The Ultimate Monster Summoning Chart (Elves & Espers Edition)

Jeff’s Gameblog: a blog about games and stuff: two neat bits from Supplement I

So here’s my challenge to all you refs out there: share either in the comments here or on your own blog a custom Ultimate Monster Summoning chart for your campaign.

  1. 1d6 Drowleks
  2. 1d100 Bubblemen
  3. 2d10 CybOrcs riding rocket-propelled AirSharks with frickin’ laser-beams on their heads
  4. 1 Abomination
  5. 1d100 Zombots
  6. 2d20 Pigsies
  7. 1 Majyc
  8. 2d10 Firewights
  9. 2d6 Corpse Guard
  10. 1 Super-Model
  11. 1d100 Thaumivorous Ghost-Moths
  12. Roll twice and combine.

My Copy of Open Game Table Arrived

And it shore does look purdy.

I haven’t read it cover-to-cover, it’s not that kind of book, but leafing through it there are a number of interesting articles that I hadn’t seen before…either they hadn’t caught my eye in the RPG Bloggers Network feed, or they had been posted before I first joined.  And of course there are some of my old favorites, like the piece on adventure design from I Waste the Buddha With My Crossbow, or Jeff Rient’s How to Awesome-Up Your Players, immortalized in print.

My hat’s off to Jonathan Jacobs, who did a bang-up job.

The Monstrous Majyc

Well, the meme bug has bitten, and Ravyn asks

Doesn’t everyone sometimes wonder what they’d be if they were an RPG-style monster? I did, as part of a coordinated RPG Blogger Bestiary… and I ended up with this.

Well, no, the thought hadn’t really crossed my mind before.  But now that you ask.

The Majyc

Monster Rating: 95 (typically found on dungeon level 1)
Combat Dice: 10d6+48  WIZ 95
Special Abilities: Mirage – cost 0, can cast once per 10 minutes when not in combat.  Port-a-Vision – cost 0, can cast once per 10 minutes when not in combat. Mystic Visions – cost 0, can be cast once per combat turn.  Wall of Stone – can be cast once per 10 minutes for 0 cost when not in combat, or at normal cost (47) Omniflex – cost 0, once per party, only if captured.  Wink Wing – cost 0, as per Leprechaun ability.  Blow Me To – cost 0, once, after casting Omniflex.

The Majyc is singular, only one is ever found in a dungeon.  It is a small semi-translucent humanoid, about the size of a fairy but without the wings.  It is hard to spot (SR5 vs Int) if it’s not moving.   It will tend to gravitate towards libraries and collections of books, if the dungeon has any, and then use its powers to divert and distract both adventurers and monsters from the area it’s inhabiting.  It will only fight if cornered.  If captured, it will offer to cast Omniflex on one party member; after casting Omniflex it is teleported via Blow Me To to another dungeon entirely.

The Majyc is fond of combining its spells with architectural features of the dungeon in order to discourage and confound trespassers. For instance, it might create the illusion of a pit just in front of a real pit, while concealing the real pit with the illusion of a floor, so that creatures attempting to jump the visible pit fall into the real pit (or vice-versa, so creatures seeing the illusory pit will approach the edge to investigate and fall right into the real one), or put an illusion of a corridor over a Wall of Stone.  It will not, generally speaking, harass creatures that are heading in the proper direction (away from its lair) or attempt to finish them off.  It never possesses treasure of its own, though it is possible that it has established itself in a library that contains rare and valuable items.  It will not take a room that’s an obvious treasure-vault for its home, since that is just inviting trouble from adventurers.  If it can’t find a suitable book-filled area, it will attempt to create one by pilfering books from other parts of the dungeon.  If the dungeon doesn’t have any, it will leave.

