Posts Tagged ‘system’

A formal statement of the system I actually use when running Tartary

April 23, 2014 1 comment

Tartary has a couple of special systems for subgames, which are supposed to support more exciting, crunchy scenes (mecha combat, basically), but most of the time it’s just basic task resolution. And as I have drunk more martinis and DMed more on the fly, my worn little pebble of a resolution mechanic has become streamlined to the point where I think it might be of service to other gin-swilling DMs. Thus:

We roll 1D10. This is because dice snobs hate the non-Platonic D10 and because I find it easy to calculate in base 10. It’s a habit.

All rolls are contested, ie. both the player and the DM roll.* Whoever rolls higher gets their way.
The margin of success = damage in combat, some rough estimate of efficiency, and flair.
You can modify this roll in various ways – with a skill or attribute bonus (one or the other), situational modifiers, special pleading, bribery etc.
Also by taking extra risk. This means you say “I want to add (eg) +3 to this roll.” If you do that, then rolling under that modifier number (in this case 3) on the die is an auto failure and something terrible happens.**

All resolution rolls explode.
1 is automatic failure anyway. Reroll – if you get another 1 something terrible happens. A third 1: the terrible thing spreads to involve the whole party/army/country.
If you roll a 10, reroll and add to your 10, ad infinitum.

* inanimate stuff in the environment gets to contest your roll because all of Tartary hates you.

** terrible things are, in fact, terrible. If you happen to be handling explosives (as you often are in Tartary) you’ll likely be rolling up another character and apologizing to anyone else whose character was nearby.

So then there are some standard complications; weapons add a flat bonus to damage (a sword adds +2), unless they are (a) big-ass or (b) explosives, in which case they add 1 or more d10 (more on combat here). There’s a death and dismemberment table, mishaps for psychics and vehicles and doomsday devices, technomagic items and spirit possession and Mi-go and stuff stolen from all over…
…but essentially everything else is an ad hoc ruling.


I guess you’d want chargen here to understand the level of standard mods, but as a baseline, +6 is an excellent skill and +3 an excellent attribute and +4 is an extraordinary situational mod.

image-1 images y187 DSC_0473


Tartary is Bollymecha part 2: the Mecha, or jury-rigged rules for rigged jury battles

October 1, 2013 3 comments

How many months since part 1?

Well, mecha combat seems imminent and unavoidable, so here are some rules for handling it. They are completely untested and will probably fold like a carnival float after Holi, but here goes:

Mechs have a pilot, and optionally one or more gunners and an engineer.

Piloting (and therefore moving) goes first, but after that all attacks and damage are simultaneous.

1. Pilots roll against each other to see who gets advantage each round. This is determined by:
The one with the higher result gets to do the thing they wanted to do and gets the difference between rolls as a bonus on the gunner’s roll (or rolls if there are multiple gunners). Example things pilots can do: ram (an attack, see below), dodge, run away, brawl, take cover, evade (apply your bonus as a penalty to the enemy’s shooting), change range.

2. Gunners shoot and reload their weapons. They can also GAMBLE but doing so exposes them to enemy fire without the benefit of armour or risks their weapon malfunctioning somehow. Damage depends in large part on how well you hit.

3. Engineers repair, jury-rig and salvage stuff on the fly. They may also GAMBLE to give the pilot a bonus on the next turn and make DESPERATE SAVES to mitigate mishaps this turn – though these must be extravagantly surprising – see under MISHAPS, below. Engineers sometimes go EVA to get stuff off the battlefield, set traps etc. They can also try to spy on or jam enemy communications, or use any other gadgets during combat that you can think of.

4. If you can think of it, you can try it. Just because I haven’t mentioned spellcasters, psychics, boarding parties, grapnels, human cannonballs, fifth columnists, weresquid or airbags doesn’t mean you can’t introduce them. If you surprise me you automatically surprise the enemy too.

Gambling is declaring a numerical bonus you want to apply to your roll. Anyone – pilots, gunners, engineers – can gamble. Everyone’s gamble gets added together to get the MISHAP target. If you roll under the target on the d10 then a MISHAP happens (roll on the MISHAP table).

You can simultaneously succeed in your roll and MISHAP at the same time – the order in which the two happen depends on how badly you rolled relative to your mishap chance. Other factors can also increase your mishap chance/gravity – damage, environmental factors… some of these will be obvious (skating on glass, pilot’s seat destroyed so he has to cling to the controls) some will be secret (eg. faults in your machine that you didn’t know about). And mishaps tend to damage your rig, breeding more mishaps.

Getting hit costs you +1 mishap the next turn per hit. Ramming costs you +3 next turn. Getting rammed costs you the margin of the rammer’s success in mishap penalty this turn.

When engineers gamble successfully, they reduce the overall mishap penalty by their margin of success. BUT if a mishap happens on an engineering roll then it happens personally to the engineer, and/or the place where the engineer is at the time (usually the engine room).

All hitting is simultaneous – its consequences come at the end of the current round.
To hit roll 9+. This is modified by the pilot’s margin of success + gunnery skill – range +/- any bonus given by the dancers and gambling.

There are 3:
i. close enough for fisticuffs n flamethrowers. This is too close for most ranged weapons (-1 to hit) but not for the sidearms of crew members.
ii. shooting range.
iii. long range. most weapons are at -3, a few are unmodified.
To change range you have to win a piloting contest, unless you both want to change range in which case it might be automatic or you might charge past each other. Mechs are like bulls. Which means I should have a surprise system but I don’t yet.

Damage = the amount you succeeded by on your roll + weapon damage bonus. When you inflict damage, roll for location (see PARTS, below). Damage is taken straight off armour. When armour is gone, then further damage to a part disables it and/or hurts the crew there.

Mechs also have a WEIGHT CLASS which = their damage bonus for melee attacks/ramming.
Ramming does double damage – triple if you actually have a ram fitted.
When ramming, if your margin of success + difference in weight class is 10+ you can knock the opponent over: -3 to all rolls, no movement until they get back up.
One point of vehicle damage/one vehicle HP = 1d10 HP for a person.

