Rub-a-D&D: butcher, baker, candlestick-maker, tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor: the Spy as a B/X class

Rub a dub dub,
Three fools in a tub,
And who do you think they be?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick maker.
Turn them out, knaves all three


The Spy: a full-shenanigans B/X class

Your butcher has always been a bit odd, and did not know the difference between sirloin and ribeye. The baker also, but for the opposite reason: he was honest and delivered always full-weight loaves. The candlestick maker gilting was great but the candlesticks were clearly not well lathed.

That’s because they were not tradesmen.

They were knaves.

They were competent spies under cover.

HP, Saves, hitrolls as clerics. Primary stat is Charisma.

Level XP Title
1 1250 butcher
2 2500 baker
3 5000 candlestick-maker
4 10000 tinker
5 20000 tailor
6 42500 soldier
7 70000 sailor
8 110000 Spy
9 160000 Spy-master
10 220000 Spy-master
11 440000 Spy-master
12 660000 Spy-master

Coverup: the Spy gets some basic training in whichever trade their title is. So level 1 spies get basic training as butchers. At level 2 as bakers. Level 3? Candlestick makers. The problem is that sometimes they are not that competent, but often it does not matter. So for expert tasks they get only a 3-in-6 chance of success modified by their reaction bonus: they might not do a great job, but they are great at selling themselves.

Three fools in a tub: spies in cities can locate another spy in 1d6 days and get useful something in exchange for something (material, contacts, information, safe haven, safe conduit are examples of what can be exchanged) if a successful reaction roll is made. Woe if the reaction roll fails.

Great Coverup: At level 8 they can either roll any of these rolls twice and pick the best result or have a 95% chance of coming up with a convincing reason, happenstance or coverup for the job not to be successful. For example having the workbench collapse, or the horse outside the shop to catch fire, or just mind tricks. Or, surely the best, they can convince you that you seriously do not need that gigot cop today, sausages will be better with turnips, or that, seriously Capitain, the mortar was somewhat cracked already.

Rogue Skills: use 1d6 Thieving, but starts with only 5 points. Gets 1 point per level gained. Or as a rogue of half their level, round up.

Agency: at level 9 Spies can set up an agency. They will attract 1d6 level 1 PCs per season, half of them spies, maximum one per Spy-master level. As they die, they will be replaced as long as the Spy-master does a good job of covering up their demise.


Gangs & Bullshit – first playtest

I love crime fiction. The kind of bullshit that happens in crime fiction is of the highest quality.

All my games get to what you’d call “domain game” really soon. Somehow my players settle in an area and start to infest the local society and violence and bullshit starts happening at an incredible speed. The point of the domain game is not to have a fief, but to play the game, that kind of politics that hilariously degenerates in threats and violence.

I’ve been wanting to run a proper crime organisation game for years. What kept me is a horrible feeling tied mostly to these two blokes pictured here.


In 1992-1993 the Sicilian Mafia cranked up the aggression level and started a bombing campaign (google translates okish). They managed to kill a couple of judges, politicians and destroy museums. I was in school back then, and vaguely knew about the existence of Cosa Nostra, the Camorra, the ‘Ndrangheta and the Sacra Corona Unita, but living in a small town in the north of the country their power was not as evident, as their tendrils there were not as strong. One of the my pizzerie caught fire remarkably often, and during trips to the South we had to pay protection money to park the car on the side of the road, but otherwise there was not a lot of crime going on.

The bombing season started because of many reasons, but my favourite (least favourite) is that the heads of the Catholic party in Sicily stopped being as pals with the crime bosses as they were before, and important criminals started to go to jail more often.

This was weird. The State does not fight back strongly, because organized crime means money, and money means corruption, and corruption means, literally, taking one’s money, and therefore power, and giving some as a tribute to someone else that is powerful already, so that they use their power against someone else.

If it sounds like organized crime paying protection money, or countries paying tribute to the Empire, or states paying federal taxes, or you paying taxes, is because it’s exactly the same act. Tributary and tributee enter a beneficial relationship, as ancient as giving a goat to feed the warriors so the reavers from the uplands don’t steal all your goats.

But the change of the political class due to, er, many reasons but mostly because it’s complicated, meant that the powerful were not as powerful, and in power now there were less friendly people.

The State answered with strength, some people started to be brave and stop paying protection money, and the situation started to improve. But elsewhere the crime syndicates made great progress, and nowadays their tendrils reach far apart, not only in historical bases like the US East Coast, but also in the rest of Europe, and are doing business with South American and East Asian crime syndicates.

