Thursday, January 31, 2019

Alignments (part two)

As a follow-up on the first post about Alignments, we're listing a few additional links here as additional material and as inspiration for your game.

In the first post, we have the introduction of the "unaligned" - which is different than neutral.
While I am not a fan of the "cosmic battle" presented as Law = monotheistic creator vs. Chaos = demons (devil?), the post contains several interesting thoughts:
- Most creatures are unaligned and have not committed themselves to the Cosmic Battle between Law and Chaos
- Clerics must be Lawful or Chaotic or they would not have spells
(the Neutral alignment is a bit "weak" as presented in the post, so let's skip it for now)
- Interesting notes about the Know Alignment spell
- Most important: benefits for other classes (not just clerics) for choosing an Alignment (see below an example for Magic-users)

Unaligned – a new alignment choice
Reading Keep on the Borderland (KotB) I was struck by the Gygaxian worldview.
“The Realm of mankind is narrow and constricted. Always the forces of Chaos press upon its borders, seeking to enslave it’s populace, rape its riches, and steal its treasure.” Then a little later. “…turn from Law and good and serve masters of Chaos.”
It’s the capital-C for Chaos and the L for Law that impresses me. They mean something – they have a capital. [...]
The Cosmic Battle
This is how I am imagining it.
Law – the monotheistic creator.
Chaos – the horde and legion – fallen spirits / demons. [...]

The benefits of being Aligned.
Clerics get spell casting.
I felt the need to give other aligned characters something, apart from an Alignment language. To keep game balance unaligned characters can do what they wish – they will simply reap what they sow. Aligned characters – more is expected of them to aid their cause. The DM must demand this if they are to keep their benefits.
Spell casting from Level 2
Magic User
Law - 'protected' the magic-user gains +1 to AC and +1 to saving throws vs spells.
Chaos - 'possessed' cast spells as if one level higher (for range, duration, damage etc) [...]

Note that perhaps this system could be adapted to the Good/Evil alignments which are not exactly like Lawful/Chaotic, as presented in my article Some thoughts on Alignments.

The second article, instead, presents a little rule to determine the alignment of a human NPC. Note how this - as we saw already for alignments - contributes to shape the world of your adventures. As the author explicitly says, his view is of the Law vs. Chaos as men vs. monsters.

Alignment Distributions
by Delta
What should the alignment distribution for men in the OD&D game look like? I tend to have a bias towards Anderson's original presentation of the Law vs. Chaos alignment system in Three Hearts and Three Lions; 
"In any case, humans were the chief agents on earth of Law, though most of them were so only unconsciously and some, witches and warlocks and evildoers, had sold out to Chaos. A few nonhuman beings also stood for Law. Ranged against them was almost the whole Middle World, which seemed to include realms like Faeries, Trollheim, and the Giants..."  [...]
So what happens when I need to roll a random NPC, such as a merchant, guard, or potential hireling? Previously I've been using a uniform distribution, i.e., 1-2: Lawful, 3-4: Neutral, 5-6: Chaotic. However, in my recent campaign games something has felt off about that: for example, too many Chaotic-types for them to really get away without notice. Compare to the DMG chart (p. 100) which likewise gives a near-uniform distribution: on d10, 1 pip for each of the 9 AD&D alignments, and 1 extra pip for "neutral".
So what I've recently switched to is a quasi-normal distribution, in which the majority of men are Neutral, and only the exceptional outlier has some ethical commitment, thus: 1: Lawful, 2-5: Neutral, 6: Chaotic. [...]

The third article of this post, we go back to more traditional alignments, but instead of having things that the characters must do by their alignment, there are some proposed commandments of how to be good or lawful.

Limits of AD&D Alignment 3: Solutions
Well, you could just not have alignment for player characters. Sure, you can have an affiliation that boils down to a cultural background and reminder - raised in the Church; follows Odin; reveres Chaos. And you can have morality. Your characters' actions have consequences in the eyes of others, after all. [...]
But okay, in some settings you really need the behavior of holy people to be exemplary in some way in order for them to deserve their magic powers. As I suggested before, a more specific set of principles seems in order.  Most importantly, these principles need to be ranked in some order, to give a guideline for resolving the kind of conflicts I outlined last time. [...]

COMMANDMENTS OF GOOD - most to least important
Life: Don't kill or torture a helpless sentient being.
Benevolence: Don't harm, disrespect, or steal from a peaceful sentient being.
Crusade: Don't back away from a fight against Evil that you can win.
Justice: Don't let crimes against Life and Benevolence go unpunished. 
Generosity: Don't hoard wealth; spend what you need for your own security, then give to others.

