Only six spells for this third installment? Well, I only needed this many to complete my d66 table. The goal was to have a decent amount of weird, B/X-adjacent spells for Dungeonsnack. Maybe one of these days I’ll go over all the B/X spell lists to make a book, but not today.
The caster enchants a ball made with the gallbladder of a fox and filled with dried nettles, sulfur, and 100 GP worth of jasper powder. Once thrown, the ball catches fire for 1d6 rounds, and then explodes into a ball of elemental fire. The explosion, the size of a small house, causes 1d6 damage per caster level to anyone in it (save for half). Note that an attack roll may be required to throw the ball where it is expected to land. It is possible to try and kick it somewhere else while it is just burning, but there is a cumulative 1-in-6 chance that the Baell of Fyr will explode every time it is touched. (So yes, shooting at it is a good way to shorten the fuse, so to speak.)
>> I’m not even trying to make Fireball better. Why would I? This is just a riskier, slightly more prone to shenanigans, version of the BBQ magic we all know and love.
Duration: an hour per caster level (or less – see below) A statue, figurine, or other inanimate, tridimensional representation or a living being comes to life. It responds to the caster’s command with limited, dog like intelligence. The size of the figure isn’t relevant; it always has as many hit dice as the caster’s level. It has the non-magical abilities of the creature it represents, although flying, climbing, etc. may be impossible if the figure is to heavy. The caster may elect to project one of their five senses into the figure, perceiving what the creation does. This deprives the caster of their sense until the end of the spell. They can stop the sensory projection, but they release control of the figure, which then acts accordingly to its form and intelligence. If ordered to fight, every round of combat removes one hour from the spell’s total duration.
>> A spell inspired by Growth of Animal and Clairvoyance. Because reskinning them individually would have been boring. I like that you can use this spell on a clay pigeon for scouting purposes, and to animate the colossus of Rhodes when the Spartan orcs attack.
Duration: 1 hour The caster draws from the Earth’s bounty and forms a suit of armour around their body. Soil, stone, sand, metal, wood, roots, dead leaves… Anything grown from the ground or coming from the ground. It doesn’t have to be raw and untouched, so the caster could use an existing suit of armour or the fragments of wooden furniture. The sturdier the stuff used, the less the spell needs of it; a suit of Gaia’s Platemail made from reeds would be thick enough to make the caster look like a wicker giant. The material vanishes at the end of the spell’s duration, leaving but a trace of the finest dust. For combat purposes, the caster is treated as wearing plate armour and shield. They also strike as a fighter of their level, as their blows are fueled by nature’s fury. Every attack dealt by the caster depletes the spell, worsening their armour class by one point. If the AC is back to the caster’s original score, the spell ends.
>> This spell is Striking by way of Tenser’s Transformation.I always thought that was an underused spell.
Hold the Ley Line
The caster’s hands disappear into the quasi-dimension where magical energies live. Within the spell’s duration, they can manipulate the lines and shapes that make up an active spell. Doing so is a dangerous proposition as mortal eyes cannot see magic forces without aid. If there is indeed magic there, the caster can attempt to affect the spell they are ‘touching’. This process takes 1d6 minutes. Roll a die on the table below. The type of die rolled depends on the caster’s level: > 1st-2nd: d4 > 3rd-4th: d6 > 5th-6th: d8 > 7th and above: d10 If the caster can see the magical energies they are manipulating (because they’re somehow visible, or through the use of a spell or magical item), they roll the die twice and choose the result.
2-3. Wreck it. The spell ends, but a magical catastrophe occurs.
3-5. Feel and understand. Try again in 1d6 minutes, rolling d10 on this table.
6-7. Cut a ley line or two. The magical effect is cancelled for d6 combat rounds. On a 6, roll again for a duration in minutes. On another 6, roll again for hours. Then days, weeks, months…
8-9. Variable intensity dispel. The caster can adjust the strength, area, duration… of the spell, or dispel it entirely.
10+. Take over. The caster reprograms the spell for their own use, as if they had cast it themselves.
> This is me redoing Dispel Magic.
On the Wings of Angels
Duration: 1 hour Responding to the caster’s invocation, a cohort of invisible angles, djinn, cloud demons, or ill wind spirits come to lift them from the ground. These beings can be directed to carry the caster at great speed to a place they know, or simply away from danger. Distance isn’t relevant as the angels know many a planar shortcut. The journey always takes an hour. More intricate orders, such as “keep me afloat above the battle, but out of reach from goblin arrows” or “let us explore this cave complex”, need to be thoroughly explained and bargained for. Not all of the angels present may agree to a new command and, should the caster attempt to bribe them, their tastes and desires may be different. Epic songs and sad poems are appreciated, as is sparkly wine, intricately knit lace, and the freshly harvested livers of certain birds. Traveling to places that are difficult to reach, such a well defended fortresses or hidden demiplanes is always costly. The angels will demand something aluable to the caster (like their spell book or right hand) or almost impossible to obtain (the joy of a lost king, a pearl that grew inside a walnut, the motherfucking Runestaff).
>> This is Fly, of course, which I tried to make into a transportation spell as well.
Pact against Harm
Duration: 1 day par caster level With this spell, the caster effectively signs a contract with the lawmakers of the universe. They get immunity from one source of harm of their choice: > fire and cold > mundane weapons > harmful spells > falls and crushing > life drain > other (as agreed with the referee) The caster takes no damage from it, but everything else is slightly more dangerous to them. Add +1 to every damage die rolled against them (so 1d10+1 would be 1d10+2, but 6d6 would become 6d6+6). This spell cannot be dispelled before the end of its duration.
> This is Protection from Normal Missiles, with 50% less guarantees.
I made a thing for fifth edition D&D. It is called The Drama Module. Here is why I made it:
You know how, watching people like the cast of Critical Role bring these wonderful characters to life, you think: “how will I get my players to create cool relationships between their characters?” After all, inter character drama isn’t in the rules. What’s in the rules is mostly exploration and combat.
So my thought was: “why not add rules for character drama?”. I took advantage of the SwordDream game jam on itch.io to try and lure players into creating strong relationships between their characters.
With The Drama Module, they’ll do it because of the rules. Tell them they can have more than one instance of Inspiration, that they’ll be able to take Inspiration from another player when they need it, or to use it twice to roll 3d20 and keep the best result! Oh and tell them, they’ll get some XP for confronting, manipulating, or supporting each other. All for the low, low price of thinking about their characters as people instead of combo delivering devices.
Character development and extra powers… What’s not to like?
The Drama Module is a set of 27 cards (more if you print out some duplicates) available as a PDF from itch.io. You can get it from this handy widget:
And while you are at it, hang around and have a browse. The DreamJam attracted 63 designers from all over the world, and more importantly from across community barriers. Most of these games are free too! Collect them all!
This rather long winded post tries to explain the thought process behind the new rule for backpack equipment and background in Dungeonsnack, my minimalist adventure game designed for one-hour sessions.
Gear as origin story
I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but over its years of development, Macchiato Monsters‘ character creation became a game within the game. Part of the interest is to give your character a backstory based on the equipment you rolled. Why has my dwarf goatherd a book of scriptures? How come my noble wizard is trailing an ox laden with jars of snail soup? These questions are answered before or during the game, by myself or with help from the other players and referee. They may become part of the session, or they may not. This system adapts to the adventure being played, and more importantly to the group’s culture around narrative collaboration.
As a player, I love making up an interesting story about why my character is on the road with a rag-tag band of weirdos. This will often infer an origin, previous profession, or (in D&D 5E terms) a background.
Old school style adventure games like to give characters a previous career. It is a great way to give a hastily generated replacement character a roleplaying hook, some kind of initial flavour. Historically, there was the random table of ‘secondary skills’ in AD&D. In the OSR, Dungeon Crawl Classics is known for its level zero villagers and their farm animals; Electric Bastionland will have a hundred failed careers. Luminaries of the adventure games blogosphere have provided us with more thana fewolden timesprofessions lists, some of them with quaint and/or interesting equipment for your character.
What defines an adventurer?
While I was working on Dungeonsnack recently, I was thinking about the limited amount of data the game has to define a character: a type (class or species, works like Macchiato Monsters‘ traits), a random starting schtick (from a talking cat to wings to telepathy to a lot of cash), hit points, and equipment.
At first, equipment was one of three types of packs: soldier, scoundrel, and scholar, each one with a table for backpack contents and a choice of weaponry and armour. It was fine, but Dungeonsnack is a minimalist game designed for beginners and one-hour sessions — a lot of choices at character creation isn’t what we want, really. .
So it occurred to me that I could have a sizeable equipment table, the same for everyone. And to make it a bit easier for newbies, I would add a former occupation to each equipment line. Here are a couple of examples:
Bear wrestler. Honeyed beef ribs (2 days), chalk, padded clothes, 2 torches, ointment for cuts and bruises (15s).
