Why Only Two Religions in my King Arthur Pendragon Character Creation Booklet

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Or… why do I only have one type of Christianity in my King Arthur Pendragon Character Creation Booklet?

There are two broad parts to my answer: one is Setting, and the other is Mechanics.

But first, some historical context:

  • KAP 1st ed. had virtues for Christian, Pagan, and Wotan faiths.
  • There was no 2nd ed.
  • KAP 3rd edition had Christian and Pagan Virtues. The 3rd edition supplement Knights Adventurous added Wotanic and Judaism as faiths with virtues.
  • KAP 4th edition stapled together the pages from the KAP 3rd core rule book and Knights Adventurous, so the religious virtues found in the book are identical to those two books.
  • King Arthur Pendragon 5x is the first edition to introduce British Christianity as a set of Virtues and bonus distinct from Roman Christianity.

The Christianity in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th editions used the virtues that KAP 5.x uses to Roman Christianity.

I bring this up to point out that the introduction of British Christianity is a new notion, and I believe has a mechanical bump as described further down in this post.

For a game of King Arthur Pendragon I simply don’t care about tensions in the Church and which Christianity might be right or not right. I understand it may be historically interesting to some people… and in another game I might find it compelling. But for I want to focus on, the nitty-gritty theological tensions of Christianity in a game about Knights is something honestly wouldn’t know what to do with.

Will my game’s Player Knights really care about the distinctions between British Christianity and Roman Christianity? I can’t imagine so. Exactly how is it interesting beyond theological concerns or people very versed in the nitty-gritty details of history? And since I won’t be introducing theological infighting as a theme or concern in the game, and I am working from the literary concerns of Le Morte D’Arthur (not historical research), I can’t see a need to add the extra version of Christianity.

Besides the lack of interest, there is also this: The text of KAP has always been at pains to point out that the split between Christian and Pagan Knights is not there to provide fodder for religious feuding. It can devolve into violence between Knights for the very bland and repetitive reasons.

For me, the fact there were two religions in the core (3rd and 4th) rules were to provide variety for the Player Knights and the Traits. That’s it. I literally have no interest in religious conflict in my game.

Instead, I am very much interested in the Religious Virtues as ideals that provide tension within the Player Knight. How do you live by Christian Virtues (Chaste, Forgiving, Merciful, Modest, Temperate) when your job is fight and kill, to watch your friends die by your enemy’s hands, and have a sword at your side that you can always draw to resolve your anger or jealousy when someone wrongs you?

The text of the game has always made explicit the notion that the game is about how hard it is to live by the ideals of the setting (whether Religious or Chivalrous), and that is the notion I want to mine with the game’s religions.

Having two versions of Christianity muddies the waters and begs the question, “Which one is right?” and removes us from the internal struggles of the knights and puts the focus on theological debates and religious war… which isn’t in Le Morte D’Arthur and has little interest for me in this setting.

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The British Christianity makes it easy to hit both the British Christian Virtues and get the Chivalrous bonus.

Chivalry requires high values in the following (a sum total of 80):

  • Energetic
  • Generous
  • Just
  • Merciful
  • Modest
  • Valorous

Keep in mind that most Knights are going to have Valorous Traits of 15 or higher, so they really only need 65 or so points. With five more Traits to go to reach 80 points, each remaining Trait only needs an average of 12.5 points for the Knight to get the Chivalry Bonus.

So here is how the three Religious Bonuses break down:

Christian (earlier editions of KAP) / Roman Christian (KAP5.x) Virtues are:

  • Chaste
  • Forgiving
  • Merciful
  • Modest
  • Temperate

Which only lines up with two of the Chivalry ideals (Merciful and Modest)

Pagan Virtues (all editions of KAP) are:

  • Energetic
  • Generous
  • Honest
  • Lustful
  • Proud

Which only lines up with two of the Chivalry ideals (Energetic and Generous)

British Christianity (KAP 5x) Virtues are:

  • Chaste
  • Energetic
  • Generous
  • Modest
  • Temperate

Which lines up with three of the Chivalry ideals. (Energetic, Generous, Modest)

Sustaining both the Religious virtues and the Chivalric ideals should be difficult, in my opinion. Not impossible, but difficult.

