Pen and Paper RPG House Rules

Making our favorite games even better

Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi Review as a Roleplaying Game Setting

I just finished Summerland and it is one hell of a book. The protagonist is a hardworking woman spy in the “Winter Court” which is the living spies who are on the hunt of an NKVD mole in the British “Summer Court” which are the dead spies who operate in the land of the dead known as Summerland. How do you catch a spy that is already dead?

I will have some spoilers below but this book is not only a great story but it would be a fantastic setting for an RPG particularly a World of Darkness Mage/Wraith game or as a recursion in Monte Cook’s The Strange setting. Or an even more interesting possibility as the main world in the Strange just introducing it a bit earlier with the Quickened being the dead or ecto-warriors.

The book is just a hair over 300 pages so it is a quick read overnight but is packed with lots of ideas. Characters explain about how a few geniuses use technology to communicate and then alter the land of the dead. If you are familiar with Mage: The Awakening then this book is basically what would happen if a Sons of Ether used Spirit Magic and made the technology mainstream and available in the late 19th century.

Imagine World War I with ecto-tanks technology that alters sensitives (mages if we use the World of Darkness terminology) to channel soul life force into weapons of war allowing a single person to lay waste to those lacking this death science/magic. Hannu even taps into a bit of Leibniz with Luz as the hardcore of a soul leftover when a person fades away after death which reminds me of the Monad concept either as the luz or as the part of the self that leaves all that behind depending on how you look at it.

The big baddie for most of the book is the “Presence” which is the ghost of Lenin who absorbs other souls into his mind becoming kind of a like an AI super hivemind. Stalin is also in the book as a rebel seeking to overthrow the Presence and create chaos that he can prosper in.

Everything in the land of the dead is made from the dead if it lasts for very long or it can be fed Vim (yes makes me think of vis from Ars Magica)  to evade fading. Dreaming dead can create things in their dreams and wake up to them in their rooms which is interesting. It is implied that artistic ghosts can do the same while awake too. Characters can teleport if they have the coordinates to the location but it is tiring and causes a loss of Vim. If the dead don’t get enough Vim than they start to fade becoming less aware and less of themselves so Vim I assume becomes a sort of currency provided by pensions if you’re lucky and if not you’re in trouble.

With the evolution of the Science of Death, they figure out how to create a “Ticket” which allows the knower to survive and flourish in Summerland without fading like the majority of people end up doing after they die before this advance. There are also aetherbeasts as the soul energy is not limited to just humanity.

A fun campaign could be as ghost-warriors on the periphery of Summerland defending it from raving monsters of either animal origin or psychopathic origin as some killers survived the Fading without a Ticket before the Science of Death developed. The Fading can be resisted with Vim energy or the actual souls of others wholesale rather than just the energy the souls create ie Vim.

Summerland has its own geometry and limitations such as Faraday cages preventing travel when the ghosts are on the co-location of the deadlands and earth. The dead can see the living and their emotions at times with the perceptive dead able to glean ideas, emotions, and motives from those they observe.

As a GM it would be easy to use the setting anywhere from the late 19th century when the first ecto-radios or during World War I with the rise of death science altering people into weapons of war and death or the 1930s when the book happens.

Certain other aspects of the story remind me of the Old Ones in Call of Cthulu or the Planetovores from The Strange. A Void Engineer/Sons of Ether/Dreamspeaker Mage/Wraith campaign as mentioned above would be pretty interesting especially if you add the Nephandi concept which Stalin would really fit quite well.

I really hope someone snags the IP for an RPG ectopunk/deadpunk/ghostpunk campaign because there is a lot of potential in this setting for some good roleplaying.


Spycraft Chess


A game I was working on that won’t be published so I can share it here.

Since the board is finished and we feel it is marketable it will likely be released in 2019.

Play options:

Standard game: Play one game with Seven Assets a piece.

Handicapped Game: Play one game with the stronger player having fewer Assets.

World War Trilogy: Buy all Assets for all three games before the first game.

Cold War: Play a standard game or a World War Trilogy and after the last game flip a coin and if it comes up heads then a new game is added giving the loser a new chance for final victory.


Start the game with 7 Assets. Each side picks their Assets prior to the first move during the pregame. Assets can be played prior to a player finishing a move by taking their hands off of the piece.

A Patient is the target of an Agent or Asset. An Agent can be any piece that is not the King on the other side that has been recruited or suborned to spy on your side.

The center of the board is known as the DMZ which is where the safe house and honeypot assets can be used. These are the middle four rows.


Use post-it notes or small notecards to write down the type of Asset and details. If using premade cards or a video game than use icons that are in parentheses.

Treasury (coin): Each asset labeled Treasury is one that can be used with another asset card to empower a powerful Asset.

Diplomatic Immunity (Diplomat): Play and discard this Asset and remove an effect caused by an Asset with a duration from one of your pieces.

Safehouse (a safe in the shape of a house): Play this Asset and a Treasury Asset and move a piece into the center of the board. Lay the piece down in the new place and the piece cannot affect or be affected for the next five turns. No other piece can move into that square for the duration.

Shell game (three cups): Swap your king with a predetermined type of piece such as a rook or a pawn that you write down on an asset card. This uses your action for your turn and expends this asset.

Confusion (Dunce cap):  Late Game Asset: After turn 40 play this Asset and two Treasury Assets and your Opponent skips a turn if not in check.

Quagmire (quicksand with an arm reaching out): Write down on an asset card a square in the middle rows of the board.  Once any piece moves into that square this asset is activated and any piece that later enters that square for the next five turns cannot leave until the asset is expended. Each time a new piece enters the square the duration is reset. Either player can spend a Treasury Asset and extend the duration by another five turns.

Defector in Place (Honeypot): Write down on an asset card a square in the middle rows of the board. Once any enemy piece moves into that square this asset can be activated and the piece can be suborned to your side if you spend treasury assets equal to the piece’s value.

Agent Provocateur (snowflake):  Write down a category of piece on an Asset card. Later in the game, an Agent can be activated among the category of the piece and any enemy piece this Agent threatens can after spending a Treasury Asset be frozen in place for the next five turns. This Agent can be used as long as the player has Treasury Assets and the Agent is threatening a piece.

Agent of Influence (smiling politician): Write down a category of piece on an Asset card. Later in the game, an Agent can be activated among the category of the piece and any enemy piece this Agent threatens can after spending a Treasury Asset be forced to move one time within for the next five turns. This Agent can be used as long as the player has Treasury Assets and the Agent is threatening a piece.

Burn Notice (papyrus on fire):  This Asset allows you to remove any piece on the board that is or was once yours upon the expenditure of a Treasury Asset.

Triple Agent (Greek drama masks): Allows the Asset to take over temporarily any piece that the enemy has suborned for five turns by expending a Treasury Asset. This can be extended for another five turns with another Treasury Asset spent.

Mole: (Sleeping soldier):  Late Game Asset. After the 40th turn you may play this asset and spend a Treasury Asset plus your move this round and force your opponent to choose one of their pawns to be the patient and that piece becomes yours for the rest of the game and is replaced with a pawn of your color.

Siberian Candidate (bottle of vodka): Late Game Asset. After turn 40 this Asset can be played and it prevents your opponent’s king from moving for 5 turns. After those five turns, you can spend a Treasury Asset to extend the duration another five turns.

Coercion (a bear trap): Any piece that is threatened and cannot make a legal move can be suborned and made into a defector. Use this Asset and Treasury Assets equal to the value of the piece. Upon use, Asset is discarded.

Quisling (?): Late Game Asset.  After turn 40 you can play this Asset and force your opponent to move their King on their next turn or if the King can’t move then move an adjacent piece to the King. Upon use, this Asset is discarded.

Scenario (strategy map?): Play Asset and discard Asset upon use and your piece returns to its position on the previous turn and make a move as normal from the position it had been the previous round.

Reconnaissance (an eye?): Use this Asset on the first or second move of the game to allow one of your knights to move twice.

Inquisition (Spaniards?) : Play this Asset before the 40th move of the game and all Late Game Assets on both sides are burned and removed from play. This uses your move.

Legend (Spy v Spy?): Late Game Asset. After turn 40 you can play this Asset and one of your pawns pretends to be a pawn of the other player and can’t be taken by an enemy piece for five turns though it is vulnerable to Assets.

















Media for Game Masters and Dungeon Masters

I thought I’d share some of the best sources that helped me be a better storyteller since the question has been asked a fair amount of times.

I’ve found that just picking up some good movies, comics, and a novel or two in whatever genre that matches a new game I’m starting as a GM really helps out with the creative process even if the sources are mined just for the “vibe”. As a player learning more about a genre helps with ideas for backstory and your PC’s personality within a society in that genre.

I highly recommend any DM or GM to interact with The Evolution of Trust to get a better idea of how trust works and to look into the Prisoner’s dilemma. Understanding how trust, environment, and choice interact with each other and how certain philosophies or outlooks can flourish in one environment and then fail in another. If you’re world building this is the key that will unlock better games for you.

The strategies that your players will attempt to use are predicated on the environment you create and how you respond to them and their strategies. If all the players are murder hobos then you might think about why the gaming environment is rewarding that tactic and how you might try and build a different tactic with your players. If your players trust you then this is easier to do. Sometimes it is easier to do by changing the game environment completely with a different campaign or game system while making small changes to the current campaign may work better for other troupes or for you.

Mining media for your games is an important skill and can broaden your own imagination. Having a grounding in the genre you’re running really helps to avoid tropes or throw tropes at players in unique ways.

I’m going to list by type of media some of my favorites chosen for how much they helped me tell stories which isn’t necessarily the same as how much I enjoyed the media but usually they are roughly congruent.


Frank Herbert’s Dune books are dense and full of politics and complex ideas and really useful for Amber or Scion as they deal with the “Big” as well as the personal. Frank wrote another series of books that are often forgotten beginning with Destination: Void which is an absolute bonanza of fertile ideas for the cruelly minded GM. I ran a one-shot of Destination: Void in a Mage game with Void Engineers teaming up with Sons of Ether to make a new type of spirit using kidnapped and mindwiped Mages that was wonderful. I used the core idea in a Paranoia game and in a fantasy setting with an AI in a crystal matrix influenced by Janny Wurt’s novels that really was fun.

Fred Hoyle’s Black Cloud remains foundational to me on the many possibilities that life and mind may form. The idea that our earthbound sort of life was the unusual one was mind blowing to a 10 year old which with Simak’s City which had life in the atmosphere of Jupiter helped me run some very fun Gurps: Space games. I see the trope of the universe zipping out any mind that groks the universe in this one too. I can’t remember if this novel had the universe get more complicated in response to enlightenment like physicists playing 20 questions in the manner of the participatory universe theory but that is a fun idea you can use in your game. Reality adapts.

Roger Zelazny’s Amber books are fun and witty showing a mastery of knowing when to go into detail and when to gloss over the unimportant. He can cover a hundred duels with inferior opponents with a sentence but wax on for a chapter involving the machinations of maneuvering an enemy to step into a trap. This is hugely important for a nascent storyteller to understand. Far too often I’ve seen GM’s waste a lot of time on combat that doesn’t really matter or move the story or in social situations that the GM would be better served with a casual waving on of time passing.