Mechs are made out of parts. Each part has armour points (HP). Armour shelters the part’s mechanisms and crew members: as long as there is armour on a part, the crew on that part are safe. Once the armour is gone, any hit will disable the part AND damage the crew there. Also any critical hit (margin of success = 10+) disables the part even if it still has armour and damages the crew unless they save vs CHA.

Each mech has a COCKPIT (where the pilot is),
a DRIVE (often where the engineer is, also the bit that makes it go), and other subsystems, such as
WEAPONS (manned by gunners, whether they’re guns, melee weapons or other) and a wide variety of

When you get hit, roll d10 for location.
Then each extra Part occupies another number on the die.
Any numbers left over are DRIVE.
If you want to call a shot to a specific part you add 3 to the target to hit, but if you hit it you add 3 damage (ie cancels out the damage penalty, since damage is success-based).

MECH AGILITY is baked into the mech design rules (TBD). Some designs come with more agility than others before you add weapons. In general bigger mechs have less agility but can carry more stuff. It’s just a flat +/- to piloting but also indicates relative top speed: a higher agility mech can reliably run away from a lower agility one after long range is reached.

Singers and dancers mostly set a BONUS RESOURCE before combat begins. OPTIONALLY (and probably not for the first combats which are already looking plenty complex enough) they could manipulate bonuses/penalties during combat by swinging the crowd on the narrative arc of the fight.

An example to make things even more confusing:

Shivaji and Mahmoud are mech fighting at shooting range. They are both pro pilots (skill = 5). Shivaji’s mech has 1 cannon and agility 2. But it also has a damaged foot (permanent +1 mishap). He gambles another +3 – so he has to roll 5+ (over 4) on his d10 to avoid a mishap altogether. Mahmoud intends to ram. That means closing to fisticuffs range AND a tricky maneuver – automatic +1 mishap. He gambles +6, so he has to roll 8 or above to avoid mishap.
Shivaji rolls 2 (dice) +5 (skill) +2 (agility) +3 (gambling) = 12.
Mahmoud rolls 6 (dice) +5 (skill) +0 (agility) +6 (gambling) = 17
so Mahmoud gets his wish – he rams Shivaji. If Mahmoud had any gunners then this turn they would shoot at +5 (his margin of success). But he doesn’t. The weight class of his mech is 3, so he does (5 (margin of victory) + 3) x2 (doubled for ramming) = 16 damage. He gets a 2 on hit location: weapon. That weapon had 12 armour: it is lost and the gunner will be killed at the end of the round (4 damage blew through = 4d10 damage to the gunner).

Shivaji lost the piloting contest so his doomed gunner gets no bonus, and range is fisticuffs so that’s a -1 penalty. The gunner has skill +3, -1 for range (movement goes first but ramming is an attack ie it does not affect this attack b/c everything is simultaneous). He gambles +3 and rolls an 8, for a modified 10 – he would’ve hit with a 9, so with a 10 his margin is 2. The gun is a small cannon: +3 damage, so that’s 5 damage in the…  rolls a 0=drive. The drive’s 30 armour is cut down to 25.

Both failed their mishap rolls and Shivaji’s gunner added an extra +3 to the failure. So, Shivaji failed by 5 but Mahmoud’s ram margin is added, so that’s failed by 10. Mahmoud failed his by 2. Both have engineers who can try to mitigate the mishaps with a straight grease monkey roll, target 9+, modified by gambling. If they succeed then the mishap number is reduced by the margin of success. Shivaji’s engineer gambles +5 and rolls a 5 +4 for skill = 14, so he avoids taking the mishap on himself and reduces it by 4 for a final result of 6 mishap, which means the other gunner is thrown off the rig! Mahmoud’s engineer rolls a 3, failing to mitigate his mishaps – Mahmoud’s agility is reduced by -1 until repaired.

Next round Shivaji starts with no gunner and +2 mishap (his usual +1, +1 from being hit). Mahmoud starts with +4 mishap (+3 from ramming, +1 from being shot). They might be well-advised to just spend a round recovering unless their engineers make some kind of desperate saves to right their rigs.

The Mishap Table

Every point by which you fail a mishap roll takes 1 from your speed. There are also more serious effects, as follows. “Repair” is a saving throw made by a grease monkey, which takes up the monkey’s action the next turn.

  1. Drivetrain damage – limit +2 to any mod thereafter until repaired
  2. Damage: agility reduced by 1 until repaired
  3.  Memorable damage, which is described: -1d6HP to vehicle. Player must invent some excuse for a save to halve the damage
  4. leaking! +1 mishap thereafter, and some vital resource (blood, food, fuel, transmission fluid) will be gone in 3 turns unless repaired. Fresh mishaps reopen the leak.
  5. Something is lost (prob. a weapon, optionally something else). Also, secret +1 mishap.
  6. Crash/man overboard.
  7. One character suffers Arduin crit. Secret +2 mishap and save every turn against vehicle coming apart (engineering rolls).
  8. Weapons fire randomly, 2 in 6 at own vehicle. Arduin crits for all characters and vehicle.
  9. Magazine explosion, or grease monkey turns rogue, starts murdering other occupants. High probability of PC death.
  10. Fuel explosion, or drivetrain turns rogue
  11. Meltdown. Vehicle destroyed.

Mech stats


CATERPILLAR: Agility 0. Size +1 (capacity +4 tons of gear)
Cockpit: 8, drive 24.

Cutter #5, driven by Jen the goat and Kyre the human

Cutter #5, originally driven by Jen the goat and Kyre the human

SMEROE Cutter #5: Agility 3. Size 0 (capacity +23 tons)
Cockpit 0. 6 non-drive legs: 3 each. Drive: 15
Cutters: +6 damage in fisticuffs


Giant Imperialist propaganda bell repurposed as armour for Cutter #5. Shhhh.