Fossil miner. Pine nut bread (3 days), pick, 15 m of rope, hammer and spikes, 4 flasks of oil, helmet with oil lamp, 60 copper.
Travelling singer. Potato flour and butter (4 days), quality clothes (20s), show posters, pot of glue, torch, book of folk songs (30s).
I wrote 36 of these backpack backgrounds. I’ve tried to give them at least one interesting or useful item, as well as a colourful profession. Most of them also feature a valuable item an enterprising player may want to sell to buy adventurer’s gear. We’ll see how this works in game this weekend at LasagnaCon. Again, Dungeonsnack being designed for one-hour beginner sessions: I can see this working with seasoned players, but maybe that’s just too much information for the purpose of team building sessions with Dungeons & Dragons.
Enter the equipment sheet
One of the most useful PDFs I ever got from DrivetrhuRPG is the Better Legends Illustrated Equipment Packs. I’ve given these randomly to new players to help them flesh their characters out. Months down the line, this investment is still paying dividends. Llike when the fighter uses the wig from for her entertainer’s pack when her hair gets burnt off by a fireball. To this date, no one knows why a bloodthirsty shieldmaiden is carrying more costumes and make up than Molière’s theatre company.
Dungeonsnack isn’t going to have illustrated equipment sheets, but I made the next best thing: character sheets pre-filled with the “backpack background”, i.e. the equipment list and failed profession. Instead of rolling on a table, the players pick a sheet at random and build their character from there. I figure this method should help new players and veterans alike to choose a direction for their character: if I pick the bear wrestler sheet, for example, I can decide to go for the burly warrior type, or fight the cliché and create a wizard. It’s a jumping point for my imagination.
My office Lunchtime Dungeons game stopped in the middle of a fight this week. Tomorrow, the players will face two high-level priestesses of Lolth who planeshifted on them to free a prisoner. And I have no idea who will die.
I know, you can never tell in advance how a fight will go in an adventure game. Those chancy d20s, right? But even then, I have no statistical idea of who will win, and that’s mostly because I’m mixing rules systems all the time.
The characters are made with Lunchtime Dungeons, and armed with items and spells from across the old school galaxy, old worn books and spiffy new PDFs. The opposition is straight from a Spelljammer adventure. And I am not doing any conversion work.
This makes me the ultimately fair referee. When the players ask me “how powerful would this dragon be?”, I can only answer in in-world terms. “Well, it razed a couple of villages, and the party of knights that was sent to kill it never came back.” Of course, I can compare hit dice and levels, but I never know the way I would if every element of the game was written in the same system.
I saw interesting power level discrepancies when I was running old modules in Macchiato Monsters, but I blamed freeform magic. You can trust clever players with level 5 magic users to get out of White Plume Mountain with a friendly, momentarily shrunk biggest giant crab anyone’s ever seen in a bucket of water.
In my present game, magic is of course a factor. It’s like an enclosed Flailsnails campaign, if you will. It’s an open table, ongoing game; people drop out for long enough for me to forget all about their abilities and the items they picked up. When they come back, looking everything up is not an option, so I make a ruling. Same with those AD&D spells the dark elves have – I’ve read over them when prepping, but I probably won’t check the exact procedure at the table.
So shit will happen that no one could have foreseen – not the players, who mostly aren’t into rules anyway, and certainly not me. For all of us, the world is this unpredictable, dangerous, believable mess. Will a minor potion save the day? Will the toughest fighter in the party be turned into dust? Will the campaign setting be set ablaze by a barely controlled spell?
As promised, this is the second part of the spell list for Dungeonsnack, my minimalistic adventure game system. (I guess I have no excuse to not release it now.) You can find the first part of the spell list here. Again, the goal is to have an original spell list that encourages out-of-the-box thinking for my team building sessions of Dungeons & Dragons.
What’s next? I’ll look at the lists for higher level spells, but as I have made these more flexible, I’m expecting a lot of the spells to be redundant. Also, first and second level spells are what I need for introductory games, so it may be a while.
30 Low-Level Spells for Adventure and OSR Games
1. Attune Map 2. Aura Sight 3. Battle Hymn 4. Blessing of the Fickle Saints 5. Celestial Window 6. Cloak of the Chameleon 7. Commune with Stygian Librarian 8. Crystalline Barricade 9. Djinn Guardian 10. Eldritch Surgery 11. Emberskin 12. Experience the Possible 13. Fly True, my Trusted Friend! 14. Fungal Changeling 15. Gift of the Tongue
16. Halo of the Selenites 17. Head over Heels 18. La Fontaine’s Trick 19. Mechanomancy 20. Microwave Shell 21. Mouldbane 22. Phase Shift, Offensive 23. Pylophony 24. Reflective Retreat 25. Shadow Torchbearer 26. Soul Vortex 27. Spelltrap 28. The Unwearied Wanderers 29. Toadstool Theatrics 30. Vermin Friendship
Duration: 10 minutes The caster causes a map they are holding to commune with the part of reality it represents. They can ask it one yes-or-no question per caster level. The map’s knowledge is limited to cartographical features: it doesn’t know about occupants or the history of the place (unless the map is ancient, missing pieces, or otherwise special – at the referee’s discretion). For the price of 3 questions, the caster can point to a blank space on the map. The room or area there appears, drawn as accurately as the rest of the map. There is 1-in-6 chance that each trap, secret door, or other hidden feature is represented.
>> I love locate object for dungeon delving. It took a while to find an idea for this, but I’m quite happy with the way this makes the in-world map more relevant.
Blessing of the Fickle Saints
Duration : until fully expanded (see below) The Kasinous, also known as the 36 fickle saints of chance, turn their attention onto the caster and their allies. The party gets a Blessing risk die according to the caster’s level: Δ6 if 1st to 3rd levels, Δ8 at 4th to 6th levels, Δ10 at 7th to 9th level, and Δ12 at 10th level and above.
Every round, exploration turn, or travel day, any player can roll the Blessing die and add its result to the dice roll of their choice.
On a result of 1 to 3, the die is stepped down to the next lower die (Δ12 to Δ10 to Δ8 to Δ6 to Δ4). A Δ4 that is stepped down means the blessing is expanded.
On the maximum result, the die is stepped up (Δ6 to Δ8, and so on) and the 36 saints change their mind: the Blessing die goes to the referee, who uses it as they want.
If the referee gets the maximum result, they give the Blessing die back to the players.
If the Blessing die hasn’t been used at the end of a round (in combat) or exploration turn (outside of combat) or day (in a city or wilderness environment), whoever holds it (referee or players) must give it to the other side.
* Risk dice are from Macchiato Monsters: they are noted Δninstead of dn(where n is the number of sides of the die).
>> This is obviously bless. I’ve just tried to make the spell more interesting than an improved 5% chance of hitting monsters and resisting spells.
Duration: until dispelled A spell inherited from spacefaring elven archmages. It creates a minute, airtight window to the vicinity of a distant sun. The window appears on the palm of the caster’s dominant hand, projecting a cone of light. Within their ability, the caster decides the type of sun and how close to it the portal is.
The caster chooses the colour and the range of the light (up to the caster’s level in metres).
If the caster wills it so, the window also casts radiation that is damaging to living tissue (caster level in damage per round of exposure — save to avoid).
A sentient being staring directly at the window for several hours can sometimes glimpse a secret of the universe (referee decides – a save is always needed to stay sane).
By touching their palm to a surface (an attack roll may be needed), the caster can stick the window to it. It stays there after that.
Star invasion. If the window is left unattended, there is a 1-in-6 chance every month it opens and lets something out.
>> Continual light is such a good spell for enterprising PCs, and also the first premise of the old magic-breaks-the-world conundrum. (Why isn’t everything lit by continual light items after a couple of generations?). We already have two light shedding spells, so I looked at the offensive aspect of the light spells, trying not to undermine shadow torchbearer and aura of the Selenites.
Cloak of the Chameleon
Duration: until removed The caster grants the power of camouflage to a single skin or pelt. The more exotic the skin is, the harder it is to notice the wearer (or hidden area/object) by sight or smell (the wearer make just as much noise as anyone else). Some guidelines are given below. Note that the chance of hiding is for a creature who stays very still; it is reduced by 1 or more if it is moving. At the referee’s discretion, a large pelt can be used by more than one creature. When the skin is removed, the spells ends and the skin is destroyed.
Hood of pigeon feathers: 1-in-6
Ram or billy goat skin: 2-in-6
Stallion or bull hide: 3-in-6
Polar bear or white tiger pelt: 4-in-6
Halfling scout or elf maiden skin: 5-in-6
Blink dog or displacer beast fur: 6-in-6
Lammasu or ki-rin: 7-in-6
>> This is merely a reskinned (haha) version of invisibility with a tug towards plot creation. Side note: I love that invisibility can make objects disappear permanently. I don’t think this is used often enough! Maybe because of magic-breaks-the-world again? How long does it take until cities are full of invisible doors and coffers?