If running an SF/Fantasy Immortals campaign then Lord of Light is a must read especially if you’re like me and like to inject some down and dirty politics with your wannabe gods. Frost and Fire is probably the best book of short stories I’ve ever read. Donnerjack and Lord Demon were co-written with Jane Lindskold and provide very fertile and easily adapted cosmologies.

I’ve been hugely impressed by Hannu’s Rajiemi’s writing and in particular the first book in his trilogy The Quantum Thief. If you’re looking at a Singularity/Posthuman campaign you’d be hardpressed to find a better resource. Think of it as Neal Stephenson, China Mieville or William Gibson pushed out a few hundred years past cyberpunk.

Some of my first fictional exposures to African myth was Alan Dean Foster’s Carnivores of Light and Darkness, the Al Qadim D&D setting (middle east/northern African), and South of the Sun the Ars Magica Prester John setting.

It is really important to get beyond just European and North American based ideas if you’re going to be good at creating unique worlds for your players. In Psychology class, we’d talk about how weird and atypical Americans are in human history particularly white middle-class American college students who were the most studied people. Sociology and Psychology tend to assume that these test takers are the norm and sometimes find that about a third or more studies can’t be replicated when using a different more varied sample.

Frederik Pohl’s Starburst introduced me to Godel and my friends and I would use the mathematical language to encode short acronyms with each other. 600 equals getting a cab to go somewhere if I remember correctly.

The idea of a bodiless ghost being a soliton wave of energy was another idea introduced to me by this story that I’ve used in my games before I read about St. Jack the Bodiless in Julian May’s books. The core concept of Starburst ties in pretty well with Destination: Void except rather than trying to create artificial intelligence of a higher order to the idea was to put geniuses together away from the stresses of people in a spaceship to mine them for their ideas and creativity while they journeyed.

The tv show Eureka kind of steals this idea by putting the crew of a spaceship into a VR realm in their minds so that the scientists could spend their time inventing without the real world interfering too much.

David Brin’s Earth and Existence are must-reads for near future hard SF adventures. David’s ability to predict future potential realities is a bit eerie. For more space opera campaigns I cannot recommend more his Uplift series in which humanity uplifts dolphins and chimpanzees to sentience before expanding to the stars and discovering a vast intergalactic set of civilizations built on the idea of mature spacefarers uplifting other species to sentience. We are unusual in that we uplifted ourselves and thus the other species call us the “Wolflings.”

Speaking of Wolfing that is the name of a story by Gordon R Dickson that isn’t anything amazing by itself for its writings or even general plot but it has given me a lot of story ideas to use including probably George Lucas. There is a weapon that is basically a lightsaber that you can extend in length which focuses the blade smaller like a cone and that you can retract to almost a small buckler shield. This weapon I’ve used in many of my space campaigns from Amber (Courts of Chaos), Traveller, Mage, and Gurps: Space.

Imagine if you could make a lightsaber that was as thin at the tip as a smallsword but could stretch across a room and burn a small hole through an enemy and then quickly shrink it down to an arming sword shape to dispatch a nearby foe before quickly making a small shield to block a blaster. Now imagine dual wielding and the Tower Fechtbuch or I33 sword buckler combat with weapons and shields that can switch back and forth between swords and shields at will.

The other idea I’ve borrowed from Wolfling, Star Trek, and Larry Niven’s Protector books is of various types of humans being spread across space or in the case of Star Trek seeded. I had a game in which an ancient race had made the earth a garden planet (look up hydrogen wall and Alice) and would periodically sample hominids to use as a base creature for manual skilled labor on a thousand worlds. So, when the PC’s leave earth on the first FTL (see E.E. “Doc” Smith) they end up finding a series of worlds with divergent hominids going back to Homo Erectus to neanderthals who all evolved differently over the past million years as the precursors have disappeared leaving their tools and pets behind.

In a fantasy game, I used this idea as the basis for elves, dwarves, giants, mermaids, and other races as humans who adapted to different environments as they gated from world to world. All dragons were in the beginning brown in that campaign with different dragons evolving on different planets and the big story of that campaign was learning that the brown dragon was from the homeworld of the dragons which had been isolated millennia before during a war with the Titans/Joten and now almost no one knows what brown dragons are. For another take on this check out Titan by John Varley.

Going back to Gordon R. Dickson check out the Childe Cycle particularly Soldier Ask Not and Dorsai! for military games, Young Bleys for understanding a good villain, and Necromancer for time travel.

Julian May’s The Many Colored Land and the rest of the books in the series are great fun books to read while also being fertile ground for storytellers. You have a Celtic-Germanic myth, time travel, psionic powers, sex, hybridization, and in the later series, you have telepathic coercers working for the mob and eventually galactic war between augmented cybernetic superminds and the poor aliens who welcomed us into galactic civilization. It also involves a long thread about redemption with the tale of Abaddon. I don’t want to ruin the series by providing too much more.

Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio series is another world that covers different types of humans and evolution but it is his Songs of Earth and Power which is a true wonder. I read them originally in separate stories but the newer version has them packaged together. Religion, fairies, the Serpent Mage, evolution, magic, reality hacking worlds, and this is YA enough to give to precocious young storytellers and readers. If you’ve played the Strange by Monte Cook Games I wouldn’t be surprised if it was influential in the making of that setting.

C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire series is one of my favorite SF stories as an origin for a fantasy setting with an excellent magic system. If you’re wanting to build an innovative magic system then read Janny Wurts and C.S. Friedman. If you’re wanting to delve into the mind and the alien wrapped in humanity in a hard SF setting then read This Alien Shore.

If you’re writing, designing, or running a game with swords or things that can cut then you would be well served learning about proper edge alignment and cutting techniques from Mike Edelson’s Cutting with the Medieval Sword: Theory and Application.

Moonheart by Charles de Lint provided a key chunk of my first Mage campaign and his other stories influenced my horror games and some of my lighter campaigns. He opened the way for urban fantasy to become more popular with authors like Neil Gaiman and Jim Butcher following later.

Robert A Heinlein’s Lost Legacy among others was very influential in how I have villains and villainous organizations operate in my games particular Mage and the Technocracy. The villain Nehemiah Scudder is another threat worth reading about.

Honorable Mentions include Raymond E Feist’s Midkemia series particularly the character Pug which remains the rare compassionate and caring human wizard who achieves great power but is still a good person without being an avatar or angel et cetera. Pug stands in stark contrast to DragonLance’s Raistlin Majere who was mostly selfish and cruel like an 80’s incel when he arrives into his power.

Another of the rare “human” wizards are Ged from Ursula K LeGuin’s Earthsea books and the bard Arithon and Jaric Firelord from two of Janny Wurts’s series. Too often you see the powerful lose their compassion in games, movies, and books unless they are somehow “other” such as Superman or Gandalf both of which are aliens in a world of men.

Comic Books:

Planetary by Warren Ellis is entertaining with a lot of different settings and shows really how to delay certain reveals to later points in your campaign. Don’t tell your players everything at once. Warren Ellis has a whole suite of great comics from Transmet which is great for a more fun wild story in the far future to Injection which I highly recommend for those trying to inject a “rational” system of magic in the modern day. Global Frequency I just outright stole from for a set of one-shots when I knew that some players were going to be absent. In the comic Trees, aliens come to the earth and don’t recognize us as sentient.

Saga is a must-read for entertainment but for a storyteller, it opens up a setting with a war between magic and science and a multitude of worlds and species. Well fleshed out characters and an overarching story with clearly defined story arcs under the umbrella of the love child between two species at war. Players will probably benefit the most with reading this for a little help getting a good backstory.

Beasts of Burden is a solid series over the decade involving talking dogs and cats. I’ve run a few different games with sentient animals including one inspired by Cliff Simak’s short stories bundled in City.

Hellblazer and John Constantine are pretty hard to beat for a mainstream comic book involving magic in a superhero world (DC). I’ve read at least a few hundred issues.

The Unwritten, Fables, and Ever After are fertile ground with a multitude of worlds with fictional leakage, reality hacking, and many excellent bad guys. Where are fables have become real. There is also a pretty good video game based on it. Not all the offshoots are created equal though.

Harbinger and the rest of the Valiant Universe provide solid stories and characters in a universe that strives to make sense despite being weird and containing wildly different character types. If you’re looking to make a game world with a lot of different play types and power sources then you would be well served to look here. Living alien body armor and African voodoo Loahs in the same world as psychic greek Buddhist monks from the time of Alexander the Great and CEO’s capable of taking over small nations.

Check out Paper Girls for a wild run with some young heroes traversing time and universes. Good for ideas on how to run a campaign with younger PC’s.

For fantasy, it is hard to beat Rat Queens for a good raunchy and wild time in a D&D style setting. There are two different runs with slightly different stories. I particularly like the Lovecraftian plotline and the orc side issue.

For world building, it is hard to beat Monstress. I really want to make a game in this world and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It is still new so not a whole lot has been revealed but if you’re wanting to build a world in a magic setting this is the comic to read.

If you’re going to run a superhuman game in the last century involving war then one of the two Uber series is the comic for you. During World War II the Nazis discover how to create super humans capable of leveling cities and deploy them shortly before the Allies started winning. It is violent, depressing, and gory like war would be with superhumans involved.

The Wicked and the Divine is an easy world for a storyteller to steal a campaign from. It is a normal modern world in which people become gods for two years and then die. I think this would be great for new players because they don’t know what they’re doing and neither do their characters compared to settings that demand the players know a lot to be able to function.

Garth Ennis’s The Boys is the kind of comic to read when you want to overturn everything that is the normal superhero setting. It is NSFW! I heard it is going to be made into a tv show which would be hard to manage.


I was growing the most as a storyteller in the mid to late 90’s so it probably isn’t too big of a surprise that that is the era with the most movies for me to recommend. I will just make a short list as there is Wikipedia, IMDB, and rotten tomatoes to explain them.

Dark City is the movie I recommend most as a source of inspiration for a new GM running a solo adventure. It may also be my favorite movie which is a hard thing to pin down but it is wonderful if you haven’t seen it. Dark City had the unfortunate fate to come out at the same time as the Matrix. In that era, SF movies didn’t have a deep bench of fans that bought movie tickets and everyone was talking about the Matrix. The Thirteenth Floor and Existenz had a similar problem.

Fallen with Denzel Washington is another movie that makes for a great solo campaign as a police detective goes toe to toe with a spirit/angel/demon that can possess what it can touch. Great for ideas on how to build tension and how to reward investigation and problem-solving. Sometimes you can’t swing a sword and win a fight.

Incredibles and its sequel are just great films for running a supers game and for running kid characters with middle-aged parents.

Excalibur was my first big fantasy movie and it still has a magic that is hard to beat. Patrick Stewart in plate armor should be enough of a draw for any of my younger friends but the Merlin in this is my core base when I make a cunning and powerful good magus in my imagination. The Princess Bride I watched a few years later and is also a favorite fantasy epic.