COMMANDMENTS OF LAW - most to least important
Honor: Don't break your given word.
Chivalry: Don't use trickery when you fight.
Restraint: Don't indulge pleasures wantonly. Food is for surviving; drink is for tasting; sex is for commitment; wealth is not for wasting.
Legalism: Don't break the law or let lawbreakers go unpunished.  
Obedience: Don't disobey or disrespect your superiors in society.

With these ten commandments in hand, we can see that it's ridiculous to require Evil and Chaotic characters to do everything exactly the opposite [...]
It might be interesting to have particularly Evil or Chaotic characters or beings pick one commandment they feel compelled to violate; the sadist revels in Anti-Life, the Anti-Crusader picks a special fight with the forces of Good, the Unrestrained Chaotic is a compulsive libertine. But that's about as far as it reasonably goes. [...]

The last article has a simple, yet quite effective suggestion: start as neutral, then see later on what would you like for your character. In fact, especially if Law and Chaos in your world are in a state of cosmic battle, level 1 characters are counting very little (even nothing) and players might not know enough of the game world (or of their own characters) to make an informed decision at the start of the game. This is quite easy to implement, and leaves room for some interesting character's development later on.

Alignment Ain't for 1st Level
by Adam Muszkiewicz
I had this thought last night while talking to the gorgeous wife: there is no reason for PCs to choose an alignment at first level, so why not save the decision to align oneself with the forces of Law or Chaos until the point where such a decision (a) makes sense for the character and (b) will contribute one way or the other toward the "eternal struggle" between the two forces?
Allow me to elucidate.
First, I'd like to re-introduce my concept of alignment as "that with which a character aligns himself." This is both a literal interpretation of the word "alignment" and a reference to how the concepts of Law and Chaos [...]
If society crumbles, the thing is wrong. If society flourishes, it is right. Thus, the focus of Law is the society (whatever society) and placing the collective above the individual. Thus, the Lawful are expected to give and sacrifice of themselves in favor of the greater good while being vigilant against the deeds and actions that could cause society to crumble.
Similarly, Chaos's guiding principle is that of Nietzsche's nihilism and Rand's "enlightened self-interest:" that I, the individual, am supreme and not bound by any morality except that I should do as I will. [...]
And then the realization hit me: if he hadn't needed to make an alignment decision at first level, but could have made it later on in his career he would have made a decision that fit the way the character has developed. Sure, Chaotic may sound great at level one when "no one's gonna tell me what to do, I'm out for teh phat lewts, son!" But at level 9 when you're carving out a kingdom for yourself, do you really want that kingdom to be all full of orcs and goblins and ogres and such? Maybe you do, that's cool. That's what Chaos is for.
My point, though, is that maybe we should hold off making that decision until it's an educated one.

Design notes (putting together both posts about alignments):
- How alignments shape the world of your campaign
- Alignment is a character’s orientation on a cosmic scale, as in LotFP
- Alignment connected to the usage of magic (for Magic-Users), perhaps for Clerics, and for demi-humans if they're a thing in your game
- Alternative alignments (such as family, or a community, or love, etc.)
- Destined Death (and Funeral Rites, to be discussed separately)
- Prevalence of Neutral alignment by default, Lawful or Chaotic are rare
- Prevalence of Neutral alignment by default, Lawful or Chaotic are the results of an active pursuit by the players
- To-Do lists for the various alignments (or Do-Not lists, which sounds better)
- Alignments tied to hexes or locations
- Possible unaligned default, with alignment required for Clerics (and as a benefit for other classes)
- Select alignments later on in the game

Friday, January 25, 2019


Most characters were not born adventurers. We've seen how to add a little bit of history to your character before starting the game, with Backstories, or how to have a few guidelines for your role-play with Traits, and also how to interact with other characters with Bonds.
If you want to add something more or something else to your character, you may consider using Careers - in the OSR this is usually intended as what the characters did before they started with their current lives of adventures as fighters, clerics, thieves or magic-users...
These Careers, of course, are also a great source of inspiration for NPC characters as well.

The first article presents a couple of simple lists. In this case, the background professions are also tied to a little mechanical advantage.

