A Touch Less Lame

Quick, what spell requires a melee to-hit roll in addition to the casting roll, and a point of spell-burn, and allows the target a saving throw, all to have a single round to attempt to do an extra 1d6 damage (at least on a minimal success)?  Yes, it’s the worst spell in any DCC wizard’s Grimoire, even less useful than the much-maligned Ekim’s Mystical Mask: Chill Touch. Really, the spell is so bad I’m convinced that some aspects like the Will save to resist are just cut-and-paste errors from some other spell. The chance of a first level caster actually succeeding at inflicting damage with this spell at the minimal level is around 15% against an unarmored target. (Chance of casting the spell times the chance of landing a hit next round times the chance the target fails its save.) And you have to sacrifice a point of Spellburn to even try!

I don’t object at all to some spells having drawbacks, or being generally less useful than others, but I strongly feel there ought to be some circumstance where even a minimal success makes a spell worth casting. With Chill Touch as written you’re strictly better off trying to hit twice with your melee weapon than spending a round and a point of one of your stats charging your weapon and then attacking and hoping the target fails the save.

I use the following house rules to make it a little more worthwhile: 

  1. As discussed in the previous post on touch attacks, allow the chill damage to hit on any melee attack roll of 10 or better. I.e. ignore armor.
  2. No saving roll.
  3. The effect lasts until the caster scores a successful hit, or if there’s duration remaining (iow on rolls of 18+), every hit until time runs out.

It’s still a somewhat questionable spell because of that Spellburn, but at least this way you don’t have to be crazy to cast it. If you succeed you’ll probably manage to do that extra 1d6 at some point, if you don’t get killed in melee first.

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.

Medieval Prices

This is my reworking of the medieval price list at Medieval Prices into a form easy to use in RPGs, particularly D&D-likes.  I’ve based it on a silver economy,  since I like gold to be rare enough that a chest of gold is a fabulous treasure, not a couple month’s living expenses. You can change it back to standard D&D just by reading the numbers as gold and cp as  silver. These prices represent approximately 1/4 the prices listed in the reference, since they’re calculated in four-pence pieces to make them large enough for carrying, and in some cases adjusted slightly to better fit existing RPG price lists or to give prices for some common things adventurers want to buy that weren’t on the list.

Except where noted, prices in this list are given in silver pennies about 24mm diameter (1/60 of a pound), roughly the size of a quarter.

The most common gold coin is worth 10 silver pennies, and weighs about 3.5 grams (about the size of a $5 American gold eagle, 1/10th of an ounce), roughly the size of a dime. A gold coin about the size of a quarter would weigh (and be worth) five times as much, or near enough for RPG work. This conveniently puts an ounce of gold as being worth 100 silver pieces.

A copper farthing (where used) is worth 1/20 an SP would have weighed about six pennyweights, and been the size of an old Australian or British penny (31mm diameter).

Cloth Gambeson 10
Leather 15
Courbouilli 25
Scale 150
Mail 300
Brigandine 325
Partial plate 420
Plate armor, complete 500
Plate (of Proof) 600
Bascinet Helmet, with lining 50


Board & Lodging
College/boarding school, per week 6
Inn, London- beds, per night 3cp
Inn, rural- meal with drinks 5cp
heat and light private chamber 3cp
beds for gentlemen, per night 2 cp
beds for servants, per night 1cp
hot bath 5cp
stabling and fodder (per horse) 4cp
Rent, cottage, per year 15
craftsman’s house 60
merchant’s house 150


Building construction
Church, 1251, stonework only 6750
cathedral 125,000+
Cottage, 2storey- w. material free 120
Hall & chamber, modest (-labour only, materials from estate) 720
Hovel, from materials available 30
Wooden gatehouse, with drawbridge
-with materials from estate 320
-plus value of materials 960
Stone gatehouse, in modest private castle
-with materials from estate 1,000
-plus value of materials 1,800
Tower (in large royal castle) 12,000
Well, per fathom deep 4.5


Buildings & real estate
Row house (in York, well built) 300
Craftsman1s house, with shop, workers quarters, and tile roof 720
Merchant’s house, in large city 1,800
House with a courtyard, 2 5400
Guildhall in large city (hall, 2 chambers, buttery, pantry, kitchen) 8,150