TV Shows:

Hard to beat Babylon 5 for SF settings and for being one of the first tv series that had short, medium, long, and series-long story arcs written by JMS and Harlan Ellis mostly it had a lot of famous director’s like Neil Gaiman. As I’ve grown older I’ve rewatched the series a few times and while the first season remains the weakest I no longer see the Shadow War as the best part of the series and lean with the fifth season with Lando as the pinnacle of the show and G’kar as the character who developed the most. Delenn is my favorite woman/alien on TV as a character and is arguably the core of the show.

Rome is a gorgeous show filled with politics and intrigue. Absolutely one of the best shows and highest production values ever made. If you’re going to make or run a political game then you’d be well served by a bit of “Even you Brutus?”

Game of Thrones is probably up there with Lord of the Rings when people think fantasy worlds and both the books and the tv show are well made and entertaining. Read or watch this series to learn how to be ruthless as a GM.

Dark Matter is just “sci-fi” or SF lite but it is a great example of how to throw a bunch of characters into a world they know nothing about and just try and wing surviving it. Fun show to watch while surfing the web on your phone or reading a novel. This is an example of something that isn’t a pinnacle of storytelling still being a totally valid source for ideas.

Video Games:

Microprose’s Darklands taught me how to make campaigns that last centuries. I had a world in which I had three different campaigns and it was only at the end of the third that the players realized that all three campaigns were on the same world separated by time and geography as the heroes of the third campaign get helped before the gates of hell with an artifact that their PC’s in the first campaign had recreated. Two of the PC’s in the first campaign had retired upon having a child so the now elderly child who grew up on a different continent was the protector of the crown that opened up the way to hell and prevented the devils from attacking them.

More modern games like the Harebrained Schemes Shadowrun games are a lot of fun to play, inexpensive to play, and some of the mods are very good. Older games like Psychonauts or LA Noire are still worth checking out for puzzle ideas or detective games.

The Dragon Age series is good fantasy fun with a surprisingly deep setting. The first game is more strategic while the second has a stronger focus on the personal and the third shows a more strategic perspective as the leader of a large organization rather than a ragtag band of heroes.

Civilization by Sid Meier is dear to my heart and that is how I learned about world history as a kid. I ran a Palladium Transdimensional RPG with mutant centaur-like Mongols because I played Genghis Khan in the first Civilization game. Learn about other peoples and how tech and society fit together and you’ll make better settings.

Witcher 3 goes far beyond the previous installations and is the best game which I’ve played that you control just one character. Fantastic setting.

Star Control 2 was the inspiration for my first Gurps: Space campaign with some elements of Traveller RPG which taught me hexadecimal and the idea of antigathic medicine as an 8-year old whose second PC ever died during the process of making the character. Looks like they are making a new one which I will have to try out just for nostalgia’s sake. You’re a spaceship on adventure visiting new solar systems in the game and get to upgrade your ship and learn the importance of diplomacy with aliens.

Roleplaying Games:

Don’t hesitate to try out other settings or systems for ideas.

I started out with AD&D, Gamma World, and Traveller as a little brat and in middle school moved on to TMNT, Beyond the Supernatural, AD&D 2nd Edition, and Talislanta.

In high school, Shadowrun, Ars Magica, and Amber Diceless ruled the roost and I even in one nearly fatal experiment tried out the World of Synnibar which almost clobbered one of my mates in the head after I tripped and fell forward with the book. That gamebook should be read for how NOT to design a game but it did give me a few ideas despite the system.

As an adult, I ran a very long World of Darkness campaign focused on Mage: The Awakening and continued playing Shadowrun, Amber, and Ars Magica.

Recently, as a father and having moved to a different city I mostly just read rather than run games but with Monte Cook’s “No Thank you, Evil!” that has changed giving me the opportunity to run games for my little boy.

If I was going to run a game today it would be in Bruce Cordell’s The Strange. The Cypher system is remarkably similar to a system and setting that I was working on for years but much more polished and easier to run. The Strange is closely aligned with my old Amber/Ember and Mage games and is a great setting with lots of possibilities and the same is true of the Numenara setting.

Shadowrun is a wonderful setting and I’ve loved running and playing the pen and paper games and the old and new video games in that setting but the mechanics are just not conducive to my style anymore. I’d recommend reading material for running games in any setting.

Gurps has made well researched and put together gaming books for years and if you are running a game it doesn’t hurt to pick up one of their sourcebooks that might tie-in to the genre or setting your running your game in.

Ars Magica is the setting to check out if you’re wanting to run a fantasy or grounded medieval game. When Wizards of the Coast owned D&D and Ars Magica at the same time they put out joint products and I would recommend getting Ars Magica books if you’re running a D&D or Pathfinder game. The lead designer for 3e was the lead designer of Ars Magica so a lot of ideas have already cross-pollinated.

Card Games:

Magic: The Gathering and On the Edge were great one-on-one games and Jyhad: The Eternal Struggle and Illuminati by Steve Jackson Games were a blast if you could get a few people together that were devious and had the natures of sneaky cunning weasels…so most gamers!

I was dead tired once running a fantasy Gurps game and just used some mana to decide on a terrain type that the PC’s were traveling on and then modded some creatures of that type to the game and made it through the game with no prep at all just winging it with some magic cards I visited while taking bathroom breaks so no one had a clue. Just have fun and use what you can. The players loved all the combat since I normally ran more intrigue and social games so they thought I was inspired instead of exhausted.


If you’re a new storyteller I hope I’ve given you some ideas for media to watch to help expand your repertoire and if you’re an older storyteller or player I hope this was an enjoyable walk through memory lane. Feel free to comment and leave your favorite media below.

I hope this blog post gives you a good idea or encourages you to try out some new media for gaming ideas. Thanks for reading.





The Many-folded Lands: The Prime and the origin of the Abyss

Featured Image: Aron Klein: Kukeri Project

“Fresh recruits?”

The assembled men and women nodded or grunted at the lady speaking. Her tusks gleam as she walks around the bonfire which illuminates her brightly colored garb and the terrifying mask attached to her belt like a buckler or dagger.

“This is going to be tough. Less than one in ten of you made it through Horizon boot camp so you probably think you’re tough because you were the biggest baddest mooks on your homeworlds.”

“The kukeri training is intense and we stand to ensure trade is the only thing that happens here and no denizen of the Abyss decides to go on a vacation to this miserably cold and barren world. We must prevent any souls from being harvested without proper compensation or trade will break down and then invasion is inevitable as they will see us as too weak to be useful other than to be incorporated into being a part of a layer of the Abyss. And Gruumsh forbids any Tanurukk to get loose again.”

“This very Minkowski Tower we stand outside of is a Hellmouth linked to a trade fortress we have established at an unaffiliated crossroads in-between several Abyssal layers on the river Styx. From the “many-folded lands” point of view, we are now standing in the Abyss albeit a part of the thin lands.  The portal underneath the Tower allows direct and easy travel from this world to Fort Zant and its bazaar.”

“I suppose most of you don’t even know the slightest thing about the Abyss other than the tales a shaman or skald tells to scare children around a campfire at night.”

“I don’t know the absolute truth of it but here is the legend I heard from Colonel Ilneval’s valourous skald when I last visited Fort Zant.”

“During the First Age but after the prime dreamed this eggs of the first worlds it began walking the dreamtree out of wanderlust and seeking novelty. Finally, it found the font or pool at the heart or base of the tree that fed the tree and all within it. Looking down at the well the prime saw nothing but itself. For an eternity it stared hoping for a response but nothing was revealed.”

“Then prime delved deep into the heart and the ocean became the same in all directions with no clues about up or down or left or right. For the first time, the prime felt panic and then terror. At last, it screamed.”

“Never before had the prime dreamer felt pain or doubt. This suffering gave birth to the first of the logos attuned to the emotions and experiences it felt while all alone in the crushing deep. Loneliness, loss of hope, and pain became real in the dreamsea. The first children fought each other and their blood and desires disturbed the purity of the deep and mixed with the prime’s tears. In the patterns etched by all of their experiences, the dreamer dreamed the first runes revealed like blood twisting and twirling slowly in a bath.”

“The prime screamed into the deep and in the echoes, the logos discovered the prime and language was born from that meeting. Joy now gave birth to new logos as did love and anger. A great host of logos and ideas were born and more and more began wandering and exploring the nascent Abyss.

“In time the greatest of the logos began shaping their environment with these primal tongues and runes. In wonder, the prime began writing the story of how to be a maker and with this toolset, the prime and the logos sang the first planes into existence with the prime guiding any of the logos who sought to create a home of their own. From that moment the logos would seek to create or if they could create they would seize a planar home for their own as the pinnacle of achievement laid down by the prime dreamer.”

“In the Prime Era, the Abyss had no layers around it as this was before the world eggs hatched our mortal kind and our worlds and much before the dread invasion.”

“I will skip the rest but a key concept is to understand that the Abyss is the most important thing in the cosmos. It is what the aberrations want to enter more than anything else. This is why the celestials haven’t marched in and destroyed every fiend and demon prince they could find for it is the fiends who protect the cosmos from the aboleths, beholders, and illithid aberrations.

“The layers of the Abyss shroud the heart of reality like those little Matryoshka dolls at the Bazaar with dolls within dolls within dolls. They are powered by the Abyss with each layer as you go deeper each ruled by a stronger and mighter lord or lady or cabal as if the Abyss is a sun and the many layers are empowered by the radiance. The masters of the Abyss include every major power from an alliance of mostly Githborn Grey Captains raiding the Astral and Abyssal Seas to a former Feywild Druid Circle and a Dragon-King of Athas. As time goes on the layers morph and eat other layers or unaligned planes as their masters grow stronger or shed regions as they grow weaker.”

“The nine deepest layers of the Abyss are commonly known as the Nine Hells with Nessus nestled next to the heart of the cosmic tree. It is Asmodeus who guards us all against the fickle treacheries of demons and the fearsome nature of the aberrations. Access to the heart is necessary for the birth of truly new and unique planar domains rather than just extensions or enhancements to existing planes or demiplanes.”

“Colonel Ilnevel hasn’t yet learned how to master an Abyssal layer so at the moment the plane is slowly shrinking and ceding territory to nearby rivals but Horizon and Sigil scholars are hopeful that we can decrypt more of the Primal runes or trade for knowledge so we can better defend the Abyss from aberrations and defend ourselves from overzealous fiends who consider it their duty to conquer the weak. Remember though that while at the Hellmouth this is considered the Abyss and the Fiends will face final death should they die here so any that manage to do so the intelligent will often be quite cautious for fiends.”

“That is enough legends for today. Get some rest for tomorrow we will go over combat strategies against Fiends and the types of Fiends you will likely face on the field.”



I hope you enjoyed my little story. Wanted to get it out before Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes came out and before what I read there would color my story.

The Kukeri Tradition is pretty neat and just begging for adoption in a game involving demons.

