if at least somewhat well executed.

In General

  1. Everyone makes a Ranked INIT Action Roll.
  2. Highest initiative roll starts on Count 0
  3. Each additional character starts on Count (highest roll - their own roll)

Initiative Roll
Initiative Count
 (12-8) = 4
(12 - 4) = 8
(12 - 11) = 1
Gang of Ghol
Pack of Giant Rats
 (12 - 7) = 5

  • The combat count starts at 0.
  • Any character with an initiative count of 0 gets their next declared action at half speed.
  • Combat count increments as normal/everything else is the same
Situational Awareness


Alert characters are on guard and specifically watching for danger in a specific location roll initiative with Advantage. For example, watching a door or hallway while the rest of the group is doing other things.


This is a character’s general state. No modifiers t the roll.


Characters that are distracted because they are engaged in other activities such as arguing, picking a lock, or searching an area are distracted. These characters roll initiative with Disadvantage.


An ambush is when a character or group has a specific plan of attack and knowledge of their enemy and the situation. Kicking down a door where the enemy and specific terrain is unknown does not count an ambush, but it may catch the targets distracted.

Ambushing Unaware Targets

An unaware target is unprepared for a fight. When ambushing unaware targets. The character that rolled the highest gets an initiative count of 0 and all other characters in the group get an initiative count of 1. The unaware targets will have AT BEST an initiative count of 5. The entire target group must be unaware of the attack.

Ambushing Aware Targets

If the target group is aware of a possible attack but still being ambushed, the ambushers roll with Advantage but the target of the ambush rolls based on their situational awareness (Alert, Wary, or Distracted), which can be different for different members of the group.
Note: one can be alert or ambushing but not both)

A surprised character has an initiative count that has not yet been reached. Once a character's first  initiative count comes up they are no longer surprised. Surprised characters may still defend themselves, but do so at Disadvantage. Shields may only be used if they were readied before the combat began

Mitigating Surprised

A character may grab another character to mitigate their surprise. Average the current and surprised character's counts. The mitigating character has no penalty to defend and can step in and take the hit from any incoming attacks.

Sorrow in Haven Monsters and Books

The last edits are being completed on the first draft of Sorrow in Haven. The 'beta' copy of the book has been made (and some obviously adjustments are in order). With that in the final stages, I've moved on to parts 2 and 3 of the project: the monster book and version 2 of the main book.

First, re-creating all of the 'classic' monsters is not a particularly fun or rewarding experience. So for the most part I decided simply not to. The majority of monsters are new creatures, things that haven't existed before. As I was writing, though, I realized that some of the classic monsters should show up. Most of them have been included in the "Creatures of Dust" group - these are the more common creatures that characters (and players) may know about.

I'm going to break the monsters into 3 volumes, just for management purposes. Creatures have a "class" that is similar to level and are rated A-E based on where they might show up in a dungeon. The Threat value for individual creatures varies on a given class, but overall, higher threat is a 'higher' class rating. Volume 1 will contain classes A&B, volume 2 C&D, and volume 3 will have class E, Astral, and Gloom encounters. Volumes 1 and 2 will contain 132 monsters, volume 3 128 monsters, and both will have appendices for some extra fun (although I'm not sure what just yet).

Main Rules v2
The rewrite of the main rules is for two purposes. The first is to add new details, rules, and concepts into the official rules. The second is to expand on some concepts that are touched up but not explained as well as I'd like or need to be updated/revised/expanded. The game is the same, just with some more polish on it. All of that comes together to create a single book that is an entire game, including some monster highlights, so a new GM or player can pick it up and jump right in.

That is the fun part, isn't it? Earlier in the year I had a MASSIVE data loss situation. Entirely my fault, although i'll blame technology for as much of it as I can get away with. The monster collection had to be entirely recreated, the dungeon generator I use for inspiration also needed to be (and is still in the process) of being rebuilt from the ground up. So next year? I plan to have the main text completed by the end of June 2019, then the art and editing and all that fun stuff needs to happen. SO this whole project might be ready in 2020. Let's say 2020. 