Duration: permanent until destroyed This spell creates a 10 square metres surface of translucent, friable quasi-matter (the caster chooses the exact dimensions). The barricade has d6 hit points per caster level and can be destroyed by normal means. Reducing the barricade’s HP to half is enough to poke holes into it, making it porous to spells and missile attacks.
>> Basically, a more combat focus version of web. It’s not as awesome, though. I may rework or rewrite it later.
Duration: 1 turn per caster level This impressive but uncomfortable spell wreathes the caster’s skin in hot smoke and burning ash. They are immune to normal and magical fire, but everything they touch or wear have a 1-in-6 chance of melting or catching fire every minute. Also, even if the caster can breathe normally, their companions may want to stay upwind of them. Of course, stealth is out of the question in most environments (except maybe volcanoes and hellish planes).
>>This is resist fire with a bit of added texture and risk.
Experience the Possible
Duration: 1 second per caster level Casting this spell with a mere whisper, the character can glimpse into a timeline branching from reality, starting with their next action. The experience is very short, but sufficient to get an idea of whether a door is trapped, or if an interlocutor would take offense at a joke, etc. When the spell ends, the caster effectively goes back in time and must decide what to do. If they choose not to act at all, they must save or be forced to reenact the triggering action. This is why wizards have a reputation of acting strangely sometimes.
>> Without invisibility, detect invisible is useless. So I thought abut information gathering spells, keeping in mind that I have two strong ones already. I am aware that this could be used to accurately detect traps, but as it’s a one-use spell, I don’t think thieves will feel disempowered.
Head over Heels
Duration: 1 hour The target’s relationship with the floor and ceiling is inverted; also, their feet and hands swap purposes. Not only are they able to use their hands to walk, magically suspended from the ceiling, but also they can manipulate objects with their legs. If there is no ceiling, tree branches and other overhead objects can be used to walk. The spell doesn’t work if there aren’t any. It is however very difficult for them to interact with the floor and ceiling normally (just as it would be for someone else to walk on their hands while holding a sword with their toes). An unwilling target is allowed to save.
>> A silly reskin of levitation. I voluntarily glossed over its effect on gravity to let referees decide what happens when this spell is cast in places with very high ceilings.
La Fontaine’s Trick
Duration: permanent Up to one normal animal per caster level is granted the ability to speak. Roll 1d12 to know what languages the creatures know. Look at the table below: it can understand and speak the languages between (die result) and (result + caster level). The animals also gain the personality traits in brackets corresponding to the die’s result, which may influence their reaction to the characters.
1: Demonic (cruel and scheming) 2: Draconic (greedy and temperamental) 3: Goblin (cowardly and mocking) 4: Medusa (artsy and traitorous) 5: Gnoll (proud and ferocious) 6: Dwarvish (gruff and industrious) 7: Elvish (haughty and intellectual) 8: Gnomish (curious and inventive) 9: Halfling (hungry and jolly) 10: Sylvan (shy and benevolent) 11: Celestial (peaceful and judgmental) 12+: Common (talkative and nosy)
For example, a 3rd level caster who rolls a 6 to bestow speech to a group of mules would bestow them the ability to speak Dwarvish, Elvish, Gnomish, and Halfling. The animals would behave like a bunch of grumpy miners.
>> Talk with animals. A druid spell before there were even druid player characters! Again, I tried to make it more playful while covering the same area. I hope you will forget the meta/French name.
Duration: 1 hour The caster gets an innate sense of how mechanisms and complicated machines work. Their chance to detect moving parts, such as pressure plates and secret doors is twice as likely with a cursory glance (they will always detect them when looking). The caster is able to infer what (non-magical) effects pulling a lever or turning a key will trigger. They aren’t able to disarm a trap, but their description of the mechanisms should give a generous bonus to the thief’s skill roll. The caster also learns how to operate machinery, but they must make an INT check if they want to keep doing so after the spell ends.
>> I cast find traps and we can fire the party’s thief! Again, this is an attempt at broadening the applications of the spell while creating a lot of edge cases (and headaches for the referee).
The caster holds a silver mirror (worth 10 GP) in their hand. If they are hit by an attack, the mirror is destroyed and the caster disappears into the mirror dimension for 1d4 rounds. Note that the caster can also destroy the mirror. They cannot affect the material world, but they can watch it (and be seen) through reflective surfaces, including the mirror’s fragments. They are free to do whatever they like during the spell’s duration. If they wander too far away from a reflective surface however, the referee may ask for a check or save to avoid becoming lost in the mirror dimension. At the end of the spell’s duration, the caster reenters reality from the closest mirror or reflective surface.
>> Mirror image is everyone’s favourite defensive spell, even if this version is less efficient than the one I remember from AD&D. This is less efficient as a combat spell, but creative PCs can use reflective retreat to explore and bypass obstacles.
Duration: 1 hour Range: 10 metres per level This spell lets the caster open an invisible gate into the astral void, where the spirits of the dead travel. The astral currents thus released let the caster perceive the souls of sentient beings in the vicinity, even if the beings are not normally seen (i.e. invisible, or just in another room). By concentrating on one soul in particular, they can:
Know whether it has a connection to a divine or other powerful supernatural being (like clerics, warlocks, or some undead).
Borrow the soul for up to a minute per level, allowing instant communication of complex thoughts and concepts. (Touch required, save cancels.) The target’s body falls unconscious until the soul is returned.
>> As written in Moldvay and Cook, ESP is mostly useful for detecting enemies (provided you have time) and interrogate prisoners. I tried to duplicate this and add another use. Also, there should be more soul magic in D&D. Soul harvest from Wonders & Wickedness has provided much entertainment at my table!
Duration: 1 minute per caster level The caster conjures a mystical sphere of energy that automatically captures a spell cast or aimed at a point in its immediate vicinity. The spelltrap hovers and can be moved slowly as long as its caster concentrates. When the spelltrap ends, the captured spell takes effect as if cast at the spot where the trap was. Some additional details:
A spelltrap can be popped like a bubble; it has AC 0 (19), and a number of hit points equal to its caster’s level.
The caster of a spelltrap can attempt to dissipate the captured magic, effectively negating the spell. However, there is a base 1-in-6 chance that the spell is released accidentally. Add 1 to these odds if the caster of the trapped spell is of higher level, and 1 if the caster of the spelltrap doesn’t know the captured spell.
At level 3, the caster can capture their own spell if they cast it immediately after spelltrap.
At level 7, the spelltrap can be kept empty and floating for up to an hour, or until it captures a spell.
>> Replacing silence, 15ft radius is no easy task. I had to choose between its two effects: stealth and incapacitating spell casters. I went with the latter, and made it more polyvalent if not as efficient ror the purposes of killing evil cultists.
Duration: concentration (see below) The caster throws mushrooms on the ground (up to one mushroom per level); each one grows into the desired shape, up to the size of a large humanoid. The caster must concentrate on the spell to animate their fungal creations. If they stop, the theatrics crumble in 1d6 minutes. Only rare and expensive* mushrooms can accurately mimic a creature or object, but any fungus can approximate a humanoid or a door well enough to fool a casual viewer at a distance or in dim light.
* Rare and expensive: according to the setting and the referee’s discretion. If they plan to impersonate an elven queen, the caster may have to quest for the mythical royal purple milkcap, which can only be found in Farthest Faerie. Any decent alchemist will sell a dozen greenwart puffballs, good for mimicking goblinkind humanoids, for about 8 GP.
>>This is phantasmal force with a fungal twist and an opportunty for story hooks.
Duration: 10 minutes per caster level The caster is able to communicate with one type of creature commonly considered as vermin (insects, arachnids, some rodents, birds, or bats, etc.). Cooperation is not guaranteed: roll 1d10 + caster level on the monster reaction table (reproduced below). At the referee’s discretion, an offering (of food, for example) may justify another roll.
2d6Reaction 2 or less Hostile, attacks 3–5 Unfriendly, may attack 6–8 Neutral, uncertain 9–11 Indifferent, uninterested 12 or more Friendly, helpful
>> I have no idea how snake charm made it into the Greyhawk book of OD&D. Bible inspiration? Good ole orientalism crap? Did someone in the original crews run a snake themed dungeon? Will we ever know? John Peterson, we need you!
Here’s an offering for you, D&D DMs, adventure game masters, old school referees: a wounds system where your hit dice are a pool to roll from every time you get hit. Use it, hack it, mock it. It’s your call!
I’ve used these rules for a few months in Lunchtime Dungeons, but they don’t gel with my audience. Most of my players are casual gamers – they love our sessions, but they don’t interact with the mechanics as much as gaming nerds would.
This is one of the challenges of this gig: I have to constantly remind myself than, even if I want an engaging game, I’m running Dungeons & Dragons in offices for team building purposes. I’m not designing for fantasy enthusiasts and practicing gamers. Maybe I need to frame that above my desk.