The many folded (manifold) lands is a cosmos I created after a war between the logos or gods/demons with the mortal worlds against the aberrations in which abominations like aboleths or illithids conquered entire swathes of the prime material plane and sought to gain access to the Abyss so they could create their own planes in their own images and displace the vast dreaming completely. The Horizon guild operates Towers as bases and portals throughout the material planes and the planes of the dreaming tree. The Horizon walkers are the most well known of the guild and will often travel alone to worlds unaware of the greater comings and goings of the cosmos and join groups of adventurers or nudge groups of successful adventurers to places and situations they can be useful to the Guild and even eventually join.

A key idea is that while the blood war is happening it is pursued for the power to fight the aberrations as each side thinks of the other as weak and that they should die so that their resources could be used by better more competent and powerful beings. It also shows why “good” gods and celestials don’t just slaughter all the distracted “bad guys.” The fiends serve a purpose and a big part of their power comes from the abyss or from the souls or lifeforce of mortals. The infernals tend to see mortals as mostly useless and good only for fuel or food. Powerful fiends like to forge fallen souls into magic items and then trade those items to useful semi-competent mortals who happen to be their descendants.

Devils don’t trust demons and rumors of demons being suborned or dominated by aberrations are spread by agents of the Lords of the Nine as part of their propaganda. They may be right. A demonic aberration would be a fearsome thing to face.

Since the river Styx flows through all the layers of the Abyss it is the key point of travel, war, and trade. It is not uncommon for the river to have tributaries pass through it at hellmouths in the material and elemental planes. There are rumors of powerful fae and celestials having their own hellmouths feeding into the Styx and supporting abyssal vassals.

If the devils could stop the flow of the river Styx they would do so and starve the other layers but demon hordes invade and prevent any serious attempt done so far by Asmodeus or other Lord.

Kukeri Training:

(A Technique or “Half-Feat” that can be combined with another Technique or with an Ability increase). Gain Natural Explorer (Abyssal Lands) and Favored Enemy: Fiends from the Ranger list when in the Abyss or a “thin-lands” adjacent to a Portal called Hellmouths as the Abyss will flow into the region around an open Portal and these thin-lands operate much like the Feywild or Shadowfell do. The character gains the Abyssal language from the Favored Enemy ability.

Kukeri Mask:

Wondrous Item, rare, requires attunement and Kukeri Training Technique.

This mask makes Abyssal creatures uncomfortable granting them Disadvantage on social skill checks when the mask is worn by an attuned user and allows the user to see the abyssal connections and traces like truesight pertaining to Abyssal Fiends and their magic. This makes it immediately obvious to any Kukeri trained individual anyone who is in servitude to a Fiend of the Abyss via an infernal brand or mark but wouldn’t reveal a mercenary who was doing paid labor for a Fiend.

D&D House Rules:

Origin of the Abyss

Combat Overhaul


Character Creation Backgrounds

Crafting, Magic Items, and Economics

Familiarity, Proficiency, and Expertise

Character Focus

Tactics of Mistake


No Thank You, Evil!: The Trouble with Quibbles Adventure


The ENnie Award-Winning Game of Make-believe for Creative Kids and Their Families

If you have kids and like to roleplay then you need to get No Thank you, Evil! from Monte Cook Games LLC. If you haven’t heard of Monte Cook but you’ve been gaming for a while you’ve probably played a game influenced by them at some point. I really enjoy the worlds and game system employed by Numenara a game in the far future and the Strange which reminds me of the comics Injection, Fables, and the Unwritten and both are really solid game worlds worth checking out.

No Thank you, Evil! is a creativity game that is designed from the beginning to be played by kids of various ages and development so you can have five-year-old and a twelve-year-old play the same game at the same time and both have fun.

I have some monsters and a lightly sketched adventure for the game below that I think could be a lot of fun once you’ve gone past the included adventures in the book or could work as a good introduction connecting the players to a lot of different places in Storia.

I currently only have the main set but I will most certainly be picking up the other products for my six-year-old as needed.

The Trouble with Quibbles:

  1. A Call for Help
  2. Figure out the problem
  3. Solve the problem
  4. Celebrate!



In this adventure, a Quibble family moves into Young McDonald’s Horn of Plenty Farm and causes chaos by eating all the food. The OK knight was hired first to solve the problem because the Good Knight was busy fighting the Bad Knight. The OK Knight decided to fight the Quibbles with his favorite battleax “Splitting Hares” and instead of killing the Quibbles it with each swing and a hit made two Quibbles where there was only one! Now the Quibbles are everywhere eating all the food in this area of Storia.

Players must go to the farm and investigate the situation and find a solution that saves the day!


1. A Call for Help! (Read Aloud letter)

A scroll embossed with a big “MC” marked into red candlewax arrives addressed to one of the heroes delivered by a sleepy and disheveled night owl who has obviously not had enough sleep which drops the scroll at your feet and barely manages to not spill the coffee cup and mountain dew can in its beak and claws while doing so. It flies away “Into the Closet” muttering under its breath.

Depending on players maybe just one visit to the most fantasy based PC who will then gather the rest of the troupe or if they don’t know each other then each one will be visited by the night owl and each player will arrive at the farm separately but at the same time.

“To whom it may concern, 

Noble sir, we have an emergency. I am in dire need of assistance from a professional hero. I have recently been put in charge of the Horn of Plenty Farm and something has gone terribly wrong. Some sort of furry baseball sized critters have infested it and are eating all the food! Without the Horn of Plenty providing food for the Hex Kitchen and the Giants of Beanstalk Castle then we will have a disaster! Please come immediately by following the night owl and save the day!


Sir Young McDonald.”

After reading a map labeled “Into the closet” falls out onto the floor labeled with an X between The Beanstalk and Hex Kitchen.

? Ask the players what they take with them and if they do anything to prepare or go straight to the closet or if they notify their friends to take them with them on the adventure.

? You can ask the first player what the night owl looks like to get the players used to being co-creators of the world. You can ask them to draw it for you.

? Don’t let the players get to distracted by the setup but give them enough time to reasonably get started by reminding the player of the urgency of the letter.


Young McDonald’s Farm:




2. Figure out the problem

The players arrive at the farm passing a normal looking horn of plenty before coming to the farm which has dozens or hundreds of furry Quibbles bouncing around while Young McDonald is swinging a broom around trying to sweep them away from his barn entrance.

“Oh, thank goodness you’re here!” gushes the man. “Come with me to the farmhouse and I’ll tell you everything.”

? At this point the players can ask questions of Young McDonald and find out how he just started as the head of the farm and that one day a few furry baseball sized critters moved into one of the horns of plenty and started eating up everything. Then he hired the OK Knight to get rid of them and now they are everywhere and the OK knight has disappeared with his payment!

? If the players ask who ran the farm earlier YMC will say it was a very nice lady named Amalthea who is visiting her friend Lily Cobra at the Cannibal Gardens in the “Under the bed” part of Storia.

? If the players ask for a reward YMC says each will get 2 coins, 1 fun, and a special treat from the horn of plenty. YMC may also say that if they can they can keep any coins they get from the OK Knight for making the problem worse.

?If they ask if anything had changed since then YMC will say there used to be a lot of goats on the farm but they all left for some reason.

?If the players go around and ask other characters on the farm they will find out that Ol’ Scarecrow the foreman in charge of the garden hates mushrooms so he scared a bunch of ravens to pick the trumpet mushrooms and dispose of them for a few pieces of shiny magic quartzes he found by the Beanstalk creek.

? Ask the players what they want to do.

? If they try and talk to the Quibbles they may notice that there are four different Quibbles and all the Quibbles are copies of these four.

Mrs. Disputer Quiddity likes to argue about anything and everything. She is gray and the biggest of the Quibbles and is the only one likely to start a physical fight if annoyed. She would be really dangerous if she would fight together with the other versions of her.

Level: 3 Health: 6 Damage: Bite 1 Skill: Say a mean thing that makes the hero cry if they fail a Smart Goal 3 roll and they lose their next action. Quirk: Kill her with kindness. She takes 3 points of damage for every sincere compliment.

Mr. Cavil Quiddity grumbles about how things used to be better and how he liked his home outside of Boom! Laboratories in the “Out the Window” realm of Storia but it was never good enough for his wife. He is green and can be jealous of the other versions of himself if they seem happier.

Level: 2 Health: 4 Damage: Bite 1 Skill: Will start telling a boring story about work which does 3 damage if you fail a Fast 3 Goal to run away. Quirk: Tell Mr. Cavil about how much better the other Mr. Cavil’s are at something which causes 2 points of damage per statement.

Baby Quirk Quiddity likes to roll in dirt and mud and then fling it everywhere. Because of the mud you can never tell what color is supposed to be but depending on the mud he is usually black or brown.

Level: 2 Health: 2 Damage: Bite 1 Skill: Splatter mud everywhere ruining your nice outfit for 1 damage to everything in ten feet. Quirk: Takes 2 damage if you clean somehow the mud out of its fur like with a water hose.

Kid Whimsey Quiddity is probably the only Quibble likely to be friendly to the heroes. She likes to hear about adventures and might talk to the heroes if they talk about their escapades.

Level: 2 Health: 3 Damage: Bite 1 Skill: Starts playing or doing something and if you fail a Smart Goal of 3 you replace your next action with playing her game. Quirk: Will stop fighting if the players offer to tell her stories or play with her for real.

3. Solve the problem

There are a few possible solutions depending on how the players tackle the adventure.

They can conk out all the Quibbles and take them somewhere else. In this case, the Quibbles will come back or another family or two of Quibbles will come for the first time now that it is open to them.

They can hire guardians who will keep any Quibbles from coming back. They can get the Ravens to pester the Quibbles until they give up but as soon as they stop the Quibbles will come back and part deux of the adventure begins again from an annoyed YMC.

If the players find out that the Quibbles hate goats and get the Ravens to tell them about where the mushrooms are then the players can replant the trumpet mushrooms that were dumped in a pile on the side of the road to Hex Kitchen and the goats will come back which will keep the Quibbles away. The mushrooms can also be a treat for one of the heroes’ companions.


The players can go find Amalthea then they can have adventures going to the Land under the Bed and run into the ghoul school, dead center, the dark dark or other landmarks on the way to the Cannibal Gardens.

Amalthea is very much a mothering figure and is friendly and understanding to the heroes. She can return back to the farm but only if the heroes help with some troublesome plant in the gardens! Amalthea can provide 2 hints to the heroes when they arrive on how to solve the problem. After the heroes have tried to complete the adventure she can give one more hint.

Amalthea could also bring a cannibal plant that likes to eat Quibbles if they wander too close to it if they succeed and impress Lily Cobra and if she knows about the reason for their visit.

The heroes can find the Ok Knight who is terribly sorry about the whole situation but doesn’t want to give up the 8 coins he was paid but will do so if threatened (Goal: Tough 5) or (Goal: Smart: 6) or if persuaded (Goal: Smart 5). If the heroes decide to fight the OK Knight he should be a good challenge for the whole party and his ax ‘Splitting hares’ should be very dangerous to non-quibbles. When the ax hits Quibbles it splits them into two versions of the Quibble that are basically identical. Most other things it splits them into two non-functioning halves.

