Friday, July 6, 2018

When Magic goes critical - DCC Rules

Magic in Dungeon Crawl Classics is awesome. It really is. And one of the most fun aspects of magic is never knowing exactly what happens. Therefore DCC wizards are among the most fun classes to play in all of fantasy roleplaying. There is just one thing that has always bothered me.

One of the most important things about d20 Systems is, that when the dice come up with a 20, then something awesome happens. This is true for Wizards in DCC to some extent. The rules say that when rolling a natural 20 you get a even higher spell bonus than you already got. So you are incredibly likely to cast the best spell of your life. That's good. But not as fun as rolling a 20 for any other class can be.

To make this more fun for myself and my group i did the most DCC thing i could think off and crafted a new set of random table to roll on. Critical Tables for spells. All spell casting classes can use these tables to determine more awesome results should a natural 20 come up. The tables work incredibly similar to the way mundane critical hit tables work. 

[If this link is not working try this one:]

Those tables have not yet been playtested extensively, but my players like them this far. Feel free to leave Feedback as a comment or on G+

I can't guarantee that I'll keep a bi-weekly update schedule for the next few weeks but I'll try my best. I am definitely not running out of ideas. Just out of time.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Tzashazul - The Dimensional Terror - A DCC Patron

The Dimensional Terror is an ancient beast of magic. Not born, neither created it mindlessly traveled through dimensions, devouring mind after mind to fill its shell with thoughts. The pure basis of its existing was madness. Thousands of minds, living in a immortal body, struggling against each other, trying to seize control or escape this torturous state. As eons passed these minds slowly merged into one twisted, mad, but at the same time genuinely brilliant beast, which calls itself Tzashazul. 

Tzashazul - The Dimensional Terror

[If this link does not work try this one:]

I hereby present to you Tzashazul. A DCC Patron for those seeking madness. I have to give credit, where credit is due. This Patron is inspired by one of the finest DCC adventures i ever had the pleasure of running. Of course i am talking about the magnificent Sailors on the starless Sea by DCC legend Harley Stroh. If you don't know this Adventure skip the following paragraph.

Spoilers ahead. It is no secret anymore that one of the deadliest beasts in Harley Strohs adventure is a giant leviathan living at the bottom of the starless sea. During one of my playthroughs a character began, driven by madness, to cut out his enemies and allies hearts to pacifiy the beast. The elf took such pleasure and fulfilment in the task that it was only natural, after he sacrificed the hearts of the enemy shaman with a combination of suicidal stupidity and unjustifyable luck, to make this beast at the bottom of the starless Sea his Patron. 

Spoilers end here. The Patrons design changed a lot over the course of the last weeks as i was never happy with what i got so the final version has only small resemblence to what Harley Strohs Adventure suggested. The theme of madness and tentacles stuck, though. This is all for those familiar with DCC. I am quite happy with this patron, but i'd love any type of feedback on this one as it is my first Patron write-up ever. To all those who don't know what a Patron is let me explain it to you

Patrons in DCC

Wizards in Dungeon Crawl Classics are fun! DCC is one of the best fantasy systems to be a wizard in. It perfectly fits the theme of wild, unpredictable, yet powerful magic. And the constant struggle of wizards to push their power and knowledge to unprecedented hights is omnipresent within the game. 

Patrons are one of the best implementations of this idea. By learning the spell "Patron Bond" a Wizard can strike a deal with a Patron. A being of vast arcane knowledge and power. The character offers up his wealth, services or even his soul in order to gain more power from his Patron.

In game terms, when a character bonds with a patron they strike a deal. The character gets the ability to invoke his patron for help and might, over the span of his adventuring life learn new spells from his Patron, which are superior to most normal spells. But every request comes at a cost. The character has to carry out quests for his Patron or has to sacrifice his wealth, his allies or himself to the Patrons cause. The Patrons influence taints the character over time, as he uses his masters service more and more. 

There are many types of Patrons. Some are powerful, formerly mortals beings who achieved near immortality through arcane skill and knowledge. Some are gods, supporting their followers with powers beyond celestial magic. Many are demons, abusing weak mortals for their own goals by pretending they could achieve greatness. 

One last note: Check out the amazing Knights in the North Blog, if you don't know of it yet. They post tons of amazing DCC stuff and have recently posted an amazing additional system to further improve upon Patrons in general. I highly recommend using it! Seriously. Take a look at their Patron and Deity Demands!