Dashoguz Mechs


BASHER: Agility -2, Size 3
Cockpit: 5 Hammer: 12 Drive: 20
Hammer: +5 damage in fisticuffs
Chisel flinger: +1 damage ranged. (cannot use both at once)


BORER: Agility -1, Size 2
Cockpit: 10 drill: 30 Drive: 20
Drill: +2 fisticuffs and the same again next round unless you beat it in piloting contest, penalty -2


CRUSHER: Agility 0, Size 6
Cockpit: 5, crusher 15, drive 15
On a successful ram, the pilot rolls a second contest to see if you are trapped in the crushing gear. If you are then your engineer has to save to sever the bit that’s being crushed in order to get free. The crusher does 6 damage every subsequent round but must roll over the Size of the mech it’s crushing each round to avoid being destroyed itself.

Visiting contenders


CATATHUMP: agility -2, size 5
Cockpit 20, thumper 30, drive 40
Can only move by recoil from its gun, therefore cannot give chase against a more agile mech.
Cannon: +5 ranged, one round reload. 3 marines with gold rifles for close defense


JHOOM BARABAR JHOOM agility +2, size 2
Cockpit 15, mine 10, gun1: 10, gun 2: 10, drive 26
If it rams by +4 over opponent’s roll it sticks its mine to them. Engineer save to disengage it before it goes off in 1d3 rounds.
Guns +1 each.


MARATHI SONIC agility 0, size 1
Cockpit 20, sonic weapon 20, drive 20
Sonic weapon attacks for +3 mishap but no physical damage. Ranged.
Unidentified Mechs lurking by the side of the Arena…










DMs only: some magical interference from the Tartarverse

May 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Several of Tartary’s magic items are ridiculously powerful* and apt to cause trouble in anyone’s campaign. Sorry about that.

Of course, you can always just disable these items in your setting. Or you can use the following house rule…

If a magic item from Tartary is brought to your world, roll d10 each time it is used:
On a 0 the item may work once but is then drained of all power.
On a 9 it turns permanently into some other magic item native to your setting.
On a 6, it works but using it summons 1d6 creatures from Column B, below.
On a 1, instead of working normally, one of the following things happens…

roll Effect Column B
1 User transformed into a… (Column B) Hemogoblin** (mechanically like low-HD undead)
2 User possessed by a… (Column B) Mi-go***
3 User convinced they are a… Priest of Ming
4 User temporarily gains powers of a… Sky Man pirate
5 User and target life-linked: one dies, both die Industrial Druid
6 User and target mind-swapped Space psychic (high level MU, telepathic/mind-controlling)
7 User and target will not harm each other Sentient machine (possibly but not necessarily a gith machine)
8 Target gains powers of a… Giant fighting hindu temple
9 Target transformed into a… The target OR user, whichever is more inconvenient
0 Item spews out monsters uncontrollably Random third party

*These include the yellow, silver and black belts of Choison or Koh-i-san or whatever, saltifier wands, shrines of Ming, twister projectors etc. Then there are the things that merely do silly amounts of damage to people, vehicles and fortifications.


My advice is either to disable these or severely limit their application – most of them have limited ammo and/or long reload times anyway. The Skyman-sacrificing bazooka needs a ready supply of live skymen, so chances are that will only be good for 1 shot if it shows up. And it has side-effects, so if somebody uses it you should probably let me know…

** stolen from Tim Powers’ Dinner At Deviant’s Palace: it starts out as a small cellophane-like, jellyfish-like bag. It grabs onto any open wound and starts sucking, producing a blood homunculus of the person so vampirized that has some of their skills and its own malign will. If it has multiple victims it can grow really quite big and dangerous. And it knows a portion of what its victims know.

*** are there really no free, LL-compatible mi-go out there? I rather like Carcosa’s Mi-go for being a bit crappy – I have them bootstrap their way to superior intelligence but only for the leaders. Mechanically I’d say take your pick from goblin, hobgoblin or ogre, as it suits you. My Mi-go come in many sizes. Here, have an illo of the philosopher subclass, courtesy of le chaudron chromatique...


Also, some pleasing thoughts about Yuggoth.

Ultra simple mecha hack suitable for playing with your kids

January 11, 2013 Leave a comment

You will need: Hex map (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), mecha counters showing facing, 1d6. Either paper for each player to record mecha info or, if you want to get fancy, cards to deal out for the Weapons and Specials.

Build your mecha

Draw from a deck of cards or roll dice to select a weapon and a special feature to deck out your giant robot chassis. By default all mecha have 8 HP.

1. Rocket fists: max range 3 hexes, Damage D2 and spin target around 180 degrees
2. Cannon: range 6, damage d2
3. Blunderbuss: range 3, dam. D6, then take a turn to reload
4. Missiles: Minimum range 3, max 6. Damage D6
5. Hatchet: range 1, damage d6
6. Harpoon: range 4, damage d3, drags opponent closer by 1 hex each turn unless opponent breaks the cable by rolling a 6.

Apart from weapons listed above all mecha can punch (range 1, damage 1).

1. stickymines (2 of em): Range 1, autokill in 2 rounds unless the opponent rolls a 6
2. more engine: +1 move point
3. jump jets: move 2 hexes in any direction, end with any facing
4. Armour: +4 HP
5. Can opener: range 1, if you roll a 6 you can steal opponent mecha and your mecha becomes inactive.
6. Super dodge (2 of em): declare before anyone rolls to hit: attack automatically fails.

I say mecha but with a light reskin this could work for Pokemon, Barbie, Lego Friends... you know, with hugs instead of missiles.

I say giant robots but you could reskin this any way you wanted – and who wouldn’t love a version where adorable candystripe ponies blow kisses and give hugs – or maul each other with missiles and hammers?

Turn Order

Roll for initiative to see who moves first. If players have multiple mecha then everyone moves one mecha in initiative order, then everyone’s second mecha etc. After everyone’s moved, everyone gets a chance to turn one hex-side (60°) to react to the new situation.
Then everyone fights: physical attacks first, then shooting. Roll saves/whatever to react to that, take damage.


Mecha can only move straight forward and turn. Each mecha gets 4 movement points every turn to spend on moving forward (1 hex = 1 point) and turning (one hex-side = 1 point).


Range in hexes = your difficulty to hit on 1d6 – so maximum range is 6 hexes. You can shoot/fight into the front 3 hexes only. Physical attacks go first. resolve all damage/death at end of turn.

