Backgrounds, Whitebox20 and the Multiclass Problem

I’ll try to keep the post short and to the point. I’ll fail. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for the best part of 20 years, and here are my thoughts and what I’m doing about it in W20 and AFG.

I’m really keen on characters being able to do varied things, so I very like things like multiclassing. Except multiclassing in D&D comes with a whole lot of nags and caveats and feels like a hack. Newer editions have some problems as they use level pick and mix shop, which really pleases me but pisses off a lot of people because “it’s totally broken and the way you have fun is wrong”. It’s also what I used before the d20 system was a thing, and more recently in AFG, where a significant number of characters end up having a couple of classes (out of three in the book).

But that leads to front loading, a big bump of skill increase at the beginning of a class, and less later. I don’t like it, but not because of balance (I’m not bothered), but I’d like to have a less irregular progression.

For AFG the choice was to not have the massive bump: all characters can cast level zero spells and use all weapons. Fighters hit better and get extra hits, casters get more mana and better spellpower, practitioners get more skills, and it’s possible to cast spells in armour if the fighter level is comparable to the level of the spell cast.

W20 has Backgrounds. You pick a background at character generation, giving you some benefits. You then add the first level, which gives more benefits, and then a class/career/lens. Some W20 playbooks will have some limits on background and class combination, so for example something like OD&D will only allow Dwarf and Human backgrounds to get Cleric levels, and when you get cleric levels you can only get cleric levels. Some other playbooks will allow to pick a class or career at each level, or every three levels, maybe without double-dipping, maybe with a career tree. So you can pick fighter (to survive in combat), then duelist (for dual-wielding), then Fop (because well you might want to get some posh dandy skills) then… well, you get it. Or you start as apprentice wizard or hedge mage or mystic, then become wizard, or conjurer, or seer, or High Hierophant of the Mystery of the Bridge of Bones (caveat: the previous hierophant must retire first).

Now some backgrounds here (thanks Scrap for the equipment). Note that the class names above match some of the backgrounds below. Ignore the misdirection.

Pick one background at character creation:

  1. SCAVENGER: Sacks, long hooked pole, protective gear (light armour), shovel (1H). +2 stealth, +2 appraise (it’s a bit rough)
  2. HUNTER: dried meats, snares, animal calls, animal scents, spear (1H) + 20 arrows. +4 hunting
  3. SOLDIER: bag, chain mail (medium armour), spear (1H) or bow+20 arrows, shield, knife, 1d6 scars. +3 hit points
  4. REFUGEE: exotic cultural item (scrolls, tablet, icon), exotic luxury good (incense or amber or drugs worth 1d6 x 1d6 x 1d6 x 1d6c), concealed jewellery, staff(2H). 3 languages, or +4 to any one skill.
  5. PEASANT: a farm animal (horse or cow or 1d6 goats or 3d6 chicken), trade commodity (1d6x10c), lard, jug of hooch, pitchfork or billhook (2h). +4 farmer (includes things like handling farm animals, some woodwork, barnraising)
  6. PETTY THIEF: bad drugs or jug of hooch, stolen valuable (2d6 x 10c), lockpicks, club (1H), leather jack (light armour). +2 stealth, +2 mechanics
  7. DILETTANTE: jewellery (3d6 x 10c), weird drugs, upnosed reading material, clock, really foppish clothes, fine rapier (1H). +1 to posh twit, +1 chitchat, +2 to a kinda useless skill of choice.
  8. EXPLORER: lantern, lead, “treasure” map, crowbar, climbing gear, compass, staff (2h). +2 climbing, +2 endurance.
  9. MYSTIC: implements of sacrifice, spirit cleansing incense, chalk, fireworks, blankets, walking staff.
  10. FOOL: a small white dog, a vagabond staff w/cloth, a nice hat. +1 fate point, but is a magnet of weirdness, so all weird things at random happen to the character, but not specifically bad things.
  11. EXORCIST: holy symbols, blessed water, scrips of banishing, iron rod (1h). +4 exorcism: an exorcism takes 1 round and, if successful, deals 1d6 damage +1/level to all spirits and undead within 30′. It also drains 1 mana from the exorcist: if the exorcist is out of mana they must roll under Heart or collapse for 1d6 turns.
  12. LEECH: doctor’s bag, pot (to boil gauzes), beaky mask, big cloak, sword (1h). +4 medicine (medicine is not for first aid)
  13. BARBER/DENTIST/SURGEON: razor (1H), leather strap, towels, scalpels, pliers, gauzes, jug of high-grade hooch. +4 barber/surgeon (this is for first aid and surgery)
  14. SEER: pillow, incense, narcotics, dagger (1H). Once per week can have a vision on a topic, either during sleep or while high.
  15. WITCH: dowsing rod, talisman, black cat, knife (1h). +4 pharmacy
  16. APPRENTICE WIZARD: 6 blank scrolls, 1 magic item (either cursed or temporary like a potion). Spellbook with 3 spells
  17. DWARF: plate armour (heavy), pickaxe (2H), bag with pebbles from back home and 1 tiny gold nugget (10c). Can smell gold.
  18. GOAT: horns, can eat everything, shouts like a human, +8 climbing.