Tunnels & Trolls 5.5 vs 7.5

An overview of the changes that I’ve noticed between T&T v5.5 and v7.5  All the comparisons phrased in terms of what 5.5 has/lacks vs. 7.5, since I read 7.5 first and went over it extensively.  Also, some of the changes in 7.5 appeared in 5.5 in a couple-page appendix of Ken St. Andre’s house rules:


  • No WIZ stat, spells are powered by STR.  Advantage: 7.5  STR to power spells isn’t a deal-breaker, but it makes the archetype of the frail old but nonetheless mighty wizard a problem.
  • SPD is an optional stat only used for movement rates, which are fairly complicated. It can’t be increased.  Advantage: 7.5  Even if you view Speed strictly in terms of how fast you can run, that’s certainly something you can improve with training, at least as much as you can improve your Intelligence or Charisma.
  • No Triples Add and Roll Over. Advantage: 7.5   Not a big deal, but it’s kind of cool. (This is one of the KsA houserules.)
  • Weight Possible and Weight Carried emphasized more in 5.5 including rules for how long you can carry how much.  Advantage: 7.5  I’m not enough of a Grognard to value the added bookkeeping.  It’s good to have a rule-of-thumb, but I don’t like tracking it.
  • No Specialists or Citizens.  Advantage: 7.5  Anything that increases the number of viable archetypes without unduly burdening the system with complexity is a win in my book
  • Warriors don’t get Level adds in Combat Adds. Advantage: 7.5  Something besides the armor bonus as a reward for leveling up is nice to have.
  • Warrior-Wizards instead of Paragons. Toss-up. It’s harder to be a Paragon (you need a triple somewhere in your roll-up, not just everything >=12), but the 7.5 advantages are better: they get to double their armor instead of add 1, they get to invent new spells once they reach 10th level, the Wizard’s Guild will sell them spells.  Both versions are rare enough that I doubt it matters which you use.
  • No Talents.  Advantage: 7.5. I like Talents…maybe the most out of any skill system I’ve seen published.

Saving Rolls

  • Saving Rolls have a minimum for success of 5, and are calculated as the SR – Luck = number to beat (instead of roll +Luck > SR?). Advantage: 7.5   The mechanical result is the same, but roll+add is easier for most people; whether it’s better to have 3 is an automatic failure or <=5 is a toss-up, but I’d personally give the edge to the players succeeding more often.


  • Monster dice as well as adds get reduced as Monster Rating goes down during combat; this produces a much sharper death-spiral effect.  Advantage: 7.5  I don’t really see any advantage to having nearly every combat the PCs win end with several anti-climactic rounds that are rolled (if at all) just to see how fast they can finish.
  • 5.5 Makes it clear that armor doesn’t subtract from hits for magic (though a magic amulet might).  Advantage: 5.5
  • Missile fire isn’t added into the side’s Total Hits, but some magic is–at least up until the point when it would double-count hits.  Advantage: 7.5  This rule actually puzzles me in 5.5.  If you’re worried about double-counting damage, why does magic get to (semi) double-count and not missiles?  There’s a sort of explanation that Take That You Fiend! jars or shocks nearby foes and makes them less effective, reducing their attack up until it makes them lose the round but never delivering more hits than the magic’s damage, but Freeze Please and Blasting Power are spread out, while other spells don’t, and…It’s far simpler to my mind to just add everything up, and that lets your rear-rank guys like archers and wizards actually figure into whether you win or lose the round.  The whole “the monster can lose the combat because of magic adds, but not take extra damage” calculation makes my eyes water.
  • Damage is divided evenly between all the losing side, except that if it doesn’t come out evenly the Wizard (if any) can take the smaller parcel.  Advantage: 7.5   Dividing the damage up is one of the few tactical decisions that the party gets to make during a turn, and I like the idea that the fighters can choose to bear the brunt of it and protect the weaker party members.  I can see play-by-post going with even splits to reduce the back-and-forth, but flavor-wise I think 7.5 is much more interesting.
  • Missile weapon fire requires multiplying a distance factor by a size factor to get the SR level, but archers get twice the DEX adds when firing a bow. Advantage: 7.5
  • Dodging is handled by an SR against Luck if the players agree that monsters get the same SR. Advantage: 7.5.  There are several points in 5.5 where the rule to be used is negotiated with the players, which I kind of like, but the 7.5 version of just doubling the SR level if the target is dodging or moving erratically is easier and quicker.
  • No spite damage.  Advantage: 7.5  Even a stronger party bears some risk of injury in combat, and combats tend to get resolved faster because spite damage bypasses armor.
  • Rules for too-heavy weapons.  Advantage: 7.5  While it’s nice that 5.5 has an answer to what happens if you try to wield a weapon too big for you, the answer being that you knock yourself out in short order (your STR is damaged by the difference each round, with it increasing each round as your new STR is even less) is probably worse than just saying you can’t use it effectively.
  • Rules for Movement.  Advantage: 7.5  The 5.5 rules are simultaneously complex, with varying formulas based on encumbrance and type of activity (looking carefully, normal dungeon speed, sprinting) and fatigue rules based on CON and abstract, yielding nothing more than a rating of feet/minute traveled.