The heroes can go to Boom! Laboratories and visit with the nearby homes of the other Quibble families and find out what Quibbles like and dislike. They may also go and talk to Dr. T. Bone. Rex who is in charge of all the experiments. The Quibbles were a creation of the “What Does This Taste Like? Laboratory” and a great disappointment to the Doctor. He was hoping for something yummy but the Quibbles only taste yummy for the first couple and start making his tummy ache if he eats too many in a sitting. So, he let them leave the lab and settle the nearby Quibble village in exchange for helping him with various explosive tests. If the players can convince him to help them he can write a letter or offer the Quibbles to come back. He will become very interested in hearing about the OK Knight’s ax and starts muttering about live tests for the explosive tests and the ethics of cloning and the rights of the cloned.

The heroes can convince most of the Quibbles to leave and provide a small section for them to live in without being bothered.

The heroes can try and reverse the clonings and make all the Quibbles become just one by visiting the Hex Kitchen and she can make a batch of Quibble Management cookies if she gets the right ingredients! There are some bandit gingerbread men loose in the forest that will have to be dealt with to find the right subtractives and additives to balance the hex magic equation which will merge the extra Quibbles to the originals after they eat the cookies.

If the solution the players come up with is temporary than the Quibbles will come back!



4. Celebrate!

Different solutions can get different rewards but success should net coins, treats, new friends, and maybe new stuff like a laser gun from Boom! or a pet plant from Cannibal Gardens or cookie jar that never empties from the Hex Kitchen.


If after reading my adventure you’d like to buy the game it is available at the Monte Cook Games Store.

The Monte Cook Games logo, Numenera, and the Numenera logo are trademarks of Monte Cook Games, LLC in the U.S.A. and other countries. All Monte Cook Games characters and character names, and the distinctive likenesses thereof, are trademarks of Monte Cook Games, LLC. Content on this site or associated files derived from Monte Cook Games publications is © 2013-2017 Monte Cook Games, LLC. Monte Cook Games permits web sites and similar fan-created publications for their games, subject to the policy given at The contents of this site are for personal, non-commercial use only. Monte Cook Games is not responsible for this site or any of the content, that did not originate directly from Monte Cook Games, on or in it. Use of Monte Cook Games’s trademarks and copyrighted materials anywhere on this site and its associated files should not be construed as a challenge to those trademarks or copyrights. Materials on this site may not be reproduced or distributed except with the permission of the site owner and in compliance with Monte Cook Games policy given at

D&D 5e House Rules: Shields

Featured Image from i33 the earliest known martial art treatise from the middle ages. The image shows each with an arming sword and a boss held buckler.

There are lots of different shields in history and they are used a lot more like a weapon than depicted in movies and television where shields just passively sit on your arm like a piece of armor rather than an active participant in the battle.

Rather than making a whole lot of distinctions between bucklers, bucklers with sharp points on them, rotellas, targes, targas, rotellas, tower shields, kite shields, and Viking shields I’m just going to make a few categories for them to fall into.

One thing to consider is that the difference between a small buckler and a tower shield is greater than the difference between a dagger and a greatsword. It seems a bit strange to have them be treated as effectively the same.

For roleplaying purposes, there are two major splits with shields. Those held in a boss grip and those held with a strap. Below is a buckler or what I categorize as a “Dueling Shield” from a site called Steel Master. Underneath that is a reproduction of a boss held Viking Shield by the merchant Armstreet and a plate from Capo Ferro with fighters holding strapped shields of a type I categorize as “war shields”.





Those held with a strap can allow you to hold something in your hand like a torch or a backup weapon to throw at an enemy before melee starts. It was a standard thing to hold onto anything from a spear or a javelin or a throwing axe in your shield hand so you could transfer it to your main hand before your enemy reached you.

The strap based shields are good on horseback allowing you to hold the reins in your shield hand. The negatives are that it is harder to be active and to use the shield like a weapon though you can hold the straps in your hand like a boss shield to get more control unfortunately that takes away from the advantage of being able to have something in your hand.

Boss shields are held in a grip at the center of the shield. Most shields until the late middle ages are of this design from small bucklers to large Viking shields. Shields of this design could get quite large in history.



This is another large shield I categorize as a “Body Shield” which is wielded with two hands shown in Talhoffer below:


As you can see there are a lot of different types of shields and they are used in different ways but they are a weapon not a piece of armor and knowing a bit more about them can allow you to be more entertaining in battle descriptions and even add a bit of fluff to your roleplaying. Is your shield round or teardrop shaped? Is it a rectangular buckler and does it have a spike or dagger sticking out to add damage? Is it concave or convex?

Another thing is to consider the materials the shield is made of. Viking shields usually had a metal center or boss attached to wood and bound with leather. Some shields have metal edges. Some shields are made entirely of metal. If so when they get hit they can make quite a sound…which can be a great explanation for why the knight botched their stealth roll by clinging their shield like a bell against something metal. Wood shields were often used to trap blades in them as the blade would get stuck and then disarmed which can be a tool for a DM to use to explain terrible rolls or for a player to use when the DM says the Barbarian is making wild swings so they can use their action to interpose the shield to purposefully disarm the “Buffel” relying on strength rather than proficiency.

For game flavor, you can even impose repairs during the night or stops in towns to replace shields. Good use of the mending cantrip for roleplaying so the Paladin can grudgingly appreciate the value of the meddling wizard.

Game Mechanics:

I had a lot of feedback about my original rules being overcomplicated so I’ve endeavored to fix that. I have split shields into three general categories called Dueling Shield, War Shield, and Body Shield with a game mechanic section and a bit on the social use of carrying a shield of that type in daily life. I’ve entered in a few suggestions on how to apply certain feats to the new rules and a new mechanic for shield warriors working together.

Handling proficiency with shields I recommend that rogues, barbarians, and bards have dueling shield proficiency since dueling shields particularly spiked bucklers were famously used by thieves and street bandits to the point where they often became illegal in some city-states. Fighters and Paladins should have all three types of shields. As a general rule think of bucklers as ubiquitous in almost every city in the Old World from India to Egypt to London for centuries by almost every combat trained nobleman or wannabe street tough. For flavor, at the end of this post, I have an optional rule to regard a “parrying dagger” as if it was mechanically identical to a spiked buckler as they are basically interchangeable. Most historical fencing tournaments today allow you the choice of parrying dagger or buckler and they are used in much the same fashion with different masters suggest different methods of using both depending on the century and locale. This lets you roleplay as a quite standard fighter of the renaissance with a sidesword and dagger without losing the AC and benefits from Dueling Fighting style.

War and Body Shields are martial tools used in war primarily with a bit of guard duty thrown in for the War Shields. Body Shields are a war or ceremonial item that normal people aren’t going to want to carry around unless they want to impress or they want to kill and not be killed.



Shields as Weapons:

Shields can be used to attack for 1d4 blunt damage or if spiked or otherwise weaponized may do 1d4 piercing damage instead. If used as an off-hand weapon the warrior can use a bonus action to make an attack. If you want to allow Two-Weapon Fighting to apply that can open up some interesting options though it does make the shield the dominant off-hand “weapon”. This is the case in history in almost all places and all times outside of Japan and in Northern Italy during the Renaissance when the sidesword/rapier and dagger became popular for civilian and dueling uses.


Shield Wall:

Warriors with the Protection fighting style can when using a War Shield or Body Shield provide to any adjacent warrior within five feet who also has a War or Body Shield to allow those adjacent warriors to use the Protection fighting style themselves should they not already have the fighting style as long as the target of the enemy is an adjacent warrior to them with a War or Body Shield.

This means that a trained fighter in a column can greatly fortify their comrades in arms. This can provide an in-game mechanic for how Greek phalanxes or Roman legions defeated enemies who on paper far surpassed them. Later on, Pike Squares would devastate cavalries in a similar united fashion.

Optional Feat Changes:

Shield Master increases the d4 for damage to d6. Keep in mind that with different types of shields the bonuses this feat provides will differ depending on the type of shield.

A Sentinel who is part of a Shield Wall formation may give the benefits of Sentinel to the warriors immediately adjacent to them who meet the same requirements as sharing the Protection fighting style.

This combined with Protection fighting style can make even a low-level group of fighters incredibly dangerous when fighting together. An elite fighter backed with two moderately proficient shield mates presents a new type of problem with this rule demanding new tactical approaches especially in an enclosed environment like a long hallway or a bridge or an Underdark tunnel.

Dueling Shield:

A boss held dueling buckler is small, quick, and active in battle. It is mostly used to trap swords, deflect attacks, bind weapons, to hide the movements of your other hand, close down lines of attack, protect the sword hand, and as a weapon to strike the throat, smash the face, and smack your opponent’s sword hand out of line to make it easier for your sword to strike or even disarm your opponent. Some versions have spikes and even stranger adaptions that were probably not martially savvy but intimidating or stylish.

These are the shields that civilians use because of convenience and ease of transport. You put a strap on the shield and hang it over your sword hilt so it doesn’t take up much space and it doesn’t interfere with your daily life. Some versions have a connection so you can hook it to your belt directly which is also very convenient. The buckler is a daily part of life carried by peoples all over the world from Ireland to India for thousands of years and no one is going to bat an eye at someone carrying one when doing their shopping at the market or watching an opera.

A Dueling Shield is 2 to 6 pounds on average depending on the material and is usually between about 10 inches to 18 inches in diameter. A dueling shield provides a + 1 to AC. If the warrior is proficient with Shields they can use a bonus action move the shield to cover the center line. This action grants a bonus to AC equal to half your Proficiency bonus from attacks coming from that specific opponent. Later you can spend another bonus action to move the shield to cover the line of attacks from a different opponent.

Has the “light” weapon property.

War Shield:

This is a martial weapon for war, defense, or threat of war. Most people aren’t going to want to carry with their hand a boss held Viking shield all day and even a strap shield on your arm can get exhausting after a few hours. Depending on size and shape you might have your shield strapped to your back, on the side of a wagon or boat, or carried by a squire or auxiliary. In daily life, you are most likely to see Medium Sized Shields carried by town guards, bodyguards, mercenaries, hunters going after large dangerous game, people in ceremonies, and soldiers.

A War Shield is 5 to 12 pounds depending on the material and two to three feet in diameter with many shapes and sizes. A War Shield provides +2 to AC. As a reaction, the warrior can “duck under cover” and counts as half cover against ranged attacks until the start of your next turn.

Body Shield:

This is a martial weapon designed to be used in war while in a formation. It is heavy and bulky making it dangerous to run with and for most non-warriors, it will quickly cause exhaustion just carrying it let alone using it. It is slow and bulky making it a liability to a warrior by themselves or when flanked compared to a War Shield which is more nimble.