Until next time, where i take another look at the Wizard Class in DCC!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Out of Curiosity: Designing One-Shots

Not every story has to be an epic. Sometimes a short story can be as exciting as a lengthy novel and a short 20 minute video can be more captivating than a feature length movie. Role Playing is no different. While many people want to play lengthy and epic multi-session campaigns, lasting months or even years. But there are more ways to play then this. One-Shots are roleplaying stories and adventures, play- and completable within a single session. But how do you design a One-Shot? How should you approach running a One-Shot? Is it even different from your regular campaign session?

What is a One-Shot?

One Shots are single role playing sessions that feature a story designed to conclude in the very session it started. One could also call them single session adventures. They are not built around weeks of character progression or complex, open ended, narrative structures. One-Shots have to rely on the strength of their story or gameplay in order to deliver a compelling experience. 

Does this mean that One-Shots have to be completely self-contained? No. Not at all. Some One-Shots rely on knowledge of the world, where they take place or the games systems they use. And this can be good. One-Shots in a familiar setting require less introduction and explanation, therefore leaving more time for the playing itself. 

One-Shots can easily be integrated into a campaign, if the premise is not too far off in order to spice things up and some campaigns might consist entirely of One-Shots. Every session tells its own story and a overarching theme, maybe a villain, brings everything together. But the focus always lies on the single sessions, not the bigger picture.

Why play One-Shots?

First of all we need to take a look at the many reasons, why people would even want to play a single session adventure. 

Time might be the main reason. Not every gamer has enough time to spare for a weekly meet up with his fellow gamers and even those who have might find it hard to coordinate this time with their group. It might just be a necessity that leads to playing one-shots on a regular basis, as full attendance is not required for having fun and those missing out don't need to be filled in on any major events.

One-Shots are a natural fit for any story based on mercenaries, so systems like Shadowrun, Cyberpunk or Traveller feel right at home with such a style of play. Characters are not doing things because they want to be heroes, but because they want to get paid. Not everyone is needed for every job and some might need time off to recover. When the job is done and the money is paid, everyone leaves with a nice story to tell. 

There is one place where, over everything else, One-Shots reign supreme. Conventions. There are few people who go to a convention to play their campaign with their friends. At a Convention you want to sit down at the table and jump right into playing. And it does not matter if you play your favorite system, in your own campaign setting or something new: you are there to have fun and you don't want to leave without the story ending. 

How to design a One-Shot

As with everything creative there is no formula for designing One-Shots. I am just sharing some advice from my personal experience and thinking. I don't wanna say that i know how to write perfect adventures. I really don't. But i trust in these advices and most good one Shots i designed and ran fulfilled those rules.

1. Stick to a Theme

Having a singular Theme at the center of your adventure is key to a good experience. Not only does it help yourself design further elements into a short, but coherent story, it also helps your players in getting a feel for the One-Shot. A strong Theme gives the One-Shot consistency and direction.

A One-Shots theme should not only influence the story, but also the gameplay. The players should be able to identify the theme without being told what the theme is. It does not have to be in the foreground. A theme can be as subtle as "Freedom or Safety?", "Vengeful Spirit", "Secret Ingredient" and "Fear of the Unknown" or as obvious as "Religious Journey", "Old School Dungeoncrawl", "Political Murder story" and "Double Agent Drama".

The only important thing is that your stick to your Theme. While a campaign might be fun, when it slowly turns from a political murder story into a hunt for the ancient treasure, this would be too much for your typical One-Shot. While some adventures might work without a Theme or with multiple Themes, fighting to get the upper hand, those will be the exception, not the norm.

While this might be incredibly vague advice, i will give you some practical applications. When making notes for your One-Shot, write the Theme you choose at the top of every page. This will help with keeping the theme in mind. Another idea to keep sticking to a theme would be writing key words, you associate with the theme, down on index cards. Then make sure you include at least half of them in the adventure in some major way.

2. Don't overdo it

Complex scenes and characters are compelling. Complex story arcs are intriguing. Gameplay does profit from depth, most of the time. But within a single session, there is not enough space for everything to be as detailed and complex as possible. If there are many NSC's and they all have tons of depth and complex motivations then players will be confused and are likely not too reach story's climax in time.

This does not mean that you should build a shallow story and flat characters. Quite the opposite is true. Make characters interesting and unique. But don't overdo it. You don't have the space for 20 interesting unique characters. The main characters in the story should be unique, they should be complex and have personal depth. But those characters at the edge of your story won't benefit from such depth. Cliches are great to convey characteristics through expectations and make interactions with side characters quick and intuitive. Those interactions don't distract from the main story and help give the characters a feeling of belonging into the world, as the players expectations of how they should interact were met by the world around them.