The mixture of organized crime and conniving politics fucked my homeland too much, and as an expat it is really painful. Because I literally left. And here I am, ten years after and a thousand miles away, praising the effort and ultimate sacrifice of two judges, one of them botheringly right-wing, and all other victims in that war.

Because I am, like my homeland, a complicated mess.

So for years I wanted to run this game about wealth, and power, and threats, and corruption, and shady deals, and turf fights, blades in the night, burglaries and barbershops, real thugs and city watch thugs, firebombs in the night and pies filled with meat of uncertain origin.

All of it for power, the kind of power that despises other power and wants only to make it go away, so it can have more power, all of it, and demand everybody’s respect and tribute.

But the topic made me too sad, and it’s been doing the same for years. I never thought I’d manage.

I managed earlier on this month. It was fucking glorious.

2015 - 1

The name of the game is Gangs & Bullshit

Because all the PCs are in a gang, and there’s a lot of bullshit going on. There are other gangs, and in general they all are not too keen about each other. Because they have power, and are not afraid about using it, and that’s fucking disrepectful.

I’m putting together some kind of playtest package.

Adventure Fantasy Game: the Way of the Arts

Adventure Fantasy Game does not have traditional classes.

Characters, every time a level is gained, decide which Way to pursue to increase in experience. The Ways presented in the handbook are the Way of Steel for Fighters and the Way of Magic for Casters.

So a character can start as Caster 1, then get a couple of Fighter levels, then another couple of Caster levels and end up as Caster 3/Fighter 2, which is able to cast most of their spells even in armour.

The two Ways are of course not the only ones supported by the system. The Way of the Arts has not been included in the handbook because back then I wasn’t really happy with it, but now it’s ready to be shown in public.

The Way of the Arts

Characters who embark in the Way of the Arts are known as Practitioners. The Way of the Arts focuses training and growth on practicing mundane arts and crafts. Practitioners can be artisans, renaissance-men, artists, con-men. Practitioners roll 1d6 to determine Hits for each level gained in the Way of the Arts, receive training in using light armours armours but not shields.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Practitioners spend a lot of time honing their skills. Each time a character gains a level in the Way of the Arts the character can distribute 5 EXPERT letters on their tasks.

A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work

Practitioners in the same sector all know each other, and should the need rise they are able to find a  job. Each time a character gains a level in the Way of the Arts the character can spend 6 months working and gaining some money using a specific Task. The character will net 1d6 thalers each week spent working, -1 if less than EXPERT in the Task, +4 if MASTER, +1/-1 depending on the stat relevant to the Task. Since this is done during adventuring downtime and assumes full-time employment starting characters can directly add the same amount of money to their initial savings, while existing characters will not be able to adventure while they are working. It’s noteworthy that it’s possibly to use pickpocket or lockpicking as a Task to get some money. Whether this causes problems with the law is to be left to decide to the Referee.

Teachers for your 1d6-thieves: Fencing, Appraisal and Wizardry

This is the second post of a serie on thieving skills for Dungeons & Dragons. The rules are not meant for a specific edition but can be easily used for anything pre-d20.

in my previous post about 1d6 thieves I mentioned the option of making available different teachers to thieves to make available different skills from the ones provided by the manuals.

This not only reinforces my idea of the rogue class as some kind of “skilled guy” but also satisfies my “designer tickle” of making possible for the thief not only to learn the usual skills but also to achieve something more: I was walking in the woods with my lovely s/o and it dawned on me that the skill points thieves get could be spent rtaining for other classes’ skills, and that an amount of skill points could be spent to, say, memorize and cast spells as a second level magic user, or hit better in combat, or get more hit points.

With a clear understanding that this would be a breach of a number of D&D design aims, I risked arrest from the OSR-Ortodoxy police and tried to setup a group equation to… well, develop a model that says “the skill of casting MU skills is equivalent to the skills of wearing plate mail, having +2 hit points per level, having a good hit roll and using all weapons”, solve it and, most important, see if the model works. After a few hours of fiddling with numbers I ditched almost everything.

It’s better not to go there. The experience reinforced my feeling that classes don’t need to be balanced, the real need is to offer good fun to everybody, and classes are a way to offer different mechanics to interact with the system (think of how different is to play MUs and fighters) for people with different “funs”. At least I came out with few ideas for new thieves teachers/skills. I recommend that players spend time looking for teachers and do “favours” to them in order to be accepted as students. Note that first level characters will probably not have money to pay for the teachers; this is intended.

These new skills are not tested yet (as my players have better things to do than playing these weeks) but I reckon that if you’re willing to try this you might as well be able to deal with the consequences someway. 🙂

Fencing: for every three pips the character gains +1 to hit with a given weapon. The teacher must be a fighter and have a hit roll better than the character considering just class and level for both (plus the weapon mastery bonus for the character). Cost: 1 week per pip and at least 50 gp per trainer level per week.