  • No special abilities for monsters. Advantage: 7.5  The whole spite-damage activates special monster abilities like stoning gaze or fiery breath makes them a lot less bland, IMO.
  • Wandering monsters.  Advantage: 5.5  5.5’s rules are vague, but at least it has some.
  • Monster reaction chart.  Advantage: 5.5  Another inexplicable hole in 7.5 is no discussion at all of anything monsters might do except attack and fight to the death.


  • No Kremm resistance.  Toss-up.  I don’t really know whether the whole kremm resistance thing is worthwhile, and I suspect I won’t until I’ve played a bunch.

There’s more, including stuff on learning languages, berserk fighting, a really elaborate set of optional marksmanship rules, hirelings and slaves, some nice discussion of designing a dungeon, and so forth, but that’s the gist of it.  There’s also a fairly substantial (and controversial) change in how experience is allotted, going from advancement in level granting you the right to improve one attribute by an attribute-specific formula (e.g. +your new level to your STR, but only 1/2 your level rounded down if added to your DEX) to a uniform spend your current attribute x 10 xp to raise it by one, with level back-figured from changes to one of your class’ primary attributes, but I haven’t yet bothered to figure out what that would mean for a typical character at various levels.  I suspect 5.5 would tend to preserve initial differences in stats more, since you can only pick one stat to advance per level, and levels take more and more XP to achieve as you advance.

As you can tell, by and large I think V7.5 is an improvement in most ways.  I think 5.5 is a better introduction to RPGs…I’m not sure somebody new to RPGs could really understand what to do with 7.5, and certain things are either cryptic or accidentally ommitted in 7.5 (such as what the 2nd figure for DEX under DEX required for knives meant), but most of the individual rules changes in 7.5 are in the direction of making things simpler and more uniform, and where they add complication (Talents, Specialists) they get a lot of bang for the buck.  Still, I’m very pleased to have both sets of rules now, and I like T&T even more for having read where it is coming from.

update: Commenter G’Noll points out that I was confusing the requirements for Paragon with the other Specialists; Paragons in 7.5 have the same basic requirements as in 5.5: 12+ in every attribute before Kindred modifiers are applied, though that’s much harder to do with an extra two attributes.

4e For Grognards?

The Core Mechanics offers up 10 House Rules to Make Grognards Like 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Unfortunately, most of the house rules are of the Racing Stripes on a Yugo variety. (Or, if you’re a 4e fan, putting Fuzzy Dice and lowrider hydraulics on a Formula 1.)  Except for Rule 7 (Don’t scale the Campaign Setting), they change the surface details like number of classes or races without getting at the essence of the play style.  For instance, Rule 4: Limit Races to 3.  White Box D&D from 1974 had the rule

There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up to the top, i.e., a player wishing to be a Dragon would have to begin as let us say, a “young” one and progress upwards in the usual manner, steps being predetermined by the campaign referee.

So it’s not the Dragonborn that are keeping the Grognards away, ok?  (Btw, just for comparison, that single rule is the same amount of space as devoted to Halflings, and only about a sentence or two shorter than the rules for Elves or Dwarves.)

