Thoughts on a Zeb Hack

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This is about a project that I'll call The Zeb Hack. It contains thoughts on adding player customization without adding a ton of new rules and subsystems. Why the Zeb Hack? Because the customization changes may appear to be similar to 2e kits.

Don't throw rotten vegetables. I don't like kits, either.

What Brought You to Do Such a Thing?

It's been a while since the Thursday night group met, but one thing that was requested session after session: more granularity in character classes and races.

Playing The Black Hack for outer space weirdness was great, converted White Star classes worked well enough. Everyone had fun running around the universe.

Still, the characters wanted one alien to be different from the other within the Brute or Mystic classes. Having creative license to just describe them differently was fun, but one player in particular enjoyed tweaking things about their character.

Now, I am definitely of the old school, simple rules mentality. I enjoy The Black Hack so much because it is streamlined while feeling like what I ran back in the day.

I think, though, that I can find a happy medium. Specifically, I want to provide mechanical variations between characters without turning it into a min/max game or adding too many fiddly bits.

You're Really Serious About This

Yes. Here are the ground rules.

First, I'm going to add skills. The list will be a pared down list of SRD5 skills. Ten skills maximum, but I hope for six or seven.

Then, I need to define possible bonuses. I decided that in The Black Hack, bonuses should be +1, +2, roll with Advantage. The maximum for any attribute is 20, so eliminating a +3 bonus prevents the rare rolling of a 21 for an attribute. You can't have advantage for an attribute, but that would come into play for class/race abilities. These would be similar to any of the Thieves' abilities in TBH. (Roll DEX with advantage when performing a delicate task like open a lock or disarming a trap.)

How Will This Work?

I want to define race by declaring minimum and maximum attributes. I guess I still could, but it feels more streamlined to add bonuses to attributes. Specifically, I want to define an alien in brief terms like this:

Uplifted Dolphin, WIS +1, Roll DEX with Advantage on all Piloting rolls. Add +1 to CHA on Persuasion rolls.

On the Fantasy side of things, it looks like:

Elf, INT +1, Roll WIS with Advantage when looking for secret doors. Add +1 to STR on Athletic rolls.

Dwarf, CON +1, Roll with Advantage on saving throws against Poison, Add +1 to INT on Stonecunning rolls.

Not everything needs to follow the Roll with Advantage and Roll +1 formula:

Gnome, INT +1 Tinker ability, Add +1 to WIS for saving throws against mind-influencing effects.

Alternate Elf, INT +1 Cast spells in metal armor, Add +1 to STR for saving throws against paralysis.

Humans from Sword's Peak, Add +2 to DEX when attempting to keep balance, Add +1 to INT for Nature rolls, Add +1 to STR for Athletic rolls, Add +1 to WIS for any attempt to control horses or bears.

This Looks Like a Lot to Track

It increases the number of things a character can do to six things. The key is to avoid a race that stacks bonuses on an attribute.

The most complicated race are the Humans from Sword's Peak. Four bonuses to various skill rolls may seem like a lot, but they do provide a picture of what these humans are. They seem to be outdoorsmen with a knack for controlling bears and being light on their feet.

Most races can be generated with an Attribute bonus, Advantage roll, and a +1 roll to greatly simplify things. Since that can feel a bit formulaic, I wanted to offer other ways to build a race, specifically including a complicated build.

Design Goals

I want to create pre-defined lists of Knacks (+1 to a roll), Traits (+2 to a roll), and Talents (Roll with Advanatage) that can be used to generate various races and/or classes. I am working on those lists to make the entire system modular.

I hope the next post can provide more details with class combinations. Any and all feedback welcomed.

Fear and Loathing in Middle America

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Yes, I'll pay the Joesky tax.

I rarely post about personal things outside of my son and last year's fundraiser. Today I was really frustrated with a lack of progress on various projects. I thought about why I stopped doing commercial work years ago. At that time, I was all talk. All I could generate at the time were ideas, not finished products. I fell into the same cycle over the past two months and was unfortunately feeling sorry for myself.

After some encouragement from Matt Stater and Chris Stieha its past time to quash that noise. Just to drive the point home, my son tonight told me that he wants to make more games with me.

With that in mind, NagaDemon is coming and it is time to finish some projects. I've tested a couple of them while some other projects are just let's see what sticks. More importantly, I've got a partner in crime to make stuff and a group of folks to playtest anything.

Here are some thoughts leading up to a new race. The uplifted dolphins are a fun race/class for a game. Want to have more fun, ponder my son's question:

What if the dolphins could make their own bubbles and float into the sky? Why not into outer space?

One of these days, I'll finish Spelljammer for White Star and these dolphins will be in it. (No, I haven't read the Uplift War, but my wife has.)

Anyway, after reading a G+ post about Talislanta and thinking about Pars Fortuna, I figured it's time to have my own "No Elves" one-shot game. The group is up for it and it will give me time with the boy. Since we have the uplifted dolphins, here is the symbiotic sword and armor race for Swords & Wizardry.