Then I will consider if a Kickstarter is worthwhile. Not really to MAKE money (which would be cool) but to share my project and maybe break even. I'm doing this as a labor of love and will have everything completed and payed for and ready to go if/when a kickstarter happens, so it all comes down to production, which is going to be all done by hand. Because I can. and no PDF because I don't want to make that. I know that a lot of folks will not want such a thing, but i'm old school and like my books.

Recent Play Reports
I've been pretty awful about posting play reports on the blog. I mean clearly, this is the first thing posted in months. But the good news is that a massive and wildly complex adventure came to a close. It was a hard test of the rules and 99% of things worked out. More interesting, is that the first game being run by someone OTHER than me is happening! We've had one session which was awesome. Another session is pending, but work travel (not just mine) has borked things up a bit. In any case, the game goes on!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Tales from Haven (Mini-session Report)

Haven is a terrible place. Just terrible.

This session we had a loss of players, so decided that the two who were able to make it would make new characters for a side-campaign. It was an amazing disaster, a vignette into the world of the adventurer, and pretty damn fun.

Drogo the scoundrel was a petty thief, scheming cartophile, and was sorely lacking in moral fiber.
Izzy the wizard was an escaped slave from a Lydosian Research ship that made his was on the tides to Haven along with his physically wrecked former mentor Jimmy.
Jimmy wants a meat pie. Jimmy thinks it smells down here. Jimmy, formerly Sir James, was Izzy's henchman (the henchman rules work really well)

Side Note: the Henchman Rule
Roll your stats and total the action modifiers. If the total is 0 or less, then the character is a henchman, not a playable adventurer. Set them aside and roll again. Keep rolling until you get a viable player character. You can keep 1 henchman that you previously rolled as a loyal retainer for each positive point of PRESENCE modifier.

Both were dirt poor (failed "Working Hard" and poor starting funds rolls) and Destitute (alley living at its finest). A lot of table time was spent describing the terrible memories and backgrounds of these hard luck characters. The were probationary members of the Guild of Defenestration but weren't looking for a dungeon run, so I asked the players what rumors their characters had heard. Two things popped up
  1. A warehouse in Richardtown, owned by the Guild of Bricklayers and Cobbilists, had recently had some breakins and was hiring unsavory types to guard the warehouse. No Cops. Inquire at the Hogg's Nipple on Bell Street.
  2. There were several sightings of disturbingly large rats on the Briteside docks. The Sunflower House (Seamstress Guild local 121) near the Briteside reported seeing some sort of unclean commingling of man and rat outside in the back alley.
Two great rumors, immediately combined, and an adventure was spawned.

Getting Things Going
Drogo knew Harry, the Guild (BL&C) Steward and along with his crew met him in seriously seedy Hogg's Nipple. After much haggling and henchman Jimmy getting drunk, the party agreed to the watch job at the warehouse. They were clearly suspicious of the "no sniffing around and mind you post" talk, but had a few hours to kill. Another band was hired for the earlier shift - some tough guys that were always getting jobs first.

After a successful pickpocket on a minor noble slumming in Richardtown, the crew went to the warehouse. No=one answered the door. after some scouting and climbing up to the second floor window, Drogo saw some wan candlelight.

It Starts to Go Bad
There was stealth and skulking about in the dark. The party stumbled upon the body of one of the tough guys. They found a single candle left on an open crate, various crates opened and contents spilled about, and the bodies of the other tough guys and the guild nightman Smitty.

There were some silver candelabras and other material that looks the like guild warehouse was being used as a smuggling or fencing base - something unsavory. All the stuff lying around that weren't bricks and cobbles was pretty good ... so why was it there?

Izzy peeked into the astral and was immediately swarmed by the Gloom and mosquito. He came back quickly. No one had a good feeling about this situation. They followed a blood trail through the dark warehouse to find, hidden beneath a crate, a grate that leads into the undercity. Sewers and dead dungeons. Uhg.