Ways you can complicate this

All mecha can also Charge (range 1 – into hex directly ahead only, damage = the number of hexes you moved this turn, and the charging mech takes 1 recoil damage)
1 move point to go up or down 1 level (marked on some maps). You cannot cross a boundary of more than 1 level. Roll 3+ to avoid losing 2 move points when entering/crossing water. Roll 4+ to exit a mud/sand hex. To cross a gorge either use jump jets or run 3 hexes in a straight line that turn (to do a running jump).
Each side has multiple mecha, but only one pilot – the rest are remote controlled. Kill the pilot and the whole side goes down.
pilots can run around outside mecha, try to break into mecha: move 1 hex a turn in any direction, roll 5+ to grab onto a mecha and start climbing. Reach cockpit one turn after climbing, roll 6 to get inside. Pilots have 1 HP.


Wampus reskin

Wampus reskin

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Tartary is Bollymecha part 1: the Bolly, or Dance Rules for Techno-Tyrants

January 8, 2013 3 comments

Tartary is slums and pomo Orientalism and post-Soviet social commentary and Roadside Picnic getting-melted-by-your-treasure, and constant war and endless treachery and uncaring thaumatocrats and incomprehensible honour systems and tyrants replacing each other on the banks of the Oxus.


Yes, this
Yes, this

plus this.

Because every town worth a damn has at least one mecha fighting arena, and every kid goes through at least one summer where they dream of being a big star pilot like Prince Harbir of Amritsar or that magnificent bastard Nizam The Suzerain, Pit Boss of Komtor.

And what separates those great TV heroes and heels from the local toughs, duking it out in the local dive with their grease-powered MadMaxoskeletons?

Well, unimaginable riches, obviously. And mighty hordes of followers and the splendours of a kingdom behind them.

But all those things stem from KEEN DANCE MOVES.

For which, I humbly herewith present some rules, in the hopes of encouraging frugging, as well as the more usual fighting, for justice, glory and base gratification.


Because dance is ritual magic (it’s actually a whole magic system, but that’s another post). It’s the path to power and fortune. And it’s the one way to really, truly, definitively win disputes.

The basic coin of social power in Tartary is Reputation; it’s a measure of how important you are. And it’s a stat on your character sheet: REP. Incoming DnD flailsnailers get their level as their starting REP, because their greatest deeds are shown on Tartary’s ubiquitous TV networks – late night or prime-time, depending on how great they are.

REP can be increased by accomplishing mighty and important stuff and by beating folks in the arenas. You do not get REP – or respect or followers or groupies – by shanking your enemies quietly in the night. You get it by dominating and humiliating them in the public eye.

And you can attract that eye by invoking the ritual of Breaking into Song and Dance.

When you begin a dance you change the rules of conflict; a shouted challenge to a barroom fistfight can be brushed or laughed off, but a formal challenge by dance-off is serious business – it means the world is watching – and it must be met in kind. To refuse a dance-off is to admit defeat and agree to whatever settlement the victor demands. It’s not good for your reputation, but like losing a duel, it’s still within the bounds of honour.

But if you then protest, or go back on the deal, or try to get back what you legitimately lost by treachery, why then you lose ALL respect and REP – effectively setting you back to level 0 (if the TV catches you…).


1. The Challenge

When someone starts dancing a Challenge is issued and Stakes are set.

The challenger rolls a d6 to set a target for the challengee to beat. They can add mods to this roll by Staking resources and by bringing in situational modifiers.

anything you stake may be lost if you lose the dance-off.
The first thing that can be Staked is Reputation – every point of REP staked is a +1 on the roll
You can also stake your life for a further +1. If you lose that… well in theory the victor could then legally kill you without reprisals, but that’s frowned on. Instead you’re commonly bound to do some service for the victor – either a specific task or a year of limited slavery.

If you have supporters, they can also stake their lives and join you in your dance (they could stake their Reputations but Rep cannot be pooled – only the single highest Rep counts) for +1 each

Situational Modifiers:
Anything you can bring in to hype the dance can provide a mod. Creativity is rewarded and appreciated by audiences. Classic moves include:

involve the crowd: make a d10 roll + CHA + REP + applicable skills to get the audience dancing on your side (vs the audience’s current disposition to the challenger). This can add +1 on an ordinary success, +2 on an exceptional success or -1 on a botch. If nobody brought their own band, musicians might also be called out of a crowd for an extra +1

stage effects: if you have an engineer on your side they can provide lighting or stage props, a choreomancer can tighten up your choreography, a great singer or musician can solo in praise of your majestic vertu, panache or malandragem. In each case a successful skill roll can add +1 (and a botch is -1)

2. The Response

The person challenged can Raise the stakes, Concede (or Fold), or Accept the challenge (Call).

If they Raise then they must beat whatever the Challenger got on their d6+mods, which will probably mean that they also have to Stake stuff and try to win situational modifiers – essentially they have to out-do the previous dance, make fun of the opponent’s claims and demonstrate their superior badassery and flair. They can entice the audience and musicians away (beating the previous skill roll to do so) and whatever else they can think of. If they beat the challenger, then the challenge is passed back to the original challenger who must Raise, Concede or Accept.

Each time a challenge or raise is issued, demands can be added to the dispute.

If a Raise is unsuccessful or if the person being challenged Concedes then (a) the challenger wins the dispute and any demands issued (argument, daughter’s hand in marriage, deeds to the mine, leadership of the pirate gang, rocket parts, whatever); (b) the conceding party loses whatever they Staked and 1 point of REP.

If a challenge is Accepted (Called) then the dancing turns to ritual combat (probably involving Mecha, discussed in Part 2), but not on a level playing field:

(a) the Accepter’s opponent (ie the last person to Challenge or Raise) gets initiative in the first round

(b) they also get the margin of their challenge’s success as a modifier to use at some point during that combat, either to modify one roll or to split up over multiple rolls as they see fit.


OK, example: Hakim challenges Waled for leadership of the tribe. Hakim has REP 4 and 2 supporters: a grease monkey and a trumpeter. Hakim stakes his REP and life, for a total of +5, his supporters stake their lives too (+2), the grease monkey adds spotlights and the trumpeter provides honking accompaniment for +1 each, for a total mod of +9. Hakim rolls a 3 +9 for stakes and mods = 12.