When it comes to the story itself, not overdoing it is even more important. Your goals for a One-Shot story are the following. The Story needs to be easy to get involved in, entertaining to play and it should have a achievable conclusion. Everything that distracts from these goals should be closely examined. While, for example, an unexpected plot twist might add to the entertainment value, the second and third twist will just stand in the way of reaching a conclusion. And even the first twist might be unnecessary if the narrative was strong enough until this point. 

3. Less Scenes, more Impact

It's hard to distinguish this one from the second point but the implications are quite different. Don't plan too many scenes. One-Shots often tend to feel rushed anyway, so giving each scene time to breathe and to develop itself is crucial for an amazing Adventure. But its not only about giving each scene time. Each scene has to leave a impact. Each scene has to be important. If you have a scene which does not advance the story or develop the characters, then why is it in the One-Shot?

Constructing a good scene can be challenging? What makes a scene great? A great designer or author could possibly write an entire essay about this topic and i am neither, so I'll keep this short. A great scene is driven by the characters. It comes into existence because the characters have something they want to achieve or discover. A scene without urgency won't be interesting to the characters.
The outcome of a scene should be up to the decisions of the players and maybe even chance. This does not mean that everything should be open ended. It is nearly impossible to account for everything in the design stage of a One-Shot, but the story should not have scenes with only one possible outcome. In a One-Shot, every interaction should matter and therefore should be rewarded or punished.

4 Raise the Stakes 

When the story will reach a conclusion eventually, when the end of the story might as well be the end of the characters, then why should there be nothing at stake. High stakes are rare in roleplaying. Too rare. And a self contained experience like a One-Shot might be the perfect environment to reintroduce them into your design. Why sit down to safe a small village from goblins if you could instead safe the entire kingdom from a demonic dragon lord?

What does having high stakes mean? High stakes are a combination of three factors. High incentive, high risk and high reward. A good story has a motivation for the characters, challenges to overcome and a rewarding conclusion. The consequence for success and failure should be big. If you ever revisit this world, then the impact of this single One-Shot might still linger around in the world itself. Not all plots work on a scale like this. Sometimes the consequences have to be more personal and sometimes they won't even affect anyone besides the main character. But they always should be severe for the character. When the One-Shot has concluded, something should have changed. And whether it changed for the better or worse might be up to the players.

In most stories the protagonists don't fail. While failure within a novel or movie is a device used sparingly to convey drama and suspension, it is always constructed. Role Playing is a game. You can't force people to succeed or fail without it feeling cheap. Success must be an achievement and failure a punishment. The risk of failure should always be there, but there are many forms of failure. While a characters death might be the most obvious form of failure, it should never be the only one. There are many interesting forms of failure, that create new scenarios and develop characters. Loss of a NPC, loss of an item, success on the villains part or a setback in progress are all interesting consequences for failure.  Including them in the design of encounters helps in raising the stakes and creates a atmosphere of danger and suspension once the players notice that success is not guaranteed.

 5. Go experimental

A One-Shot is the prefect place to get weird and creative. No matter what you want to try out, be it a crazy story element, a dangerous encounter, a new mechanic or a weird gimmick, why not try it in a One-Shot. You could even build the entire one-shot around this experimental feature and you don't have to smuggle the new thing in. You can put it front and center for the whole experience. Trying new things out is a great excuse to design a one-shot and those that are build from the ground up to support a creative new idea are among the best there could possibly be.

Just... Don't overdo it...

In Conclusion

A good One-Shot is a One-Shot designed around some interesting core ideas, with a good focus on whats important and what isn't. It involves the players and creates a narrative that can easily hook players and characters into it until the conclusion, in which the consequences of the players choices and characters actions finally surface to their full extent. 

But good is not objective and there are many things i overlooked. Take these rules as a inspiration more than a guideline. Not everything works for everyone, but thinking about what might work is never a mistake.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The obligatory house rule post.

As i started this blog i made a post about why i enjoy Dungeon Crawl Classics as much as i do. One of the points i made there was how easy it is to modify the DCC ruleset. I and many other judges out there made house rules to adjust the game to their personal preferences. I wanted to present some of my house rules for a long time and now i finally found the inspiration to do so.

This week the awesome Spellburn Podcast made an episode in which they talked about House rules in great depth and presented many suggestions. Go and listen to the episode if you have not done so already. It's a great one.

