Touché: touch attacks in DCC

This one isn’t even a House Rule as much as an observation that any attack that would have hit but for the AC bonus armor grants presumably smacked the target but failed to penetrate the armor. I like to emphasize this when describing the result of the attack. In DCC this is dead easy because the dividing line between a clean miss and at least hitting the armor is just 10, give or take agility modifiers.

I like this both because it makes the description more vivid at almost no cost and because otherwise some folk get hung up on the notion that armor is making you dodgier and want to introduce some sort of damage reduction instead. Best nip that in the bud.

I think it’s a toss-up whether you want to extend that observation to true 3e-style “touch attacks” where spells like Chill Touch only need to beat the AC before armor bonus in order to take  effect, or you stick with beating the AC.  On the one hand, if the caster has to get into melee and beat the AC that makes all the levels of Chill Touch where it only lasts one round pretty damn punk.  A spell that probably has less than 50% chance of affecting a target even if you succeed in casting it (up to a check of 17), and then only if you put your unarmored wizard in the thick of things, and always costs a point of Spell Burn to cast? What a rip-off.   On the other hand, if you allow that kind of touch you actually need to worry about how much of a foe’s AC is armor vs agility bonus, and that’s the kind of finicky drag that I play DCC to avoid. How much of a griffon’s AC 17 is tough hide vs. speed?  Obviously you can just make a ruling and go, but it’s one more thing to remember when it comes up. That said, I’m inclined to allow it, if only because of how much my one player who got stuck with the spell hates it when he’s reduced to trying it.

TL;DR Make note of when an attack roll beats 10 but not the AC and use that to inform your description of the attack bouncing off the armor.

Paltry Deeds: A DCC House Rule

Mighty Deeds are one of my favorite bits in DCC, but I sometimes feel that if you have this elegant way of resolving everything that might be a maneuver in a clunkier system (push back, knock down, disarm, blind, feint, etc.) it would be nice if you could apply that to 0-level characters and other classes trying the same kind of stunts.  You just wouldn’t want them to be as good at it, since making  Warriors cool and special is part of the point.

Thus, the following house rule: anybody can at least try a minimal deed in conjunction with their regular action (called here a Paltry Deed) by rolling a d6. Whatever they roll isn’t added to their to-hit or damage, but if they get a 6 and their Action Die is also a success then they accomplish their declared Deed as if they’d the rolled the lowest level of a Mighty Deed.

Variant 1: You don’t want them trying all the time, so to attempt a Paltry Deed they have to drop their action die 1 level.

Variant 2: That’s all very well, but shouldn’t they be slightly better if they have a high attribute value in the thing they’re attempting?  Well, the attribute value will help them in the roll on the Action Die, but if you want to tie it to Attribute Bonus then they have to get the highest result possible on a :

Paltry Deed succeeds on highest possible roll on
-3 d12
-2 d10
-1 d8
0 d6
+1 d5
+2 d4
+3 d3

Variant 3: The real problem with Paltry Deeds is you never improve as you level up, except insofar as your attack bonus improves your chance of a success on the Action.  OK, then look at the Attack Bonus for your level:

Paltry Deed succeeds on highest possible roll on
0 d6
1-2 d5
3-4 d4
4-5 d3
6+ d2

Variant 4: Some wacky combination of the above.  Left as an exercise for the reader.

Fighting Withdrawal: A DCC House Rule

DCC combat greatly simplifies the mess that is Attacks of Opportunity and the various maneuvers and feats to get around them in 3e+: you move out of melee, everybody next to you gets one free attack.   Unfortunately, from my point of view, that works against something  I regard as one of the big pluses of hit point systems: the ability to break off and run when you’ve bitten off more than you can chew or the dice are running hot against you. DCC combat is deadly enough without making retreat nigh impossible unless you were tough enough to just stand there and take it a bunch more rounds anyway.