If Waled were to Accept this challenge then Hakim would get a total of +12 to use in the ensuing combat, which could be +12 on a single roll or +5 on one roll and +7 on another or any split Hakim chose.

Instead Waled Raises. He has REP 2 and 3 friends – a singer, a judge/orator and a high-CHA pilot with a magnificent moustache.  He stakes his REP (+2) and all stake their lives (+4). Waled borrows an extraordinary hat to augment his performance (+1), the singer solos (+1), and both the orator and the pilot try to involve the crowd. This is a judgment call for the DM – can you involve the crowd more than once for multiple mods? After furious pleading the DM is persuaded by the players’ argument that oratory appeals to the crowd’s religious fervour while moustache-envy appeals to lower urges, and so both are allowed (+2). The total mod is +10, Waled rolls a 5 and beats Hakim by 3.

Hakim doubts he can win the crowd back so he Accepts the challenge, knowing that Waled will have +3 in mods (the margin of his Raise) to use as he wishes in the upcoming combat.


In accordance with anthropological theory, there is a moment in this exchange where power passes from challenger to responder: when a Raise is successfully executed, the Raiser gets a choice: they can force a fight or concession, or they can take the loftier path and call for peace and reconciliation.

If they choose not to fight then the status quo is restored and everyone stands down. The challenger may only challenge again if they can present a new and compelling reason to do so. This rule was enacted because of the death through exhaustion of one Garwan the Grandiloquent, a remarkable and highly popular showman-emir who was subjected to a campaign of continuous challenges for trade concessions over 13 days by representatives of the Consortium of New Julfa Coffee Shippers.

Well duh. You think getting your Bollymech to dance isn’t going to be worth some Situational Modifier (as well as being risky)?

Streamlined Ars Magica hack combat for Tartary

November 20, 2012 4 comments

I’ve been re-reading Ars Magica 4e (available for free download! Thanks to Jeremy Duncan for telling me this) and it’s cool but too complicated (incompatible with gin, which is a deal breaker for me).

So here’s a simpler hack. This is a draft, stuff will change.

All combat is done with d10. You and the opponent roll, you want to beat their result. You do damage equal to the margin by which you beat them.
Roll of 1 = fumble. Reroll – if you get another 1 a BAD THING happened. Reroll: another 1 and it’s WORSE.
Roll of 10 = awesome! Reroll and add results together. Lather, rinse, repeat.

You and the opponent get to add modifiers to your roll: your skill (called “fight”) + any situational things you can persuade me of (surprise, range, smoke, gigantism etc).
After you’ve decided who hits, damage gets modifiers from the kind of weapon you’re using. Like a dagger has no mod but a sword gives +1 damage. In Tartary people often play with explosives, which add a whole +d10 to damage.

Sequence of combat and modifiers

1.  initiative: d10 + fight. Lowest result declares their actions first. Anyone with higher initiative can interrupt that action with their own action.

1a. exception: SURPRISE. To get surprise you (a) set up a surprising situation, (b) roll d10 + sneaky skills. The person (perhaps) being surprised has to beat your total with their d10 + Wis or Per. THIS OBVIOUSLY FAVOURS PEOPLE WITH SNEAKY SKILLS GO FIGURE.

1b. exception: missiles go after melee (if you want to hit anything – to interrupt meleers you have to suck up a -3 mod)

2. Attack! Roll off with opponent, see who wins and therefore gets to cause damage. You CAN defend against multiple attacks in one round but each extra defense is at cumulative -3. If you are not defending then the target number to hit you is 2.

Missile weapons are a bit different
1. they go after melee (see above)
2. Roll D10 + shoot skill to hit. The basic target number to hit someone at cop show handgun range is 9 – this is in lieu of them getting a defense roll.
3. If applicable, apply the following mods:
partial cover -3 (includes a big shield)
target thinks they have full cover but doesn’t quite -6
long range for your weapon -2
spend an extra round aiming +3
target not moving (and not behind cover) +3
shooter takes damage in round of shooting: -total amount of damage taken.

4. Damage = the amount the attack exceeded defense + damage mod of weapon -armour

Melee weapon damage mods
Unarmed: -1
bottle, spanner: +0
one-handed weapon like a sword +1
2-handed weapon like an Enoch hammer +2
special pleading for your badass weapon +d10, though I can’t right now think of a single melee weapon to give this to, lightsabers and chainsaws included.

Missile weapon damage mods
sling/discus -1
thrown knife/axe/spear +0
bow/pistol +1
fancy bow/rifle/jezzail +2
basass blunderbuss, elephant gun, radium rifle or grenade launcher +d10 (but generally these weapons takes multiple rounds to reload).

Armour damage mods
improvised shield (rolled cloak, bit of siding) -1
actual purpose-built Roman or Viking type shield -2
Holtzman shield generator out of Dune -7
These can stack with actual Armor:
leather 0
man-portable metal -2
improvised tank plate -3
battleship siding -6
overworld hypercrystal alloystuff -10 (basically counts as cover

What damage means

Hit points are the old Errol Flynn DnD “luck and grit and ability to avoid serious injury” until you get to 0, when suddenly it’s slow healing time (unless you have a talented/ultratech medic or grease monkeys nearby, in which case good on you and don’t come crying to me about the strange things that happened).

At 0 hp you roll on The Death and Dismemberment Table (via Trollsmyth and Carjacked Seraphim).
Roll 1d10. If you’re in negative HP territory, that negative is applied to the roll.