Two of the house rules presented here are already featured in the Spellburn episode but were heavily modified since then. I will discuss the reasoning behind every house rule and implications here. If you only want the crunch, then don't worry. I also posted all house rules as a PDF


Attribute Checks

Instead of rolling 1d20 and adding the modifier of the corresponding attribute, players roll 1d20 and add the entire value of the attribute when making Skill and Attribute checks. All difficulties have to be adjusted by adding 10 to the DC.

Rolling the body is the only exception to this rule. You still need to roll under your luck attribute in order to succeed.


I never enjoyed rolling for attributes in d20 games. Big dice and small modifiers make your character and his stats feel irrelevant to the outcome of the roll. While DCC fixes this by rewarding creativity over dice rolling i still felt an urge to change the rulings.
My first attempt was, inspired by some AD&D and Cthulhu games i played in, making attribute checks by rolling under the attribute. While i liked it and still think it works fine this ruling had two major problems. First: Calculating Difficulties and factoring in modifiers is a mess. Second (as discussed in Spellburn): Rolling low is not fun. While i might disagree on the second one, the first one always bugged me.
This solution is mathematically equivalent to rolling under the attributes when it comes to probabilities of success. Also you don't have to house rule modifications. They apply per normal rules. Its still not that great to have a result of a 15 be "not that good", but i prefer it widely over a success difference of 15% between the weak wizard and the mighty warrior when it comes to strength checks.

Blocking with Shields

In addition to granting a AC Bonus shields can also be used to block any one melee attacks, which the character is aware of, even critical hits. The blocking of an attack has to be announced after the attack is rolled but before any damage or  critical rolls are made. The shield is destroyed by the attack and no damage is applied to the character.
Magical shields are not destroyed, they are knocked away, cut loose, stuck or otherwise made useless for the remaining encounter.

Shields can be used to attack, which uses the normal dual wielding rules except for dwarves.

New Equipment
Shield Cost* Damage** AC Bonus Check Penalty Fumble †
Wooden Shield 20gp 1d3 +1 -2 +1d
Steel Shield 35gp 1d4 +2 -4 +1d
Tower Shield 80gp 1d6 +4 -6 +2d
* for use with base DCC. My Campaign Setting "Thireila" converts all costs from GP to SP
** If used to attack (f.e. by a dwarf using board and sword)
† In addition to any armor worn. 1d equals a step on the dice chain for armored fumbles d4-d8-d12-d16-d20-d24


 As i read through the hubris setting i found this rule and wanted to imply it into my game. The rule as i present were originally found in Crawl Issue 2 , which originally took them from the Trollsmyth blog. I made a way more complicated draft out of this, which allowed to block multiple attacks and tracked shield hit points. Damage overflow from shields could be applied to characters. It was a quite nice system i think. It just did not work for DCC. DCC is focused on actions and reactions, not on bookkeeping. Its inspiration is in heroic fantasy, where taking a hit to the shield is not a tactical choice but an act of desperation. This current draft encourages this epic style of play without complicating gameplay and the new shield types i included offer more choice for player characters.

Combat Actions

Charging grants a +2 bonus to damage (if the attack is successful) instead of the attack roll. As usual it also grants a -2 malus to the charging characters AC

A character may perform a reckless attack. This grants a +2 bonus to the attack roll and reduces the attacking characters AC by 2. This maneuver can be combined with a charge to get +2 to attack and damage at the cost of a -4 AC malus.


An attack performed with high momentum should be impactful. Charging should be awesome. In basic DnD and DCC a charge is just a way to get more reliable damage instead of a maneuver to get one hit of high damage. So i changed this around. But even in a normal fight one can recklessly go all out on the enemy. It won't put more force to your strike, but it will make it more likely to hit someone.
This grants more options in combat which are not hard to explain, don't need any specifications and help create more high risk situations initialized by players. The impact of this additional action will drop off towards higher levels as characters get more reliable results out of their class abilities so it will only increase choice for 0 or low levels characters. I have not yet play tested this enough to see if it makes it too easy for the characters, but mightier characters can easily be countered by mightier foes, right?

No Corruption and Fumble avoidance

Wizards can't burn luck to avoid corruption, Warriors can't burn luck to avoid fumbles.


Corruption is awesome but rare. And avoiding it with one single point of luck makes corruption so rare that its not even worth checking. But as i mentioned, corruption is awesome. So it should happen. Therefore should not be avoidable.
I gave the warrior the same treatment and made them not able to avoid fumbles. I just like rolling on tables okay? Maybe the warrior thing will get kicked out soon, who knows.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Curious Dungeon #1 - The Temple of Oyraka

Normally when designing i start with an idea. With a story to tell. When running fantasy games i always ask myself. Where do i want my party to go and what do they want to do there, way before i ask my self what this place looks in detail. I wanted to break out of this routine and try something else. I sat down and drew a Dungeon map. I had nothing in mind while drawing it, i didn't ask myself questions about the place or the layout, i did not want to know what was inside the rooms and who lived there.