Background Professions
[...] Player characters weren’t always adventurers.  Before they decided to head off into dark mysterious dungeons or ogre-infested wild lands, they most likely started down one or more ‘respectable’ career paths.  In most ‘old school’ fantasy role-playing games like Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord, however, this aspect of a character’s early life has no effect on that character’s abilities.  This optional rule aims to rectify this situation.
In addition, by providing all characters with at least one ‘background profession,’ this optional rule should provide greater depth and personality to the players’ characters.  Consider, for instance, the following party.  Cormac the fighter was once a hunter who was raised near the Highland Forest, hence his skill in tracking prey and moving stealthily in hill and wood.  In contrast, his ally Elowyn, also a fighter, was once a scholar in the city of Bookbridge, hence her wide-ranging knowledge of different esoteric subjects. [...]
It is assumed that characters abandoned their professions in order to become adventurers before progressing beyond the ‘apprentice’ stage (or equivalent).  Thus a character who has the background profession of ‘alchemist,’ for example, would not be as skilled at alchemy as most ‘professional’ (non player character) alchemists.
A character’s background profession(s) can enable that character to do or know certain things that other characters cannot do or know. [...]

Background Profession Charts
Players may select (or roll for) either one profession on chart I or two professions on chart II.
Chart I
1 Alchemist [Requires Intelligence of 12+]
2 Aristocrat
3 Doctor [Requires Intelligence and Wisdom of 10+]
Chart II
1 Blacksmith [Requires Strength of 10+]
2 Farmer
3 Fisher
List of Background Professions
Alchemist [Requires an Intelligence of 12+]
Alchemists are skilled at identifying elixirs, poisons, potions, and so forth.  (Normally there is no bonus to the roll, except for +1 if Intelligence is 13 or greater, but only alchemists can try this.  If an alchemy lab is available – typically only found in towns with populations of 2500 or more – the alchemist gains a +4 bonus, but must pay 30 +2d10 gold pieces per day to rent necessary supplies.)  Characters with the alchemist background profession start with 1+1d3 potions (to be determined randomly or by the GM).
Aristocrats have knowledge of court etiquette, heraldry, recent history, and politics.  They are skilled at difficult riding manoeuvres (+4 bonus) and mounted combat (+1 bonus to hit when on a trained warhorse).  Characters of an aristocratic background start the game with an inherited high-quality weapon, shield, or suit of armour (player’s choice).  Because of its superior quality, this item will have a +1 non-magical bonus (i.e., the weapon will have a +1 bonus to hit but not damage, or the shield or armour will grant a +1 bonus to AC).    Aristocratic characters also start with a bonus of 2d20 gold pieces.
Blacksmith [Requires a Strength of 10+]
Blacksmiths can repair metal weapons and armour with proper equipment (costs 10% of ‘market’ weapon/armour price for supplies and to rent forge; normally takes one day per item).  Blacksmiths can also determine the correct value of non-magical weapons and armour within 10%.

There is also a much simpler system, presented by an anonymous comment on the same post, as follows:

I use a much simpler system (pinched from Barbarians of Lemuria):
Every character has 4 points at chargen to spend on "backgrounds" -- essentially roles he has held in the past (q.v., a Conan-like character might choose Barbarian, Thief, Pirate, Mercenary). You can choose a background more than once (e.g., Barbarian 2, Thief 1, Mercenary 1).
Whenever attempting a non-combat related task that can somehow be tied to the background, you gain a bonus equal to the number of times you chose the background. [...]

We're moving to the next article, from the author of Into the Odd, and we should focus a little on the title: "Failed Careers". This is a common trope in OSR: a career in the past of your character is likely to be something that went wrong, instead of something that simply configures as a set of skills and/or bonuses.
It does a lot also to help figure out why the character is now out on adventures and risking their life, instead of sitting safe by the fire at night, and having a "regular" job just like everyone else.

Failed Careers
In Electric Bastionland everybody starts with:
A failed career.
A shared debt.
Here are the one-hundred possible options for the former, all determined by the roll of your Abilities.
1: Gutter Wretch
The bottom of the barrel. 
Bastion’s crust.
2: Curiocentric Collector
An entire life spent looking at dusty things and squinting at books.
It’s time to get out there for yourself.
3: Trench Survivor
You survived a Trench Battle with little to write home about.
Except for that one thing you found in a strange tunnel.
4: Debt Collector
Someone paid you a pittance to look intimidating in dark alleyways.
If need be you shed some blood, but there’s no extra pay.
5: Dead-Shoresman
You died, but found a way back from where you went.
Nobody believes you, and everyone you once knew is long gone. [...]

If you want a much longer list, the 200 below should suffice. They come with a starting weapon and something extra, some useful, others just plainly odd... But figuring out what to do with odd pieces of equipment or with something peculiar of your character is part of the fun in the OSR.

200 Failed Medieval Careers
by James Young
I like the idea that new characters start with a profession they failed at/got bored with/were fired from before they started out on the road to fortune and doom.
I made the jobs pretty standard because I am boring and so try to keep things fairly normal until the Weird Shit starts happening, so there are no leech-fuckers or tree-gobblers or anything like that.
But you can rename them if you want I don't mind! [...]