Prices listed are for plain, standard-quality. Apply modifiers for
expensive materials, fine workmanship, and so forth.
Belt, weapon 5cp
Boots, pair 2
Chemise, linen 2
Cloak, woolen 9
” fur-lined 19
Gown (long), woolen 9
Gloves * 7cp
Hat 2.5
Kirtle, woolen 6
Purse 4cp
Quiver, red leather 2.25
Robe, woolen 9
Scarf 2cp
Shoes, pair 1
Surcoat, linen 6
Trousers*, woolen 5
Tunic (short)/doublet 6
Underlinen 3
Clothing modifiers
Dyed, dear (scarlet, green, black) x1.6
” rare (purple, royal blue) x2
Fur lining, cheap +20
” luxury furs +120-180
Fine cloth x2
Shoddy (recycled rags) x0.4
Silk x12


Household furnishings
Basin & ewer 4-8
Blanket, woolen 4
Bottle 8cp
Bowl, earthenware 1cp
Candles, tallow, in the country, per lb. 4cp
” tallow, in a large city, per lb. 5cp
” wax, per lb. 16cp
Chair 1
Chest 15cp
2 large, for clothes 6
Coffer (strongbox) 3
Cup, earthenware 1cp
2 glass 7cp
Ewer, metal (brass?) 25cp
Knife, eating 5cp
Mattress, straw 5cp
Mirror, silvered 6
Padlock 3
Pillow 3cp
Plate, earthenware 1cp
Pot, cooking, ceramic 1cp
2 brass, large 8cp
Sheet, linen 2cp
Stool 8cp
Towel 15cp
Table 15cp


Information and Instruction
(a pecia is approx. 7,500 words,the Bible is about 100 pecia)
Books, per pecia 2.5
Book rental, per pecia per year 2cp
Fencing instruction, per month 30
Tuition, monastery school, per year 120
“, private schoolmaster 40
Tuition, University, basic courses 120
” fashionable lecturers, etc. 300+


Capon 5cp
Calf, weaned 2.5
Cow 18
” good milker 30
Duck 2cp
Donkey or mule* 70
Falcon, trained gerfalcon 12
” trained goshawk 15
Fowl (hen) 1cp
Goose 7cp
Horse, riding hack 75+
” pony* 75+
” trained for horse-archer 120+
” draught horse 300+
” palfrey 420+
” hunter* 525+
” trained destrier 2,400+
Ox 27
Pig (in breeding country) 6
” (in a large city) 9
Pigeons (4) 2.5
Sheep (in breeding country) 25cp
” (in a large city) 4.25


Precious items
Necklace, gold 20
” pearl 70
Ring, gold setting with diamonds 450
” gold setting with ruby 80
Spoon, silver 7


Ale, per gallon 1cp
Bacon, per side 2cp
Bread, 2 loaves (24 oz?) 1cp
Cider, per tun 15
Cheese, retail, per lb 5cp
” whole, 80 lb 10
Eggs, per dozen 1
Fish, herrings, per dozen 2
” Pike, whole, 31 long 20
” Sturgeon, per barrel 99
Fruit, figs, per 3 lb 1
” pears, 10 1
” pomegranate, 1 only 15cp
Gingerbread, per lb 15
Grain, barley, per quarter 5
” oats, per quarter 4
” wheat, per quarter 9.5
Ham, whole 4
Onions, 1 bushel 2
Partridges, per brace 1
Raisins, per lb 5cp
Salt, per bushel 8cp
Spices, per lb up to 42
Sugar, per lb 3
Wine, fine claret, per tun (252 gal.) 120
” best, per gallon 1-2
” cheapest, per gallon 5cp
To feed a lord, per day 2
” a squire 5cp-1sp
” yeoman 5cp-15cp
” groom 4cp-5cp


Armour, clean & de-rust 12cp
” overhaul & varnish 4
Carriage, annual maintenance 3-9
Cesspit, empty out 20
Courier, 1 horse, per 50 km or day 3
“, 2 horses, per 100 km or day 4.5
Ferry, river crossing for man & horse 2-3cp
Guide, for one night 2-3cp
Milling grain, per quarter 2-3cp
Minstrel, to play at an inn 2-3cp
” Christmas gig at manor house 9
Stabling & care, warhorse, per day 13cp
” foal 2 4cp