I posted the Dungeon map about two weeks ago with the promise to finish it up within a week. whoops. At least it's done now. I finished the Details of the map and here it is. Curious Dungeon Number 1. The Temple of Oyraka.

I randomly determined what this Dungeon will be. I used the tables i created for rolling through regions and found out that this was a submerged Temple inhabited by Lizardfolk. I did not quite stick to the premise as i decided that the temple was abandoned, but the Lizardfolk left their mark on this place.

But what is inside? The first room was huge, so it obviously needed a Statue. The Dungeon Alphabet by Michael Curtis provided many inspirations for this Dungeon, its arrival at my doorstep was one of the reasons i made this dungeon. It has a quite neat table for creating random statues, so i used it to roll out the table in Area 1-2 and 2-6. The Altars in Area 1-7 got randomized in a similar fashion. But there were still many rooms left empty.

It was quite easy to determine the former use of most of the rooms but for some i had to randomly determine a use. At this point i just looked at any table i could find for inspiration. Room by Room the Dungeon came together. I stopped rolling out random things and just picked what i liked out of this book and many other resources i could find in my bookshelf.

Here is the result. The Temple of Oyraka.

If the Hyperlink is not working just follow this link:

I liked the idea of having the Dungeon set inside a lake. So i did it. It was submerged anyway, right? Now one question was left to answer: Why should adventurers go into this Dungeon? A mighty artifact had to be placed inside this Dungeon. I found no good spot to hide it. No room that made for a nice final room. So i placed it in the entrance and made a journey through the entire Dungeon necessary to retrieve it.

Writing this Dungeon down was way more work than designing it and i did not expect it to take this long. But i did learn a lot from this and be ensured that this won't be the last curious Dungeon.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Hog - God of Beasts and Combat

Here comes another God of Thireila. The chaotic and destructive Hog - God of Beasts and Combat.

While most of the Gods want to carry their ideals out into the wide world of Thireila, Hogs goals are more simple. Hog wants to see the most impressive combatants, men or beast, have the most brutal fights one could think of. Those who follow him are warriors and savages, mercenaries and brutes, looking for evergrowing challenges and rewards on the fields of battle. Whether they go alone or in groups, they don't care. They pray through their actions, not with their words. And while some belief in the constant struggle and fight, most follow Hog because his powers reward those who spend all their life fighting. 

The whole deity entry can be found here.

And now for something completly different.

Yesterday some books arrived at my home. Goodman Games 4th Printing of the Dungeon Alphabet, as well as the most current edition of the Monster Alphabet completed their journey, from the printing press in america to my lovely home in germany. I had the Pdfs to toy around with for some time now but those books just screamed at me that i finally should put them to good use.

Most of the time, when designing a dungeon, i design an Adventure first. I know why my party wants to go there and what they want. i know what the locations purpose in the story is and i know what awaits them. Yesterday i drew a map without any clue what it's going to be. I just started drawing and ended up with this

But this is not just a attempt to hone my (quite lackluster) drwaing skills. No. This will turn into a fledged out Dungeon next week. I will use my Special Places Chart from Rolling Through Regions, to randomly determine what this location will be and then i'll sit down with nothing but a pen, this map and the Dungeon and Monster Alphabet to fill this one with life. And you'll get the result and a quick report on how it went. I am looking forward to this!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Fate of the Ruthless Wizard - A DCC Funnel

The old tower looms over your small village. In the past it was a sign of resilience, but now it has turned into something else. As you step out of your small homes into the Towers shadow, the fear of the wizard Broshgar creeps back into your hearts. He took your food and your goods, he abducted your friends and your family and without remorse he killed anyone trying to stop him. Only a few months ago he took four of your children at once. And you let it happen. But today is the last day you'll ever be afraid of him. Assembling in front of the towers entrance you are ready to end his reign of terror.

I hereby present to you my first Adventure posted on this blog. Fate of the Ruthless Wizard is a six pages long DCC Funnel, which can easily fit into a single session. Built for 12 to 16 level 0 characters it will set your party up against an evil wizard who terrorized your characters home.
 I have playtested it twice and alwawys had a lot of fun with it. If you want to send any feedback into my direction feel free to do so. I'd love to hear any opinion on this module.