1 confirmed by rerolling 1: Instant death (decapitated or other grievous wound).
1 but unconfirmed: Incapacitated/maimed. Die in 1d6 minutes unless medics beat difficulty target 9. Medics will be working on you for hours. Weak for 2d6 weeks, some lasting impairment.
2: Severed limb (DM’s choice or roll randomly) will die in 3d6 minutes unless tourniquet applied, cauterized etc. Then will die in 3d6 hours unless medics beat difficulty 6. Out for min. 1 hour.
3: lose something fragile – an eye, an ear, a finger, your memory/sense of self-identity. You’ll die in 3d10 hours unless medics beat difficulty 6. Beat 6 on d10+Wis or be stunned for rest of combat
4-5: broken bones, punctured lungs: roll over blow-through damage to stay conscious. You need medical aid or you will never be the same again. Also will die in d10 hours if you don’t stop the bleeding. With proper care you can recover completely. Meanwhile beat 6 on D10+Wis every time you try to do something strenuous or you’ll black out. And if you do, then beat 6 on d10+CHA or roll again on this table.
6: Knocked out and concussed. At -3 to do everything for 2d12 hours. Also you’re still on 0 hp. Beat 6 on D10 or you’ll black out. And if you do, then beat 6 on d10+Cha or roll again on this table.
7: Beat 6 on d10+Wis of be knocked out for d10 minutes.
8: Stunned and confused until someone snaps you out of it.
9: drop weapon, stunned for 1 round.
10: Adrenaline Surge. get back 1d3 HP. These go away again at the end of combat, at which point reroll. Another 10? permanently get +1 hp.

Dealing with vehicles etc.
Most hand weapons just do 1 damage to vehicles. hand-holdable explosives still do d10.
Vehicle-type cannons do +d10 damage to people, but only get some numerical +1 or similar against other vehicles.
PPCs, giant cannons or earthquake guns might do +d10 or even +2d10 to vehicles.

Special fightin’ nonsense
“Double wielding”
(using 2 weapons) means you still only attack once but you get to roll to attack twice and use the higher result.

You can use Zak’s “called shots” mechanic to say that you are increasing the chance of an exploding result on the die. IE: usually you would only reroll a 10 but you can take extra risk and say you want to also reroll a 9, 8, 7 or 6. BUT then your chance of a fumble goes up equally – so if you go all out for a called shot (shot works/explodes on 6-10) and roll a 6 then you get to reroll and add as per usual exploding damage. After that first reroll you only reroll again if you get a 10 as usual. BUT if you roll a 5 in the same situation then it’s a fumble AND when you reroll a 5 or below confirms the fumble.

Climbing on things: smaller things may be able to climb up bigger  things to do more damage to their vulnerable bits. Zak’s hack of Scrap’s rule works directly here: “for every round spent climbing on (not attacking) a big monster without falling or being thrown off you get +2 to hit and damage for when you do attack while on it. You are also protected from many of the creature’s usual attacks depending on where you’re climbing and what part of it you’re on.” NB this can also be done to PCs.
Small rolls D10 + climb vs. a target number (6 for a Bollymech, 9 for an organic creature, 12 for a smooth-sided supertanker or similar) to improve their hold/location. If Big is resisting they roll d10 + fight to try to throw Small off – if Big beats Small’s climb roll then Small can’t advance/get more bonus. If Big beats Small by 5 they shake/scrape/fling Small off. Whether Small can use their 2-handed sword from atop Big should be obvious from the specific situation.

A note about encumbrance
I mostly don’t bother tracking it unless you’re carrying a piano/fallen companion/statue etc. If you are, and you refuse to drop that heavy thing for combat, then you get minuses to all actions. Although maybe partial cover in recompense.

Ridicule kills: scattered notes toward a reputation system for Bollymecha Tartary

September 27, 2012 6 comments

A one-eighth scale test maquette for the Sultan of Mawarannahr’s “Bone-cruncher II”

So first Jason Kielbasa tweaked my nose about the effects of reputation on the princely Bollymecha pilots of Tartary – I’m looking forward to hosting his list of spells reworked for a set-piece singing and dancing + battletech fighting social wrestling game – and that made me think seriously about what’s going to happen when the players finally get into the giant Bollymecha wrestling ring for fame, fortune and the attention of scantily clad royals of whatever orientation. Jason’s idea, which I’m stealing shamelessly, is that reputation is the fundamental coin of political Tartary, and that it can be won or lost as easily on the palace dance floor as on the battlefield or the arena. In fact (of course), the greatest prince must be a triple threat.

Then Erik Jensen blogged about “it gets worse” – his ingenious alternative to the hard reset of PC death, where if the whole party is overcome by ogres, the next step is to wake up in the cook pot, not roll up a successor party.

And then I remembered the GURPS Goblins rules that Chris Hogan swiped for Small But Vicious Dog, and Zzarchov‘s social combat rules and Chris Kutalik’s CHA rules, and it all seems great but just not quite right for me. But I don’t have anything like a complete system, so I thought I’d just share my thinking and see if it sparks anything…

1. There may not be clean water, basic hygiene or reliable cure light wounds but Tartary gets television, piped straight from the Flailsnails multiverse. So your exploits, wherever they may happen, under whatever circumstances, are being watched on primetime across the smoking wastes and teeming souks of my setting. And so when you bring an FPC to Tartary I want to know their greatest high and lowest low to date, and you can be sure that somebody somewhere has seen them both. Especially if they’re above 1st level. How is this achieved? You’ll have to come to Tartary to find out.

2. Your level is basically a quick-and-dirty number for your reputation, but there’s also a separate reputation score, called REP. If you would’ve died but you get saved by It Gets Worse, you immediately take a cut in your REP. If you do something amazing (and I’m thinking here of rescuing princesses and achieving goals, not just rolling massive crits) then your REP goes up.

3. REP directly affects all your rolls for charisma and charisma-based magic. It also affects how people react to you in general, whether they’ll be willing to lend you stuff should you find yourself momentarily without weapons, an entourage, or clothes, or whether they’ll cower in a properly abject manner should you threaten to lose your patience with their cheering or jeering.

4. REP also acts as a cap on your level – you can come in with a higher level than your REP, or you can lose REP and have it be lower than your current level, but then (a) you can’t level up until you increase your REP accordingly, and (b) you wear the mark of a doomed man – you’re seen as “mouthy” – a sin beyond the pale of the wrestling morality of faces and heels; someone who pretends to a better station than they deserve. This means (somehow) you are cursed by a tragic arc (which is probably just a penalty on saving throws or something) UNTIL you can fix your REP, at which point the crowd will love or hate you properly again (and no more curse).

5. Outrageous REP is the only mechanically-encoded method in my rules through which you can break through the hard cap of 8th level. All other methods involve some sort of cheating.