GM Thoughts: Clues
The tough guys and Smitty not just killed, but mutilated, was a clue. The source of their demise was clearly something dangerous and tough. The multiple candles indicated there were multiple foes. The lack of dead foes, whoever they are, further adds to how dangerous they are. The loot left lying about means they were after something specific, not just treasure. Peering into the Astral and seeing Gloom means something mystical is involved. GM Tip: don't tell the players, show them.

It Gets Worse
In the undercity they follow the blood trail and eventually find a dead ratman, his guts spilling out as he tried to hold them in. His end is merciful, but the trail ends. The adventurers wander the sewers a bit, rouse something large from one of the cistern, but eventually find where they believe the ratmen are holing up - in a dead dungeon connected to the sewers (surprise! come on - it was an improv adventure and i was pretty tipsy).

Hearing faint flute and banjo music, the party creeps forward, but in the first room Drogo falls into a 20' pit trap filled with garbage and refuse. Ouch! The music stops, Izzy holds a rope as Drogo climbs out and from one of the other doorways 3 ratmen rush out.

The fight is tough, the ratmen are barely damaged by anything (very high DR against non-silver), but the pit in center of the room features as main point. Izzy gets knocked out, but not before two of the ratmen are shoved into the pit. Unfortunately, the last ratman managed to knock Drogo into the pit, ending the combat and the game.

TPK, but valiantly fought.


  • More G.O.D. member go missing on unsanctioned missions. The Guild cannot protect you if you don't follow the rules!
  • Rumors about town are that there is a new king of the undercity. a Sir Jimmy, who claims to be king of the ratmen.
  • Smitty was post-mortem implicated in a smuggling operation. The warehouse was shut down for a month for detailed inspected. the Guild of BL&C were furious. Parts of the city are falling into disrepair as a second Guild War seems to be brewing.

GM Thoughts
TPK is both satisfying and unfortunate. I'm definitely not the opponent of the other players and I want them to succeed, but at the same time watching things completely collapse into chaos and death is pretty fun from the GMs side. How many times the players have destroyed my clever plans or circumvented my amazing traps. The TPK also adds some seriousness to the games, makes retreat an reasonable option, and makes success, when it does occur, to be that much sweeter.

What I did like out of this adventure was a bit more flavor for Haven came out. Guilds, neighborhoods, and seedy activity all around. At one point the players were talking about stealing whatever contraband they could from the warehouse and ditching, which would also have been fun and interesting. The minor noble they robbed (from House Doorn) would have come looking for them had they survive, adding some potential political intrigue. ANd during character creation is was learned that Cardinal Tichonderoda has a map that shows a generally unknown entrance into Sorrow.

So while the adventure at had ended in disaster, I'd say the session was a success from a world-building and fun perspective. And after all - this is a game and fun is the main objective.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Knowing about Monsters

Sorrow in Haven has an setting where dungeons are all over the damn place. As such, it is implied, although not stated outright, that all characters have some knowledge of dungeons and their inhabitants. At the same time, discovering new things and having monsters be new and mysterious is part of the charm.

Everyone how plays D&D knows that kobold (dog-faced or dragon-babies - it doesn't matter) are little shit-stains that are not a threat to seasoned adventurers. Describe a kobold and other than Tucker's Kobolds, who are more of a "dungeon element challenge" than a "monster to deal with", and players get ready to knock the little bastards around so they can get on with the good part of the adventure.  They are trash mobs.

Not know what a monster is or does is fun, but if EVERYTHING is unknown, then each encounter is effectively a random battle as far as the players are concerned. I've decided to combat the "everything is unknown" and the "players read the monster manual" issues to create a sense of tension using the following

1. General Knowledge
If the players encounter a "common" monster, I'll use the name.  If anyone thinks to ask what they know about the critter, I'll give them one piece of info. The Explorer class has the "Dungeon Lore" advance and gets to ask about specific stuff, like what kind of dungeon they are in. If the dungeon type is known (and I don't hide it from players) they may have heard about the types of monsters that inhabit a type of dungeon. These are "common knowledge" things and while never outright falsehoods, they may be skewed versions of the truth.