A fix for this would be to revive one of the rules from back in the Basic D&D era, the Fighting Withdrawal.  In a Fighting Withdrawal you could back up while still fighting,  up to half your movement distance, and the attacker wouldn’t get a free attack (because of the phased move then melee combat in Basic, it didn’t work precisely like that, but it amounted to the same thing).  Phased combat resolution and zones of control have gone the way of the dodo, and mostly good riddance, but it was handy for preventing people from zipping all over the battlefield as if everybody else was time-stopped while you’re doing your thing.

DCC keeps the essence of zones of control rules (you can’t just leave melee when you please), but makes it a little too strict.  On the other hand, allowing a complete half-move while withdrawing is a shade too generous without phased movement and group initiative, since depending on how the initiative rolls went you could have practically everybody else involved in the combat take their turn while there’s still a half-move sized gap between the retreating defender and the attackers. You could allow the attacker to do an immediate follow-up half-move, but then things could get hinky if there’s a big disparity between the movement rates of the defender and attacker or if the move took the following-up attacker past a bunch of other combatants.

TL;DR here’s my  proposed house rule:

You may elect to make a Fighting Withdrawal by taking a single five-foot step to your rear, if there’s room.  The foe may immediately elect to follow up with a single five-foot step of its own; this takes place out of initiative order, and doesn’t count as the foe’s turn, which will happen in the normal initiative order. If this would take the foe out of melee with any of its enemies, they may also immediately take a step to keep it in melee, just as if it had done a Fighting Withdrawal.  If anybody eligible to follow up a Fighting Withdrawal chooses not to follow, the withdrawer is out of melee with them.

I think this lets you do neat things like, say, backing slowly across a bridge while defending yourself, while still being pretty friendly to “theater of the mind” style play where nobody is using miniatures or marking a battle mat.  I’ll be trying this out tonight.

Update: I tried it out and it worked perfectly.  The caster was able to retreat out of combat without getting chopped up while his mates covered for him; it wasn’t a gimme, because the monsters got to decide whether to follow him, but I rolled and they decided the summoned bear that was in their face was a bigger threat.

DCC Alternate Luck & Healing Rules

The 2016 Free RPG Day Goodman Games packet included an adventure for the upcoming DCC Lankhmar, but what I want to talk about is the downloadable packet of pregens for the game, which includes two fascinating new rules to make DCC better fit the setting.

The first is a rule for Fleeting Luck, which adds a sort of free-wheeling easy-come-easy-go luck economy to the game.  Each session every character starts out with one point of Fleeting Luck that they can spend as if it were regular luck (including Thieves getting their Luck Die when they spend a point); every time a player rolls a natural 20 the character gets another point, and the GM is encouraged to hand them out for cool or foolish actions or roleplaying that is evocative of the setting.  There’s no limit to how high the pool can grow, but whenever anybody rolls a fumble at the table (except on rolls where 1 isn’t a failure, such as roll-under luck checks or rolling init) everybody loses all their Fleeting Luck and starts over at 0.

That’s actually a pretty brilliant way of keeping it flowing instead of hoarding it to unleash on the big-bad at the end of the adventure.  Luck as used in DCC is actually one of the only such point economies I can get behind, since it’s really something that you can think about in character.  Even in our world people absolutely do feel lucky or unlucky, or pray for luck when taking a risky action. It’s still a tiny bit meta since you know if you have it or not, but that’s still way better than Fate points or the like.

The other Lankhmar-specific change that would work well in any Sword & Sorcery setting is Luck as Healing.   This is basically a DCC “second wind”: once per battle you take a full round (you can still move, but that’s it) to “examine your wounds” and find out they’re not as bad as they look by spending 1 Luck point and getting back your HP die + Stamina mods (min 1).

After battle, once per day you can spend time recuperating: after 1d3 turns (not rounds) binding up your wounds and resting, you can spend a luck and get your HP die + Stamina mods + level. If you drink a “restorative” (basically a non-magical potion or strong spirits) while recuperating you get some additional HP, depending on the restorative: in the free adventure there’s an example of Eevamarensee Emerald wine, which restores MAX  Hit Die for the class + Stamina Mod + Level.  I presume this is instead of rolling the normal HP die, and is still limited to once per day: that is it’s only effective in conjunction with recuperation.