What I totally was not looking for while writing this post: Giant scantily clad dancing robots.

What I’m delighted by but which SO IS NOT Tartary-style Bollymecha: Kabutom Beetle Mech; Suiobashi basher. I’m slowly coming round to the fact that if I want art to show people what these mecha are supposed to be, I’m probably going to have to draw it myself (and I vowed never to go back there). For now, the Authentick Spirit of Bollymechs is somewhere inside this triangle:

and here, have some more Theyyam dancers just because:

Brendan’s 20 questions for Tartary, plus starting equipment

September 11, 2012 1 comment

So Brendan’s wonderful system list is going around again. Here’s Tartary’s system, such as it is:

Ability scores generation method? 3d6 in order, punk. Now re-reading Ars Magica since I’m thinking of using it just to get away from stupid levels even though I’m shooting myself in the flailsnailing foot.
How are death and dying handled? At 0hp you roll on the complicated dismemberment table. It’s actually surprisingly non-lethal, but can give you lasting headaches. Pious men do not demand markers for their graves, but if you go the whole pyramidal tomb tower route then it’s just possible that through years of strange adventures someone might be able to bring you back from a toenail.
What about raising the dead? There are many stories, most of them unpleasant. You have to ask yourself if you really want to get the Mad Archmages of Ashgabat all up in your business.
How are replacement PCs handled?  bring some friends, sassy kid sidekicks or hired help along on dangerous business. You can keep them as retainers or go the whole Ars Magica troupe route. The alternative is to wait for me to weave your new PC into the story, which might be as a rescued captive or sole survivor of an airship wreck.
Initiative: individual, group, or something else? All combat is simultaneous, when I can be bothered. Otherwise, it’s group.
Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work? 20 or 6 over the to hit number is a crit, 1 or to hit -10 is a fumble. Or Ars Magica equivalent let me check… anyway I’m thinking of adopting something like Zak’s called shot mechanic
Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet? on the dismemberment table, yes.
Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly? If you fumble, you hit your friend.
Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything? Try not to tackle anything head-on. Never assume you have surprise. When you run, run around corners, not in a straight line.
Level-draining monsters: yes or no? Maybe. Also permanent HP draining, stat draining, whatever makes your skin crawl.
Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death? Saves are your second chance, your “but I’m a hero” special pleading, so yes.
How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked? Only when it’s funny or if I get suspicious. If I go waitiaminute can I see everything you’re carrying? then chances are you don’t have all that with you and we have to decide what stayed home. But otherwise, no I won’t make you account for your matches.* But I will make you count your bullets.
What’s required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time? Magic always has to be found in game, and any other new feats need explanations. But mere incremental changes just happen.
What do I get experience for? Surviving (especially only just), style/smarts, acts of renown and, alas, filthy moolah spent.
How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination? They’re usually written right in – seldom randomly – and often thematic. PCs finding them? Description, sometimes perception rolls. Actually if I ask for a perception roll, that’s me giving you a 6th sense heads up.
Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work? Most of Tartary has no cash economy, so extras are encouraged but the details of partnership are up to you. Morale is a contested roll between the PC’s CHA and the demi-PC’s WIS, with modifiers. Number of retainers is not mechanically limited, but they won’t follow you unless there’s something in it for them.
How do I identify magic items? You can try asking sages and mages in the cities if you trust those weirdos, or try to get into a library. The world abounds in strange little boxes with an antenna and a button, and much of the time the quickest, surest answer is to press it. Or get someone else to do so.
Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions? You can buy all kinds of crazy junk. No refunds, no guarantees. Small probability of it doing exactly what you wanted. No, you can’t buy +n weapons, but you can go shopping for explosive bullets etc.
Can I create magic items? When and how? Play a grease monkey, a sage or an alchemist. Sneak into libraries, find ingredient lists, and go hunting. Play it out, negotiate, and take risks. That’s really what the whole game is about.
What about splitting the party? How would I stop you?

* but don’t I have to calculate encumbrance at chargen? Together with starting money and equipment costs and so on? Not if you use this handy starting equipment table (hat tip to Stuart Robinson of Strange Magic). First roll to see how desperate and starving you are – or talk me into agreeing to a specific social stratum via a really great character concept story.

Level of Destitution (d6)

1. naked and alone. You have exactly nothing. Save vs. INT or you’re also suffering from amnesia
2. where’d you get that? roll d6+14 twice on Table A and 1d12 on Table B
3. one good friend. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus 3d8 on Table A and 1d12 on Table B
4. practically minded. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus 4d12 on Table A and 1d6 on Table B
5. expert skip-dipper. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus 4d20 on Table A
6. Favoured urbanite with social contacts: roll 6d20 on table A, 2d12 on table B

** a melee weapon or a grease monkey’s spannerwrench or a grapnel/multitool or a primus stove and glassware or whatever.

Table A
1. crowbar
2. dagger
3. shield
4. food, drink and backpack
5. lamp and flasks of oil (3)
6. melee weapon
7. armour: leather or improvised equivalent
8. bow or crossbow with 10 arrows/bolts
9. handcart – doubles as a small raft
10. mirror
11. rope (50′)
12. grappling hook
13. pouch with 20 silver dirhams
14. musical instrument
15. hammer, chisel, pick + 8 iron spikes
16. writing box and seal
17. jezzail or blunderbuss + 10 shots
18. 10 radium shells for a jezzail/blunderbuss.
19. grease monkey’s spanner-wrench
20. 3 detonator charges, with timers

Table B
1 lucky medallion (re-roll 1 failed saving throw)
2 potion of healing (2d6 hp)
3 lockable iron-bound chest
4 guard animal (dog, calot or similar)
5 riding or pack animal (camel, pony, small thoat)
6 yurt or similar packable shelter
7 armor: chain or exotic
8 book – holy text or instruction manual or blueprints
9 map
10 loyal family retainer (HP:5, AC:6, Dmg d6, +4 Morale) a standard grog with a couple of charming quirks.
11 holy symbol or badge of office
12 radio

burning brains

July 10, 2012 4 comments

Ever wondered how the mi-go do so much, even though McKinney says they’re not all that smart?

