Monday, November 18, 2019

Knacks for Knaves

This is version 1.0 1.1 of some powers for Knave, with aim to be a modern interpretation of old B/X rules for play in my games. Knacks for Knaves. First use for them will be a run on a megadungeon aimed at Labyrinth Lord, Stonehell. They will be part of the Knave hack I'm working on for said game, after I tackled Ancestries, now come a concept similar to Class. Special abilities and powers called Knacks, that give that power advancement feel.

Some scattered notes on adding these to the streamlined machine that Knave is:
  • For a recurring campaign, players should feel enticed to gain new powers as they level up (aside from gear and coin, of course). Knave is very strong for one-shots or short games, but how good does it hold up for longer campaigns?
  • We make them optional. Idea is to give to choice of score improvement (default choice with vanilla Knave), or take one of these powers to the players. Hopefully most will choose the latter.
  • We give choice. 48 Knacks, no less. They are also completely independent, so there's no requirement to pick any Knack. Of course there are obvious synergies, but that's for the Munchkin players to figure out.
  • They are not balanced between each other. Things like Blind Faith and Student of the Arcane will be picked a lot, since they are basically the spellcasting for Cleric and Magic User - like characters.
  • In my Knave hack I took spellcasting from GLOG, since my love for the Magic Dice mechanic is unconditional. You will see references in the entries below about that. Blind Faith introduces spellcasting for Clerics, which is a different mechanic, with Prayers (but more reliable than MD are).
As any good Thief, I've taken many of these powers from different sources. I rest on the shoulders of heroes. They're meant for personal use in my home game, and if you find use for them that's an achievement.

Knacks for Knaves - The Rules

The Doc In case you want to have a living document to print out, or leave me some commentary

Knaves start at Level 1 with one Knack from the list below of their choice.

When a Knave gains a level, instead of increasing a single Ability Score by +1 a Knave may select one Knack from any of the categories below, without restriction. Limited to one Knack per level up.

The categories are for flavor only, and very broadly separate Knacks into different buckets.

Values within squared brackets [] are variable.

WARRIOR (Knacks of War)

A knight with the "Great Weapon Fighter" Knack, by Valery Klishevich

  • Duelist: On a critical you may choose to either:
    • Disarm your foe (assuming this is possible), or
    • Put them on the backfoot, granting you Advantage on your next attack or stunt.
  • Great Weapon Fighter: when wielding a two-handed weapon, reroll damage < 3. Keep the second result. 
  • Protector: Sacrifice your Action to absorb damage inflicted on an adjacent ally. STR save for half-damage.
  • Riposte: When a creature misses you with a melee attack, make an immediate counter-attack. This does not cost you your normal Action. Only possible once/round.
  • Shield Master:
    • Advantage on STR attempts to knock an opponent prone w/a shield bash.
    • When an effect allows a DEX save for half damage take no damage if you save as your shield absorbs the blow (-1 quality to shield).
  • Two-Weapon Fighting: When you hit a foe while wielding two weapons, roll damage for both and apply the higher.

BARBARIAN (Knacks of Brunt) 

Barb with "Muscle Armor", by Daniel Zrom

  • Berzerker: When reduced to 0HP, become frenzied and continue fighting for a number of rounds equal to your [Level]. You always attack the nearest creature whether friend or foe. Afterwards, make a CON save. On a fail, roll on the Death and Dismemberment table.
  • Pugilist: Your fists and feet count as martial weapons and inflict 1d4+[STR bonus] damage.
  • Girded Loins: You have Advantage on saves made to resist fear and mind bending effects.
  • Favor of The Gods: Once a day as a free action you can heal [CHA bonus] HP. 
  • Muscle Armor: CON is your Armor Defense when you wear no other armor. May wield a shield or helmet.
  • Cleave: When you strike and kill a foe immediately make another attack on an additional adjacent foe. Cannot be “daisy-chained” through a mob.