Socially, someone walking around with a Body Shield outside of a war zone or as part of their duty would be looked at askance and have Disadvantage on social tests not involving Intimidation. Carrying a body shield around to buy a chicken at the market would be the equivalent of going to Target with a SWAT Riot Shield in your hand. If you’re not a police officer or a Hollywood extra on a movie shoot you’re likely to scare people or make people very uncomfortable unless you can spin why you have it out into a good story. You’re also likely to bump people or knock over things in crowded spaces carrying a shield larger than some people.

A Body Shield is more than 10 pounds depending on material with many being over 20 pounds and at least four feet in length on one dimension. A Body Shield provides +3 to AC. Because of its size and bulk carrying a Body Shield halves movement speed. It is also quite heavy which can affect encumbrance as well further slowing down a weak character and also has the “heavy” weapon property. 

When carrying a Body Shield in front of them a warrior benefits from half-cover against ranged attacks. As a reaction, the warrior can “duck under cover” and counts as three-quarter cover against ranged attacks until the start of your next turn.

Because holding a Body Shield blocks vision unless it is made of a material like Glassteel and opaque to sight it gives you disadvantage on Perception and Investigation checks.


Optional Rule: Parrying Dagger

Since Parrying Daggers are basically dueling shields with spikes as far as game mechanics you can use a Parrying Dagger instead of a Dueling Shield with no change other than roleplaying or mechanically for fighting styles via Dueling or Two-Weapon Fighting depending on how you rule that. You can’t throw a Parrying Dagger effectively but you can be very effective dealing piercing damage or blunt damage with a hammer strike with the pommel or a punch with a quillon or with the Nagel, ring, or sail. A large parrying dagger is 19 inches long and a large buckler or dueling shield is about 18 inches long so even the size is basically the same. An advantage of seeing a parrying dagger as mechanically a shield is that you can then easily use a rapier or sidesword and parrying dagger together without issues and with the same effectiveness as with a dueling shield.

The above image is a Parrying Dagger made by Marco Danelli.

For more information about real combat check out the freely provided treatises of the historical masters at Wiktenauer.

If you’re interested in HEMA or Historical European Martial Arts please check out my other blog: A Novice’s Guide to HEMA.

D&D House Rules:

Origin of the Abyss

Combat Overhaul


Character Creation Backgrounds

Crafting, Magic Items, and Economics

Familiarity, Proficiency, and Expertise

Character Focus

Tactics of Mistake


D&D 5e House Rules: Combat Overhaul using the OODA Loop

Featured image of OODA Loop By Patrick Edwin Moran – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

<Edit> I just found a really unique to me house rule called Variant Shared Turn Combat on Reddit on the Unearthed Arcana subreddit and I’m amazed at the production value and quality ideas.</Edit>

The above diagram is a depiction of the OODA Loop which is a tool for understanding how people make decisions. Many of the ideas I will be presenting use this framework and come from my homebrew game I’ve been designing and redesigning for years that works very well when transferred to D&D 5e.

With the OODA Loop you have four steps: Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.

The general structure of combat in the PHB 5e on page 189 is as follows:

  1. Determine Surprise
  2. Establish Positions
  3. Roll Initiative
  4. Take turns
  5. Begin the next round.

There are many ways the DM can handle showing combat whether with miniatures, physical or virtual maps or overlays, or purely via imagination and description.

I prefer if possible to use the fog of war during the initial setup and not let players know things they can’t perceive if possible. Having a second map or description available just to the DM can make it easier to show the movement of NPC’s in the fog of war for the DM that the PC’s do not know about. It can be fun to flank the PC’s and get the PC’s to think about flanking especially with mounts or vehicles in play.

I also would like to say that D&D is not supposed to be simulationist and works just fine as is. I offer my system to people who like a little more complexity and options in their battles and to add a bit of tactical confusion and surprise. There are some changes that can make things very different in your game as it shifts priority away from Dexterity towards Wisdom but I think that is actually more balanced.

I have not playtested this at all with D&D so if you’re interested in trying it out and letting me know what you think that would be awesome. Please just leave a comment about your experience. If I forgot something obvious please let me know as well. It is easy to make mistakes on this kind of thing.


My System:

  1. Determine Surprise (Keep in mind the fog of war for step 2)
  2. Observe (Explain what each PC perceives and Establish Positions)
  3. Orient (Roll Initiative)
  4. Decide (Based on Initiative and what the PC/NPC perceives then declare actions)
  5. Act (Take Turns.)
  6. Next Round

1. Determine Surprise:

Nothing changed in this step.

2. Observe:

It is important at this point to go over what each PC perceives prior to Initiative so that they can form an idea of what is going on based on their personal perspective not that of a Player who can see much more. So, if an ooze is slinking behind the wizard and the wizard doesn’t know they obviously won’t be casting a spell at it. This encourages a bit of roleplaying so the very perceptive Rogue who sees the ooze approaching his ally can take a free action to yell “Behind you Mage!” after stabbing the Orc in front of her which might confuse the Orc while alerting the wizard so they may change their mind and cast burning hands in front of them rather in front.

The DM also needs to keep in mind what the NPC’s perceive and how they react. Experienced soldiers used to working in tandem with each other are going to be much more difficult to deal with than expert duelists used to working one on one or a mob of amateurs.

3. Orient:

Here things start to depart from the PHB 5e rules.

A big change here is that in my system Initiative is how well you observe your environment and process information rather than in the PHB which focuses on how fast you can move your body. After all, why would Dexterity have anything to do with how fast and well you can observe a combat, make a decision, and say “Shazaam!”? It makes a lot more sense to use Wisdom here to represent a combination of perception, common sense decision making, intuition, and actions and reactions especially those actions that don’t have any real physical component.

D20 + (Wisdom Modifier) + Proficiency Modifier/Die

For diceless Initiative just use the PC/NPC’s Proficiency Modifier and have an automatic 20 for the roll. For more variable Initiative use the optional rule for Proficiency Dice in the DMG on Page 263 which replaces, for example, the +2 Proficiency Modifier with a +1D4.

One could even use both in a game depending on the situation. Use the variable Initiative when surprise, “boss” battles, or unusual combat is happening and for the more normal lineup of good guys here and bad guys here just use the diceless version instead.

The reasoning behind using Wisdom here instead of Dexterity I provided above and my reasoning for using the proficiency bonus is that handling and reacting to combat is a matter of experience.

For example, take a reasonably healthy and elderly Special Forces combat veteran and mentally they will be able to process a combat situation faster and in a more capable fashion than a novice character with world-class Dexterity. Leveraging that experience to process the OODA Loop is a big part of improving decision making and thus performance in combat be it social, mental, or physical and you can substitute talent only so far when competing against old age and treachery.

Once you have everyone’s Initiative totals you can either post them for all to see or you can keep them to yourself.

The highest Initiative total provides the number of Combat Phases in this Combat Turn.

For example:

Rogue: 30, Ooze: 23, Wizard 22, Orc 22.

Thus, there are 30 Phases in this turn.

If two characters are acting the turn or movement during the same phase both actions take place at the same time. Thus, you can have both characters stab each other in the heart and this happened quite commonly in history or characters charging each other would meet at some point in between the two warriors rather than one warrior charging across the battlefield while the other sits there.

Any action that would take place at 0 Phase or when the combat phase is in the negatives all happen at the same time. Thus, a character who used their entire move before swinging a sword would have their action take place on the 0 phase along with any other characters.

4. Decide:

At this point starting with this highest phase the DM has the characters decide what they are going to do in a descending fashion phase by phase allowing the characters to have started their round and have their action/s take place during or after their phase depending on the type of action.

Each action, maneuver, spell, or movement takes place during or after the round/phase the character scored in the Orient step of Combat.

Remember you still have only the actions you can do just like in the PHB even if you still have leftover Initiative after you attack or cast a spell. If you don’t use it up with actions or movement you lose it. So, if you attack during phase 15 and don’t want to move you don’t get more attacks to do later unless you have the extra attacks feature.

I am going to introduce a term called tempo which has various definitions depending on the martial tradition or master but in this case, tempo means how long it takes to complete an action. Each action has a tempo cost which tells you how much later the action actually takes place in since your Initiative score is simply how fast you were able to process the combat situation not the time it takes to perform an action.

Some martial masters have used the idea of hand, body, foot, and feet to describe combat, reaction, and initiative. This means that the tempo of moving your hand is fast, moving your body is a bit slower, moving one foot is slower than that, and moving both feet is the slowest. In other words, swinging a sword at an opponent in measure is faster than moving your torso/body back to dodge or forward on an attack. Moving a foot forward or back takes even longer and moving both feet is the slowest. In other words, it is faster to thrust a blade with just an arm movement vs an arm movement plus moving the body forward with the arm vs the arm, the body, and a foot forward such as when lunging vs the arm, body, and both feet in a shuffling strike.

To put this in perspective it takes longer for a warrior to walk 30 feet and swing a two-handed warsword than it does for the rogue to move 5 feet and backstab with a sgian dubh knife even if the warrior rolled a higher Initiative score which is how things stand now.

A character can under this system postpone their action or be indecisive. For example, a pikeman could see cavaliers and their horses charging towards him and plant her pike and ready themselves for the charge postponing their attack until the cavalier comes in range. Should the cavalier stop rather than coming into range the pikeman could charge forward instead or drop the pike and draw the loaded crossbow at their side and fire thus allowing more flexibility than the current system at the cost of more complexity for the DM and players to handle.

Actions and their Tempo:


For a second attack, the action takes place after the first one and any movement has subtracted from the initial Initiative. Starting Initiative of 10 and a heavy strike for on phase 7 and a second heavy strike for -3 for an attack on phase 4.

If the character is not Familiar, Proficient, or Expert with the weapon then add +2 to the Initiative Cost.

Heavy and Light Weapons have that trait listed with all others without that trait being regarded as Medium below.

Heavy Weapon Attack (Melee or Ranged): 3 Initiative Cost.

Medium Weapon Attack (Melee or Ranged): 2 Initiative Cost.

Light Weapon Attack (Melee or Ranged: 1 Initiative Cost. (Most Unarmed Strikes)

Loading a Weapon: 5 Initiative Cost.


Cantrip: 1 Initiative Cost.

Spells: (1 + Spell level) Initiative Cost.

Innate Spellcasting, Legendary Actions, and Special Abilities: 1 to 5. (DM should quickly decide based on the complexity and potency of the ability or power or the complexity of the situation.)

While the spellcaster is making magic they are vulnerable just as if they are Concentrating on a spell…because they are concentrating on the spell they are casting. This means not only does it take awhile to drop a major spell and thus adds difficulty to the tactical landscape it also means it is even more important to protect the big guns because if they take damage and lose concentration it can be the difference between an easy encounter and a deadly one.

For example, the Cleric has an Initiative of 15 and is casting a 6th level spell so their spell begins on Phase 15 and ends on Phase 8. If they get hit with a barrage of arrows and Magic Missiles they could lose Concentration and have their spell fizzle out. The spellcaster doesn’t lose the spell slot if they lose Concentration because they weren’t able to marshall the magic before getting distracted.