While getting 80 points isn’t impossible, those points are going to come at the cost of raising Religious virtues to 16+. Remember that it takes to raise points either through checks or spending Winter Phase experience. Significantly, there are only so many points a Player can distribute each Winter Phase. At some point a Player will have to make decisions about what areas his or her Knight where his Knight is going to really excel.

However, I suggest that the nature of the British Christian virtues cuts down on this tension far too much. By having three of five religious virtues line up with three of six chivalric virtues, the mechanics make it much easier for a British Christian to sustain being a Chivalric Knight.

I understand there are a lot of reasons one might want to have distinct British Christians in the game, and I understand the logic of having some faiths having an easier time of sustaining Chivalry at the same time… but giving my first set of points about Setting above, for me it simply is a no brainer: If the Players, and the Player Knights, and myself as the GM do not care about religious tension between two types of Christianity, then there is no reason not to be a British Christian, and thus Roman Christianity falls by the wayside, so why have two types of Christianity?

Further, I want it to be difficult to sustain religious ideals alongside Chivalric ideals. I think that is very much a part of the structure and purpose of the game. Life is hard, ideals are hard, and mixing them all together is really hard.

I believe the addition of British Christianity might have had something to do with why Greg thought he had to make Chivalry harder in recent years. (He was toying around with raising the number of Trait totals above 80.) But the fact is if you take British Christianity out of the mix, it actually is a lot of work to get all those points high enough for both bonuses.

So, that’s my thinking on the matter.

I’m not dictating it to anyone, or expecting anyone to come along on my ride. But it is thought out, with actual reasons. And that’s why I returned to the Religious Virtues found in the earlier editions of the game.

King Arthur Pendragon Character Creation Booklet

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Here is my first draft of a King Arthur Pendragon Character Creation Booklet.

It assumes that the Players will first generate their Player Knight’s family history, as a group, with the Game Master. The Booklet contains reference information and tables for all the steps after that, allowing each Player to see the options and details of character creation in front of him as the group goes through the steps.

The rules are primarily taken from King Arthur Pendragon 5th edition, with a few variations taken from the Uther Phase alterations found in the Book of Knights & Ladies.

The biggest changes from the Book of Knights & Ladies are slightly different base skills due to the time period, and Spear Expertise for Cymric Knights.

Spear Expertise combines Spear, Great Spear, and  Lance skills all under the name Spear Expertise at a starting skill of 10. This not only makes the spear more flexible as a weapon, but allows them to start with an additional 6 points in Weapon Skills to distribute as they see fit.

Normally a Knight begins with Lance 10 and Spear 6. 10 points are now set for Spear Expertise, and the balance of 6 points is redistributed by the player.

This essentially makes Cymric Knights badasses with Spears. They can charge with them, defend with on foot the as if they are using a Great Spear when a horseman charges them, and use them equally well in melee combat. It also offers them additional combat points out of the gate–which is fitting for the chaotic and turbulent times of Uther’s reign.

(If you want to to play with the Skill Points from the KAP core rules, simply assign Lance 10 and Spear 6, and remove the distribution of the final 6 points for weapons found in the Character Creation Booklet.)

If you have a chance to take a look, let me know how this works for you and if there any typos or suggestions!

Scenery for Warhammer 40K Kill Team…

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Currently in my Monday Night Group everyone wants to GM something… so we’re playing lots of games and lots of mini-campaigns.

We play Lamentations of the Flame Princess in spurts along the way. But mostly I’m playing a lot of RPGs these days. Which is great, since I’m writing several projects right now. It’s nice not to have prepping RPG sessions added to the list!

That said, my brain needs to kick back on occasion. So some I and some friends all picked up the new Warhammer 40K Kill Team skirmish game. I got some paints and supplies… and for that last few months, on and off, I’ve been assembling the scenery and painting.

It’s been slow going. I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like, and I’ve been learning along the way. (I haven’t done anything like this for about 25 years.)

And I do love it. Like… I love it. Sitting down to work on these miniatures is a surprising stress-reducer.  I’m really having a blast with this.