SCOUT (Knacks of Wild)

The hunt is mine! Michelle Tollo

  • Hunter’s Mark: As a free action once per day, mark your target as living on borrowed time. You have Advantage on your next [Level] attacks against them.
  • Deft Quartermaster: Your rations, potions, and equipment from the Dungeoneering Gear in the Starting Gear section can be bundled two to an inventory slot.
  • Survivalist: You thrive in the Wilds protecting the realms of Man from the horrors that lurk in dark wood and deep cave. You have Advantage on saves to track, navigate, hunt, and forage in the wilderness.
  • Trick-Shot: Targets only receive half of their normal cover bonus. When you shoot into melee enemy combatants count as two combatants for the purposes of randomly determining who you hit.
  • Night Vigil: When camping, you can gain advantage on the encounter die after describing your watch routine and setting up a perimeter by means of your choosing.
  • Skirmisher: Immediately after you are attacked in melee, you can move up half your speed without provoking opportunity attacks. Once per round.

ROGUE (Knacks of Trickery)

Daria Rashev

  • Acrobat: You gain Advantage on saves to balance, climb, leap, and tumble.
  • Burglar: You gain Advantage on saves to hide in shadows, move silently, and climb.
  • Backstab!: When you attack a foe with a melee weapon who is already engaged by an ally inflict an addition 1d6 per [Level] damage. You attack with Advantage if you attack from hiding.
  • Dungeoneer: You have Advantage on DEX saves to disable traps, assuming you have the proper tools. Three times per day you may ask any of the following questions and must be given an honest answer:
    • Is there a trap here? (Y/N Answer)
    • Is there a hidden door here? (Y/N Answer)
  • Lucky AF: Once per day you may reroll a Critical Fail or force a foe to reroll a Critical Success that would affect you.
  • Evasive MF: Once per round you can reduce damage taken by your [DEX bonus], if you can see its source.

CLERIC (Knacks of Faith)

Xabi Gazte

  • Blind Faith: Take a sacred oath with your faith/authority. You gain the ability to use Clerical Implements (bells, candles, herbs or similar), and gain one. You can use it with one hand to say Prayers.
  • Turn Undead: [Level] times per day, force up to [WIS bonus] HD worth of undead to make a morale check using your action. Apply a negative modifier equal to your [WIS bonus] to the check.
  • Pacifist: Whenever you get a reaction roll to resolve a situation that could end up in combat, if you and your allies remain calm, the roll is with Advantage.
  • Hammer of The Authority: Grant Advantage to any morale checks your retainers/hirlings/acolytes make as your below a holy litany and lay waste with your warhammer.
  • Sacred Feast: Out of combat you can bless Rations or Snacks that are meant to regain HP with your Clerical Implements. Creatures add your [WIS bonus] to their HP healed.
  • Witch Hunter: You smell the presence of Magic Users, Witches, or other Clerics.

DRUID (Knacks of Nature)

Druid with mutated "Owl Eyes" by Rebecca Blackie

  • Bear Strength: Gain +2 Item Slots. This allows you to go above the 20 Item Slots limit.
  • Gliding Wings: You have gliding appendage wings below your arms. You don't take any damage from falling, as long as you can extend your arms.
  • Owl Eyes: Gain darkvision. Useless the moment there’s a light source present (sunlight, torch, candle, lamp).
  • Spider Feet: For [Level] of turns per day your bare hands and feet allow you to walk on vertical surfaces or upside down without the need of equipment or saves.
  • Animal Talk: You can verbally communicate with animals as if you shared a language. This doesn't make them smart. 
  • Forest Step: You can step from one tree to another, as long as they are on the same grove/forest/garden, [Level] times per day.

MAGIC USER (Knacks of Magic)