Parchment, folio, per leaf 1cp
Vellum 2 3cp
Wax, sealing, per lb. 5cp


Tools and hardware
Anvil 60
Armourer1s tools, complete 831
Auger 8cp
Axe 1
Barrel 8cp
Bellows, large (for forge) 60
Bucket 1
Canvas, 25 yards 20
Chisel 1
Loom and treadle 6
Pick* 4
Plow 9
Rope, light, per fathom 1cp
Sand barrel (for cleaning mail) 2.25
Saw, hand* 3
Saw, cross-cut* 8
Shovel* 4cp
Spade 4cp
Spinning wheel (late) 2.25
Vat 1
Vise 40
Yoke 4


Barge 600
Boat, 101 sailing 20
Carrack 225
Carriage 80
Cart, iron-bound 12
2, wooden, unfit for long trips 6
Cutter 25
Dray/waggon, iron-shod wheels 30
Galley, 40-oared* 2,120
” 80-oared & masted* 3,725


Wages & Incomes
Labourer, per day 3cp
Craftsman, per day
armourer 13cp-15cp
carpenter 8cp
mason 1
weaver 6cp-7cp
apprentice carpenter 4cp
apprentice armourer 1
Landowner, per year (in GP)
” knight 180-1800
” baron or abbot 1200-3000
” earl/count or bishop 2400-66,000
” King (of England) 180,000
Mercenary, per day
Archer 8cp
” mounted 1.5
Knight banneret 12
Knight 6
Infantryman, armoured 1
Man-at-arms, mounted 3
Squire 4
Priest (in a chantry), per year 280
Servant, per year (plus bed & board)
” squire 40-60
” carter, porter, groom, 15-25
falconer, messenger, etc.
” indoor and kitchen 6-12
” boys and pages 3-9


Dagger* 1
Main gauche* 2
Short sword* 7
Falchion 3
Scimitar* 5
Tulwar* 5
Rapier* 3
Sabre* 4
Broadsword* 4
Estoc* 5
Hand & a Half* 8
Claymore* 8
Two-handed sword* 8
Hafted weapons
Hand axe 1
Battle axe 2
Great axe 2
Giant axe 3
Crude club 0
War club 2cp
Torch 2cp
Mace 1
Giant mace 3
War hammer 1
War pick 2
Flail 1
Morningstar 1
Mattock 1
Quarterstaff 2cp
Buck-and-a-Quarterstaff 1.25
Sap 1cp
Pole weapons
Javelin 3cp
Spear 1
Giant spear 2
Pike 1
Lance 1.5
Halberd 1
Poleaxe 2
Trident 2
Glaive 1
Giant glaive 2.5
Missile weapons
Sling 3cp
Short bow 4
Long bow 5
Composite bow 6
Giant bow 14
Crossbow 15
Cranequin for above 10
Spearthrower 4cp
Blowgun 5cp
Arrows (longbow),30 1
Bolts (crossbow), 20 15cp
Bullets, lead (sling),4 1cp
Entangling weapons
Net 8cp
Bolas 1
Whip 2
Anachronistic weapons
Cestus 1
Garotte 5cp
Buckler 5cp
Small round shield* 8cp
Large round shield* 1
Kite shield* 1.25
Tower shield* 2
Main gauche* 2


Legal privileges
Apprenticeship, guild of carpenters 3
2 company of mercers 12
Freedom (of a city) 10-60
Marriage licence (for serf) 3-40
Membership, guild of carpenters 10
2 company of mercers 60
2 other guilds 20-180
Nobility, patent of 7500

Easy Hit Location

To get a hit location without needing another roll, look at the least significant digit of the damage rolled and whether the to-hit roll was even or odd.  E.g. damage 3 would be the upper right arm if the attack roll was even, upper left arm if odd;  damage 12 would be right foot if even, left foot if odd.  The numbers are arranged so the heavier damage tends to be the result of hits in more vulnerable spots, while still allowing the full range of ordinary weapon damages (1d4 to 1d12) to fall almost anywhere on the body.  One trick to using this fluidly is to interpret the results of smaller die sizes as covering larger areas, so a 3 on a d4 might  be anywhere on the arm or even mid-torso, while a 3 on a d12 is specifically the upper arm.


As I use it this is purely informational to help describe the result, though I might make an ad hoc ruling if it seems particularly relevant, such as requiring a saving throw to keep holding on if they’re clinging to a rope when they get hit in the arm.

(This is a re-post of the chart that originally appeared in the post on Death & Dismemberment for 5e, since I think there are folks who skipped it since they’re not interested in D&d 5e content).