Today I finished the scenery up to putting the finishing coat on–which I’ll be doing this week.

Next up, assembling the Genestealer Cultists that came with the boxed set.

My friends and I have a local convention we’ll be going to in February. The plan is to have scenery and minis painted up by then so we can meet up and have the little guys shoot the hell out of each other.

So, here is how the painting of the scenery went.

I decided to distress several pieces, and add debris to the second floor pieces…

Priming the pieces. I used tacky glue to stick pieces to paint sticks so I could move them around more easily.

For the primer I went with Krylon, which has several flat spray paints that I’d heard bonded really well with plastic. I sprayed a flat white for my first miniature work.



Base coats…


I’m using The Army Painter Warpaints and I love them.

I know some people find them are too watery or thin, but that hasn’t been a problem for me. I give each bottle along, solid shake and the paint comes out fine.

That said, because other people have had problems with the paints, I also take the top off each bottle with a pair of pliers, drop in a hematite bead, and then put the top back on. The hematite bead acts as an agitator, and it seems seems to be a good idea!

The Warpaints are also more cost effective than Citadel Paints. Each Warpaint bottle comes with 50% more paint than the Citadel pot (18ml vs. 12ml), and a Warpaint bottle costs about 30% less than a Citadel pot. (Prices vary widely for paints, of course, depending on the retailer. After looking around, I think Miniature Market is going to be my go to source for paints. The paints are always at a good price point.

(I went in whole hog when I found The Army Painter Mega Paint Set on Amazon back in September for $88.99, which was a crazy good deal for 50 bottles of paint.)


Adding Army Painter Inks…


I went in pretty deep and picked up The Army Painter Mega Paint Set after doing a lot of research. I haven’t found a clunker in the paint set yet.

As for brushes, I realized pretty quick I’d be ruining them fast since I didn’t know what I was doing yet. So I picked up the Super Value Brush Pack By Artist’s Loft from Michaels, which is essentially a variety pack of brushes for $5. I have also scoured Amazon looking for deals on small brushes for detail work.

Adding second layers and dry brushing…


And here is the last images from today as I said, “Okay, that’s it! Time to stop and build some Genestealers!”




King Arthur Pendragon Designer’s Notes


Each version of the 5th edition of King Arthur Pendragon includes a set of of Designer’s Notes from Greg Stafford about how he built the game.

They give a clear roadmap for how Stafford went about designing the game, using the rules and mechanics to help bring the players and the Game Master into the world of the text and the setting, and guide the gameplay in specific ways.

As I’ve been thinking a great deal about Stafford and his work this past week, I’ve decided to post them here. They show the care and diligence Stafford took with his work, as well as his desire to share his passion for Arthurian tales and mythical spirit with as many people as possible.

I think they are well worth reading not only to get a handle on what Stafford was up to in  King Arthur Pendragon, but as an example of a certain kind of approach to RPG design.

Designer’s Notes

Tabletop gaming is always a bringing together of things: of players, of pleasure and anxiety, of fun and boredom. For me, making King Arthur Pendragon was an exercise in this bringing together. 

Primarily, I was bringing together two things: the feeling of Arthurian legend and lore, and the mechanics of the game. I wanted King Arthur Pendragon to be such a device that the feeling was inseparable from the mechanics, so I endeavored to pour the utmost of my feelings and the perfection of my best mechanical logic into one form. 

I feel that I succeeded, which is why I like the game so much. Here we find the volatile combination of passion and logic, of ideals and practicality, of individual and family, of planning and chance, of life and death — all played out by the combination of player and character. In the past, I have designed or co-designed seven published roleplaying games, (RuneQuest, Adventurer’s Handbook, King Arthur Pendragon, Prince Valiant, Ghostbusters, HeroQuest, Thieves’ World), five published board games (Dragon Pass, Nomad Gods, Elric, King Arthur’s Knights, Merlin), and one computer game (King of Dragon Pass), as well as innumerable supplements, adventures, and scenarios, and without a doubt Pendragon is my favorite. I consider it my masterpiece. 