So what would you really have to do to make 4e Grognard-friendly, assuming you wanted to?  There are really three major things, and they’re comparatively simple, but profound.

First, you have to reverse the direction of causality in the system: cause and effect have to flow from the game-world to the rules, not from the rules to the game-world as it currently stands.  What does that really mean for 4e?  It means that you have to visualize what’s really going on in the world, and reason out the consequences from there.  What 4e calls “the flavor text” is the power.  You can’t just invoke “Tide of Iron” and move the mini, it actually has to make game-world sense that the character be able to push the opponent in that direction given everything you know about the combatants such as their relative mass, whether one of them is made of some substance that makes pushing/being pushed wierd or would have some other consequence–think about using your shield to shove a Gelatinous Cube around and you’ll see what I mean. And if the effect is not supposed to be magical, if you can’t explain how it would actually happen (frankly, most of the pull and slide powers) then you can’t do it.  If the flavor text of the power causes small flames, that’s different from a power that creates icicles, even if the rules are otherwise identical.  And just because two powers have rules that interact (the whole “exception-based design”) means nothing if it’s not clear how the interaction would play out/make any sense in the game-world.  I expect that a lot of 4e players would balk at this, despite it being the same as Mike Mearls’ advice on running 4e without minis, but do you want to game with Grognards or don’t you?

The second thing you have to do is eliminate any vestiges of any rule or mechanic that can’t be understood in game world terms, and talked about in-character.  That doesn’t mean that the characters have to use the exact same terms, but they have to be able to think about the concept.  A Fighting Man might not actually say “Saving Throw”, but he could fully understand and discuss with the other characters that he’s much better at dodging a death ray or beam from a magic wand than he is at resisting a spell.  He can talk about how hard it is to hurt or kill something, even if he doesn’t literally say AC or HP, and how experienced he is even if he doesn’t divide it into points of XP.  For 4e that means dropping Skill Challenges.  Sorry, but there’s no in-game way I can conceive of to explain the spooky action at a distance implied by the accumulating successes and failures (particularly the failures).  You’re just going to have to do it the old-fashioned way, by reasoning about the logical consequences of each individual failure and success and whether there’s any causal reason one would influence the next.  You also have to eliminate Action Points, possibly Healing Surges, and probably a raft of other things (“minions” for instance–a creature of the same type as another you’re fighting that can only take 1/100th or less damage can really put a dent in the old verisimilitude).  You could try to “reify” them…make them actual things that the game-world inhabitants really do understand  and talk about (perhaps with magical or divine explanations), but you risk turning your game into The Order of the Stick.

The final thing that you have to do, and this is really the culmination of the other two, is that you have to stop looking at the character sheet and the rulebooks to tell you whether you’re permitted to do something.  If the player can describe the action in such a way that it makes a lick of sense in the game-world, the character can attempt it.  The GM can assign a probability to whether it works (even if it’s so low as to be in effect impossible), or just rule directly, but everybody can attempt anything they can imagine unless it’s specifically called out as forbidden to their class (e.g. fighters learning spells, magic users wearing armor).  Skills, feats, powers…they mean you’ve got a better shot, but the lack of one should never be cause for the GM to say no.

And that’s it. You don’t have to strip out the laughable names “Moon Prism Power Divine Strike!™”  “Bloody-Riptooth All Cool And Spiky Badass MoFo Crocodile™.”   You don’t have to put save-or-die effects in, enforce completely random chargen, have level-draining undead, or make magic Vancian.   All of those things were indeed common enough back in the day…but they weren’t the essence of game-play; plenty of undeniably old-school games didn’t have those features….even if they were using a system that did (3d6 in order was one of the first things that many groups discarded; by the time of Basic D&D there were official, if optional, rules for discarding characters with no score above 9, or swapping attributes).  You could add one or more of those, but the plain truth is that the Grognards who would insist on them aren’t likely to touch even a revamped 4e with the proverbial 10′ pole, and those are the things that 4e players are most likely to strongly object to.  On the other side, I think that many of the things that are show-stoppers for the Grognards literally fall beneath the 4e fans’ notice….in prior conversations trying to explain the differences I get the distinct impression that they don’t even realize (and some don’t believe) that these actually are differences between the way the editions work, or they discuss them solely in terms of design goals (this is faster, everything you need to know is written on this card) without even considering whether it has implications for how you think about the world.