Now, this next one is a very long list; you may use it to inspire you in building your own table(s), but it has no numbers and therefore is not of immediate use.

What did people do in a Medieval City?
What did people do in the Middle Ages? If you meet a random person on the street, what is his likely occupation? Or did people work at all? Were the Middle Ages some Communist utopia, where everybody laid around all day and things were magically produced by fairies?
Of course not. They didn't have electronics engineers and computer programmers, but they did have coopers, bakers, blacksmiths, and many other jobs that made their society go around. If you do a little research, there were tons of medieval occupations. Luckily, I've done it for you, so you don't have to!
In the following list, I have made a link to the online version of Webster's Dictionary, so you can find out what things are. In some cases, the definition is also included locally. I am slowly making local definitions for all these occupations, for your convenience. [...]

If you need something just very weird or baroque, you have the next two lists. The first is 100 careers for DCC assuming you're playing in a peculiar setting, a little bit over the edge... while the second I find more useful. The second list is still presenting peculiar entries like "Carnivorous-plant gardener" or "Raised by apes", but it could fit in an almost "regular" setting if these would be used only occasionally.

DCC: d100 Weird Urban Occupations
by Jez Gordon
100 slightly more colorful Occupations for your 0-level funnel runners, written up for use over at Purple Sorcerer's character generator. [...]
01 Sweat-milker, Wooden pail (as club), Apron
02 Muck-racker, Crusty rake (as polearm), Soiled smock
03 Slurry-runner, Staff, Thigh-high boots and sweaty rags
04 Limb-strainer, Large bloody sieve (as club), Spare hand
05 Filth-cutter, Scissors (as dagger), Leather smock [...]

52 Baroque Character Backgrounds
This time, the random finger of fate has decreed that the Character Background and Languages page get the Baroque treatment. I suppose if you play that "Dungeon Crawl Classics" game, these might also be useful as backgrounds for your little pit-fodder avatars. As always roll d100, in half, rounded up, and use 51 or 52 to replace a dull or inappropriate outcome. [...]

Design notes:
- Careers as "skills" or as something the character is good at (with a mechanical advantage or some implied skills)
- Careers as "failed careers"; somehow more of a background than a set of skills
- Possibly add a starting weapon to a career
- Perhaps add a starting piece of equipment or something peculiar
- Use weird or baroque careers with care; spice things up but only every now and then

Friday, January 18, 2019

Ability Scores (3d6 in order)

Ability scores are determined by rolling randomly: roll 3d6 for each ability.
Or not.

In B/X Essentials, the referee may allow to discard the character if very poor ability scores were rolled, for example an 8 or less in every score or an extremely low rating in one ability.
Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox allows some flexibility, according to the Referee's preferences, such as rolling 3d6 six times and arranging in any order.
Swords & Wizardry Core allows also to shift scores around, according to the Referee's preferences, for long-term games.
Labyrinth Lord allows, at the Referee's discretion, to roll 4d6 for each ability, discarding the lowest roll and adding up the three remaining dice normally. Alternatively, roll five separate sets of abilities as if rolling up five separate characters, and then choose the preferred set of abilities.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess proposes 3d6 in order for each ability score, then the player can decide to swap one ability score with another.

If anyone starts to write house-rules, they're most likely to start changing the 3d6-in-order rule.
Before you do that, though, consider why 3d6 might make sense and what other adjustments you may do in order to keep this rule, instead of changing it.

3d6, in order
by Norman Harman
After using it on both sides of the screen I've become a serious fan of rolling up characters using 3d6 and assigning the rolls in order.  That is no rearranging of scores.  Even in games where the DM doesn't require it I sometimes assign ability scores in order.  This morning, in the shower, I was thinking about 3d6, in order, what was lost when game rules moved away from that. [...]
We need feats and doo dads and more rules to differentiate characters!
I'm sure you've heard that.  I hear it from friends and read it online.  Where I don't often hear it is from people playing "3d6, in order" games. [...]

But if we want to talk about alternatives, let's look at what Rafu - a fellow Italian - has to suggest. His matrix combines some player's agency (the first roll is random but in the order you want), some average but with control (the second roll is not random, it's 1 2 3 4 5 6 but in the order you want), some (finally) completely random generation (the third roll is totally random and in order as rolled).
This combines well a bit of randomness with some control, without resorting to the simple "roll 3d6 and then assign to the abilities in the order you prefer".