Getting a "Student of the Arcane" Knack, by Albert Urmanov

  • Student of the Arcane: Gain 2 random spell books. You have a number of Magic Dice (=MD) equal to your [Level]/2 (rounded up). All saves associated to casting arcane spells are based on your INT.
  • Sword Wizard: You can cast spells while wielding a weapon in one or both of your hands. You still need the spell books/scrolls/magic items on your own inventory.
  • Manifold Cerebrum: You have Advantage on INT Saves vs magical attacks/effects.
  • Companion: Gain a mystical cat (darkvision) , mouse (burrow), squirrel (climb) or toad (swim) companion with [Level] HP. You can communicate with it telepathically as long as you can see it. If it dies it can be re-summoned spending a night’s work.
  • Spell Tattoos: Your skin is covered with tattoos of magical glyphs. Anyone who sees them knows what you are. Gain one random spell (roll [INT bonus] times and choose one). Whenever you cast this spell, do so with +1MD (this die doesn't return to your pool). You still require MD and free hands to cast the spell.
  • Chaos Mage: Gain one random spell to cast from your mind per day. Each morning roll [Level] random of spells and pick one to store for the day. Whenever you cast this spell, do so with +1MD (this die doesn't return to your pool). You still require MD and free hands to cast it.

WITCH (Knacks of Wyrd)

Witching around, by Tatyana Kupriyanova

  • Read Leaves: Assuming you have water, a pot, and tea, you can spend 1 turn every morning performing this ritual. Roll a d20 and store that number. You can replace a result on a d20 from a creature you can see (yourself, allies, or foes) once that day with the stored number. You do this after learning the roll, but before knowing the outcome.
  • Familiar: You gain a mouthless humanoid, magically created with mud and sticks. d8 + [Level] HP. Doesn't eat or drink, but needs to breathe. Follows all your commands, although it's extremely incompetent in combat. You can resummon your familiar 1/day.
  • Spell Eater: Once per day when a spell is targeted at you, you negate the spell's effects. Do A CHA save. On success, you absorb the spell and can cast it once as if it were your own, with the MD the rival intended for the casting. On a fail you need to eat double the rations for one day. You can only have one eaten spell at any time.
  • Devil's Contract: If someone makes a bargain with you and breaks it you instantly know about it. If you have their signature on the bargain you know how to locate them by general location (North, East, up down, etc.)
  • Hint/Jinx: Once per turn do a CHA Save when another creature you can see attempts an action that requires a d20 roll. On success, add(hint)/subtract(jinx) your CHA bonus to the roll. On a failure, you loose [Level] HP. You do this after learning the roll, but before knowing the outcome.
  • Alter Ego: Choose a second persona of your same Ancestry, regardless of features, sex and age. You can shapeshift to that persona a total of [CHA bonus] hours per day.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Knave Ancestries for Maienstein / Stonehell

A setting can be informed and presented to the players through several means. Probably the worst one is prescriptive, with a lot of given names, and with pages and pages of (for play mostly) irrelevant lore. What happens at the table is key. What directly concerns the characters is key. The rest, although interesting for the referee to build, takes a distant second stage.

One excellent way to create a setting is answering Jeff's 20 questions, which I am a big fan of.

Another complimentary one is with the available list of Ancestries (I personally prefer this to the term Race). Ancestry should be rolled for, and not chosen. The campaign's available Ancestries inform the civilizations present in the country/continent/barony, and we can distribute that with the dice choice. 2d6 is excellent. The following table is adapted from this Skerples table.

The following table is meant for my Knave hack for a Stonehell megadungeon game I have in the workings (see games I want to run). It informs the Maienstein region within Five Towns, full of dwarves and mountains. Players choose their Ancestry randomly by rolling. It also shows the likelihood for someone of said Ancestry to become an adventurer, dungeon delver or treasure hunter (or in the case of Fauns and Jotuns, there simply aren't many of them). Below there are visual hints, a bit more description, and facts about each Ancestry in my Maienstein - Five Towns setting. I hope to get this Stonehell game ready soon!

2d6 Ancestry Improved* Bonus Malus
2 Faun CHA Eat half as many rations Cannot tell the direct, blunt truth
3 Spiderling INT Can secrete 30' of rope per day Cannot see more than 30'
4-5 Dwarf CON No penalties for broken or hilly terrain Pervasive, unique stink
6-8 Human Choice Start with 1 extra Dungeoneering Gear item Disadvantage to resist being mutated or transformed
9-10 Halfling DEX Can have 2 Snacks** per day instead of 1
-2 Inventory Slots
11 Molekin WIS Can crawl through narrow spaces Save vs Fear when alone
12 Jotun STR Can see details at a great distance Massive. Disadvantage to stealth rolls

* An Improved stat means that at character generation you give a +1 to the relevant stat.
** Snacks in this context is basically eat a ration to regain some HP, a little rule of my Knave hack Knave++

2 - Faun

Fey touched creature, by Oliver Wetter

 Elder Faun, by Darya Kozhemyakina


  • Lifespan: up to 200 years, adulthood at around age 30.
  • Size: most Fauns go above 6 feet tall, with slender and thin figures. They don't need much food. Some rumor they feed on other creatures' truths.
  • Sample Names: Ekaraj, Yadav, Praveen, Uttam, Rojina, Nikeeta.
  • Features:
    • Antlers on the head and hooves instead of feet. Pointy ears due to their obvious Fey lineage.
    • A mock within Fey society, but mystic and respected within mortals. Since Elves became almost extinct, Fauns are slowly taking their place as graceful alien creatures from another place.

3 - Spiderling

A Spiderling called Sister, by Bearded Devil
  • Lifespan: (same as a Human) up to 70 years. When a Spiderling dies they turn to webs, which ultimately crumble to dust. Their souls return to the ether web, to be cleansed of any memory, and return as a new egg to start a new life.
  • Size: average at about 5 feet tall.
  • Sample Names: Abby, Nicolette, Clothilde, Laetitia, Victoire.
  • Features:
    • Many eyes, and with that many inputs it makes it hard to process. Therefore a Spiderling's sight is considerably weak. Huge bottom, due to their spider heritage.
    • Spiderlings are linked to each other by the ether web, and can connect telepathically to one another. They share this trait as a hive-mind.
    • Their sex is fluid and non-binary. A Spiderling can change it at a thought's notice to whatever suits their wishes.

4 - 5 Dwarf

Dwarf by Sergio Artigas
  • Lifespan: on average a Dwarf lives up to 300 years. However, dying of old age is proof of a life not lived to the fullest, and is seen as a disgrace. Greybeard being a derogatory term. As a consequence war, drink and smoke are performed to the fullest.
  • Size: between 4 and 5 feet.
  • Sample Names: Ulrik, Harnof, Ilga, Olov, Alvin, Lizette.
  • Features:
    • Stocky and heavy, with secure footing.
    • Admirable resistance to drugs and narcotics, which they gladly put to the test at any chance.
    • Both male and female boast over their impressive beards. They might be hard to tell apart for Humans.

6 - 8 Human

Always ready! Humans by Charles Lin
  • Lifespan: on average a Human lives up to 70 years, although lifespan varies greatly.
  • Size: between 5 and 6 feet tall. But humans come in many shapes and forms.
  • Sample Names: (in the Maienstein region) Eros, Mendaur, Didako, Ibon, Antonia, Latxa.
  • Features:
    • Capable of the best and the worst, humans are versatile and work best in groups.
    • They helped consolidate Five Towns as a distant region of the Itean Empire, the obedient ants of Nemes, the Immortal Empress.

9 - 10 Halfling

Halfling by Cale Fortin
  • Lifespan: Halflings live up to around 90 years of age. Larger lifespan than Humans, but shorter than other Ancestries.
  • Size: average of about 3 feet, they are light and nimble. Obviously, hairy feet.
  • Sample Names: (same as Humans) family name is far more important: Ironheart, Buttercheeks, Potter, Nimblefeet, Jamjar.
  • Features:
    • Nimble and petite, halflings are in general weak due to their size.
    • Jovial and talkative. Surprisingly loud voice. The center of any party. Some find that amusing, others abrasive.
    • Halflings integrate well into any society and civilization, and are seen as a necessary boost to morale in any group, town, or city.

11 - Molekin

Molekin evolution, by Manuel Castañón

  • Lifespan: Molekin are short lived given their high mortality rate. Known to die at around 60 years on the rare instance of passing away of old age.
  • Size: between 2 and 4 feet tall, they average at around 3 feet.
  • Sample Names: Snot, Pimple, Cough, Stye, Rash.
  • Features:
    • Stronger than their size might suggest.
    • Molekin live in large communities underground (tunnels, abandoned dungeons, mines, etc.), where they spread like vermin. Isolation breaks their minds.
    • Molekin gladly take leftover jobs of any society: tending to sewers, cleaning stables or piling fertilizers. Hard time integrating.

12 - Jotun

Jotun Hunter, by Mark Hretskyi


  • Lifespan: Jotuns live exactly 100 years. As they age, their bodies start to slowly turn into stone. A Jotun dying of old age is a culmination of this process, and their statues are priced treasures within Jotun society.
  • Size: Jotuns have the blood of Giants flowing through their veins. Ancient unattended children of these behemoths, they boast a considerable size between 7 and 8 feet.
  • Sample Names: Boulder, Tusk, Flint, Drift, Mist, Steam. Jotuns take as name the first object they remember from their childhood.
  • Features:
    • Tall and strong, very acclimated to great heights.
    • Eyesight as good as an eagle's. Some have antlers, others don't.
    • Jotuns live in sparse remote areas, and are suspicious of intruders, strangers, and travelers alike.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Dead by Dawn - Review & Redux

Dead by Dawn is a starting adventure for Shadow of the Demon Lord, meant for characters of level 0. This is a funnel. And an interesting one at that. I've played the adventure once, and ran it 3 times. As it is only 1.5$, I'd say for me it already paid for itself.

The setup is extremely straightforward, and includes interesting mechanics to resolve the situation without the whole session turning into a drag-fest (not that kind though). But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.

This thing contains spoilers (duh..), so if you're sensitive to them, stop reading and go do something else.

Adventure Summary & Review

"Even as the darkness from the Void casts its shadow across Urth, there are other dangers found lurking in the gloamings of the world. Some perils seek to entrap the innocent. Some are never defeated, their evils only delayed for a time. And at least one hungers for blood and meat to sustain its immortality. Tonight, this horror sets out to feed its vile hunger with fresh flesh."

The Goathorne Inn stands on the side of a secluded road. It's close to a gloomy forest of your choice, and far enough of civilization to make it isolated. Characters arrive to the two story building and are met by 3 folks: a pair of dwarven ladies, retired mercenaries, Ananda and Gelda, and Bester, the helping boy. There's a 4th NPC in the building, a priest of the Old Faith named Horvath, who unbeknownst to the innkeepers, has been dead for about a day.

Initially, players are allowed tavern shenanigans. They get to roleplay and get to know each other in character, and meet the two dwarven ladies and Bester. Heavy rain pours outside, so a warm drink & meal should sound like an inviting offer. Depending on your group they might get really into it, but you have a way to move the action forward with the dinner.

The Good

  • Premise of the adventure is simple but brilliant. There's a sense of dread, and a ticking clock that can explode in the PCs faces at any moment. An adventure has to feel like a tray full of half-empty drinks currently balance by a pin needle. Then you throw the players on top, and see where all falls.
  • Space is confined, very much so! There's an inn. That's it. Makes the situation nice and controllable. As written though, it could use some expanding. More to it later on.
  • Splitting the resolution into 2-hour chunks is also clever and elegant, to keep the session in order and things moving forward. This mechanic is nice, although the "Siege Encounters" table on pg 6 can use some adjusting depending on the number of PCs in the inn.

The Bad

  • There are three NPCs in this adventure: Ananda and Gelda (the dwarven ladies), and Bester (the helping boy). As presented, the NPCs are a tad dull, and the most you get is a silly gimmick of how the dwarves pronounce the name of their inn. This needs spicing up! We need a creepy and crazy NPC that shills that "Dark Souls/Warhammer Fantasy" feel to the players.
  • This adventure features exactly one adventure, the Goathorne Inn. There's no map. Art is expensive, I get it. But this is a massive missed opportunity, and should have been included as part of the adventure. There are detailed descriptions, but the less I have to parse from text, the better.
  • No mechanic for escaping the inn. It should be virtually impossible to do so during the outbreak, but I would've appreciated some commentary or mechanics on how to handle clever and innovative players that decide to make a run for it.
  • Useless roll are not good adventure design. Repeat with me: do not make your players roll if there are no strict consequences. From the text: " Once he is dispatched, have bitten characters make Strength challenge rolls with 1 bane. There’s no effect on a failure or a success, other than to raise the tension". Not my cup of tea.
  • Layout and art minor issues here and there. The "Unexpected Events" table is split in two pages. The 2 pieces of art are... not indicative at all from other SotDL products. I don't want to dunk on the artist. But it just doesn't fit the theme and adventure.
Don't be fooled by the dominance of negative points. I tend to find flaws and not praise the good! This is a very good adventure.

Some Hacks - The Redux

Let's face it... your dwarven ladies need beards
The PDF where I write notes and attempt to enhance the adventure
  1. Spice up the NPCs in "Getting Started".
    • Remove Bester (as presented, he's quite dull), and add Old Sam (Commoner), that's an old wicked human (sounds like Old Man Touchy) who talks about "certain Doom if you succumb to weakness and violence", "you reek of Corruption". He's creepy, but harmless. The dwarven ladies let him stay in the common room and serve him a pot of stew a day in exchange to tending their beasts at the stable.
    • Make Ananda very troubled and mentally scarred. That Insanity 3 has to shine.
    • Make Gelda behave like a sergeant, giving orders and cussing like a sailor.
  2. In "Death For Dinner" have a clear trigger for what makes Horvath rise, deliver the line and attack. As presented, it seems he acts arbitrarily (after the PCs have explored the room a bit). Make it be anyone touching the corpse for examination of the cause of death will awaken Horvath.
  3. Create a random table to spice up where the bodies break in in the "Encounter Resolution Phase". Locations in the first floor to be weighed in more heavily, but cellar and second floor should be a possibility.
  4. Complicate the plot by adding interesting things inside the inn (after the outbreak). This point ties to #1 above.
    • The adventure is vague as to what there is on the inn. I would suggest adding a couple of cooking knifes (daggers), 2 barrels of ale, 2 casks of oil (used for lamps and cooking), a shovel, and 50 ft of rope.
    • Let's convert the Zombie Apocalypse of this adventure into Zombie Apocalypse + Hateful Eight. This serves two purposes: first, to allow the introduction of new (hidden) characters that players can pick up when theirs ultimately succumb, and secondly, to force more tension within the inn (by the way of conflict).
    • The same day of Horvath's demise, the following happened: there is an Orc cook lady called Pliers. She was getting some action in bed with Ananda, ultimately cheating on Gelda. Unbeknownst to them, they get peeped by naughty boy Bester (a la Game of Thrones). Pliers notices this last time mid-act, and kills him out of rage in a moment of stupidity (instead of buying off the boy's silence, which was the sensible thing to do). Gelda now did find out, subdued the Orc employee, and was in the middle of torturing her in the cellar (with the help of her old mercenary "tools"), and removed her right eye. And then the PCs arrive.
    • Above circumstances forced Gelda to move the ale barrels to a spare room on the 2nd story of the inn. This room is locked, and additional to the 4 suites described in the original text. We place the rest of equipment I described in the first point here as well.
  5. The conclusion to Dead by Dawn as presented happens under two circumstances: PCs either survive till dawn (5 x 2-hour shifts during the night), or their faces get eaten by a swarm of undead creatures. But we all know groups will attempt to get creative. Especially when the odds are stacked against them, and things are spiraling down.
    • Write down possible escape routes and plans during the night. It should be tough, but don't negate clever player ideas.
    • Some escape options might include:
      • Throw lit oil through a window, cause a fire, and flee through another window in the opposite direction.
      • Confront Gelda, take all food and supplies to the cellar, and start digging a tunnel.
      • Cover yourself in guts and feces, and try if you are undetected by the walking corpses.
      • ... etcetera


Midnight snack, by Joao Fiuza

If you are slightly interested in SotDL, buy this thing. And run it. In my opinion it's an excellent introductory adventure to Shadow of the Demon Lord. Better than the recommended Dark Deeds in Last Hope if your players prefer action-packed stuff (and they usually do), and you need less hand holding to run a game.