The short and simple answer as to why I feel this way is that King Arthur Pendragon is a concise, elegant system that presents the desired effects in an entertaining, playable manner that delights both novices and scholars. I take pride in my work, and am very proud of this game. 

The long answer is more complex. 

It begins with my curiosity about the Middle Ages and my love for the King Arthur mythos. My curiosity began when I was about eight or so. I was looking through a big picture book that included photos of castles, and I clearly remember wondering why they had such tall walls and no roofs. Some time later I learned they were ruins, of course, inciting another passion of mine for exploring these lonely remnants. 

I first learned about King Arthur in a copy of Bullfinch’s Mythology when I was very young. I saw some Howard Pyle books shortly thereafter, and began reading every piece of medieval fiction I could get my hands on. I got my first copy of Le Morte D’Arthur when I was 14 and was astonished and delighted to learn there were stories about knights from before he was king, that Lancelot was not the only knight, and that there were many, many more books on the subject. 

I began my first game company, Chaosium, in 1974, and a part of me always wanted to do a King Arthur game. My first was a board game, King Arthur’s Knights, in 1978, but that was unsatisfactory. I was well published in roleplaying games when I finally decided to undertake presenting King Arthur. 

I like Pendragon, too, because the work is all mine. In general, all of the other roleplaying games I have published have been works of committee. For Pendragon, though, I worked alone. I spent approximately 20 hours a week for a year designing and writing the core rules, and about the same time collecting and writing the background information. Ken St. Andre did give me a key to the resolution system to do away with the Resistance Table, but most of the rest was my own work. So, of course, I take pride in it. 

I began with Basic Roleplaying as the basis, thinking we would publish another game in the genera/game system that had already spawned RuneQuest, Elric, and Call of Cthulhu, and that had or would include other less known games (ElfQuest, Nephilim, Superworld, Worlds of Wonder). But after a while I realized that I would have to expand that basic system because of the subject matter, and I wanted the game to be about more than playing a single hero and his goals. So, with its traits and passions, battles and families, the game graduated from the BRP system. 

I decided early, too, that I would narrow the focus to be only about knights. I would not try to mimic the popular conception of fantasy that threw every possible player type into a big messy pool of options. I wanted to stick to the standards of literature, and did not cater to commoners, thieves, scribes, or even magicians. (Later, under pressure from Gamemasters who wanted a portrayal of Arthurian magic, I did publish a magic system for the game, and this naturally led to addressing the issue for player characters who wanted to be magicians. But I always felt this was a dilution of the essential game, and almost everyone who has commented says it is no fun to be a magic user in King Arthur Pendragon. That is fine by me.) 

By focusing on knights, I realized early on that Glory acquisition would be the key to the game. It was a reasonable coin with which to measure the value of a knight’s life, both in the literary and the real worlds. So I made a list of things that knights do, and began fiddling with the relative values. With that “game coin” as the focus, I began working out how to collect it.

But if it was all about knights, then I needed to differentiate them. The system needed to quantify behavior, because I wanted it to be able to include patterns of conduct as different as William Marshall and Gilles de Rais. Playtesting resolved the system for me. 

This led to a proliferation of types. That is, everyone would have to be a fighting type, since that is the job of all knights. But chivalric behavior, romantic manners, and religious leanings were different. I eventually included character generation for people form every nation that produced original Arthurian stories and different religions as well (not in this 5th edition of the core rules, but available in the Book of Lords & Ladies sourcebook). 

Thus, I had the literary structure and idealistic frame for the game. But that alone is not enough. I love the setting of medieval reality and its brutal, gritty realism, the struggle between life and death. Though many games are tilted towards player-character ease, I feel that making it too easy dilutes the emotional impact of play. I wanted players to feel as worried about their characters as the characters themselves would. Since the perfection of Arthurian ideals is offset by this danger, I wanted to make a game that walked the fine line between lethal reality and the idealism of a visionary life dedicated to the highest ideals and values. This theme is the key to the Arthurian legends. 