Ability scores: roll #d6, some of them in order
by Rafu
That which follows is a method of Ability scores determination for use – during character creation – with any role-playing game employing six Abilities with scores in the 3-18 range. This includes all iterations of D&D I know about, retro-clones or other immediate derivatives of them, as well as Dungeon World and some others. The method can also be altered for a different number of Abilities or scores in a different range, of course.
My aim with this is to marry the “organic” feel of the roll-3d6-in-order method with some of the most desirable qualities of roll-and-arrange and fixed-set methods (namely, the ability to play the class you desire, to always have a character you can make sense of in your mind’s eye, and less power-disparity within the party). [...]

The last article for this topic is an alternative designed closely to LotFP, but which is easy to adapt to other systems as well. The key concept is that different classes (determined randomly in the author's rules, but which could be perhaps also chosen by the players) have a slightly different starting scores.
So for example a Hedge Knight starts with better strength and constitution (both 2d6+6) while a Cutpurse with better dexterity.
There is more in this process than simple ability scores - the chargen procedure includes Hit Points, Skills (as in LotFP, but with a d8), starting Equipment, Saves and Levelling; a complete tuning of the entire set of classes available in the game.
The ability scores are usually 3d6 or 2d6+6 (for better scores) or 2d6+1 (for worst scores), but of course you may adapt this to your game with all the tuning you need.

by Sam Morris
[...] Often TTRPGs worry a lot about balance between classes and will try to make them all pretty evenly matched at level 1, but I thought it might be cool to have classes that are less balanced for more variety of play experience.
The 'balance', or probably better called 'fairness', comes from classes being randomly selected instead of chosen by the player.  I've written up d10 classes, which I've decided to call 'backgrounds', along with rules for character creation and advancement.  As you'll see, ability scores are sometimes rolled with a different formula to 3d6 depending on the strengths and weaknesses of the background.  I have roughly based this off of LotFP but with the key difference that I'm using d8 skills instead of d6.  This is because skills are improved each level in a similar way to the CoC/Runequest roll-over mechanic, and using a d8 will make skill progression a bit slower.

Hedge Knight
You were once a knight but fortune has left you without a lord to serve or lands to protect. You wander the land subsisting with little more than your martial skills.
Str: 2d6+6
Con: 2d6+6
Dex: 3d6
Int: 3d6
Wis: 3d6
Cha: 3d6 [...]

You were probably born on the streets. You have survived this long only by pilfering the valuables of wealthier folk.
Str: 2d6+1
Con: 3d6
Dex: 2d6+6
Int: 3d6
Wis: 3d6
Cha: 3d6 [...]

But yeah, of course I did the same when it came to writing my own OSR games (or heart-breaker).
Below you can see that I went a little further though - perhaps too much. What I did in the Crying Blades, for example, was 3d6-in-order and swap-one (as in LotFP)... but I also kept a separate note of that the lowest of the 3d6, for each ability.
This would be the Gift score, for each ability (named Attribute, in the Crying Blades).

This Gift score is used later in the game for various purposes: determining the number of starting talents for a character, the max level for multiclassing,, the maximum increment to the attribute score, and allowing a certain number of re-rolls. These options would "burn" points so taking a re-roll early in the game to allow the character to survive would for example impact later choices in multiclassing.

The above are just some examples, if you want to track a single die of the 3d6. But what if we recorded each single roll of the 3d6 for each ability? This is what I proposed in the Black Dogs fanzine. This is made possible by having three additional scores for each ability:
- Luck (burn points for re-rolls)
- Talent (burn points to increase the ability score or the save score)
- Save (which works as an x-in-6 chance - see also d6 Saving Throws for LotFP for a similar approach)

Design notes:
- 3d6 in order
- Discard characters with very low scores?
- Assign in the order that you prefer? Maybe only for long-term campaigns?
- 4d6 for each ability, discarding the lowest?
- 3d6 in order, swap one score with another if you want?

But also:
- A matrix with fixed scores
- Different rolls or some fixed scores for different classes
- Track the lowest d6 (or the highest) for each ability, write the score as "Gift", or "Talent", or "Luck" or whatever
- Track each single roll for different purposes, for each ability

Friday, January 11, 2019

Bonds (put characters together)

I admit that the first time I've read about bonds, it was in Dungeon World, a Powered by the Apocalypse game.
For those of you who don't know what that means, a PbtA game is a game based on the framework of Apocalypse World, by Vincent Baker... There would be a lot to say about PbtA games; some OSR people love PbtA too, others don't like them at all, for various reasons. I stand among those who love both OSR and PbtA games (although not all of them). But this is not the topic for this post.
This post is about bonds, and bonds are not a thing of PbtA games alone.