Some examples
  • If the part encounters an Angel's Crown, I'll use that name.  A piece of information I'd offer is "they are known to be very aggressive in groups".
  • In a Tombs dungeon, players should watch out for Plague Rhinos (strange huge beasts that are infected with a rotting disease).
  • Blood Ogres are known to stomp around Gorhaven dungeons. They are easily swayed by music played on a silver flute.
2. The "Monster Lore" Advance
The character knows about monsters - in fact with an INT Action Roll the player gets to ask the GM a number of questions - any question. That is some direct meta-gaming stuff right there, but it does the trick. Critical and Legendary failures produce dubious results (or outright lies from me). At the same time, a Critical or Legendary will give the player more info as I wax on about whatever.

Some examples
  • Mike gets to ask 2 questions. He asks "Can a Succulent Jeff be trusted?" The short answer is "No", but a critical success might be "They seem like good allies until you go to sleep, then they disappear with your stuff"
  • His other question is "What special abilities do they have". They have a few, i'll answer with one of them on a normal roll "They have bursts of incredible speed" or on a better roll I'll add in "they are immune to non-magical damage".
3. The Phantasmagorica as Loot
In short, the players can find pages from the monster book I've written as loot. There is some in-game chatter about The Cornelius Papers, but in reality, they get all or some of the stats of the monster entry.  I'm also encouraging players to keep their own monster book for reference... which leads to #4

4. The Lore Keeper
Adventurers have limited access the the Guild of Defenestration's Lore Keeper. Depending on their reputation within the Guild, they can get some time with Ingref. She is the current Lore Keeper and a bit frazzled at the utter lack of organization the previous Lore Keepers had - also there was a fire and a lot of info has been lost.

In any case, there is a chance, depending on the type of information they are looking for, that Ingref can answer a few questions, find some rumors or legends, or generally give the adventurer's a leg up. The more the adventurer's do, the more time they get with her, which is another reward for successful play - more information.

Tangent Thoughts on Info as Loot
This goes back to my long-standing believe that information can be loot. Not that I'm keeping information hidden (the game is hard enough already), but special information, a little extra insight, clues to how things work, bits of history that tie to setting together, all work to create a complete setting with things happening outside of the narrative of actual play without anyone having to read reams of my poorly written backstories. Players won't give a flying fuck if Agroth VonKranakek left his noble wife of House Albon for the non-noble Theresa Bloch and the political implications of that action ... unless it directly affects the game, but why would they know that unless they happened to be scholars of nobility? That kind of thing.

Back to the Lore Keepers - Reputation
The adventuring crew's reputation is a simple number. The current average (MEAN average) adventurer level multiplied by the highest threat value of a dungeon level they have defeated ("they" being the ongoing guild chapter as long as there isn't a TPK, in which that value is reset) plus the number of dungeons the Players have explored.

Reputation: (average level x highest threat) + dungeons explored.

The current party has a Reputation of 6
  • average level: 2 (rounded 1.75)
  • highest threat: 2 (Gardens of Kesh)
  • dungeons explored: 2 (Gardens of Kesh plus the Tomb of Agaroth)]

The party's reputation is the NUMBER OF REAL LIFE MINUTES they can ask questions of Ingref. I tend to ramble on a bit, so if it goes over because I'm puttering and being poetic, I don't hold it against them. This isn't role playing time with Ingref, that is completely different - and can actually give the players a bit more info.  Jinxy was courting her with flowers and, if that character hadn't become forever lost in the Labyrinth of War, would get some extra time with Ingref beause he was nice to her.

Tangent Thoughts on Rewards for Role Playing
Sure I throw around some XP and Advantage from time to time as a reward for role playing, but I also give players more options - extra information, new paths, new types of currency (influence and favors as currency is an entirely other blog post). The more someone role plays, the more I get to role play and improv, which I love. Role playing that is on target (not that self indulgent shit where players won't do something obvious because they character wouldn't - which unless they have a better option is usually just garbage ... or those jerks who are clearly ignoring the group dynamic to bring out some aspect of their character's overworked past to dominate the game space as a replacement for therapy ... but I digress) can really get some of the best rewards out of the game.