Paragons

Paragons live as animated swords and suits of armor. Because they are usually seen together, humanoids considered Paragon Swords and Paragon Armor as members of the same race. This is not true, Paragon Armor live in entirely separate communities than Paragon Swords. Paragon Armor is self-animated by the community the live in. Each community will animate a chosen blacksmith suit of armor to create more suits of Paragon Armor. After the lifeless suit of armor is created, the community will engage in a ceremony to animate the new suit of armor. Suits of armor never change size, but are considered mature at four years of age. Most suits of armor last for twenty to thirty years in normal circumstances. Communities of Paragon Armor conduct trade with the neighboring towns or villages offering services as night guards in trade for metal.

All Paragon Armor that is not paired with a Paragon Sword dream of returning to their homeland to disperse into their family and friends.

Paragon Swords, exist as a race of philosophers incapable of moving on their own more than ten feet a day. Although the community does not require food, it does require a suitable shelter. Each Paragon Sword community has one shelter, or deliberation hall, of about 20 to 30 members. Every community requires a number of their own to leave the deliberation halls and journey in the outside world to avoid madness. Those chosen for this journey are paired with a Paragon Armor.

Once paired, the sword becomes the brains that control the armor. However, the personality of the armor is not destroyed. Instead the two paragons keep each other company. The sword provides teaching in philosophy and the animated armor provides knowledge of humans, manufacturing goods for trade, and general information about the outside world.

The PCs that play a Paragon represent a paired sword and armor.

Limited Object Animation: Paragon swords have the ability to control and move their paired Paragon Armor. Once per day, a Paragon Sword can animate one object up to the weight of a suit of leather armor. This ability cannot be used to animate a normal or non-Paragon sword.

Throw the Sword: Paragon Swords can launch themselves ten feet once per day. They attack with a -2 penalty, but do 1d8 damage.

Poison Immunity: All Paragons (armor and swords) are immune to poison.

Breathless: Paragons do not breathe and do not require air. As such they cannot be suffocated and are unaffected by any gaseous attacks.

Immutable Bond: Paragon Armor will only use its paired Paragon Sword, forsaking all other swords of any type. They can collect any other weapons and use them, but will carry only the Sword that comprises the pairing.

Tests of Purity: Paragons can integrate magic helmets and magic shields into their armor at a risk. When attempting to use a magic helmet or shield, the character must make a successful saving throw or lose all sanity for 1d8 rounds.

Classes: Player-Character Paragons may be Fighters only.

In campaign worlds with psionics, a paired Paragon Sword and Armor may advance to 8th level.

Non-player Paragons are unpaired. Paragon Swords can defend themselves using illusions, but having only one attack per day. (Paragon Swords lose their illusionist abilities once paired). Paragon Armor acts as a 2HD creature that does 1d6 damage with their gauntlets or weapon. Paragon Armor that is not paired with a Paragon Sword will not wield any kind of sword or blade.

Personality: Paragon Swords are impracticable and aloof. They have little understanding of the world of men. They are loyal to ideals and principles and seem to be unemotional creatures.

Paragon Armor come across as mild-mannered, hard-working adults that are not prone to say very much. They are loyal to their friends (humanoid or Paragon) and value industriousness.

A paired Paragon Sword and Armor can appear at rare times almost schizophrenic due to internal squabbles between the two Paragons. Otherwise, they will blend in with the human population almost perfectly. Mankind has grown accustomed to small hamlets where "ghost armors" live.

The Soulless

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I originally started this in July 2012. I decided that while experiencing a form of writer's block caused by personal events, I would do something about the 38 drafts I started on my site. This race was originally created for ACKS, but has been ported over to Swords & Wizardry.

The Soulless

The Soulless are the result of research into transferring the soul from one body to another in the pursuit of immortality. The new body is not created from corpses, but generated by the use of alchemy. It is believed that the idea originated from early contact with the Manus and Pria.

Defenses: The soulless gain a +4 saving throws against poison due to their alien biology.

Augmented Physical Form: The body of a Soulless is augmented during its construction with a special ability. Such augmentations include regenerating 1 hp/ round (due to troll blood), the ability to pertrify a creature once a day (medusa eyes in the palms of the hands), A plus 2 bonus to Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution (physical augmentation), . Chameleon-like abilities (+10 to Hide checks). Invisibility. Throughout their lives, an individual soulless will change appearance and special abilities several times. The referee will need to approve any special ability gained by the augmentation.

Drawbacks: The act of separating the body from the soul has great consequences. While the ability to transfer the mind and its memories from one body to the next has been perfected, the separation of the soul from its initial body has consequences. Although not readily apparent, even to a soulless itself, the soul dies when removed. As such, when a soulless dies, they cease to exist on any level. Not even a wish can bring back a dead Soulless. Without a soul, they cannot perform Astral Projection and are immune to Resurrection and Reincarnation spells.

Silver Sensitivity: Soulless take double damage from silver weapons as silver is a poison to their alchemically constructed bodies.

Classes: The Soulless have no limits on level advancement as Thieves. In theory, the Soulless can be fighters, but few choose this path due to the time and expense in generating their body.  A Soulless cannot be a Cleric as they have no soul for a deity to bless, but if your campaign allows Psionic classes characters, they have no level limits in that class. The Soulless can also dual-class as Magic-User/Thieves with a limit of 6gh level for being a Magic-User.

Being alchemists, the Soulless have no level limit on such a class.