Bonds are all about creating some kind of relationship between characters. This is great because it gives your players some material for role-play, right from the start, like Traits or Backstories do... but in this case it also encourages players to interact one with the other, thanks to the bonds established between characters.
Note that this also helps to minimize the feeling of characters being "randomly" put together.
Bonds do not necessarily have to connect all characters to all other characters; not all bonds have to be "strong" or "positive" ones, but it's probably better not to have in your list somethink like "I've sworn an oath to kill character X because reasons".

The first post is a list of one hundred reasons for characters to be connected, such as characters being best friends or being siblings, or other reasons less obvious and more entertaining like robbing a temple together, were slaves, met in a prison and so on.

Give me a reason...or a hundred!
by JB
Download the list here
[...] when your players are all seated around the table, each rolls D% to determine the relationship of their character with the player sitting to their right. The player sitting to the left of the DM rolls for the player sitting to the right of the DM (unless the DM has some prominent NPC in the party, than he might check that as's not necessary since the DM usually creates reasons for NPCs to be around...I hope!).
By doing this, you should create at least two relationships, possibly more (if the guy to my left is my brother, and the gal to his left is my sister, than she's MY sister, too). That's enough to start the ball rolling...everyone else in the party is simply the proverbial "friend-of-a-friend" until you've developed a working relationship in-game. [...]

In this second post, Arnold K. offers also a suggestion (and a shorter list of bonds) to avoid forgetting to bring into play those bonds. By granting bonuses as long as you fulfill your role in the bond, you can make sure that players will keep those bonds in mind, and do their best to bring them into the game.
If you go with a list like this, perhaps a single character should have one or two of these bonds, but not more (they're a bit harder to keep track of, and may become too crunchy to deal with at the table, transforming role-playing into farming for bonuses).

Player-Player Bonds
So a lot of games establish player bonds during character creation.
"You once fought along side the person to your left."
"You have sworn to protect the person on your right."
Et cetera.  And that's a pretty cool idea.  But. . . it's possible for that sweet backstory to drop into the background.  Players and DMs might easily forget that Alice swore to protect Bob. 
Hopefully, if those bonds are represented mechanically, they'll be more in the forefront of everyone's mind.  For example, if two member of your adventuring party are ex-husband and ex-wife, they might share a Vendetta, and be paying very close attention to each other's turns, because the Vendetta ability triggers whenever the other person fumbles. [...]
Player-Player Bonds
1. Battle Brothers/Sisters - Years spent fighting together.
You each get +1 to hit as long as you attack the same target as your battle brother/sister simultaneously.
2. Destined Twins - You share everything.
Your HP is pooled and shared between the two of you.  Any negative physical effect that happens to one of you happens to the other, including death and or maiming.  (e.g. sympathetic limp if the other one loses a leg, nausea if the other one throws up, etc.)  This also works well for conjoined twin characters.
3. Favored Son or Daughter - You adventure alongside your offspring.
Your favored son or daughter must be lower level than you (and therefore, probably created after you).  They must also be the same race and class.  As long as you begin each session asking them "So what have we learned from all this?" they gain XP 10% faster, and whenever you assist them, you can double your bonuses you add to their attempt.

In this third link, by Jeremy Friesen, we have instead a random generator. The generator presents multiple columns and for each you should roll a d20. You could get bonds like:
"Character-A has much to teach me about always pushing for golden reputation" or such as:
"Character-B insulted me by the ridiculousness of knightly dreams"...
Not all are going to be perfect, but you can work your way around the table to improve it or adapt it to your needs.

Random Bonds Generator for Dungeon World
[...] Roll 1d20 for each of the four columns.
d20 Relation Action Modifier Subject
1 ________ has much to teach me about the ridiculousness of angered heirloom
2 ________ insulted me by always calling out knightly reputation
3 ________ misunderstands me about always pushing for golden dreams

Three links only, for Bonds, feel like not enough to me... So I am going to jump the fence over into the PbtA field (like the previous post), and present some material which could be used as an inspiration.
In a lot of PbTA games,  Bonds are written in playbooks, and playbooks (a character sheet which is also your "class", your archetype in the game) are available as a free download, even if you don't own the game. So you can check those playbooks and fish for inspiration in their bonds.
We will look at a few examples here, with the classic fantasy theme, from Dungeon World:

______________ is puny and foolish, but amuses me.
______________’s ways are strange and confusing.
______________ is always getting into trouble - I must protect them from themselves.
______________ shares my hunger for glory; the earth will tremble at our passing!

______________ has insulted my deity; I do not trust them.
______________ is a good and faithful person; I trust them implicitly.
______________ is in constant danger, I will keep them safe.
I am working on converting ______________ to my faith.