For some this might smack a little too much of D&D 4e healing surges or the 5e “take a knee” mechanics, but I think it offers significant advantages over both.  For one thing, it doesn’t require tracking a new (and somewhat mysterious) resource: it’s just Luck, a pervasive part of DCC already and something that has significant uses outside of healing. For another, it’s quite limited. If you’re using the Fleeting Luck rules, the only way to get more except at the beginning of a session is to get out there and adventure: holing up and licking your wounds for a couple days isn’t really an option, unless you’ve got a whole lot of luck to spare.  I’d actually suggest limiting it further and saying once you’ve recuperated you can’t spend any Luck on healing until you’ve taken more damage, even if you get in a new battle or wait until the next day.  There’s only so lucky you can be once you’ve examined your wounds and found them not as dangerous as they first seemed, and then taken the time to bind them up.

Since I’m currently running a DCC Swords & Sorcery game on hangouts, I’m thinking of adopting these rules immediately.  My players probably need some help if any of them are going to make it out of the crypts in Death Slaves of Eternity….




A Ready Wit In Their Every Tongue

“I have entertained in all the courts of Europe and speak a ready wit in their every tongue!” – The Court Jester

Let’s talk about languages in D&D-likes.  Generally speaking, languages receive short shrift in D&D.  The core rules, dating back to the days of White Box D&D, default to assuming that there is a “Common Tongue” spoken by all humans and most demi-humans, and then individual racial tongues like Elven, Dwarven, Dragon, and the like, plus the somewhat controversial “alignment tongues” (which apparently Gary Gygax originally conceived of as being like the way Latin was the language of the church, or the Black Tongue was the language of the creatures of Mordor).  While this is easy enough to revamp into languages specific to your setting, whether that’s Spanish, French, and German or Hyrkanian, Aquilonian or Kushite, the other thing that most D&D-likes share is that languages are extremely hard to know and acquire, in most cases with a hard limit based on your Int.  For instance in AD&D, the number of extra languages you could even know ranged from 0, for Ints 8 and below, capping out at 7 for those with a whopping 18 Int.   Other versions limited it even more severely, for instance in Basic D&D and its descendants such as Dungeon Crawl Classics your number of extra languages is the same as your Int bonus: 1 to 3.

That’s all very well for adventures where talking is limited to the occasional parley with creatures in the dungeon or perhaps trying to eavesdrop on their plans, but it seems to be the product of a view of language acquisition heavily influence by the difficulties of learning through formal classroom instruction where you need to be quite clever and diligent to make any headway at all.  Worse, though, is that it’s not very similar to Appendix N fiction at all, where well-traveled characters can rattle off a list of the tongues they speak, or surprise their captors by knowing full well what they’re saying. Granted, pulp fiction may make language acquisition quite easy, and perhaps there’s something to be said for having a common tongue means that there are more opportunities for roleplaying conversations since you don’t have the language barrier stopping you all the time.

One interesting exception to the above is Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  In keeping with its early-modern era default setting, it makes knowing multiple languages a snap.  Or at least the possibility of knowing more languages. In LotFP, whenever the player needs to know if the character speaks a language for the first time in the game, you roll a d6.  If you roll less than or equal to 1 plus the character’s Int modifier (with some extra mods for distant/exotic languages), the character actually knows the language from having learned it some time before play started.  You only get one shot at knowing the language, though, and if there are rules for learning a language once it’s been established it’s not part of your background I couldn’t find them on a quick scan.  I think that’s pretty darn neat, if you don’t mind the slightly Schrodinger aspect of having the skill be indeterminate until needed.

An aspect that few of the D&D-likes deal with, except the 3e-derived ones with ranks for every kind of skill, is fluency with particular languages.  You’re either fluent or you’re not, with possible modifiers based on your Int as far as whether you’re literate (including in your native tongue).

Naturally, I have a proposed rule to address these shortcomings (to the extent you perceive them as such for your particular setting).


Chance You Already Know the Language.