Death Slaves of Eternity 0-Level Party Generator

Hear ye! Hear ye! Ask and you shall receive! Roll up your Death Slaves of Eternity on Purple Sorcerer 0-Level Party Generator! Last night I gave John Marr  a file with the 0-level Occupations from Marzio Muscedere’s Death Slaves of Eternity module, and today Purple Sorcerer’s 0-Level Party generator has it in the Occupation Source list!

It’s a great list for generating occupations that have a more Sword & Sorcery/classical feel than the late-medieval-ish standard occupations chart from Dungeon Crawl Classics itself, so you don’t really need to be planning to use Death Slaves of Eternity as your funnel, though you should consider it, because it’s a good adventure.

The only thing missing if you’re using Death Slaves is the circumstances of arrest entries, for space reasons, so the GM will have to look up your profession and tell you what the circumstances are, but that’s a pretty minor price to pay.


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. 

Conan and the Ambiguous Text

There is a big ambiguity in the Conan Role-playing Game rules mentioned on the ZeFRS site that the referee will have to resolve before trying to play, which is that modifiers to the die rolls call for shifting the columns to the left or right,  but there are two kinds of columns on the resolution chart and apparently no consensus by the fans of the game exactly how they’re used.


Specifically there are small columns corresponding to individual numbers, except at the extreme edges of the chart where they become ranges, and then there are larger groupings of the numbers together into bands of five.  It’s pretty clear that when you roll against a particular talent, or attack by subtracting the defenders Move from your Fighting, you’re looking up a particular number in the column… but when you then shift that right 2 or left 1, do you just go to the next number left or right, or the next big band left or right?  While shifting number by number is simple and seems obvious, it produces really tiny changes in the die rolls needed for success. E.g. even being completely blind is only a -6 shift, which would take marginal success from, say, 72% to 54% and great (red) success from 10% to 7%.  And that’s the largest penalty there is in the reference guide.  More typical penalties and bonuses of 1 or 2 columns barely budge the needle. It would have been simpler and completely unambiguous to describe the modifiers as adding or subtracting from the rating itself, instead of shifting columns. Plus interpreting a shift column as a “band” means the dark vertical lines are there for a purpose more than just a visual aid to keep which column you’re looking in straight.  In addition when using bands for shifting +/- 6 to an action is actually the largest modifier the chart can support, making it quite natural to say that attacking a bound foe (the biggest bonus) is +6 columns and attacking while blind (the biggest penalty) is -6.

Despite that, I suspect the original intent was probably just shifting the rating up or down, firstly because it would have been really sloppy to write up the rules without discussing the difference between the minor and major divisions on the chart if the major divisions were critical to using it. Secondly, having the shifts be by the minor rating columns allows more leeway for stacking modifiers, such as fighting from a lower position and in the darkness. But since tiny modifiers aren’t worth the mental effort, and I think attacking a helpless foe ought to give you a bigger bonus than a paltry 18%, if I were to play I’d probably choose to interpret column shift to mean the big bands.

If you’re doing that, though, you have one more nicety to address, which is when you shift a band where in the band do you roll?  Are you shifting the minimum necessary to fall in the band (closest column to original), the maximum (farthest), smack in the middle, or proportional to your position in the starting band?  Personally I’d go with the last interpretation, so that if, say, your rating is 9 (second highest in the 6-10 band) if you shift left by 1 you’d look on column 4 (second highest in the 1-5 band).  Similarly, shifting right by 1 from 9 would take you to the 21-25 column (second highest in the rightmost band). That way you keep the relative ordering of the characters: If Anna has Dirk 10 and Beryl has Dirk 9 and they both get a -3 shift for fighting with two weapons, Anna is still better than Beryl (rolling on the -1 column instead of the -2 column).

Doing this tends to make stacking modifiers pretty irrelevant: you hit the limit of the chart pretty quickly.  If that bothers you, you could make it so that once you reach the extreme left or right band each additional shift is one column within the band.  Since the columns themselves are in groups of 5 that even makes a certain amount of sense, but it does add extra complication.  As D&D 5e’s advantage/disadvantage rules show, it can be really liberating to not have to care whether you’ve accounted for every conceivable bonus.  In fact, that suggests an alternative way of doing it, which is to ignore the chart of the exact modifiers and count anything that gives you a left shift as one band left, anything that’s a right shift as one band right, and if you have both they cancel regardless of how many are stacked on one side or the other.