Hit Dice Pool and Wounds
But you aren’t reading this to listen to me whine about game design. Here’s how the HDW system works.
For fluidity’s sake, these rules do away with damage rolls. (You can keep them if you don’t mind an extra roll, it’s really no big deal.) Below are the numbers I use, along with some weapons traits.
A modified attack roll of 20 or more is always a critical hit, and the damage is doubled. This makes even a knife a threat to moderately experienced characters, which I think if more interesting (i.e. lethal).
Your hit dice are a pool. For example, using ‘classic’ B/X D&D rules, a 3rd level fighter keeps 3d8 on their character sheet; a 7th level thief has 7d4.
Optionally, hit dice can be spent and added to attack or damage rolls. (I’ve never used this rule or fear of confusing newbies but I would with gamers.)
When you are hit, spend as many HD from your pool as you want. Roll them, add their scores, and subtract the total from the damage: if the result is more than zero, read the result on the wounds table below. Meaning: you want to beat the damage with the total of the hit dice you choose to roll. (Props to Emmy for inspiring the early version of this table with her horrible wounds rules.)
1-2: You will keep an ugly scar.
3-4: Painful blow. Save to avoid falling unconscious for 1d4 rounds.
5: Bleeding out. Roll one of your HD: you will lose it in that many turns. Keep doing this until bandaged or healed or out of HD (in which case, you die).
6-7: Lose something. Roll d6: 1. Fingers (d4); 2. Hand; 3. Nose; 4. Ear; 5. Eye; 6. Looks. Some rolls may be at a disadvantage.
8: Leg useless. Save to keep it when healed. Can’t run. Disadvantage to agility tasks.
9: Arm useless. Save to keep it when healed. Disadvantage if needing both arms or if it was the dominant hand.
10-11: Head wound. Disadvantage to all rolls. Save or lose 1 memorised spell/spell slot.
12: Dead man walking, 1 + Constitution modifier rounds to live.
13+: Vital organs destroyed, instant death.
All the HD rolled are lost until you rest or get healed (see below). When you are out of HD, read the damage directly on the table. Whatever the result, you must also save with Constitution or Wisdom or die.
Example: Holka is a 4th level dwarf. In a scuffle with a hobgoblin guard, she’s hit by a halberd and takes 8 damage. The player could roll three of her dice and have an excellent chance of shrugging the blow (the average roll for 3d8 is 13.5) but she decides to keep two in case she gets hit again. Bad idea: she rolls 2d8 and gets a total result of 3. The referee subtracts the roll from the damage (8 minus 3 is 5) and looks at the corresponding entry on the wounds table. Holka is now bleeding out. This fight had better end soon.
Other sources of damage
Spells and other non-weapon attacks do fixed damage as well. As a rule, I would use the average value: a 5d6 fireball would do 18 damage for example.
In other cases, like with fatigue, life drain, poison, and other non-wounding damage sources, I just make characters lose hit dice from their pool.
Rest and healing
With six hours of uninterrupted rest, you get your spells back and recover a number of HD equal to half your level, rounded up. In combat, magical healing recovers 1 HD per level of the caster.
Lunchtime Dungeons goes back to hit points
So I’m sticking with good ole HP and damage rolls from my games; the jury is still out about a wounds table vs. a simple roll to stay alive at zero HP. Maybe I’ll use the former in Lunchtime Dungeons and the latter in Dungeonsnack, which I’m trying to keep as minimalistic as I can. (I’m using it for demo purposes rather than full blown “team building with D&D” sessions.)
I really like the wounds system though, so I might use it in another game at some stage. In the meantime, it’s here for you to give your players a meaningful choice in combat – and see their characters lose a limb or two.
Look! Another blogger is rewriting the spell list from B/X! How exciting!
My lunch hour game uses ALL THE SPELLS. It started with the lists from the Venerable Old Tomes that are Basic/Expert D&D and Advanced D&D, but I soon added those from Wonder & Wickedness and Marvels & Malisons (I cannot emphasise the usefulness of these books enough – they come with a level-less magic system, caster schools, catastrophe tables, and weird starting equipment for your weirdo characters), to Gavin Norman’s Theorems & Thaumuturgy, Johnstone Metzger’s Nameless Grimoire, and various funkiful lists gleaned on the internet over the years.
As an experiment and for portability’s sake, I want to have a list I can stick in Dungeonsnack (an even more streamlined version of Lunchtime Dungeons). So here is what I’m doing: I’m taking the spells from Basic D&D, trying to rewrite them so that:
They have a similar use (for the ones that are useful in the typical adventure)
Are more adaptable (for the most narrow of them)
Have a little bit of a weird fiction flavour
Note that I am dumping cleric and magic-user/elf spells together (Dungeonsnack is classless). I don’t think it’ll be a problem for most of you. These are the spells on the 1st Level lists. (I intend to do at least the 2nd level spells, and some of them may be bundled with the spells below.)
So that’s 15 spells. Hopefully I’ll have another 15 with the 2nd level list, which would give me a handy d30 table.
1. Aura Sight 2. Battle Hymn 3. Commune with Stygian Librarian 4. Djinn Guardian 5. Eldritch Surgery 6. Fly True, my Trusted Friend! 7. Fungal Changeling 8. Gift of the Tongue
9. Halo of the Selenites 10. Microwave Shell 11. Mouldbane 12. Pylophony 13. Phase Shift, Offensive 14. Shadow Torchbearer 15. The Unwearied Wanderers
Duration: 1 minute The caster’s eyes turn a luminous blue as their perception shifts into the astral realm. They can now see auras and energy field emanating from creatures, objects, and places. This spell is useful to detect magic, track unholy creatures, and guess someone’s mood. The referee gives superficial information about the auras seen, but the caster must save to obtain specific information about an aura in particular (for instance to identify a magical item or read someone’s alignment). A failure ends the spell. On a natural 1, the caster falls unconscious for 1d12 hours.
>> This is Detect Magic. I am trying to bundle it with other Detect spells (but not with Detect Traps).
The caster channels their magic into sound in order to influence a battle. It affects as many HD worth of creatures as the caster’s level – who must all be able to hear. The effect depends on the instrument used by the caster:
Rallying horn: routed ally NPCs can test their morale again.
Deafening bell: enemies must save or lose their sense of hearing for the next hour. Casting spells while deaf is usually a problem.
Drums of blood: allies get advantage on their next d4 rolls.
Blasting trumpet: everyone in a 3m cone must save or drop their weapons and shields.
No instrument: a blood curdling war cry. Enemies must test their morale.
>> Remove Fear. I made it reversible, and arguably more efficient. My slot-based encumbrance system makes it interesting that you have to carry all these instruments if you want to use the spell to its full extent.
Commune with Stygian Librarian
Through an astral conduit, the caster can converse with an erudite entity about matters of idioms and the occult. They can ask as many questions as they have levels. The Stygian Librarian answers truly but briefly, as their work day is often quite busy. At level 3, the caster is able to transmit images of texts, bas-reliefs, or artefacts. Each image consumes enough energy to counts as two questions. Full translation is beyond the purview of this spell, but the Librarian will provide a summary of a text sent.
>> Hopefully a more fun version of Read Languages that can be used in diverse situations. I’m still waiting for my copy of The Stygian Library, so I have no idea what its librarians are like. I may change the name when I’ve read the adventure.
The caster summons an invisible denizen of the Winds Realm to take damage in their stead. The djinn has one hit die per three caster levels (2 from level 4, 3 from level 7, etc.), and returns to its plane when brought to zero HP. On a bad attack roll (less than the caster’s level on the modified d20), the djinn retaliates (1d4 damage per three caster levels). On a crit, the caster is hit. The spell binds the djinn for one hour. It is possible to bribe the creature with jewels and tales of mighty deeds to double this duration.
>> Asimple alternate version of Shield. I had another idea, but I’ll use it to replace Web.
The caster cuts out torn tissue, broken bones, ruptured organs, and the like with a putty made of dead flesh macerated in embalming spices and quicksilver. The deeper the wound, the longer the surgery: a simple cut takes a few seconds, replacing a severed limb or fixing punctured lungs requires hours. The target recovers up to a number of d6 hit points equal to the caster’s level. Count the number of 6s rolled:
One 6: the area healed, though devoid of any scar, is cold, grey, and clammy. It slowly goes back to normal after a month.
Two 6s: the healed character makes pets and farm animals aggressive for the next year.
Three 6s: the healed character can only subsist on living flesh. If they haven’t fed in a day, they must save to avoid going into a frenzy at the sight of blood.
Four 6s: the healed character is considered undead for all intents and purposes. They can be turned, damaged by holy water, etc.
Five or more 6s: the character becomes a wight. A case can be made for the player to retain control of them, but the referee is within their right to remove them from the game entirely.