When you need to determine if you’ve learned a language some time in your past, the base chance is 1 in 6, plus the better of your Int or Cha/Personality modifier (this isn’t book learning so being able to get along with others is a good way to pick up the language from strangers).  Apply the remoteness modifier to the result.

Remoteness Modifier
Local (from the nearby area) 0
Exotic (from a distant land or a non-human race) -2
Dead (few living speakers) -3
Magical (arcane) Can’t already know

If the result is negative, whether because of low Int/Cha or it’s a remote language, for every negative 1 bump up the die-size by one. So a -1 chance on a d6 becomes 1 chance on a d8, a -2 on a d6 becomes a 1 on a d10. This way even the stupid and or shy have some chance of having picked up extra languages in the course of living.

How Well Do You Know the Language?

Language knowledge is rated from 1 to 6 on the following scale:

Level Fluency Learning Period
1 Broken/short phrases Day
2 Halting/sentences Week
3 Fluent (heavily accented)/prose Month
4 Fluent (vaguely foreign)/compose poetry Season
5 Eloquent (native accent)/identify dialects Year
6 Expert/Imitate dialects

Characters always know their native tongue at level 5.  Otherwise roll a d6 when first determining if you already know the language, modified by the better of Int or Cha and modified by remoteness and that’s how well you know the language from prior exposure. Minimum level is 1.

Learning a New Language

When you’re exposed to a language you begin to learn it or improve your understanding. When you’re in a situation where you’re immersed in using the language daily, such as traveling with a caravan, spending time with a foreign city, or adventuring with a native speaker you can see if you improve your skill in that language. I recommend only allowing one roll per calendar period, to avoid bookkeeping hassles1. Roll the same die as when seeing if you already know the language, without any remoteness penalties, once per period: on a 1 you advance to the that level in fluency and the period between rolls changes to the one for the next level you’re trying to learn. We’re not applying remoteness penalties because if you’re currently learning from speakers of the language it doesn’t matter whether it’s really unusual that you’ve met some. For example, if you know nothing about the language you would roll every day you plausibly are practicing until you got a 1 and became able to speak the language, albeit brokenly. To progress to being able to speak haltingly, you would now roll once a week until a 1 came up, then once per month to attempt to become fluent albeit heavily accented, etc. If you have significant down time you can skip steps:  e.g. if the referee says three weeks later, your ship arrives at the port you can make 3 rolls to see if you went from nothing to level 2 at whatever language the sailors are speaking: you don’t have to roll day-by-day to get to level 1 first. If you fail, you get the next level down anyway.  (After a week you’d likely have succeeded in reaching level 1 anyway, even with a penalty, and after three weeks it’s virtually certain.)  Yes, that means with a big chunk of downtime you can get pretty good at one particular language with no risk of failure.  That’s OK, it’s not meant to be a gambling game, just a helpful way of figuring out how long it takes you to learn a language while taking into account some of your attributes, and that doesn’t require that you track anything except whether you’ve made a roll this calendar period.

  1. that is, check each day, and each week, and each calendar month, each time only checking one language that you could plausibly be improving based on your current circumstances, instead of trying to track per language how much time has elapsed since your last check. While  YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT, there is a practical limit.  Looking at a global campaign calendar is way easier than per character per language timesheets. 

Shields Shall Be Splendid!

The following presents a house rule for handling shields that makes sense to me for a more Sword and Sorcery than high medieval setting.

In most D&D-likes, shields are an afterthought.  The bonus for carrying a shield is +1 or maybe +2 on a d20, which seems a little strange considering the prominent place shields have in actual history. There have been some attempts over the years to “fix” that with house rules, such as the nifty “Shields Shall Be Splintered” rule offered by Trollsmyth, giving the player an incentive to carry a shield in order to sacrifice it to avoid damage.

Still, that’s not that much of an incentive, particularly if shields are hard to come by in the middle of an adventure.  There’s also another potential problem if you’re trying to run a campaign set in a period more reminiscent of the ancient world than the late medieval/early renaissance age of heavy plate armor, and particularly if you want the pulp Sword & Sorcery feel of something like a Conan comic.