So on the one hand, I do actually think a 4e for Grognards is possible…in some sense even easy: just ignore a bunch of these rules, and interpret these ones in a different light.  On the other, I’m not entirely sure whether the result would be still be 4e.

Obligatory St. Patrick’s Day Post

Just want to point out that Leprechauns are one of the five “common” Kindred in Tunnels & Trolls.  Their modifiers are:

STR 0.5
DEX 1.5
INT 1.5
LK 1.5
HT 0.25
WT 0.33

Leprechauns are automatically Wizards, and they have a natural Wink-Wing (teleportation) spell that they can do without magical training or cost (though that means that they can’t pump extra WIZ into it for more distance).

So play a Leprechaun today!

RPG Rules and the Direction of Causality

There are two ways you can view causality flowing in terms of RPG rules: from the game-world to the rules, or from the rules to the game world. Either game rules attempt to describe a game-world, or they define the game-world.

In the first view, game-world effects have game-world causes, and the rules are just a model or approximation of the factors and chain of events from cause to effect within the game-world. They’re there to make adjudication more consistent, predictable, or speedier, but they’re intended to be sacrificed whenever they don’t accomplish those goals. It’s taken for granted that the rules are only approximations, and they need not be consulted if the results are obvious to all the players (or perhaps just obvious to the GM), and they need to be overruled whenever they yield a result that doesn’t make sense in terms of the game world.

In the second view, the rules are in effect the physics of the game-world, and it’s impossible for them to yield a result that doesn’t “make sense” in the game-world. If there’s any flaw, it’s in the players’ improper grasp of the way the game-world operates and their invalid attempt to apply ordinary ideas of cause and effect or probability imported from our world into the game. The rules are there to tell the players what is and is not possible in the game-world.

The choice is a matter of taste, but the two views are mutually exclusive. Even if you switched back and forth from one view to the other, or used one view for certain rules and the other view for different rules, you can’t simultaneously hold both views of a single ruling. If they are temporarily congruent you might not be able to tell which you were using, but when they conflict you have to come down on one side or the other: conform to the rule despite the apparent illogic, or conform to the logic overriding the rule. (You might subsequently adjust the rule to try and make clashes less frequent, but at that moment, you came down on the side that the game-world trumps the rules.)

Game systems tend to favor one view over the other, even if they don’t make it explicit or apply it consistently across all decisions. Even the same rule often can be viewed one way or the other by different gaming groups. In original D&D, for instance, the game explicitly took the view that the rules were approximations but in every case the referee was the final arbiter; nevertheless there were rules such as Magic Users being forbidden to wear armor which weren’t explained in terms of game-world logic, leaving different groups on their own to either come up with explanations to justify the rule so that causality still flowed from the game-world to the rules (e.g. “armor is too restrictive, MUs can wear it but any attempt to cast spells will fail”), or to reverse the direction for that rule and say “Magic users can’t wear armor because that’s the rule. There is no why.” (Or perhaps by an appeal to a meta-game consideration, such as “MUs can’t wear armor because that would be unbalanced.”) Note that if the group followed the first tack, there would be further in-game consequences that flow from it, such as MUs having their companions carry armor around so that when they ran out of spells they could armor up. If the group took the latter tack, there’s often an awareness that the world is operating in strange and arbitrary ways. Much gaming humor (such as in Order of the Stick) comes from making the characters as aware of the flow of causality from the rules to their world as the players are.