>> Why would you make Cure Light Wounds easy when it’s so fun to make it gross?
Fly True, my Trusted Friend!
This spell turns an arrow, bolt, or bullet into an infallible projectile. It can either deal double damage, reach double its range, or hit a specific location to disarm, pin, blind, etc. (for these effects, a target with more HD than the caster is allowed to save.) The projectile is considered a magical weapon, and retains the enchantment for an hour. The caster cannot cast the spell and fire in the same combat turn (but they can coordinate with someone else).
>> A low fantasy equivalent to Magic Missile. I like my wizards with heavy crossbows and horse pistols.
Range: 10 m Duration: 1 hour per level Conjures a nano-fungus that instantly dissolves the target (save cancels) and grows into an identical double in d6 minutes. The changeling will obey any reasonable order from the caster. It conserves enough of the target’s nervous system to know its daily habits, opinions, and recent memories. There is 10% chance per level that it’ll remember any fact outside this. The fungal creation has as many hit dice as the caster, but no magical abilities. When the spell ends, the changeling… (roll d6)
dies, but retains its shape. Only a post mortem examination will reveal its nature.
dies and turns to a foul smelling pool of lumpy liquid.
loses its shape, becoming a green slime with as many HD as the caster.
becomes a green slime as above, with some remnants of intelligence and a hatred for magic-users.
is locked in its shape but has now free will. Its attitude towards the caster depends on how it was treated.
is now a fully formed doppelgänger. This is actually how these creatures are born.
>> Charm Person is one of the spells from the original list I’d keep, but it was fun to think of another spell to fill its super useful shoes.
Gift of the Tongue
Duration: one minute A mouth appears on a surface or object, which is given partial sentience. The voice has a volume proportional to the size of the awakened speaker. Its words are usually stream of consciousness, and often complaints about the damp. However a clever listener can glean some bits of information. It is possible to cast this spell again, which bestows an ear to the object. The caster can then ask questions (the referee may want to roll for reaction first).
>> I really like Ventriloquism, but it is often eclipsed by the more immediately useful spells. I tried to come up with something that could be used for diversions as well as information gathering. Also, giving the dungeon a voice is a good way to build atmosphere.
Halo of the Selenites
Range: touch Duration: 1h per level The target (who can save if unwilling) glows with a silver light, about as bright as a torch. Elves and other fey creatures can use their infravision when inside the spell’s moon-like light. The target’s appearance and demeanour become lunar: pale and aloof, even detached from the world. Their alignment shifts to Neutral until the next moon phase (1d6 days, unless the referee tracks these for some reason).
>> A Light spell with some personality. I’ll use another, more offensive idea for Continual Light.
Duration: 1 minute per level The caster causes a powerful magnet (costs 100-600 GP, reusable) to hover about one metre above the ground. The magnet becomes the centre of a sphere 5 metres in radius. Any undead, summoned, or extraplanar creature trying to to enter the area must save with a penalty equal to the character’s level to do so. Ranged attacks suffer from the same penalty. The magnet can be moved with some precautions (materials burn or melt, flesh takes 1 damage per caster level every round).
Range: touch This spell deals damage to fungi, oozes, jellies, and other amorphous creatures. Roll 1d6+1 per caster level for the spell’s Potency. It can be used to clean surfaces from mould and bacteria (Potency in square metres). It will also purify food and drink (Potency in days worth of rations). As it works on malign miasma, it has a good chance of curing some diseases: roll the save or chance of infection again.
>> I don’t know a more narrow spell than Purify Food and Water. Hopefully this one will see more use.
The caster talks to a door, gate, trapdoor, anything with a locking mechanism, and orders it to open, close, lock or unlock. Roll 1d6 + level (or Charisma modifier if it is better): 2-3: the door reluctantly opens or closes. Locks are operated slowly and noisily. Traps are immediately triggered. The spell ends. 4-5: the door agrees to lock or unlock itself, leaving any traps or active runes in place (hopefully someone will check for them). The spell ends. 6-8: the door obeys and warns the caster about any dangers on it or on the other side. The spell lasts for an hour. 9-12: the door obeys, disarms any traps or runes, and will act independently to facilitate the caster’s endeavours and make their enemies’ lives harder. The spell lasts until sunset. 13+: the caster becomes the doorway’s master until someone else casts this spell on it. They decide who can go through it, even if the door is forced or destroyed. If the caster is not around to allow passage, they must specify conditions (in as much detail as they want, for the door will follow instructions to the letter).
>> Hold Portal, Knock, and Wizard Lock all bundled into one. In a spell less list, there is no need to scale the power to deal with fucking doors.
Phase Shift, Offensive
Range: 10m Duration: 10 minutes per level 2d6 HD worth of creatures are phased half a cosmic inch to the left. Roll on the table below to find out what happens to them (1d4 for dumb monsters, 1d6 for human intelligence, 1d8 for genius levels). 1. The victims are devoured by a paraphasic worm, never to be seen again. 2-3. The targets panic and scatter. They reappear in random locations at the end of the spell. 4-5. Same as above, but they stay together. 6-7. The victims stalk the characters, ready to pounce on them at the end of the spell. They can walk through walls and will look for the best ambush conditions. 8. The targets find a loophole in the laws of the universe and reappear within seconds, along with a dangerous ally.
>> Sleep is another B/X spell you wouldn’t want to lose. Again, it was interesting to find something with an equivalent use (get rid of a bunch of enemies easily) and drawback (they can be woken up).
Duration: until sunset The spirit of a dead torchbearer is summoned to serve the caster. Their translucent body casts a unsettling shadow, wriggling and warping constantly. Their youthful, pleasant face is betrayed by hollow eye sockets, their voice a whispering echo. Though obedient and polite, they only consent to help with light or carrying. Magic and enchanted weapons will dismiss them (1 damage is enough), and they insist on clocking off at the end of the day. The torch or lantern of the shadow hireling flickers according to unseen ethereal breeze, but lights as normal and doesn’t need fuel. If they douse their torch, the ghost can be made to carry up to 60 kg (about 2000 coins) of equipment and treasure.
>> This was a Light spell you can talk to, until I tried to think about an alternate Floating Disc. Now it does both.
The Unwearied Wanderers
Duration: until dawn The targets (as many as the caster’s level) of this spell doesn’t need food or water. They do not suffer from normal cold or heat, and fatigue doesn’t exist for them. They need to sleep, but are not at risk of nodding off if they choose not to. When the spell’s effect ends, they must save to refrain from eating 1d6 extra rations.
>> Resist cold, stripped off of its very narrow combat usefulness, and made into a generic, somewhat bland survival spell. If you have a better idea (for this one or any other), I’m all ears!
Sandbox events are important to some D&D games. In the last few weeks, I have been doing this:
Running a sandbox adventure requires to be aware of a lot of ‘fronts‘ (to borrow a term from Dungeon World): threats, factions, and other moving parts in the world. The archmage who escaped and is now looking for revenge, the bandit queen recruiting her army to march on the town, the Great Astral Conjunction.
In my office team building games, I can’t afford to be too subtle or elaborate with that stuff. Lunchtime Dungeons uses ‘session events’ to make sure something fun happens in the first 20 minutes of every hour-long session. But this requires having a random table handy for each area, or making up a specific event from a roll on my generic table:
So I’ve been experimenting with what I call the Sticky Notes Actions Procedure (or SNAP – I just came up with the name and acronym so it might not stick 😉
I divide a page of my campaign notebook, I create four areas: Here, There, Soon, and Later. The first two are for stuff happening now, the others are for stuff that is still brewing (but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have consequences in the present). This is your SNAP boar (hey actually, it’s quite catchy!).
Then, on a sticky note, I write an idea for each possible event, troublesome NPC, warring faction, environmental hazard, magical phenomenon, etc. Depending on time and inspiration, it can just be a name or short sentence, or something more detailed like a random table. Each note goes to one of the four areas.
At the table, when it’s time to check for an event, I roll d4 and look at the events in the given area. I choose or randomly determine one of these to move up in the general direction of the PCs. I interpret this move as NPC actions and other happenings in the world. The event gets closer, and I think of some warning sign or consequence to include in my session.
Later (4) is for sandbox events brewing that will take place in a while. If I get this result, I move an event to Soon and think about what ripples reach the characters. All out factions war in my photo above would probably show up as dangerous tension on the streets or a bloody skirmish close by.
Soon (3) is for things about to happen. If I get a 3 on the d4, I move the sticky note to either Here or There — whatever is more logical — and I describe how things are getting close. With Barbarians get in trouble, I’d have these NPCs act up in the background, or I’d just describe the consequences of past rowdiness. Maybe the party encounters someone with a black eye they got from a tavern brawl with the barbarians the night before.
There (2), I used for events happening now, but away from the player characters. I move the event to Here and describe how it reaches the characters. For example, the food riot that was taking place in another district is spreading and makes the PCs’ life more difficult.