Appraisal: the character can estimate the value of an object. The precision is given by the margin of the roll: with margin 0 the most significant digit is know, plus one for every point of margin. For example if a character with Evaluate 5 rolls 4 while evaluating a jewel worth 1250gp he will know the two most significant digits (1 + 1 for the margin), so he’ll know “about 1200gp”. Had he rolled a 5 the result would have been “about 1000gp”. Odd objects will have negative modifiers, as well as prices in zones where the character is not used to trading. Cost: I have no clue, but I guess working as an apprentice for a merchant or a fence for a while will be enough.

Wizardry: the character can memorize and cast spells as a wizard of level equal to a fourth of the number of pips. He can memorize spells written in his spellbook provided that while memorizing he succeeds a “Read Languages and Magic Scrolls” check. If a check is failed the spell will be misread and the character can try to memorize another spell in the slot, making misread spells will not be available for the day. To avoid miscasting a spell the character will have to succeed a Wizardry test, with a modifier of -4 for every spell level beyond the first. There’s no automatic access to read magic or any other spell. Cost: 1 month of mentoring and 50gp per pip plus 50 for every existing pips (the first is 50, the second 100, the third 150, the fourth 200, for a total of 500gp to be able to cast level 1 spells, 1300gp more for the second four pips to get a second 1st level spell slot, 2100gp more for 4 more pips and a second level spell slot).

1D6 Thieving

This is the first post of a serie on thieving skills for Dungeons & Dragons. The rules are not meant for a specific edition but can be easily used for anything pre-d20.

This weekend I got to hang out with my cousin Andrea and we went over a number of “rules” we always meant to tweak for our D&D sessions but we never got around to.

Anyway, percentile chances for thieving skills never really satisfied me for a number of reasons:

  • they’re the only percentile rolls players do
  • they start abysmally low (except for climb walls) and grow very slowly
  • other aspects of the system are handled with a d6 roll

I personally find this kind of roll very “clean”: grab the “easy” die and see if you roll a 1, more if you’re “special” (dwarf, elf or thief searching for secret doors for example). Also I really liked AD&D way to increase the skills by allocating 30 points every thief level. So we decided to move them to be d6 based and increased by allocation. The problem with that is that going beyond 5-in-6 is tricky and both puts the mental strain on the GM to set difficulty modifiers and it allows for scarce granularity, especially in the critical 83% to 100% percent. So we opted for some kind of “exploding die” mechanic: say, if you have 8, you actually have (5+3). This means that if you roll the first die and fail you can roll another die and succeed with 3 or less. Really high skills such as 12 are noted as (5+5+2), allowing to roll a third die if thing go bad… but since thieves get 2 pips every level after the first die the incentives to focus that much on a skill are very low (unless it’s climb walls, because failing that really means “you die, chump”). Difficulty is handled by changing the skill level (a wall easy to climb would give +1, bringing a skill of 5 to 5+1, for example).

The last bit has been integrating in the new system things such as the halfling hiding abilities (2-in-6, +3 to skill outside) and pontificating about a broader skill system. I like this so much I’d probably use it even for hit rolls and saving throws but “we wouldn’t be in D&D-land anymore”, or something like that. Anything to keep players from moaning.

Anyway, here’s the writeup:

Each thief spent most of hist time training particular skills, and can allocate 10 points at character generation on the following skills, plus 2 points for every level gained:

  • pick locks
  • find and remove traps
  • climb walls (starts at 3)
  • move silently
  • hide in shadows
  • pick pockets
  • hear noises (starts at 1)
  • find secret doors (starts at 1)
  • read languages
  • backstab (not a normal skill: it increases the normal +2 bonus characters have while attacking from behind. In case the attacker was undetected and the attack hits damage is doubled)

Other unusual skills can be learnt from sources found during the game, such as secretive guilds and forgotten tomes (refer to your DM):

  • appraise
  • use magic items (failure implies a probably disastrous mishap. Scrolls with mage spells have no difficulty modifier, anything else has at least a -5 modifier).
  • use poison (again, failure probably means the thief got poisoned)

To determine if the skill has been used succesfully it is necessary to roll less or equal to the skill with 1d6, with 6 being a failure.

Skill of more than 5 make possible to roll more than 1 die: subsequent rolls subtract 5 from the skill for every die (so the second roll is against skill -5, the third against skill -10 and so on). It’s useful to mark skill levels greater than 5 already split in “rolls”: for example 7 as 5+2 and 11 as 5+5+1.

EDIT: more skills here.