Then pick a skill at +4 for each 4 points in Wit. Skills at character generation can’t be at more than +4. If you have a skill at +2 you can bring it to +4 and get another skill at +2.

Then, pick a class. If your Referee is a nice person, pick an extra class every 3 or 5 extra levels. If your referee is not a nice person, they will let you pick a class at level 2:

FIGHTER: +1 melee. Can both attack and block each round.

ARCHER or ARQUEBUSIER: +1 missile. Double rate of fire with a bow or gun.

CASTER: can cast more complicated spells.

SPECIALIST: a skill gets +4, up to +8.

JACK OF ALL TRADES: +2 more skills at +4


Back in Stock: Into the Odd, Adventure Fantasy Game, Wonder & Wickedness, Pergamino Barocco

I was supposed to be at Dragonmeet today (like every other gamer in the UK, from what I can gather by my Google Plus feed), but since I can’t walk much I stayed home.

And guess what arrived?


Pretty much everything!


Into the Odd – 48 pages of postindustrial adventures, horrific hazards, and cosmic meddling, written by Chris McDowall (check out their blog for a veritable smorgasbord of free support material). Delve into the ruined undercity, explore lost islands, find uncanny Arcana. This is a fast, simple game, to challenge your wits rather than your understanding of complex rules. Reviews here, herehere, here, herehere and here. By the way, Odditional materials (a fanmade compendium) will be released the next week or so on RPGNow.

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Adventure Fantasy Game R10 – years ago I was about to write a clone, but then got smitten by some ideas by Sham, so with his blessing I wrote Adventure Fantasy Game instead. AFG is an original, non-clone Old School game, in its tenth revision. Simple, d6-based game mechanics. 5MORE Resolution System, skills improving with use. Mana-based magic. Characters improve by Plundering, completing Accomplishments, or by actually trying to do stuff, as flexibly as you want. No clerics, no XPs, no accounting, no memorization or other legacy rules, but still compatible with Old School material pretty much without conversions.

AFG can be used by itself or as an ensemble of hacks for other retroclones. Contains also bunch of original spells and “The Temple Beneath the Harga Volcano”, a 15 pages sandbox campaign featuring cannibals, terrorscarabs, exploration, a marginally active volcano, inhospitable grumpy locals, glaciers, a giant or two and whole lot of heads on sticks. Plus Squid Templars of Cthulhu. Character sheets by the always excellent Jason Sholtis. The new revision consists mostly of corrections and small fixes, and it’s printed on better paper.

But you can get the first two chapters for free: it’s all you need as a player.