This can give a quick character a chance to use Arcana to recognize the spell the big baddie is casting and yell for the Archer to shoot the Wizard before they drop a Meteor Swarm on them. It also makes Counterspelling a bit more fun which counts as a Reaction below so it only has a 0 IC.

Skills, grappling, and non-combat actions like help, search, ): DM may add or subtract depending on the complexity of the skill use. This represents the simple automatic speed that develops from increased competency at a task. Picking a lock when you’re an expert and under pressure in combat is much faster than if you’re not an expert.

Unfamiliar: 4 Initiative Cost

Familiar: 3 Initiative Cost. (Jack of All Trades, Remarkable Athlete, or my house rule linked above.)

Proficient: 2 Initiative Cost.

Expert: 1 Initiative Cost.


Walking (base movement): 3 Initiative Cost per 5 feet

Dash: 2 Initiative Cost per 5 feet.

Sprint: 1 Initiative Cost per 5 feet. (Dash without gear, weapons, or any substantial encumbrance such as dropping everything and running for your life from the greek fire armory that a mage dropped a delayed blast fireball inside.)

Breaking up your move:

Walk 15 feet for a 15 Initiative Cost then cast a spell and use the remaining X (15) feet to get back undercover on the 0 Phase.

Use Object: 1 to 5 Initiative Cost based on the complexity of the object. Opening a stuck door may take longer than pressing a button.

Mounting: 10 – Dexterity Modifier

Dropping Prone: 1 Initiative Cost.

Standing up from “Prone”: 10 – Dexterity Modifier

Disengage: 1 Initiative Cost.

Dodge: 0 Initiative Cost.

Free actions: 1 Initiative Cost.

Quick Look Around: 1 Initiative Cost. Let’s the character get a quick scan of the environment for obvious things that don’t require a roll. Since things change dynamically during the round this can be important.

Reactions like Opportunity Attacks: Usually have a 0 Initiative Cost and take place at effectively the same time as the action that caused the reaction such as a Shield spell blocking an arrow.

Bonus Actions: Can take place before, after, or at the same time. For example, a Shield Master could do a shove before they do their attack or after. A Two-Weapon fighter could thrust forward with both daggers in simultaneously on the same phase or one after the other.

5. Act

Using the earlier example: Rogue: 30, Ooze: 23, Wizard 22, Orc 22. Thus, there are 30 Combat Phases.

Starting with the highest Initiative Score have the highest scorer decide what they want to do. So, the Rogue at Phase 30 would say I am probably moving 5 feet forward to stab the Orc after a quick look around. On Phase 29 the DM would tell the Rogue that an Ooze is slouching towards the Wizard but about 30 feet away. The Rogue has to decide whether to tell the Wizard and alert the orc or move forward and backstab the orc. She decides he should be fine and walks toward the orc and sneak attacks. So, the DM would go through Phase 28, 27, 26 (sneak attack with sgian dubh a light weapon -1 IC) and on Phase 25 rolls for damage and kills the orc. Now on phase 24, she yells at the wizard “Behind you!”.

On phase 23 the Ooze starts sliming up to the Wizard but is 30 feet away. It will have closed five feet by phase 20. The Wizard on phase 22 panics and flings a firebolt cantrip at the Ooze without thinking and hits without killing the ooze. The cantrip had a cost of 1 IC so on phase 21 the Wizard turns and walks toward the Rogue keeping an eye on the ooze. Both the Wizard and Rogue move back to keep their distance from the creepy looking Ooze which decides to Dash on its remaining move to close the distance.

The DM would map out the movement as the phases would drop one by one. Any remaining movement would be used during Phase 0 for all three creatures.

Next Round:

The next round would start with either a new roll if the DM thinks the situation is very different like new creatures enter the combat arena or dynamically in a different “scene” or if the situation is relatively static just reuse the same totals from the previous rounds.

Hope this gives you some ideas on how to spice up your combat! Keep in mind that this system does penalize movement and powerful spellcasting the most. It does encourage more active protection of your spellcasters when they are casting spells and makes it a bit harder to unleash the big guns when not protected by the tanks/front line.


D&D House Rules:

Origin of the Abyss

Combat Overhaul


Character Creation Backgrounds

Crafting, Magic Items, and Economics

Familiarity, Proficiency, and Expertise

Character Focus

Tactics of Mistake





D&D 5e House Rules: Seizing the Initiative and Counterattacking


A counter attack is different from a parry and a riposte in that the defender seizes the moment/initiative away from the initial attacker as if they hadn’t even attacked versus defending and then attacking back. The German grandmaster Liechtenauer used the concept of Indes and the Italians used mezzo tempo or contra tempo to illustrate how to decisively and ‘instantly’ to feel out and orient their observations to take action and advantage of a moment in time during combat.

Counterattack: An offensive action executed into an opponent’s attack. A fencer might choose to counterattack if they believe their opponent’s attack will miss, or they might combine the counterattack with an evasive action (such as ducking beneath the opponent’s attack) or simultaneously using their blade to deflect their opponent’s attack during the counterattack (called a counterattack “in opposition”).

Parry and Riposte: uses the strength of one’s own blade to avoid the opponent’s blade. After performing it, the fencer then counters the attack with a combined attack which would force the opponent to parry, allow you to counter parry the opponent’s blade, and allow you to penetrate their next parry to win.

So for D&D purposes a great way to add this to the game is to allow proficient defenders to Counterattack weak attackers as an opportunity attack reaction.

This works great for any type of attack even a non-combat attack.

An NPC tries to use Intimidate on a character proficient with Insight and/or Intimidate. The intimidator fails badly so the defender could see the attack coming and before the NPC had even gotten the insult out the defender already had a comeback out and zinging.


When a defender who is proficient in the skill, game, tool, or weapon is targeted by an attack or skill check in which the roll is a 1 or the total was less then the defender’s ‘To Hit’ total with their equipped and proficient weapon or appropriate skill total than they can react as if the attacker had provoked an attack of opportunity with their failed action.

Exempli Gratia:

The orc raises his battle axe over his head and telegraphs his attack with bunched muscles and a roar and rolls a 2 with a ‘To Hit’ bonus of +3 for a total of 5 missing by a mile. The skilled Knight seeing this responds with a thrust to the orc’s exposed throat before the axe even has a chance to come down.

The Knight had a ‘To Hit’ of +6 which is higher than the 5 rolled by the orc and thus the Knight has a chance to use her reaction to take a free shot at the orc with an opportunity attack.

Effects of House Rule:

This makes proficiency a much bigger deal which is very important at low levels and not very reflected by a +2 modifier. It adds a bit of spice to social combat as well providing a useful mechanic. When a low skilled character takes on a high skilled character by making a poor attack it really has a penalty now which should factor into a character’s cost benefit analysis and opportunity costs when dealing with a skilled or better enemy.

It also becomes interesting at high levels when a character is faced with a large number of incompetent enemies who leave themselves open every time they attack.

D&D House Rules:

Origin of the Abyss

Combat Overhaul


Character Creation Backgrounds

Crafting, Magic Items, and Economics

Familiarity, Proficiency, and Expertise

Character Focus

Tactics of Mistake


D&D 5e House Rules: Tactics of Mistake


So, basically what I’ve done is take the concept of having to make a tactical or style decision prior to physical, social, or mental combat from my own game and applied it to D&D 5e.

This house rule can be used for any type of conflict and while presented here in a very simplistic form can be easily adapted to provide greater flexibility. Given that 5e has moved to an aesthetic of simplicity and clean lines I will endeavor to provide a rule in line with the style of the gaming system.

I have done no playtesting of this house rule within the game system of D&D 5e so it might not be perfect and it is an adaption from my own rpg game so it doesn’t fit as perfectly and I’m not as expert in 5e as I am in my own game. Thus, there may be weaknesses or errors that I have not thought out yet. Let me know your thoughts.

I wanted to bring to 5e something simple that also provided both mechanistically interesting choices and allowed for a more rewarding framework for roleplaying your character.

With this house rule there is a real difference between a bold dashing swashbuckler with a rapier who takes wild risks relying on their skill and bravery versus a cold calculating assassin laden with a lifetime of dirty tricks with a rapier vs a brilliantly fast tournament champion with a rapier et cetera both in how they roleplay an encounter and how they would fight in the encounter.

Also, this provides a framework for social combat like the viking flyting or the rap battles of today or backstabbing courtiers trying to undermine a rival. For mental combat like a game of dragon chess this makes things more interesting than just rolling a die and checking for proficiency.

For mental combat like a game of dragon chess this makes things more interesting than just rolling a die and checking for proficiency. It also would work really well for some type of astral combat or dream combat.

The tactics can have a big effect but since your opponent also is able to take advantage of a tactic it balances out.

A side benefit is that this lessens the negative effect of not min/maxing a character. Having a fighter with a high wisdom can now be pretty damn awesome versus mainly useless.

It also spreads out the gaps between ratings on Attributes. Getting hit with an axe by the actor who plays the Mountain is literally going to be double or triple the newtons applied by a very strong trained Olympic athlete with a mere Strenght mod of 2 or 3. The effect is going to be a much bigger difference than 2 points of damage on a blow.

Speaking of the Mountain in Game of Thrones his fight with the Red Viper is a perfectly could comparison between a strength and constitution based fighter versus a smart and agile fighter. They would be switching based on the situation between those two tactics in most duels.


In this version, there are six tactics with one tactic attached to each attribute. Based on your proficiency bonus you get that many additional tactical points to spend in total on those six tactics. Each tactic uses the linked attribute modifier as its base along with the tactical points from proficiency.

An optional rule would be to replace the ‘Strength’ saving throw with the ‘Potency and Might’ saving throw regardless of what tactic is chosen in a round. This has the side effect of making it easier for everyone to make their saving throws including monsters but does provide an extra point of differentiation between different characters.

For one versus many opponents, the many may add together when working as a unit their total tactical points and apply that to the leader’s roll. If working as a unit than all must be using the same tactic just for ease of use. If not acting as a unit than just handle as normal for a one on one duel.

Potency and Might: (Strength)


With this tactic the character relies on their power so in physical combat they might grapple or bind or shove their opponent to clear the way for a strike while in a game of dragon chess they rely on clear and simple but capable strategies and in a social battle they would strike out in a forceful and straightforward way to achieve their goal.


Compare the difference between the attacker’s Tactical Rating in this Tactic and their opponent. Apply the difference to the attacker’s ‘to hit’ roll and either bump up, leave alone, or drop down the weapon’s damage by x steps as well. For a +1 difference a d6 goes to d8, a 2d6 goes to 2d8. A -2 would take a d8 to a d4. Below a d4 the damage is simply 1. Using this tactic is a bad idea for a human against a giant! Stops at d20 for bumps increasing damage.

For non-physical conflict apply the difference on any Checks or Saving Throws.

Vigor and Fortitude: (Constitution)


With this tactic the character relies on their toughness, stubbornness, and will to keep going. In physical combat they roll with the hits thus diminishing and spreading out the force from enemy strikes and simply rely on greater conditioning and toughness to win out over their enemies. In a game of dragon chess they would castle early and play a defensive point based game hoping for their enemy to grow weary in trying to assault their defenses. In a social duel they would simply weather any attacks on their character or manipulations with pure stubbornness and force of will.