I stole something from ______________.
______________ has my back when things go wrong.
______________knows incriminating details about me.
______________ and I have a con running.

If you want to see more, you can check out this link - and you can download a pdf of all Dungeon World's Bonds from there (plus other alternatives):

Bonds represent the feelings, opinions, desires and shared history that make the player characters a party of adventurers and not just a random assortment of people.  Each bond is a simple statement that relates your character to a party member.  A few "fill in the blank" standard bonds are found in each core class playbook with the idea that you can create your own even during character creation and will gain new ones through play.
As a systems component , bonds are intended to facilitate building immediate backstory between two player characters.  They also reward XP by encouraging the player to resolve the bond by acting upon changes in circumstances to create narrative that makes it clear the bond- for better or worse- is gone and replaced with something else [...]

Design notes:
- Bonds help players to figure out how to role-play to each other at the start
- Bonds are good to keep the party united or to give reason for additional role-play
- Simple bonds are a few (such as family, love, a common past, a friendship)
- Long lists avoid repetition and allow a wider scope
- Short lists may be combined with mechanical advantages
- Dungeon World contains a lot of example bonds to use as inspiration

Friday, January 4, 2019


Something you don't do in OSR games, is to write a 3-pages backstory for your character even before char-gen. It goes without saying that it would be a waste of time when the character might die after a few minutes and when scores are totally random, so you might decide to steer towards a different kind of character than what you had in mind.
Actually, coming to the table, rolling dice, and only afterwards trying to guess who the f*** is this character that you're going to play with, seems like a healthier approach to me. And it is indeed what the OSR usually "prescribes".
Yet, there are times when you want something more than a name and a few scores and a backpack with torches, rope and weapons. We already discussed the option of using Traits, in this previous post of mine:

While Traits usually focus on how to role-play your character from the start, Backstories introduce something about what happened to the character before this moment, before the adventure began. A backstory might contain the reason for the character to be out on adventures, to have left their homeland, to be on the run, to be seeking treasure, or it might be a sad story, a terrible story, a funny story. Regardless, it says something about the past.
One should be careful when planning to use Backstories. Some are easy to adapt to every character (like almost every Trait). Others have heavier implications towards the character's background or have strong connections to the setting, and so on.
Also, I strongly advice against using backstories longer than two, three lines. Backstories should be easy to play with as Traits are.
They might have a little more potential, though, in the hands of an inventive GM, because they can serve as a focus for bringing important NPCs into the game and making the campaign feel more "personal" for the characters. But again: do not invest too much, even as the GM, on a backstory. Every character in the OSR may die before they get a chance to get their revenge against their arch-enemy.

And it goes without saying: Backstories should be about level 0 (zero) characters.
If we were discussing Careers (and we will...) instead of Backstories, we would be discussing about "Failed Careers" rather than of successful enterprises. Why would someone successful (with a few exceptions) want to go risk their lives in a dungeon?

The first page we bring you is a huge d500 table. It contains several examples, and can serve very well as an inspiration to build your own table. Note that Skerples suggests to roll multiple times (maybe twice) for each character. In its introduction, this post mentions rolling also on Bastionland, the Into The Odd website, which provides a list of failed Careers. We will discuss this in a post about Careers, which is definitely a related (overlapping) topic.

1d500 Backstories to Inflict on your Characters
by Skerples
This post brought to you by a whiskey so cheap it doesn't even have a website, and root beer.
Normally, you might start a D&D group in a tavern or a prison or a convent. You might connect characters by a lifepath system or a few shared events. Instead, consider rolling on the table below several times for each character before race, class, stats, etc. are determined. The results are life events, things that just happened, or reasons to go adventuring. The effect on your players will probably be a dismayed "WAT", but so it goes. 
Side Note: Consider rolling once or twice on this table, then on Bastionland's Failed Careers table.
1d500 Backstories and Events Stolen from The Toast
1d500 Backstory Inflicted
1 You spy on people through keyholes and get exactly what you deserve.
2 You have been rejected on your wedding night.
3 You get made fun of sometimes. It’s hurtful, and you’d do almost anything to teach your tormentors a lesson. Almost.
4 You have committed several murders, yet somehow you are also the sanest and most sympathetic person you know.
5 You have earned the personal ire of a Witch-king. This ends poorly for you, and everyone in your country.

6 Your love has been soiled, and the object symbolizing it tainted, quite tainted! [...]

Sometimes, you want something which might go a little over the edge. This is a good d100 table with some "mildly plausible background stories" (to quote the author), and others definitely less plausible.
The link below is if you want to see the table right away online. Afterwards, you'll find the link to the PDF that can be downloaded for free on RpgNow.