Sure mace that cripples foes with each strike is bitchin, but so is getting a free lifestyle increase because you are known about town as having tea regularly with Kira Lightwater of House Doorn. She is well liked ... and if she likes you then you must be worthwhile as well (either as a good person or a potential contact to woo to gain her favor).

5. Monster Clues
Last, but not least, some of the "loot" are clues as to the types of inhabitants of a dungeon. If players pay attention to and ask questions about the clues, they'll get some insight into what is going on. This lets players plan a head a bit while continuing to explore. I'm a pretty big fan of this one as well. What the hell strips the flesh off bones and also chard the bones? Flame Beetles - those giant bugs are nothing but trouble, but good scavengers I hear.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Gigadungeon SORROW, namesake of Sorrow in Haven

The setting of Sorrow in Haven has several points of interest, but the one that I've enjoyed building the most are around the dungeons. In particular, the Sorrow of Sorrow in Haven is the first and largest mega-dungeon - nay giga-dungeon! - in the campaign.

How big? Smeesh. Fucking epic. Check this out:
That is not the dungeon map, that is the "side view" level and region relational map.

Nay-sayer: BAH! what a big mess - no one will ever be able to explore all that! Garbage!
Me: NAY, Nay-sayer, it is you who are full of shit.

Each one of those boxes with the purposely blurred out names is a dungeon level (or sometimes a few levels). The levels are organized into regions. Each of the regions has enough material to be a mega-dungeon by most standards. In fact two of my mega-dungeons from days long past have been slotted into Sorrow. I know exactly how much play there is in there, and the answer is a fuck-ton (or fuqe-tonne if you prefer).

With that much mega-dungeoning, this is clearly a gig-dungeon. On another scale.

Nay-sayer: Seriously? How much of that do you even have mapped, let alone keyed? Garbage!
Me: TO HELL WITH YOU, Nay-sayer.

The entire dungeon is meant to interact, at least on local scales. Within Sorrow there are direct and indirect routes between places - the entire thing isn't on a flat plane, though, nor is that plane even euclidean. N-dimensional topology, anyone? If that doesn't float your boat ... magic portals, anyone?

To count this bad boy out, there are 11 regions. Within those regions are 81 levels. Some levels are only a few rooms.  One of them is more than 200. The median is around 35. I'd say this will be a 3000-room dungeon when all said and done.

How much of it is mapped? A little more than half is actually mapped, and anything mapped is keyed. Each level has notes and scribbles and partial maps. However, I plan to have map and keyed frameworks done by end of 2018. I'm going to re-draw every map using the same style (I've been compiling this fucker for nearly 15 years).

I've also lined things up so that I can run multiple campaigns in the same environment without having to worry about the parties stepping on each other; but their actions will still influence things other parties encounter.

Will it ever be done?  No, probably not.
Will I work on it constantly until I die? No to that either. I like going outside too, you know.

HOWEVER, I can't wait for the first party to get either brave or desperate enough to poke their head in. The first known level is called the Gauntlet. Below that is the Gear Hall. After that, it is a mystery; those that know either want these memories purged from their mind or are keeping those secrets for greed or potentially the betterment of all humanity.

I love fantasy role playing games. I really do.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Small Jobs in Haven

My players were lamenting their lack of funds in the most recent game - they are adventurers, members of the Guild of Defenestration, and their "job" is to get into the dungeons that bloom under Haven. Their "payment" comes from loot they recover (a small percentage skimmed from the top by the Guild for operating expenses, of course).

One of my players was asking "can't we do something to earn a few groats?" My immediate response was "no - you are adventurers! go adventure!" I should have said "sure, but it takes time and has consequences.  After all, if you saw your local mayor working at the local fast food chain, you'd have a thought or two on the subject.

So, some rules for "other jobs" for adventurers. Incidentally, they all suck.

Odd Jobs Rules
A character may stop adventuring for a week and do some fairly boring jobs. This has two consequences.

The First Consequence
If there are any "live" dungeons, roll 1d6.