Here (1) is for events exploding in the characters’ faces. I use this for stuff that has few or no warning signs: landslides, weather, monster encounters and the like.
Between sessions, you can take 5 minutes to review your SNAP board, detailing events according to what happened during the last game, adding or removing notes, etc. Of course, the notes under Here and There may be reorganised when the party changes locations. You might also want to create an entirely new board if the players decide to step through a portal or something. This way you can keep a trace of what was happening in the initial location when they left.
I realise it’s all a bit loosey-goosey, and that it relies on some improv chops. It’s the right amount of prep for me, but I guess you can detail each event in more detail if you need to — just get bigger sticky notes!
For half a century, we nerdmappers (ie, Dungeon Masters) have used graph paper for our homemade dungeon maps. I’m still happy to draw square rooms on blue grids like when I was a kid. But I have this notebook that has inserts of patterns reminiscent of Renaissance coffered ceilings, maybe. I had the idea of using these pages to draw maps, following some of the patterns, as inspiration comes.
These are the ones I’ve made so far (click for full size photos).
I have found a few benefits to this technique:
Even if the map doesn’t make much practical sense, its organic appearance makes it feel more real to the players;
These maps end up being more interesting to explore (if more difficult for the players to map);
Tactical challenges gain in complexity and interest because of all the nooks and crannies;
In a team building context, weird maps encourage teamwork, as players want to use the quirks in the architecture to their advantage;
Drawing these maps didn’t take me longer than regular ones would have (as I was following the patterns and my inspiration), and it was way more fun!
I guess I like odd but believable maps, mostly because I grew up reading Casus Belli magazine. ‘Casus’ was the most influential RPG magazine in 1980s France — and it still is nowadays, despite having needed a few necromantic rituals over the decades. One fondly remembered column was Bâtisses & artifices (Buildings & Stratagems) that described a location with detailed maps, taking pains to keep everything medieval looking. Here are a couple of examples from that time, and also a more recent one. I remember the first column explaining that all castle rooms shouldn’t be 30’x30′ squares.
And while I’m on the subject of French mapmakers, let me mention John Grümph’s Des plans sur la tomette (I’m not even attempting to translate the pun), a lovely little book of medieval maps to use in your games – you should grab it, it’s cheap and contains very little text ; and of course Guillaume Tavernier‘s masterful work. Now this is someone else who works tirelessly to make fantasy middle ages look more interesting!
Do you draw quirky maps? I’d love to see them (and maybe steal them for my games 😉 Share links in the comments!
Edit (24 May): Mystery solved!
I’ve been asked by several of you where did the notebook came from. And my answer was “I don’t know” — I’d picked it up on a rubbish pile when the Fumbally Exchange was moving this winter. Turns out Helen had put it on a different pile (the donations one) but it ended up there in the confusion. Now JammerJun found it on the Laurence King Publishing website (I’d searched there, but there is nothing on their UK site). The US site seems to have more choice than the German one.
I extracted 200 of the 300+ abilities contained in Lunchtime Dungeons to use as a generic table of powers and perks. I plan to use them with a classless, d20-and-d6 version of the system that I’m thinking would work better at events. In the meantime, I’m putting this out in case some of you would have a use for it.
System notes LT means once per (lunch time) session DEF is Armour Class Easy: treat as advantage Hard: treat as disadvantage Hit dice are a pool that you spend to roll against damage or to activate powers. Most abilities should translate if you just roll your hit die type to heal or lose hit points.
Adrenaline: feats of strength are Easy for you, but while your adrenaline is on, everything else is Hard
Alchemy: make one potion every week (working at camp, you can adventure normally). Roll for the potion
Animal feature. You have antlers, claws, hooves, fangs, a tail, or something. Get an extra attack (4 damage)
Appraisal. You can always tell the market value of an item, and may have an idea of the powers of a magical item you hold in your hands
Apprentice or assistant. Roll d6. 1-2 thief, 3-4 fighter, 5 haubitz, 6 trash gnome, batling, or some other weirdo.
Arcane shield (LT). Sacrifice one or more HD to negate 5 points of magical damage per HD spent
Armour destroyer (LT). Your damage applies to your opponent’s DEF
Assassinate (LT). An unaware foe you hit must save or die
Augury (LT). See your immediate future. The more time and resources (incense, drugs, sacrifice), the farther and more clearly you can see
Average looking: you fit in most social situations
Backstab: double your damage when surprising your target
Bane of Chaos (LT). Save to dispel or weaken a magical effect that isn’t divine/clerical in origin.
Battle master (LT). In a fight, whoever does what you say has Easy rolls until your next turn. Those who don’t have Hard ones
Beast of burden: carry an extra 12 large items
Berserker: double damage (LT). Always attack the nearest person. Save to end.
Blackjack. You can choose to do no damage when hitting a surprised target. They must save to stay conscious
Bladesong. Gain a random spell. I can only be cast along with a mêlée attack using a weapon. The referee may want to reinterpret the spell’s description.
Blessed. The gods pay attention to you – they will save you, just the once
Blessing ritual: affects 10 persons or square metres per hour spent (up to a maximum of your level in hours). Blessing effects vary
Bloodthirsty: +1 to damage, cumulative, for every kill you made in this fight
Boom! When using gunpowder, add +2 to the damage
Brutal blow (LT). Add the result of a d6 to attack and damage
Burrowing. You can burrow through soft dirt at half your walking pace. Also you can survive on rocks and water
Call lightning/fire/ice/something once per week. Level times d6 damage, to be spread as you want
Cat friend. A talking but untrustworthy cat
Caustic blood: 1 damage to whoever cuts you
Cave goat. Roll to keep your balance, run on steep slopes, and generally climb like a goblin.
Chaos magician. You can memorise a spell called Xa0§. When you cast it, roll at random on the referee’s spell list
Charge (LT). Run a small distance for double damage
Charmer: bewitch someone (LT) (save allowed)
Cheat death on one occurrence. Whatever the cause of death, you survived somehow. You were probably left for dead by your friends.
Circle of protection (LT). Choose one between evil, chaos, an element, etc. Lasts until the physical circle is broken, or until you stop chanting
Cleave: on a kill, attack again
Comfort (LT). By putting people at ease, you let them make another save against an ongoing effect. If there is time for a cup of tea, the save is Easy
Command element (LT). Choose one of air, fire, water, earth. A volume of it equal to your level in cubic metres must obey your one-word command
Commander (LT). Give brief orders to your allies: one of their rolls this turn is Easy, as long as they do what you say.
Connections: know someone in a settlement (LT)
Convert (LT). Spend time with someone or show off your deity’s powers. They must save or convert on the spot.
Cook. Your warm meals let people heal 1 HD overnight
Counterspell (LT). The caster you target must save. If they fail, their spell doesn’t work
Cower (LT). Your defence is doubled when you hide behind of under a hard surface: door, shield, table, knight…
Cure disease (LT). Your touch can cure the blind, the lame, and the afflicted. They must save for it to work.
Danger sense: saves where you can avoid danger are Easy
Deadly brawler. Your unarmed attacks do 4 damage
Defensive fighting: make a Hard attack and add d6 to your DEF until your next turn
Dimension door (LT). Hop to a place you can see within 10 metres times your level
Disarm (LT). Instead of doing damage on a hit, make your opponent drop something. Save allowed if they have more HD than you.
Disguise. Roll to impersonate specific people
Divine retribution (LT). An individual who refuses to follow a dictate of your faith is cursed (all rolls are Hard for a day).
Dodge. Add d6 to your DEF when doing nothing else but dodging
Domestic animals trust you. A save may be needed for vicious beasts
Don’t shed blood vow. You attacks with all blunt weapons are Easy
Drill sergeant (LT). Give an order to an ally: they get to take another action immediately if they do what you say.
Drink a pint of hard liquor to heal 1 HD. Save to avoid intoxication (most rolls are Hard)
Escape artist. You get to save to get out of bonds, and your knots are difficult to untie
Ester. You are followed by Ester, an annoying but knowledgeable gnome
Exorcism. This is a spell that takes d12 hours to cast. If the possessing or haunting spirit saves, it can attack you before the end of the ritual.
Extra appendage (third arm, prehensile tail, etc.). Gain an attack
Familiar: 1 cat, 2 raven, 3 toad, 4 bat, 5 rat, 6 something exotic or weird of your choosing. 1 HD, empathic communication, sense magic
Fanatic: saves and attacks when fighting one type of enemies are Easy
Far sight. You have eagle eyes, literally
Fencing move (LT). Someone taught you a secret technique: double damage on one attack with a specific weapon
Fey fletcher (LT). You can spend an hour to bless a missile or thrown weapon. It now does double damage and is considered magical
Fighter’s instinct (LT). Interrupt an opponent – you get to act on their initiative as well as on of yours
Footpad: you always walk silently when unencumbered and wearing light armour
Footwork. When unencumbered and only using a one-handed weapon, you get +2 to DEF.