If you want your combatants to look like this


not this


not this



not this


then the standard D&D-like rules could stand to be improved.

You can of course make it so the heavier armors just don’t exist in the setting, or are prohibitively expensive, or forbidden by law or custom except to certain social classes and only in certain situations, or lean heavily on encumbrance rules (no pun intended)… but doing so tends to make the characters like front-line fighters that rely on heavy armor in games more fragile…sometimes a lot more fragile.  That’s not always a bullet you want to bite for an aesthetic preference.  Another approach some people use is to either tie AC directly in to level, making armor irrelevant, creating some sort of swashbuckling class or option so certain characters can opt to use less armor without getting chopped to pieces or even provide “chainmail bikini” bonuses based on DEX or even CHA for a particularly Red Sonja comic-book take.

Here’s an alternate take: Make shields provide the bulk of the defensive bonus, with armor only being a secondary bonus unless you’re fighting without any shield.  Here’s a chart of how this would work for an ascending AC game, with values based on Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Shield AC bonus Check Penalty
Off-hand Weapon/improvised 1 0
Buckler 2 0
Targe 3 -1
Roman Scuta 4 -1
Heater 5 -1
Kite 6 -2
Greek Hoplon 7 -2
Tower 8 -3

Using a shield and armor within 3 bonus of each other provides AC equal to the better of the two, plus 1. Using shield and armor more than 3 different, like full plate and a buckler, or leather armor and a tower shield just provides the better of the two bonuses. The Check Penalty is the worse of the two, minus 1, regardless of how close in bonus they are.

Using these rules, all the AC bonuses and check penalties stay the same for existing characters if they like, but there’s the option of shedding a bunch of armor to increase mobility and fit in better with actual historical shield/armor mixes such as Hoplon plus linen linothorax or just greaves and helmet, or targe and leather or hide, or even fantasy comic book targe or buckler and chainmail bikini.  The bonuses are chosen with an eye on providing even min-maxers an incentive to keep to vaguely plausible combinations, even if plausible includes the likes of Frazetta’s Conan or Frank Thorne’s Sonja.

I think doing shield and armor this way allows for a wider variety of Sword & Sorcery or even anime setting tropes with minimal changes to game balance.  If you’re not using DCC, you might have to adjust the bonuses and penalties if you want them to work out to the same as the existing combinations, but the changes should be slight.

Tracking Individual Initiative

Despite what I said a while back about group initiative (was it really almost a year ago?), in our DCC game we’ve been using individual initiative, both ’cause that’s how DCC is written and ’cause it has some little flavorful fillips to it that make it more interesting.  In DCC only Warriors increase Init bonus as they level, and two-handed weapon wielders use a d16 for Init instead of d20, both of which I quite like.  But that means that I need to track individual initiative, so I came up with the following.  Instead of using the traditional count-down (Does anybody go on 20?  19?  etc.) I’ve made up a 3×5 card for each character with vital stats like AC, saves, etc. and I go through the count-down once, putting the cards in order of Init.  I make one more card for the monster init, and an extra card representing the end of the round just to remind me if I need to check things like spell effects wearing off or random encounters.

I’m ashamed it took me so long to come up with something like this, because it works perfectly.   Nobody ever gets missed, and there’s never any hesitation about what comes next.   It’s fully as fast as my old stand-by just go around the table I use when I just can’t be bothered with init. I’m sure I’m not the first person to come up with this, but all of the discussions I recall and printed GM aids I’ve seen involve writing the character names on a list and either updating the init numbers and skipping around the list or redoing the list when init is rolled…which unless you’re using a computer at the table isn’t so slick.  The one drawback I can see, besides the need for index cards or scraps of paper, is that if you roll for init every round putting the cards in order could be a drag…you’d essentially do one pass to order the cards and one pass through the cards to carry out the turn.  I still think it might be worth it, but for a system like DCC where the init is rolled only at the start of combat, there’s no such problem.