D100 Mildly Plausible Background Stories For Characters
Special thanks to 3 Toadstools Publishing –
1 Mentor was killed in an explosion
2 Father was beheaded
3 Sister kidnapped by Demon
4 Home town destroyed [...]
16 False prophet [...]
19 Teleported from a different world/time [...]
32 Remembers all past lives [...]
93 Deposed king [...]

Free PDF on RpgNow:

Another approach to backstories, is to roll nothing at the start, but add something as you level-up.
The next article by  has an example in this sense. James Young presents a system where every time you level-up you roll for a story and decide how the story ended, giving you a bonus or boon related to how the story ended... Note that instead of a static entry you get a choice, and the choice has a mechanical bonus attached.
It's a little more complex that a simple backstory which serves as a background, but since it is a process done at level-up, at least it's done on characters who already have at least achieved level 2 and it preserves a fast character generation process for level 1 characters.

1d100 Retroactive Backstory
by James Young
I've been working on this off and on for the past couple of months.
The basic idea is that every time you level up, you roll 1d100 on the Backstory table.
Each has a hopefully-inspirational fragment of backstory and two potential outcomes.
So if you roll a 1, the DM tells you "You got into a confrontation with a bully who was way tougher than you. Did you fight or flee?"
Now the trick here is that the other players at the table decide what your character must have done, based on how your character's been acting in the game thus far. Debate is allowed and encouraged, as is swapping examples of supporting evidence, in this case probably times you stood and fought versus times you turned and ran.
The others come to an agreement or vote or whatever, then you make up a story of what actually happened. Who was the bully? Why did you do what you did?
The story can be as detailed or as sparse as you want, no pressure. Most of my players tied it into their failed career in some way.
Finally you get told what your new ability is! Each outcome of each backstory has its own associated power. In this example, "fight" nets you a +1 to hit vs enemies who have more HD than you, and "flee" grants you a +1 to fleeing rolls.
Score! Now your character is hopefully encouraged to live up to their new backstory. [...]

A different way to deal with backstories, is to select backstories by topic. You may have a huge table mixing different backstories, or in this approach you could build different tables and let the players decide on which table to roll. The event(s) of the various backstories would still be random, but it would allow the players to decide which type of story they'd like in the past of their character.
For example, you could build lists with
- Birthrights
- Conflicts
- Criminal events
- Adventures
- Weird or other events
- Horror events
- Romance events

The above list is built by combining topics of the next two linked posts, by Canecorpus. Use the lists to inspire you for your own tables.

A fire-breathing were-mammoth destroys half the village while calling your name
by Canecorpus
[...] BIRTHRIGHT d10
1 – Slave/Exile
2 - Serf
3 – Lowborn Commoner
1 – The PC is accosted for brigandage. The PC is forced to wear iron boots for 1d4 years.
2 – The PC is accosted for begging in the presence of a noble. The PC is forced to wear a halter for 1d10 days and walk through the streets of his homeland.
3 – PC is accosted for piracy and transfer of illicit slaves. The PC is racked for 7 days and nights. The PC is 1 inch taller.
1 – Perfectly normal childhood. The PCs peers mock the child for his normalcy.
2 – Every morning the PC wakes up and finds a silver piece under their head, as well as a splitting headache.
3 – PC is ruthlessly hunted by Dwarven slave-traders for an unknown reason. The Dwarves have a very annoying war cry they scream when ever they see the PC, 'Vbblalalalbalalalalbala!' [...]

You spy your long time love laying eggs in the wilderness one evening
by Canecorpus
[...] HORROR EVENT d20
1 – Head stuck in a hole in ground for 1d8 days. Something licks your legs periodically during your entrapment.
2 – Deranged hermit pulling a cart with unidentified meat follows you around at night for 1d4 years
3 – Walking barnacles abscond 1d4 members of your family and are never seen again
1 – You have absolutely no romance in your adolescence and are mocked ceaselessly by your peers
2 – Desert raiders abscond you into slavery, forcing you act as a pleasure slave in the profane Ziggurats of the Man-Bull. You are released 1d4 years later. Gain a trade skill.
3 – The sexually frustrated Elf maids from the Village of Two Stars kidnap and fight with one another over mating rituals for 1d4 years. Still unresolved, you eventually escape. [...]

Design notes:
- Backstories at char-gen, perhaps tied to traits and/or careers
- Backstories with choices or different ending (chosen by the player? by other players?)
- Backstories at level-up, adding complexity and depth (also, in accord to what we've seen so far of the character), keeping char-gen as fast as possible
- Backstories with mechanical consequences (good, or bad ones!)
- Backstories divided by topics, giving players some choice before their random roll(s)