Forager: find food (LT)
Force of nature: +2 damage but break stuff on a 1 on the d20
Former cutpurse, missing two fingers but your sleight of hand feats are Easy
Friends in low places. You can talk with vermin (rats, cockroaches, flies, etc.)
Gadgeteer (LT). Produce a small mechanical item (wind up soldier, drill, smoke bomb, etc.) you made in your spare time.
Gain one extra attack with a weapon of your choice
Genius musician: play an instrument to get Easy reaction rolls (LT)
Glowing red eyes: you have perfect darkvision
Glutton. If you eat d6 extra rations at camp, you recover that number of extra HD overnight
Golemist: you give life to sculptures of stone or metal if you spend a week carving runes on them. This is permanent. You can do it once now, and once again every time you level up
Good luck charm (LT). Get anyone to reroll any die. The referee can veto this power, but they must give you 100 XP per level
Great swimmer, even when encumbered
Group healing (LT). Your allies regain a number of hit dice equal to your level. Distribute them as you like
Hard to kill. When you are out of HD, you can take damage once without having to save to avoid death
Harmless looking. You only get attacked if you act menacingly
Headshot (LT). If you hit someone on the head (adding 4 to their DEF) with a missile attack, they must save to stay conscious.
Hex (LT). Curse a target with something gross: if they don’t save, all their rolls are hard for as many hours as you have levels
Hide in nature. If you stay still, you’re only noticed on a 1.
Hunter: find game (LT)
Hyper awareness. You can never be surprised.
I’m out! (LT). You can escape anywhere, possibly just you, probably at a steep price
Identify. You can roll d6 to know the powers, and possibly the history, of a magical item
Improved critical hit: double damage on an attack of 19
Kick/trip (LT). After attacking a suitable target, they are pushed or swiped off their feet. Save allowed if they have more HD than you.
Kleptomaniac (LT): find something mundane in your pockets
Knife swarm (LT). Throw as many extra small weapons as you have levels (attack separately)
Lifeforce blade: spend 1 HD before the attack to double damage
Lifeforce shield: spend 1 HD and add +3 to DEF for the rest of the fight
Linguist: roll when encountering a new idiom to understand its bases
Lord over Nature (LT). Save to alter an aspect of the weather, the land around you, or a wild animal, making it tamer and closer to civilisation.
Luck siphon: people next to you make hard saves, but you always have easy saves
Lucky (LT). Roll any die again.
Magic eater. You can heal by consuming the magic held in enchanted items. Recover 1 HD for a wand charge or potion, d6 HD if you cancel the magic of a permanent item for a year
Magic parasite (LT). Steal a spell by taking life force from a target. They lose 1 HD
Magic sight. Roll to see magic and identify spells and magical items.
Magic weapon. Your relentless killing has made your favourite weapon magical. The referee decides how
Magical item. One of your possessions turns to be magical. If you lose it, it happens again.
Make a scroll once per week (working at camp, you can adventure normally). Roll for the spell if you don’t know any
Mark/curse an enemy (LT): 4 ongoing damage until they make a save
Marksman. If you don’t move during your turn, an attack with a missile or thrown weapon is Easy.
Master bullshitter (LT). Convince someone of something – they get to save if the lie is too big.
Member of a thieves’ guild. You know how to navigate the slums.
Metamorphosis (LT). You force an inanimate item into the shape of another for d20 days. Its mass remains unchanged
Mighty throw (LT). Any weapon you throw, balanced or otherwise, does double damage.
Murderer’s curse: blood on your skin can only be washed with holy water.
Mysteries of the Gods. You can roll to know obscure arcane subjects.
Ninja trick. Using a smoke bomb or other major diversion, you can roll to hide or escape
Noblefolk: two of your items are worth ten times their price
Nomad: most physical feats are Easy when mounted
Nose for evil. You can sniff evil magic
Ogre slayer: attacks against ogre sized humanoids are Easy
Omen. Come up with a vision, tell the referee. They will make it happen, at least partially. This only works once.
On your feet soldier! (LT). After someone is wounded in a fight, give them a pep talk as your main action: they recover the HD they just used
Once vs many: +2 DEF when outnumbered
Opportunist: you get an extra turn after everyone else (LT)
Para-ubiquity (LT). You found a loop in the corpus of universal laws that lets you appear anywhere for d100 seconds. Meanwhile, your original body stays where it is, defenceless
Petra. You have a bodyguard called Petra
Planeshift (LT). Open a portal to another plane of existence for as many people as your level. A save is required to get exactly where you want and/or avoid encounters
Poison expertise. Roll identify and make poisons.
Polyglot. You speak d4 extra languages
Powerful ritual. Learn a spell you can only cast it as a ritual. Roll d20: that’s the number of hours it takes to cast, and the level at which you cast it
Professional brawler: unarmed attacks are Easy for you (damage 2)
Prophecy. A prophet named Ophelius follows your every step
Protect (LT). Add d6 to and ally’s DEF
Protector. You have a powerful patron. Talk to the referee
Push your luck. On a 1 on the d20, you have the option to push the roll. A failure is always a catastrophe
Raised by red goblins: all attacks with guns are Easy for you
Raised in the worst of environments: immune to disease
Rally (LT): use your turn to get anyone to roll anything Easily
Read idioms. Roll to attempt casting spells from books and scrolls (a failure means a catastrophe).
Read lies (LT). People have to save to lie to you convincingly
Realistic illusions (LT). Make something appear that isn’t there. The illusion lasts d6 turns
Regenerate. Recover 1 HD per hour. Mutilations grow back in d20 days.
Reincarnation. If you die, you are reincarnated within the week. Save when this happens. The better the roll, the closer your new form is to your old one.
Remove hex. A cursed individual who atones in the way you tell them to can save to get rid of any curse. Referee must greenlight the atonement act.
Resistant to magic. Your saves vs magic are Easy
Rêverie (LT). Spend 1 HD and receive a prophetic dream or vision. You get to ask the referee one question and they will describe what you see
Riposte: once per turn, when someone misses you, you get to attack them for free
Ritualist. You know one spell you can cast as a ritual
Rune trap. Learn a spell you can only cast on a surface. It is triggered by touch or proximity, your choice
Sacrifice. Spend an hour to ritually kill a creature before asking the gods for a miracle. Roll as many d6 as the victim’s HD. On a 6, something happens.
Save your skin! You always outrun your friends when fleeing
Scout out (LT). You can recon an area or room while avoiding attention, traps, or an obstacle (choose one)
Second wind (LT). Recover half your hit dice if you spend a turn resting
See auras. You can see magical auras on people
Sense of smell like a hound’s
Shadow ninja: disappear in shadows (LT)
Sharpshooter (LT). One attack with a ranged weapon is Easy. No need to aim.
Shield expert. Double the DEF bonus of any shield
Sleepless in the dungeon. You only need 2 hours sleep instead of 6 to be fully rested
Sniper. Take one full turn to aim and, on your next turn, your shot can’t miss
Song of the ancestors (LT). Any ally within earshot gets one Easy roll this turn. Alternatively, you can curse enemies with a Hard roll
Sorcerer’s tongue. You speak the tongue of one type of people, animals, plants, or even things (but not materials)
Spider-friend. You befriended a dog-sized spider, shy but friendly
Spider-person, spider-person! Roll to climb steep surfaces with no equipment.
Splinter: sacrifice your weapon or shield to ignore the damage from one attack
Spot the weak points in a structure. The referee will let you know what it takes to breach a wall, tear down a tower, collapse a bridge, etc.
Stabbity stab stab. When wielding a dagger or knife, you gain an extra attack
Stories of yesteryear (LT). At camp, tell a story related to where you are or where you’re going. The referee will answer one of your questions.
Strong defences. Saves against poison and disease are Easy
Stubborn endurance. You are never tired after a long effort such as a forced march or even a battle (as long as you weren’t wounded)
Subconscious spell. Get a random spell: you can cast it very slowly while doing something else, as long as you are conscious. It takes d12 hours.
Summon birds (LT): a swarm worth 1 HD per level helps for an hour. It’s not suicidal and may not fight for you
Summoner (LT). Choose one type of a supernatural creature. Call one to your aid: it has as many HD as your level, minus one per ability (flight, exotic attacks, etc.).
Supernatural empathy: you tend to pick up on strong emotions
Tactics expert (LT). Gain insight on enemies’ weaknesses, routines, etc.
Talk to the dead/spirits/demons/ghosts. Choose one type of creature who you can contact
Talk to trees (LT). Roll to talk to wooden objects.
Talk to wild animals. Choose between woodland mammals, water creatures, and all birds. You can now speak and understand their language.