Some games simply make no sense in terms of the first view: you cannot really regard the rules as an abstraction of game-world causality without it becoming a gonzo humor game. For instance, in the PDQ (Prose Descriptive Quality) system used by games such as Truth & Justice, when a character takes damage in a fight, the damage can be applied to a trait such as Accounting. So Spider-Guy getting hit by a truck thrown by the Blue Boar makes it more likely that some time later in the campaign, some complication will crop up having to do with his Accounting, such as being audited by the IRS. But even the most pronounced rules-first, game-world as a result system such as Truth & Justice, Dogs in the Vineyard, or D&D 4th Edition will have fairly large areas of the game that can be decided not by interactions of the rules, but consultation with the logic of the game-world, such as ordinary conversation between the PCs and NPCs (at least where the PCs aren’t trying to “win” a conflict with the NPCs or gain information that the NPCs do not wish to divulge).

On the other hand, unless you’re running system-less, there are probably no “rules as model” games where the rules never yield a somewhat implausible result that’s nonetheless taken as the actual game-world result, if for no other reason than to speed the game along and not make each ruling a source of debate.

Nevertheless, there is a clear distinction between games which aspire to the view of game-world causality as primary and those that take the opposite approach, and not understanding which approach the game is taking can lead to debates, frustration, and anger.  Players and GMs may be seen as trying to twist  or undermine the rules or even cheat in a group that expects causality to flow from the rules when they reason from game-world causes to game-world effects; in the opposite situation they may be seen as stifling creativity, being rigid, or power-gaming when they reason from rules causes to game-world effect regardless of game-world logic (another common form of gamer humor, as epitomized by The Knights of the Dinner Table, particularly Brian).

When you GM and when you play you should try to remain aware of which direction causality is supposed to flow in the game you’re playing, so that you can keep it clear whether the rules are the alpha and omega, or are they, as it were just guidelines…suggestions, really.


The Valley of the Blue Snails, a really interesting blog mostly about an unusual setting that Canecorpus has created, has a post about Multi-Classing in his D&D setting:

Valley of Blue Snails: Multi-Classes Revisited

I will be changing a few of the multi-class titles though I’m a bit mixed on what direction to take it. The titles are similar to normal class titles (Veteran, Cutpurse, Wizard, etc) in that they are mostly for fluff with perhaps a minor ability to adhere the two classes better. I’m deciding on wither to make it very setting specific or use more intuitive titles.

Example, a Fighter-Cleric would be a Paladin. Pretty intuitive. Setting specific would be something like a Dwarven Fighter-Cleric would be a Whitebeard. Not so intuitive but perhaps a better choice since this sort of multi-class fluff is well outside of the realm of B/X anyhow. The main problem is the setting specifics titles would indeed be rather specific, slanting towards race with specific classes.

I did something similar for a (for now abandoned) retro game I was working on, which I might as well share in case somebody finds it interesting:

Primary/Secondary Fighter Mage Priest Thief Actor Ranger
Fighter Warrior Magic Knight Paladin Brigand Swashbuckler Barbarian
Mage Wizard Mage Seer Warlock Witch Hermit
Priest Monk Thaumaturge Priest Charlatan Oracle Druid
Thief Rogue Mountebank Fraud Thief Spy Outlaw
Actor Bard Conjurer Idol Jester Actor Minstrel
Ranger Scout Shaman Pilgrim Vagabond Emissary Ranger

Basically, there are six primary classes (one for each of the six standard stats) and they combine into 36 different classes, with differing emphasis depending on whether a particular class is primary or secondary.  Somebody who’s primarily a Thief but uses magic to steal and con is a Mountebank, while somebody who is primarily a Mage, but uses stealth and deception to accomplish his ends and impress people with his power is a Charlatan, etc.  You mostly got the armor restrictions of your primary class, and the weapon restrictions of your secondary class, with most other abilities splitting the difference.  Spell user progressed as in their primary as if they were one level lower, and their secondary two levels lower.  And so forth.

I actually think it’s pretty workable, but it’s not something my main face-to-face play group would be interested in, and I have too much on my plate right now to pursue it further.  If I start a play-by-forum or play-by-post campaign, I’ll probably use Tunnels & Trolls instead of trying to sell people on and play-test some wacky homebrew.