The good news is that, as always, if you bought it already you get free updates. If you have a download link you should be able to get the updated files in a few days. Same if you bought it on RPGNow (you’ll get an email notification). Everyone else, send me a mail.


cover-black - blackWonder & WickednessBrendan of Necropraxis’s fame wrote a new magic system where all spells have no level and are accessible to casters of any level, plus magic shields and a new exciting ways to project magic to do damage that gets rid of those dozens of madlibbed fire/ice/acid-ball/bolt/cloud (Malevolence). He then wrote seven new schools of sorcery, 56 new spells to be used with the new mechanics (but also with your Into the Odd/D&D/AFG game, of course) and, for when spellcasting goes really badly, 84 magical catastrophes. He then designed 50 new unique magic items, and they are all unique, like this:

The Gossamer Mantle of Irapoden

Irapoden’s mantle is a grey cape of the finest gray silk that is exceedingly light but never stirs in any breeze. It hangs on the shoulder as sludge, and almost seems to drip in movement rather than flow like cloth. When the hood is pulled low, the wearers shadow animates and detaches, becoming a loyal servant. The shadow has the strength and fortitude of four men, and remains ambulant as long as the the cape’s wearer does not move. The shadow may be called forth no more than once per day, but if slain will never return, no matter the illumination.WEB EGYPTIAN DEMON copy

All the interior art is by Russ Nicholson. Yes, that Russ Nicholson.

Reviews herehere, hereherehere, here and here.

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Pergamino Barocco, Paperback editionRoger had a brilliant idea. RPG supplements about spells and magic are usually awfully plain lists of descriptions of spells, all crammed up in as few pages as possible and seemingly written in the driest way possible. You always wanted your spells to be in a book that looks like a spellbook, feels like a spellbook and illustrated with arcane imagery.

So we put some effort into it and he wrote and designed and I did the layout and some tinkering with the presentation and a leporello book came out. Well, an entire edition of them.


But since it gets really time consuming and therefore terribly expensive, we also made it into PDF and paperback. A review of the (now unavailable) leporello edition is here.


Cliffsides – a Chthonic Codex Location Lot

The Hypogea is an utopia. It doesn’t exist not only because it’s fictional, but because the in-world narrative about it is a deliberate lie

Chthonic Codex is, amongst other things, an exercise on writing a usable game supplement written by many disagreeing unreliable narrators. A whole bunch of them are lying, but it’s not clear which ones. As the Codex itself exists in-world, it would be interesting if the players found it and read it and found out what’s wrong with it. The third book even instructs to pick a “truth” level, but of course even that might be misleading.

There is no map for the Hypogea. While there is a map of a section of it, the best use of the map is to be a useful lie. Not because of the obvious “map ≠ territory”, but because the best use for that map is to hand it to the players as soon as they search in the school library or some Master’s office, and then they are so happy that they have a map, and they get enthralled by the possibilities, and then they find out that the map is lying. But not in a spiteful way, just in a non-obvious way, as it probably bears a whole lot of truth but with some lies thrown in to make it harder to use by the uninitiated.

So I decided to write some more lies about it. I plan to write a few of them. They are smallish locations, called Cliffsides because they are, urm, in canyon cliffsides. Like pretty much anything else in the Hypogea that is not in a cave. By the way, if you need pictures of canyons, Google image search has incredible stuff, as you would expect.canyonsearch

At any rate, here’s the first Cliffside:

Telesphoros’s Taverna

A couple of river bends up the Bridge of Bones there’s a small farm/taverna, twice famous.

First, the taverner is Telesphoros, famous not only for their pies but also their big eyes, and many people go there just to have pie and strike up conversation with the attractive owner, who is known to appreciate the attention.

Second, there are many talking crows and singing birds in the tavern, as Telesphoros breeds them and trades them for coins, favours and sundry other things. And Telesphoros trains them to recite poetry and sing hymns, and their birds are priced in the palace and temple alike.

Amongst the birds the silver wrens are surely the most priced. While it’s easy to like other Telesphoros’s birds, it’s hard not to be completely smitten by the silver wrens, in a way that listeners of their songs would do anything the birds ask. But asking they won’t, because while they are perfectly trained to follow simple commands, they can’t speak.  Telesphoros finds really hard selling them. So, even if the buyer has riches to pony up, the seller often does not yield.

AFG: Silver Wren. lvl 0 animal (1hit), defence none, special: flyer, charm person 30′ (save every round until a save is failed, charm lasts 1 turn)

OSR: Silver Wren. 1hp, AC 7, special: flying, charm person 30′ (save every round until a save is failed, charm lasts 1 turn)