Tally. Add together the number of monsters of every type you kill. For every 10, you get 1 in 6 chance of predicting their behaviour
Temporal shift (LT). You are less tethered to linear time and can phase out of it for a second. Use this to avoid a single attack or source of damage.
Thick skin: defence 12 when unarmoured
Thief master. Choose a thievery activity (pick pockets, disarm traps, sneak, climb, etc.) All rolls you make for this are Easy
Tough skin. Get an extra hit die.
Tough soul. When rolling on the wounds table, reroll all 1s on your hit dice
Tracker. Rolls are Easy for you. When you find tracks, you always know the number or type of creatures.
Trained acrobat: all acrobatic feats are Easy
Trained fighter: attacks with a weapon of your choice are Easy
Transmogrification (LT). You can assume another physical shape. Decide which one now. The more powerful it is, the harder it is to retain your own personality
Traveller: you always know something about a place you visit
Treasure sniff. Roll to detect precious metals and gems
Trick shots. When using a missile or thrown weapon, you attack is Easy if you don’t do any damage. Instead, you can disarm, trip, pin, etc. The target may be allowed a save
Turn. Choose a type of creature you can repel with a symbol and imprecations
Two-weapon fighting: get an extra Hard attack with an off-hand weapon
Visibly half-demon. Immune to fire and common folk sympathy
War cry (LT). Force a morale roll.
Way in (LT). You know or are able to guess an easier way to get inside a place
Weird metabolism. You need one ration a week
Welcoming parley (LT). If your offer good food or drink to a sentient creature, add d6 to the reaction roll
Well educated: feats of knowledge are Easy for you
Wild child: any action in nature is Easy, basic language skills
Winged weirdo. You can fly, but people treat you like shit.
Wizard. You know a spell – choose from the list the referee shows you.
Word of command (LT). As many targets as your level follow your one-word order for d6 turns. Save cancels
While I don’t run team building D&D games for children, I’ve had the opportunity to run a few kids games in the last few months. I thought I’d share my experience as a game designer.
Play easy games
When I say easygames, I don’t mean they should be easy to win — I mean they should be easy to learn. Whatever your tastes in RPGs, you shouldn’t waste your time and the kids’ enthusiasm on learning the intricacies of a rules system. Out with Pathfinder and D&D 5E, in with Pits & Perils and The Black Hack(and so, so many others). Of course, nothing prevents you from hacking into your favourite system to make it more accessible. That’s what I do with Lunchtime Dungeons, but it may be more work than what you’re prepared to do.
Games with engaging and ‘gamey’ mechanics are certainly a plus when playing with gamers, but in practice these mechanics can be difficult to implement. Recently, I tried using a variant of my krâsses mechanic from Lanfeust/ the dK System, and I found no one had any interest in using it. Turns out straightforward dice rolls brought all the tension we needed.
Play heroic games
If, like me, you are an ‘adventure gaming’ enthusiast (aka an old school D&D fan), you may want to make your ruleset of choice a tad more forgiving and heroic. The pathetic aesthetic we like so much may not work so well with 10 year-old kids. Give them cool powers, magical items, pets… All the stuff they’re used to expecting from a video game.
I’m not saying you can’t teach old school games to preteens. You certainly can if you have the time. I tend to run one-shots, so I’d rather give my players some instant gratification. And again, I am not trying to help people build better communication skills using Dungeons & Dragons. I’m just here to give a bunch of kids a good time and — hopefully — give them a taste for tabletop games.
Play with props
Like most newcomers, kids can get confused when dropped into a theatre of the mind environment. Having visual and tactile props is a good way to alleviate this and maintain focus. Have some miniatures or tokens, a battle mat, terrain pieces, spell cards, health counters, etc. Illustrations for places and people will also help with everyone’s immersion.
I don’t do acting props, but it strikes me that a hat, pipe, glasses, or other simple accessory would be great to establish important NPCs. Even with a table full of adults, it can be hard to keep everyone’s attention. I’m thinking this would spare you the “sorry who’s talking now?” question.
That said, NPC interaction probably isn’t going to be the focus of your game. I’ve never seen kids get involved in a long conversation with a character, so I tend to keep it to a minimum. I wait for them to set the tone of the interaction, make sure they get the info they need, and we keep going.
Play with a chill zone
If you plan to play a couple of hours, you can bet that some kids will get bored or distracted once in a while. This is especially true if you have a large group of players. Having something else for them to do can be a good way to keep the table engaged.
Now make sure your chill zone isn’t more instantly gratifying than your game. I’d avoid the TV or console for example. If you have access to a garden, a football or trampoline can be a good way to blow off steam while they wait for their turn.
Play with talking rules
Not all kids are well behaved, and happy to wait until they’re asked to. Especially if it’s a birthday party and they’ve been hitting the sugary treats. Under these circumstances, letting the table police itself when asked what to do can become a nightmare. Not only will you be leaving the game with a headache, but you may have had to shout to make yourself heard (bad), or left out the more shy players (worse).
I’ve handled this in two different ways:
Have a caller. The caller is a player whose role is to communicate the party’s plans and actions to you, the GM. This rule comes from Basic D&D, which was published at a time when 8- to 10-player parties were the norm. With a table full of kids, giving that role to an adult (or a responsible teenager) will be a lifesaver. They will also take over the ‘herding cats’ aspect of GMing, and remind everyone that it’s a team game.
Enforce a table turn. Only let the players tell you what to do when it’s their turn: you just go around the table and ask each player what they want to do. Do this during combat, exploration, travel, down time… From the beginning to the end of the session. If players want to talk between themselves, let them do it, but the conversation takes up the player’s turn… and the next player’s if it takes too long. I lifted this from Index Card RPG, a great resource for making your games fast and fun.
As with everything else in tabletop roleplaying games, jumping in is the best way to learn. So why don’t you run a game for the little people in your life? If you have already done so, I’m sure everyone would love to know your top tips.
Running Dungeons & Dragons in a corporate environment isn’t something we nerds usually do.
Roleplaying games are traditionally something we play with our friends, and doing it with strangers for team building and wellness purposes is a bit of a leap. Fortunately for my self confidence, it turns out I’ve done this many times before. I spent the Easter weekend at a convention – the always amazing Trolls & Légendes in Belgium were I was invited to run my latest release, Macchiato Monsters. I’ve done this sort of thing maybe a hundred times in the last 20 years and I always love it, but this was the first time I ran at a con since I started Desks and Dragons. And interestingly, I noticed more than a few similarities between the ‘demo’ games you typically run at such nerdy gatherings and the ones I host in offices.
Playing with strangers
Only rarely will you know anyone among the players. So make sure everyone knows what this is all about — from RPG principles to fantasy tropes to social contract to old school gameplay – before you even start explaining the rules of the game. You need to ask questions and adapt you brief to your audience. Be wary of neglecting the shy player who doesn’t know as much as the others. During the game, you’ll have to pay attention to everyone and make sure no one gets bored. This is probably the main responsibilities of a game master.
Playing under time constraints
Furthermore, the players don’t know each other either – some of them will have come together, but it will almost never be a table-full of friends. These teams within the teams may create interesting dynamics during the game, but they may also become a problem. Your job as the GM is to create a group purpose, at least until the magic of imaginary team building happens. Very soon, the players will realise that they need to rely on each other if they want their characters to survive and their party to achieve its goals. This is where team building happens!
Let’s be honest: tabletop roleplaying games are always too short. Handling time is another skill of a good GM. You try to keep things fun, balancing player choice and narrative pace. In a convention, you have three or four hours for people to experience as much of your game as feasible. A demo session cannot afford to be slow or unfocused; there won’t be a next time to find out who killed the Duchess or to escape the wizard’s tower. The session must have a satisfying ending, an interesting middle, and a compelling start.
This is doubly true in office games. Even if most of my clients opt for a four-part game (the recurrence is key to team engagement), it isn’t a lot of time for a full adventure. Like other veteran conventions GMs, I use all the tools and tips I know to make every lunchtime session engaging and fun – the rules and the adventure framework I have designed help me a lot, but I keep learning from other referees and coming up with new techniques.
Playing with the format
Short games, new audiences, these are both opportunities to get creative. Have guests, have props, or simply play around with the story structure. Keeping a stack of index cards with tricks like in medias res starts or flashbacks is a good thing. Or you can let players come up with small parts of the game world, pertaining to their character or not. The list is endless, but I’ll have to try and post about it sometime.
To give you an example, at Trolls & Légendes I ran the same dungeon delve on both the Saturday and the Sunday. As the first group made it out with some treasure and a decent bit explored, I asked them if they would sell the map they drew to the innkeeper at the village nearby before leaving the region. The next day, I gave the next group of players the opportunity to buy this map. Here’s some of them, puzzling on some hand written notes.
This made the dungeon come alive for the second group of players and gave them a sense of persistence. Little ideas like this will make a game memorable — make sure you always have some in your pocket!
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