They use their (stolen) brains. Herewith, a shell of a psionics system, from the original psionic men:

Brains are useless until you get them wired into a case: 100gp for a “wet case” (glass jar full of evil-smelling liquid: fragile and sloppy), 400gp for a nice hard “dry” ultrametal case that looks like a film can, 800gp for a rotating 5-brain changer with hotswapping.

Getting a brain into a case takes a d20 skill roll – over 10 for a human, over 13 for a demi-human, over 15 for a monster, over 7 for a Carcosan (the manuals and fittings are all adapted for Carcosan brains is why) unless it’s a bone man brain in which case over 11 (transparent = fiddly). The mi-go gets a bonus on this roll of half its HD/level. Brains are rated by the higher of their INT or WIS: they automatically lose 1d6 on transfer into a case unless the lucky mi-go/sorcerer rolls 20+ (modified). A cased brain is good for:

1. Tanks For The Memory: can play back donor’s memories as instructional videos on special mi-go feely-monitors (requires head-cilia to operate): provides the donor’s skills at penalty -1 (-10%) per point of INT/WIS lost, as long as the mi-go has unlimited time. If time is limited (eg during combat) it’s -5 (-50%).

2. Fill’r Up: brains can be used to store data like a computer but to access it you have to mind-meld with them and explore their memory theatre – like a dream-dungeon-inside-the-brain, governed by associations of the donor when alive.  In multi-brain changers the form of the dungeon is determined by the highest CHA donor (hah! remember when I said just INT and WIS mattered?).

3. What’s This Button Do? Stored spells can be tickled into firing, select randomly from any the donor might have had. Vancian one use per spell only.

4. Wisdom of Crowds. Brains can be networked together into reasoning-enhancers, but the user has to be hooked into the network too. Every 10 points of INT/WIS networked can boost the user’s INT by 1, but for every 10 minutes spent networked the user must save vs spells or get stuck permanently in the loop (and become a candidate for encasing). And every +1 to INT/WIS gives a corresponding penalty of 1 on the roll.

5. Neuroincendry. Every point of INT/WIS burned up  allows the user one of the following psionic gifts:
1 turn of telepathic communication with any being on the same plane. Targeting that being is the hard part: it takes a save vs magic, if you fail you can try again, but every turn spent targeting also costs a point. Line of sight = automatic, within 100 yards = +2, farther than a mile = -2, don’t know the target = -3, never even seen the target = -5. Or you can just grab anyone randomly = no bonus/penalty.
1 turn of telekinetic control of an object/person, like a poltergeist. A single point controls 10lbs of stuff. Weight controlled doubles for every extra point spent, so to lift a 200lb man (+up to 120lbs of his equipment) you’d have to burn 6 points.
teleport costs the same as telekinesis by weight multiplied by distance: multiplier of 1 allows up to 1 foot displacement, 2 = up to 1 yard, 3 = up to 1 fathom (6′), 4 = up to 1 shackle (90′), 5 = up to 1 cable (608′), 6 = up to 1 nautical mile (6080′), 7 = up to 60 nautical miles OR one degree of latitude or longitude (turns out psionic displacement is latitude-dependent, maybe because of the constraining influence of the Van Allen belts), 8 = global, 9 = inter-dimensional/outerspacical, 10 = outer planes/intergalactic. So if you wanted to teleport your 200lb adventurer dude plus his 80lb sidekick and 40lbs of expensive brandy to Fomalhaut it would cost you 6 x 9 = 54 INT/WIS. Moving the same gang 500 yards out to sea for a prank = 6 x 6 = 36 INT/WIS.

Possible “fun” complications:
Every time you burn INT/WIS there’s a chance of the whole apparatus catching fire. Roll over 4 on d20 to save vs combustion, -1 for every 10 points of INT/WIS burned at once, or part thereof.
You don’t know how much INT/WIS a brain contains – although you do know when a brain is all used up, because it shrivels into a grey walnut. Any time you’re burning brains, your own brain is hooked into the system, and if you ask more than the system can give, it takes from you, WIS first. And what do you save vs. to detect this happening? WIS, of course. So keep careful records of where those brains came from and what you’ve already used them for. And, y’know, be careful using second hand brains.

Glass jar hat tip to +Claytonian JP for the source idea.

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Here, have 750 new monsters: Pokemon/DnD conversions

June 25, 2012 3 comments

+Ian Johnson got me thinking about doing a conversion of Pokemon to DnD – after all, we know the stats for the entire Pokemon bestiary (that’s Pokedex to afficionados), and it’s a leveled game, so it shouldn’t be hard.

…and it turns out a couple of conversions already exist, but they’re (a) for later editions of DnD (I’m thinking LL here) and (b) IMHO overpowered (15HD for Venusaur? My games usually don’t go above about 6th level). So I may yet make an OSR rendition (if there’s interest). Here are the complex versions, to help you put some Zapdos in your Wilderlands:

1. a complete D20 (3.5) sourcebook, allowing for Pokemon and non-Pokemon “summoners,” by the Trollmans – their site provides the skinny without downloads.

2. a far from complete site doing critter-by-critter conversions and pokeballs as magic items.

3. a few stat blocks, looks closer to my desired power level (Pikachu gets basically 3 HD)

And my simple conversion? As a very rough first approximation, I’d say:

All Pokemon can level up. 5 Pokemon levels = 1 LL level, and Bulbapedia gives the data on when certain Pokemon become available (evolve) – so for instance my favourite crabman, Kabutops, starts at 8HD.

The basic attributes of pokemon – attack/special attack, defense/special defense, and HP are convertible to attack dice, AC  and the die used for hit dice. I would approximate the stats given to 5 gradations for attack and hit dice, ranging from d4 for each, for the bottom 20% up to d12 for the top 20% of Pokemon stats, with d8 being average both for attack and HD. AC would also be graded on a line, with 5 being average, the highest 10% defense scores being AC1 and the lowest 10% being AC 9. Speed is a straight bonus/penalty on d6, from -2 to +2.

Then there’s stuff to be done with types and the type effectiveness chart, but right now supper’s burning. More later…