  • 1-3: The dungeon grows - it repopulates itself, more monsters, possibly more dangerous, new areas, not good.
  • 4-5: Another local Guild chapter takes over the contract. The character's chapter loses some status and trust.
  • 6: The dungeon erupts from the Underworld - monsters in the streets, a plague of Gloom, general mayhem.

The Second Consequence
Adventurers have a special place in society. While they are often looked down upon they have a strange respect from the population. Doing non-adventuring things lessens their standing. Reduce the character's lifestyle by 1 level automatically (even if the character spent loot in advance to boost their standing).  A destitute character doesn't get any lower.

The Jobs
Based on current lifestyle (after the drop in status), roll 1d4. If you don't know what the job is based on the title, imagine the worst thing you can based on the character's new lifestyle.

Humiliation is the key. These jobs suck. If a character had a real job they wouldn't be an adventurer.
 Destitute dung picker scuz mopper silk snatcher sweat milker
 Shabby corpse cart driver  bird feeder fence mender rat catcher
 Working pet walker catchpoke fruit stomper scab tender
 Craftsman shop assistant guild herald shit strainer tooth snapper 
 Guilder personal servant house herald slop grinder fish gutter
 Wealthy guild attendant tavern server lip painter chug dealer
 Extravagant  house balif Incense bearer  house pratwhore  payed friend

How Many Groats?
Not as many as you would like. Any groats earned from boring jobs cannot be used by a character to gain experience through banking or carousing. Only loot earned through adventuring can get a character XP.

If the player complain about the paltry number of groats (and those numbers are pretty paltry), remind them that this is not a game about being an accountant or avoiding adventure. If they don't have enough loot to maintain their gear or lifestyle then perhaps they should be a bit more aggressive in looting the Underworld or choose to sell relic they found to a noble house or the Guild of Defenestration instead of hanging on to it.

Sure it might come to bite them in the ass later, but at least they could repair their armor and buy a shield.

Sorrow in Haven, and most fantasy adventure games for that matter are not about doing mundane things, they are about taking chances and high adventure; about encountering the weird and overcoming overwhelming odds; and most of all about having fun!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Underworld Beasts: Gilgesh

The Gilgesh are an ancient culture, long forgotten from the World of Light. They are casually referred to as scorpion-men.

Most gilgesh are encountered when they are in the middle of a summoning. So far no adventurers have identified what they are attempting to summon because they don't wait around - combat or escape are the number one priority.

The gilgesh vomit acid as their primary attack, their vicious looking claws are too delicate for combat. Their tail does not end in a stinger, buth rather can "tulip" open revealing a terrible second mouth. It is from this mouth they call forth the Ancient Oath of Binding.

The Ancient Oath of Binding
Apparently the Gilgesh once enslaved the ancestors of humanity.  If the Oath is spoken, all who hear it must pass a difficulty (+3) WIT action roll or choose Deference of Defense.  One who defers becomes a worker slave, cleaning the gilgesh or doing menial tasks for it. Those who defend will do so with all their power and even sacrifice their life to defend the creature. Characters who failed the first roll get a second after 1d6 turns; if this second one also fails the target is forever enslaved.

Digestive Acids
If a character is hit by the digestive acids, one thing that they are wearing or are carrying openly (weapons, shields, armor, fancy hats, masks, cool rings, whatever) has to immediately make a durability roll to see if it gets seriously damaged.

Sorrow in Haven (and other useful) Stats

 Aberration (neutral) Size: M Danger: 4 KO: +4
 Intransient Raconteur  Org: group or solitary  Atk: +1 Def: +2
 Multiple Appendiges Cunning: Clever Digestive Acid DR: 1
 Demeanor: Cold Ferocity: Calm Speed: 4 END: 20 
 Int: Smart Instinct: enslave  Dmg: d6 VIT: 6

OSR / LotFP Stats
 Armor: 4 better than "base"
 Move: 40'
 Hit Dice: 3 (11 hp)
 Digestive Acid: d6 x2
 Morale: 10
 Oath of Binding: save vs Magic
 Digestive Acids: wreck an item

Also, I totally borrowed this artwork without permission from: