Mar 13, 2015

Necrocarcerus 1.2 Finished (Finally)

Download link here.

Finally! This is a huge revision from version 1.1 based on playtesting with the Necrocarcerus crew. There had been tweaks and changes in almost every section, plus there have been multiple new sections added. As always, Necrocarcerus is meant to be a set of house rules for running Swords and Wizardry Complete.

Here are some previews of the content inside.

Summoning and binding rules:

Grappling rules:

Plus rules for loans from the feared Bank of Necrocarcerus:

Mar 6, 2015

A Possible Variation on D&D Group Initiative

I use a d6-based group initiative roll resolved using some simple principles from Courtney Campbell. The basic principles are that one wants to roll high, with odd ties going to enemies, and even ties going to PCs (So a roll of 6 always favours the PCs), and initiative is rerolled each round. I also use a phase system within a round, so a high roll lets your side act first within each phase, though both sides act within each phase before moving on to the next phase.

As of Necrocarcerus version 1.2, I will also be using a skill system that includes the Tactics skill. Increasing the tactics skill allows one to roll a larger die type for one's initiative roll (d6 to d8 to d10 to a d12 maximum).

I've been debating a slight variation in the initiative rules. I haven't playtested this before, but I am proposing it to solicit feedback. The rule is that the roll on your die not only determines whether you go first or last, but how many actions your side can take during their turn. So a roll of 1 means no matter the number of PCs, your side must choose only one PC to act. A 6 means up to six actions may be taken, split amongst the PCs as they please (or amongst the monsters as you please). If there are more actions than PCs, the PCs may choose who acts a second time. The actions would not be split per phase, but could be distributed across each phase as each side pleased. Alternately, one might drop the phase system entirely and use simply this action distribution to push the PCs to make tactical choices.

Here are some outcomes I can foresee from adopting this system:

Single enemies become much tougher, especially single "boss" type monsters, since they will almost always be acting multiple times in a round.

Mobs become somewhat less overwhelming, though also easier to run, since only a portion of the mob will be acting in any given round.

This makes the Tactics skill much more valuable. Rolling a d12 to determine how many times you act per round is a huge advantage over opponents only rolling d6s (Monsters can have the Tactics skill).

Combats may take longer to resolve, since the median die result of a d6 (3.5) is less than the usual # of characters on each side who could act if they each got one action (I'm usually running games with 4+ PCs). On the other hand, the fewer number of actions per round might make rounds progress more quickly.

It would be important to track and differentiate abilities that can be used "once per round" from abilities that could be used "any number of times per round".

PCs would spend time each round resolving who gets to act in a given round. This might favour preferring certain characters acting, especially if they're somewhat mechanically superior to others, doubly rewarding players with powerful characters. As a positive side of this, it imposes scarcity limitations on PCs to help shape their decisions within a round.

If phases are retained, then PCs must make a separate decision each phase about how many actions they want to pursue in that phase. I would allow unused actions to cascade through the phases instead of requiring PCs to determine at the start of the round, after the initiative roll, which phase they wanted to dedicate the actions to. I think the order of phases will assist in this (movement is the second last phase, coming only before resolving spells), but I can foresee that there will probably be some weird edge case somewhere down the line where the PCs are like "We dump the remaining actions".

It could be difficult to plan between rounds, since one doesn't know how many actions will be coming up.

One side might be entirely ganked simply through a series of singular bad rolls each round - repeatedly rolling 1s while the other side rolls higher.

I'm not sure what my ruling would be if the PCs split into two independent groups fighting a single monster, or group of monsters. My inclination is to require them to still make a single initiative roll, but I can see a legitimate argument that the two groups, because they are acting independently, should make separate rolls (but then, of course, the lack of a boundary condition here allows one to drill the scope of the roll down to a single PC, which I would prefer not to do).

If anyone has tried this previously, I'd be interested in hearing your experiences.

Feb 23, 2015

Lore Garbage: Necrocarcerus

Alex Chalk tagged me into Lore Garbage, so here are ten things about Necrocarcerus that are purely self-indulgent setting pieces about it that rarely come up during adventuring:

1) The four utilities (Water, Power, Gas and Phone) are all elementally-aligned mega-corporations engaged in a bitterly cold war with one another. Water (HydroNec) is functionally destroyed, and now basically just an order of assassins obsessed with purity. Gas (PetroNec) makes most of the golems (out of plastic) and war machines. Power (Necrogen) is a bunch of ineffectual kleptocrats sitting atop a vast pool of elemental slaves. Phone (Necrotel) used to be Post (Necromail) until an internal coup by the partisans of an intelligent crystal re-oriented their business. They still deliver the mail.

2) Despite being very precisely 9998 years old, most of Necrocarcerus' history is lost due to an event just referred to as the Incident that happened about 3,000 years ago. Anyone who predates that isn't talking about it, and the only thing that's certain is that there was a higher baseline of technology and magic pre-Incident, as well as a different standard language than Regular. Most of Necrocarcerus used to be one giant urban megalopolis, and the wilderness only really came back after the Incident. That's why the capital of Necrocarcerus is referred to as "Downtown".

3) People from our earth go to Necrocarcerus when they die. There are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, atheists and everything else; cavemen and people from the 34th century. People who die on other planets in our future don't go there, only people who die on Earth. You can play yourself if you really want to, it doesn't matter to me.

4) Necrocarcerus has no "nature", and things like dogs, horses, deer, trees, rocks, etc. are crude copies created by the Guardians, who have never seen the originals, based on verbal descriptions and hand-drawn pictures by amnesiacs. It's not uncommon to find things like ancient artifacts with thick black outlines copied over from the original sketches. In general, the more like a children's scribble something looks, the older it is. A handful of later citizens who were formerly artists are responsible for most of Necrocarcerus looking "realistic", and you can tell who did what if you know its art history.

5) Necrocarcerus' sun is a giant light bulb screwed into the dome of the sky, and it has to be changed every thousand-odd years (by elementals employed by Power). The light doesn't kill vampires, though it does hurt them. Similarly, the "stars" are actually giant collections of giant glowing spiders who live on the dome and lay IOUN stone eggs. They move around a lot and are unfriendly.

6) The Guardians are kind of stupid and gullible, except for the handful that are pursuing malign alien motivations. The Guardians don't rule Necrocarcerus because they don't know how, though they've tried a couple of times and screwed it up. The Guardians don't know the purpose of Necrocarcerus because that part of the transmission was cut off, and they're not sure how to end Necrocarcerus because that part of the transmission was lost (or stolen, no one's sure). The Guardians are not entirely sure who the Creator is, except that it created them and must be obeyed. Guardians get smarter the longer they're around, but are still basically semi-sentient golem-like dopes at the end of the day. The Guardians don't have magic powers beyond what's available to other people, they just know how to create a few key kinds of installations that let them do the rest (incarnation temples, hylic manufactories, dream pyramids, posi-plants, etc.). They can make these out of basically any raw materials that are laying around, and they don't know how to teach other people how to build them.

7) The Association of Useful Citizens (AUC - the government of most of Necrocarcerus) is basically an autonomous bureaucracy that legitimises a huge number of petty warlords. Nobody is really "in charge", though a ton of people think they are. AUC's main source of power is that someone convinced most of the Guardians that AUC is the legitimate and correct government for Necrocarcerus, and so they control most of the Guardians' facilities. Otherwise, AUC is mostly a brand-name various tyrants franchise themselves.

8) Every thinking thing produces brain juice which can be distilled into nepenthe. Usually the Guardians drain people's memories when they're first incarnated, but citizens continue to produce more brain juice as they continue to exist, so it would be theoretically possible to extract it and turn it into more nepenthe. The undead are basically creatures whose brain juice has been contaminated by Nega-Energy, making it crystallise and otherwise function weirdly (skeletons and the like have had theirs evaporated into a mist that follows them around). Without distillation, all drinking brain juice does is give you XP as you absorb fragments of habits, skills and memories. It's distillation that makes the actual memories available.

9) Everything in Necrocarcerus is made of one of two substances, or a mixture of the two: Hyle and Pneuma. Hyle is psychically inert matter, pneuma is psychically & magically active matter. Most non-living material objects are made of hyle - swords, tables, buildings, etc. So are most bodies, though brains are crafted from pneuma (greater or lesser amounts determines your degree of sentience). There are people called "dream smiths" who can create items entirely out of pneuma in their dreams, but they're mostly imprisoned by the government and used for nefarious purposes, with teams of artisans being psychically projected into their minds to create complex horrors that can be then extracted back into Necrocarcerus. The most common origin of non-undead, non-golemic monsters is someone dumping unused pneuma in the wilderness where animal-likes stumble across it and mutate.

10) There are portals to the living worlds all over the place. It's just most people don't know about them, or how to use them, so they're at the mercy of whichever few happen to be open at a given time. The phone company mostly prevents them from opening & closes ones that are open because they interfere with cellular reception. Most of these portals open at best intermittently, or require rare keys, etc. Also, most folks are loosely aware that if you jump through a portal without proper preparation (whatever that means), you can only stick around in the living worlds for a short while before you're sucked back into Necrocarcerus.

Feb 6, 2015

Psionic Combat Rules

From the psionics document I'm working on. A power pool is composed of dice of equal type and number to a creature's hit dice, and are expended to manifest powers, and dedicated (removed from the pool temporarily) to maintain powers. Powers can't be maintained when a creature rests.

Psionic Combat

Any psionically active creature may engage in psionic combat, even with creatures that are not themselves psionically active. Creatures must have minds, even if very rudimentary ones. Constructs, unintelligent undead, and most plants are immune to psionic combat.

To begin psionic combat, a psionically active creature must have line of sight, or must be able to perceive the creature through some other means (clairvoyance, seeing through dimensions, a psionic scan, etc.)

Creatures attacking in psionic combat are dazed during the round psionic combat occurs – they may not move or act, but are not helpless for the purposes of being easily coup-de-graced.

Psionic combat occurs in normal initiative order.


The psionic attacker chooses a target, and an attack mode. The defender chooses a defence mode, if they possess any. Only one attack or defense mode may be chosen by each side in a single exchange of psionic combat. If the defender is not aware of the attacker, is surprised, stunned, asleep, unconscious, etc., they may only defend themselves if they possess the Cognitive Labyrinth defense mode.

Spellcasters with memorised spells may choose to sacrifice memorised spells to add a bonus to their defense roll equal to the total level of memorised spells sacrificed.

Participating in psionic combat does not count as manifesting a power, and does not cause dice used in it to be expended.

Each side rolls their current power pool. They may choose to only roll a portion of their available power pool if they wish. Each roll is summed, with the higher total winning the combat.

If the attacker wins, the defender comes under their psionic control. If the attack mode causes any additional effects, they take place. The effects of attack modes that endure beyond the initial attack last so long as psionic control is maintained.

If the defender wins, the attacker loses a die from their power pool and is stunned for one round. Any psionic control the attacker is exerting over other creatures ceases immediately. The defender may move and act normally (including launching their own psionic counter-attack if they wish to and are capable.


Attacker chooses target and attack mode
Defender chooses defense mode
Spellcasters defending choose whether to sacrifice memorised spells
Each side rolls their current power pool and sums the rolled dice
The attacker either establishes psionic control or is rebuffed and loses a die from the current power pool

Attack Modes

Mental Stab: Mental stab is a blast of focused psionic energy lashing out at the conscious thoughts of the opponent. The die type used by the attacker is upgraded by two using the following scale. 1d4 – 1d6 – 1d8 – 1d10 – 1d12 – 1d20

Personality Invasion: The attacker attempts to replace the defender’s personality with their own by merging their minds. Upon a successful mental attack the target is mentally possessed by the attacker, who may operate their body as if it was their own. The puppet receives a saving throw if commanded to perform actions that endanger them.

Psionic Wave: The attacker radiates a wave of willpower affecting multiple opponents. The attacker may attack multiple opponents simultaneously. The defenders count as conducting a group psionic operation. Upon a successful attack, the attacker may use a single action to maintain psionic control of all of the defenders simultaneously. When relinquishing psionic control, all defenders must be released simultaneously.

Subconscious Subversion: The target’s basest impulses are turned against itself. Upon a successful attack, the attacker may choose to frighten the opponent, as per the Fear spell. This effect persists even after the attacker ceases psionic control.

Synaptic Overload: The target’s own psionic energy is redirected against itself by the force of the attacker’s will. Upon a successful attack, the defender takes damage equal to the sum of the dice it rolled to defend itself.

Defense Modes

Barrier Mantra: The defender fills their mind with repetitive images and phrases which provide a decoy for the attack. If the defender loses the psionic combat, they are stunned for one round instead of falling under the psionic control of the attacker.

Blank Mind: The defender empties their mind to make it harder for attackers to locate. The attacker must make a saving throw. If they fail the saving throw, the attack automatically fails, and they lose a die from their current power pool.

Cognitive Labyrinth: The defender’s mind is a warren of mental traps and illusions. The defender may defend even when unconscious, surprised, resting, asleep, dazed, etc. so long as they are not already under psionic control.

Imagination Swarm: The defender creates a swarm of imaginary thoughts that seek out nearby minds. The defender may choose draw allied non-psionic creatures into the psionic combat. The defenders count as conducting a group psionic operation. The allies are dazed for one round. If the attack is still successful, then the attack affects all equally. Psionically active creatures may also use this defence mode to participate in a psionic combat that is targeting an ally they can see.

Pinnacle of Will: The defender beats back the attack through willpower. The die type used by the defender is upgraded by one using the following scale: 1d4 – 1d6 – 1d8 – 1d10 – 1d12 – 1d20

and on psionic control:

Psionic Control

Psionic control is the state a creature is in when their mind has been successfully attacked through psionic combat.

Once established, psionic control over a creature may be maintained either by dedicating a die from the controller`s current power pool to it, or by the controller using an action each round. If the controller is dedicating an action to maintain the control, they must remain able to perceive the creature each round, but if a die is dedicated to it, the link will be maintained until the controller chooses to relinquish it.

A creature under psionic control has their current power pool reduced to 0, and they are helpless unless the controller permits them to act. The controller may not dictate the creature`s actions, they may merely declare whether they are allowed to act or not.

Any psionic powers the creature is maintaining cease when psionic control is established over it, and dice used to maintain them are expended.

Psionically attacking a creature under psionic control automatically attacks the controller, even if they cannot be seen or otherwise detected.

Feb 2, 2015


I believe that one of the critical flaws with using traps in old school games is the lack of clarity around being forewarned of them or clear guidelines for detecting them, outside of a few powers. This causes traps to often feel unfair, but also to be somewhat uninteresting, because there is almost no player agency involved, with the exception of if it is a big set-piece trap-puzzle combination. The later are fine, but are comparatively difficult and time-consuming to design, so traps tend to occur rarely.

I would propose that an adaptation of my wandering monster table design may assist. The main advantage of using such a table would be to populate it with forewarning of the traps ahead. While there would still be the occasional risk of a trap with no forewarning, this would be considerably reduced and would now exist on a spectrum. One could either use such a table dynamically, or to populate the dungeon with traps.

Here's an example modification of the table to become a trap table. Click on it to see a larger version.

Once again, one rolls 2d6 to determine the trap, and 1d6 to determine which element of the trap is discovered.

Triggers mean PCs have either immediately triggered the trap, while Danger Zone means that they are in or about to enter the area where the trap can affect them. Depending on the trap, Danger Zone may mean it is activated as well, or merely that it if it is activated, anyone within it will be harmed. A result of "Corpses" mean the PCs encounter people who have been slain by the trap, while Detritus is various bits of suggestive dungeon scenery that imply a trap without necessarily making clear what kind. Active Warning means the PCs receive a bit of forewarning if they are actively searching, or begin actively searching the area, while Passive Warnings are elements that are immediately obvious, but not necessarily clear enough to act on without further information.

One side effect of using tables is that PCs will often encounter, through Detritus and Corpses, evidence of traps whose actual location is nowhere near them. I prefer to handle these situations by treating them as indicating the presence of a disabled or previously-activated trap, or one might alternately treating them as where the final evidence of the trap ended up and generate ideas related to how and why the severed half-foot is two corridors down in a pile of rat dung rather than next to the trap itself.

The above table doesn't include the stats of the traps, but any version I use has their stats, relevant saves, etc. to the right, organised by relevant row.

Jan 31, 2015

Some Reflections on Psionics

In Necrocarcerus, I use Courtney Campbell's Psionics supplement, which is an adaptation, rationalisation and upgrade of the AD&D 1e DMG Psionics system. It is an excellent free supplement.

After I ran a psionic combat the other day, one of the non-psionic PCs mentioned that it felt like in Shadowrun, when the decker starts hacking and everyone else gets up to use the bathroom, get a coffee, etc. until it's done. I feel like this comment is unfortunately accurate. While it was fun for the PC doing it, everyone else was confused and bored. I therefore find that I'm dissatisfied with with this system for several reasons, most of which derive from the source material (the AD&D 1e DMG's psionics system):

1) Psionic combat plays like an overly-complex mini-game that only involves psionic creatures. Psionic combat takes too long, requires too many calculations, and has too moving parts to understand their interaction in a straightforward way.

2) Psionic powers use points, but the value of any given point seems unclear, and many of your powers have different effects based on your total point value.

3) Psionics is too sealed off from other powers and non-psionic characters. Magic and psionics don't interact except in a handful of special cases.

4) Psionic combat and psionic powers seem really distinct from one another, like there are two power systems within the same class, which are used in different situations without much overlap.

On the other hand, there are several things about psionics as it currently stands that I like:

1) Psionics feels totally different than arcane or divine spellcasting, both stylistically and mechanically. I like that the resource allocation decisions differ between its pool-based system, and the slot-based system of spellcasting.

2) Psionic combat is a cool concept. I like the idea of different attack modes having different effects.

3) I like the distinction between minor powers that are cheap and easy to use, and major powers that are not, but are broader in their application. More generally, the powers outside of psionic combat are mostly interesting, flavourful, and well-designed.

All of this is a prelude to a larger rewrite of the psionics system. While it isn't fully worked out by any means (I'm concentrating on the Necrocarcerus rules document and aiming to finish v.1.2 ASAP) here are some ideas I'm kicking around. Some of these are adaptations from both Courtney's spell pool system from Numenhalla and AD&D 2e's Complete Psionics Handbook.

1) Magic and psionics are interchangeable. Anti-magic shells block psionics, psionic barriers block magical mental effects, my shield blocks your fire darts and vice versa.

2) Psionicists characters and creatures have a power pool equal to their HD. Wild talents have a power pool equal to half their hit dice. You recharge your power pool by resting overnight.

i.e. an 8th level Psioncist in Necrocarcerus has 8d8 to manifest powers, fight in psionic combat, etc. with (because Psionicists use d8 HD in Necrocarcerus). A 10th level wizard with a wild talent rolls 5d4.The Lesser Dreams of the Ghoul Star (a sort of embodied undead fragment of an intelligent, malign star) roll 7d12 because they have 7 HD, and those HD are d12s.

Wizards are crappy at psionics because their brains are mostly full of spells.

3) Instead of points spent, powers require the psionicist to roll dice from the power pool and exceed a target number. To maintain powers once activated, dice from the power pool must be dedicated to the power. The number of dice rolled to manifest the power is the the "Mastery" level the power manifests at, and the dice dedicated depend on the level of the power - 2 for a discipline, 4 for a science, 8 for a grand art. Dice that come up less then 3+ when manifesting a discipline, 5+ when manifesting a science and 9+ when manifesting a grand art are lost from the power pool until the character rests (i.e. you always burn the dice you lose manifesting a grand art).

(The hard/boring part of actually making this system will be restatting out all the powers)

4) Psionic combat uses grapple rules. Courtney and I both use a system where grappling is handled by both sides rolling their hit dice with the winner pinning or stunning the other side.

In this, psionicists and psionically active creatures can initiate psionic combat against any intelligent creature they can see (provided they aren't already in psionic combat) without needing an attack roll. Psionicists and psionically-active creatures roll their power pool. Non-psions have a penalty, either of the number of dice (possibly half their level or HD) or the type (d4s vs. the usual d8 of a psionic character or creature).

If the defender wins, the attacker is stunned for a round and loses a die from their power pool until they rest. If the attacker wins, then the defender loses all dice from their power pool and they render the defender helpless until they choose to retreat from their mind.

5) The different attack and defense modes would each change this dynamic in one way or another. Attackers and defenders choose their modes of attack and defense respectively when they decide to initiate psionic combat.

Psionic Wave would let you grapple multiple opponents. Psychic Crush would let you cause real damage to your opponent. Id Insinuation would let you charm or frighten an opponent instead of rendering them helpless. Ego Lash would let you puppet them (while your own body remains helpless) and Mind Knife would upgrade your die type by two but wouldn't cause any other effect upon success. The attacker selects when they first initiate psionic combat which they're using.

Empty Mind causes the attempt to initiate psionic combat to fail unless the attacker first passes a saving throw. Shield Thoughts allows you to defend even when you are surprised, unaware, dazed, stunned, unconscious, asleep, etc. Fortress of Intellect lets you both interfere in psionic combat between two other characters and drag your nearby nonpsionic friends & drones into the combat to add their dice pools to your own. Spire of Iron Will lets you increase your die type by one. Cerebral Barrier nixes any other mental effects you're under, and causes you to merely be stunned for one round if you lose the psionic combat.

These are just preliminary notes, obviously, not a fully worked out system at this point.

Jan 28, 2015

A Procedure for Fast Random Treasure Values

I use a variety of generators to create random treasure - amethyst plates with intaglio portraits, bronze idol-gears, hallucinogenic spices of incredible piquancy, etc. Often there is no straightforward comparison to items in the various treasure guides and referee manuals to elucidate what the value should be. As well, the actual guidelines in the various referee manuals out there is often fairly convoluted. I strongly dislike the method in Swords and Wizardry, for example, which involves generating a total value for the hoard then calculating random percentages of magical items, then swapping things in and out, and takes forever, and leaves you with a hoard that has a value far distant from the original value calculated.

I have developed a different method, which I will offer here for your use as you please. It relies on a simple die progression: d0/d4/d6/d8/d10/d12/d20/d100, which has eight values.

To generate the value of a hoard:

Roll a d6. This tells you the number of significant digits in the hoard's value. If you plan to feature hoards of 1 million gp or greater in value, you may adjust the die type upwards as you please.

To generate the value of specific items in the hoard:

Roll a d8 and a d4. The d4 tells you how many significant digits in the item's value, and the d8 tells you which die type from the above progression to roll for the leftmost significant digit (the "head"). If an exact value is required, based on a use of the Appraise skill or whatever other method you prefer, roll 1d10 for each remaining significant digit. "0" on the d10s is read as zero, not ten.

e.g. You roll a 6 on the d8 and a 4 on the d4. This means the item is worth roughly d12 x 1000 gp. The d12 comes up 10. The item is worth roughly 10,000gp. A PC uses the appraise skill, so 3d10 are rolled, generating 3, 0, and 5. The item is worth 10,305 gp.

One continues using this process until the total value of the individual items in the hoard has the same number, or greater, as the number of significant digits in the total hoard value.


I typically roll the head and the d10s simultaneously to speed this method up. After using this in my own games extensively, I find that I often simplify it mentally to a statement like "This item is worth d6+2d10" which means a value between 100 gp and 699.

I often use multiple similar or identical lower value items - so you might find 2d6 busts of similar value in a single hoard, which also helps speed things up.