Apply the Tactical rating to the character’s Armor Class against the following damage types: bludgeoning, force, necrotic, thunder, cold, and lighting. Slashing if the character is wearing armor or using a shield.

Apply the Tactical rating to social and mental saving throws used to provide defense in social, magical, psychic, or mental combat.

Celerity and Agility: (Dexterity)


With this tactic the character relies on speed and grace to avoid and defeat their enemies in any arena. In physical combat they evade strikes, riposte, and place hits with precision and finesse.In a social duel they can lay down the right turn of phrase to shut down or invalidate an opponent’s argument and in a game of dragon chess they prefer an open style of game with many options and ways to shift their defense and strike at many points of weakness.


Compare the difference between the attacker’s Tactical Rating in this Tactic and their opponent. Apply the difference to the attacker’s ‘to hit’ roll and their AC and any Dexterity saving throws in physical combat. In social and mental settings apply ‘to hit’, Checks, and to any appropriate ‘saving throws’ to for defense including mental attacks. Think of the defender having a slippery mind against psychic assaults for example.

For non-physical conflict apply the difference on any Checks or Saving Throws.

Guile and Artifice: (Intelligence)


The dirty street fighter or wily gladiator. This tactic is epitomized by the meme of ‘Old Age and Treachery beat Youth and Skill every time’. Throwing a bit of sand in your enemy’e eyes or dosing a rival bard with laxatives before a battle of the bands competition before the baron are all examples of using guile and artifice to defeat your enemy. A favorite of mine is from Roger Zelazny’s Amber when Corwin defeats Lord Borel with a dirty trick and Corwin retorts that this is a fight to the death, not the Olympic games. Guile can be thwarted by a near equal intelligence and sneakiness or common sense, perceptiveness, or wisdom. Casting a charm spell after dosing a target with a drug that makes them more trusting or open in order to ply for information would be an example of using this tactic in a non-combat situation. A rogue wizard with no moral compunctions and time to plot can be a much more dangerous enemy than a rampaging demon lord.


Compare the difference between the attacker’s Tactical Rating in this Tactic and their opponent’s Tactical Rating in this Tactic or their Prudence and Sense Tactical Rating whichever is higher. Apply this score to ‘to hit’, any Checks, and bump the damage or DC of any spells cast just like in the Potency and Might tactic. A +1 difference boosts a d6 damage die to d8. Max of d20 and min of 1.

Prudence and Sense: (Wisdom)


Cautious and opportunistic. This tactic is for the person concerned primarily over there continued life and wish to be careful in conflict. Reserved and perceptive the martial artist or fighter using this tactic waits for their opponent to make a mistake or reveal a weakness. The primary goal is to stay alive and defeat your enemy. This is a good tactic to take against a better-skilled enemy or when trying to hold a line when you’re more wise than tough. This is also a good tactic to take against the unskilled enemy as they are unable to evade your strikes and you have improved defenses against everyone. It is easy to evade strikes when you know what the enemy is going to do before they do.


Add Tactical Rating to the character’s AC and all Saving Throws.If your opponent is not proficient or familiar with their weapon you automatically hit them without the need to roll as long as you are proficient.

Same goes for social and mental conflict. If you are proficient at Dragon Chess and your enemy is not you automatically win by simply not taking risks and knowing how to avoid basic mistakes and exploit incompetence by being careful. In the social arena an expert intimidator can fairly easily turn the tables on someone trying to intimidate them who has no clue how to properly intimidate.

Audacity and Courage: (Charisma)


With this tactic the character relies on boldness and bravery to win the day. The sudden strike or the barbarian charging in a frenzy or the swashbuckler leaping toward the hanging rope to ride the chandelier down are examples of this tactic. Force of personality can really win the day and intimidate or amaze your opponents giving you the psychological edge. The berserker charging a waiting nest of pikemen knowing that they will get hit but hoping to take down some before they go. The Paladin raising their singing Vorpal blade before leaping into the Abyss after the falling undead lord would be a great example of this tactic in use. Sometimes being brave can be stupid but if you really are much better than your opponents you can more easily defeat them with this tactic and do so in style. Also, by being bold and on the offense you can seize the initiative away from someone not fighting in the moment.


Apply the Tactical rating to the character’s ‘To hit’ or Ability Check and subtract the rating from their ‘AC’ and ‘Saving Throws’. The secondary ability of this tactic is to seize initiative by being in the moment and following their skill or intuition. Add Tactical rating to Initiative score and if this raises their Initiative above their opponent they may preempt their action and take their spot.

Exempli Gratia:

The Giant has a Potency and Might of 5 and a Celerity and Agility of 0.

The Knight has a Potency and Might of 0 and Celerity and Agility of 5.

The giant choosing the Potency and Might tactic with a difference of 5 points would strike with their club gaining a +5 to Hit and damage upgraded to d20. So, if the giant had a Proficiency bonus of +2 and a Strength Modifier of +4 he would roll a +11 to Hit and d20 + 9 for damage.

The nimble knight choosing the Celerity and Agility tactic with a difference of 5 points would strike with their club with a +5 to Hit and +5 to AC. So, if the knight had a Proficiency bonus of +2 and a Dexterity Modifier of +4 and was using a finesse weapon he would have a +11 to Hit and a +5 to AC to evade the giant’s strikes.

In a fight between more similar opponents the tactics would be less effective making a more well-rounded character more useful against someone who is a one trick pony. Thus, allowing those extra Tactical points from a character’s proficiency bonus. This lets a PC who is weak in one area mechanically make up for it with an unexpected tactic in battle.

If you spend a lot of time fighting orcs who are completely untrained in using martial weapons it would make a lot of sense to get better at Prudence and Sense to avoid their wild but powerful swings as you watch them telegraph their every move.

D&D House Rules:

Origin of the Abyss

Combat Overhaul


Character Creation Backgrounds

Crafting, Magic Items, and Economics

Familiarity, Proficiency, and Expertise

Character Focus

Tactics of Mistake


Rogues and Masterminds Character Sheet and Explanation



Below is an explanation of the character sheet and some basic game mechanics. Some of the design is a little bit of a buddhist joke as in the attributes are the vajra. Some of the other word choices are inspired by Fiore’s fightbooks.

Name should be obvious.

Legend is analogous to the level of the character. It is the base or default die rolled when taking an action. Starts at d4 for Legendary characters like PC’s.

Destiny is an amount of charges in which a PC can either rework what and how and engagement works for greater success, a bit of back history for the character, or shape a scene or a bit of the story with the GM.

Origin is the time period, Socio-economic status, and location/s that the character has experienced growing up.

Profession develops that Origin providing more familiarity with things relating to a job or position. Being a Lawyer doesn’t mean that you are good at winning in the courtroom as that would be handled by Speech primarily but it does give you the knowledges a lawyer would need like knowing the law, knowing the procedures involved in a courtroom, and how to interact with police or clients.

The attributes are simple with each having a rating based around the bell curve and standard deviations. A Mind of +4 would be a genius that is four standard deviations from the norm. A Body of -2 would be a couch potato or someone with chronic illness.

Tactics of mistake are part of the personality of the character and they reveal how they go about getting stuff done. Each tactic provides different game mechanics and different story choices. Each tactic provides a permanent advantage to the character at all times and an advantage when chosen as the specific tactic for a conflict for this engagement.

Vigor and Fortitude is a tactic or style of the blunt, the strong, and the tough. Most people with a high rating in this tactic are imposing and powerful figures able to apply force skillfully and ably to get the job done or can handle failure well. The focus of this tactic is on the outcome of an engagement.

Celerity and Agility is about speed, reaction, accuracy, and grace. Most people with a high rating in this tactic are scathing with wit and fast with the fist. The focus of this tactic is on the success of the engagement.

Audacity and Courage is about boldness and risk taking. Most people with a high rating in this tactic are bold and brave with a passion for the novel and extraordinary. The focus of this tactic is on seizing the initiative in a conflict and strengthening the outcome of the engagement whether it is a success of failure.

Prudence and Sense is about being cautious and opportunistic. Most people with a high rating in this tactic are perceptive, rational, and hard to deceive. The focus of this tactic is opposing Guile and Artifice and weakening the outcome of the engagement whether it is a success of failure.

Guile and Artifice is about being devious and thinking ahead. Most people with a high rating in this tactic are able to out maneuver their opponents either through trickery in the moment or planning out situations where the advantage is theirs. The focus of this tactic is more complex than the other tactics as it provides the rating that the PC uses for their Old Age and Treacheries and covers things like forcing an opponent into backing up to a wall or stabbing them in the back from the shadows.

Youth and Skills are the abilities of the character that “bump” up the Legend die.

Old Age and Treacheries are tricks or unlikely bits of knowledge. These can be added in game by spending destiny charges and adding a new backstory to the character.

Qualities and Quirks are the PCs talents, gifts, and personality traits.

Assets might be a really nice car, or a butler, or a bespoke italian suit. They are items or beings that are a part of a character’s story. A Stark has their dire wolf and John Wick always has the cool sports hot rod. Hard to imagine Bruce Wayne without Alfred.

Activities and Connections cover hobbies such as playing chess or collecting wine, Influences like downtown LA clubs, Silicon Valley tech world, eastside gangs, Railroads in Japan, Oil and Natural gas companies, the Yakuza in Hawaii, black market smugglers in Russia, Wall Street bankers etc and Relationships are those people who are beyond just a contact for one of the above influences or hobbies but like an Army buddy who saved your life or your best friend in college. Hobbies and Influences give you various contacts that you can use to get favors like a security guard at an airport letting you in so you can speedrace without interference or call someone to clean up a bunch of dead bodies or just ask a question about quantum electrodynamics from your physics professor.

Weapons and armor…duh.

Wounds, anxiety and stress. When getting hurt in a physical contest you usually get wounds, in social you get anxiety and loss of face, and in mental battles you get stress.

Fortitude is your threshold or ‘soak’ for that type of threat. It is split into Body, Speech, and Mind and the ‘Vigor and Fortitude’ rating plus any qualities and quirks that apply. So, a stunt actor with a Body of +3 and Vigor and Fortitude of +2 and Legendary Toughness (d4 Legend so half of 4 is 2) would have a Body Fortitude of 7. The same character might have a Social Fortitude of 3 and a Mental Fortitude of 3 so they wouldn’t be as resistant to harm in those arenas.

Resilience is how fast you pop back or recover from injuries. This has the same body/speech/mind categories with the tactic of Audacity and Courage adding to the PCs total along with qualities like Fast Healer or tricks like “bounces back from adversity”.

Injuries provide a penalty to tests taken while injured. One can have a cut to the shoulder physical wound providing a -2 to Tests, a broken nose providing a -1 to Tests while suffering from mental trauma or stress from seeing a friend die horribly -2. Thus, they would suffer a total of -5 to all Test Totals.