I didn’t want to water down the knight’s life of death and danger. I wanted players to know the danger, to have a reason for their knight to turn and run away once in a while. The sweetness and lightness of so many previous fantasy games, which either were not lethal or had a hundred methods of resurrection and healing, is alien to the body of Arthurian lore. The original stories were entertainment for men who knew the realities of combat, and I felt that to water that down betrayed the literature. 

Every Pendragon character is going to die, either from violence or old age. 

But these people also lived in a world of ideals and hope that offered to lift them from the filth and dirt of their lives. Much of this came from spiritual ideals, an unreachable goal. Yet, these ideas of chivalry and noblesse oblige — and of romance and love — were real, and some people strove to obtain them. The legends of idealized knights striving for the unobtainable ideals would not have been so popular had they not moved those grizzled, ignorant old men, and so I felt they were critical to the game. I wanted it to mirror the concerns of that period. I did not want the simple, shallow reality of killing things without repercussions, without a concern for the larger world people live within. 

So that essential tension in Arthurian literature — ideals versus reality — had to be the basis for the game. 

But since literature and medieval life were the sources for the setting, the game required me to address many subjects that had never been dealt with before. As a result, Pendragon was the first roleplaying game that used the game system itself to address personal behavior, relationships, the passage of time and the generation of families, and Christianity. 

Personal behavior was the key to all of this. In my years of gaming, I have always been irritated by characters who acted one way until a certain moment, when they would suddenly change. A key example would be those characters who were absolute lushes until the fairy queen put a flagon of wine before them, when they were suddenly teetotalers. I never denied the chance of a drunk doing this, but the incongruity of such reversals betrayed the essence of roleplaying a consistent character. 

So I invented the personality Traits. I had played with this idea previously, but this time it was a playable system because of the opposed Traits. The mechanic of Directed Traits came later when, during one campaign, a player developed a deep distrust only for Romans. 

And then Passions. Everyone in the literature is passionate. King Arthur weeps for the death of his friends, for the departure of the knights upon the Grail Quest; at other times he falls to the floor because he is laughing so hard. Guenever is enraged upon discovering Lancelot’s inadvertent infidelity, and he goes stark raving mad under her scorn. Gaheris kills his mother because he thinks she is untrue to his father, Isoud dies of sorrow because she thinks Tristram is dead. I wanted the game to mirror these things, so I set it to give Glory for high Passions — and at the same time, for players to risk losing control of their characters with this Passion. 

I had to grapple also with the passage of time. Arthur’s story starts with his birth, or perhaps even before that, and it ends with his death. The literature has the youth of Gawaine and his son’s early adventures. So I determined to make time move forward, and, in a desire to make the entire campaign playable, I insisted on the scheme of one significant adventure per game year. To ensure a desire and willingness to do this, I installed the Winter Phase, to allow characters to do that most amazing and wonderful thing of roleplaying games — to grow and change. 

In my years of gaming, I had noticed the fact of “game inflation.” That is, even a stingy Gamemaster who gives only one magical sword and one magical horse and one magical shield will find that these never disappear. The characters always keep them and get stronger. And, of course, give one person a set of armor that is 2 points better than everyone else’s, and soon everyone is clamoring — or worse, whining — for one. 

I wanted players to build into their characters this natural inclination of increasing strength. It dovetailed perfectly with my desire to make the entire Arthurian saga coincide with the entire Middle Ages. Thus was born escalation, where the horses and the armor and the castles and all kinds of things all get better through the campaign, offering the players the chance to improve along with the story. And, of course, the villains improve as well. 

And families. Families in Arthurian literature are incredibly important, and the creation of heirs critical to the genera. After all, it is that precise failure that brings the Round Table to ruin. And since I had already decided that time would pass, and thus people would (if they were lucky) slowly age, the introduction of families was natural. The function of Romance would take on meaning in the game as well, as knights sought wives, and we could play with the concept of simply marrying for wealth and lands instead of love, if players wished. 

Finally, Christianity was pretty much a taboo subject before Pendragon. People were leery of trying to portray the “living religion” of a large part of their customer base. But King Arthur would be impossible or false without it. The virtues worked in there perfectly. I decided, too, to introduce paganism. After all, much Arthurian legend and most British folklore are based on pre-Christian religion and beliefs, so it was natural to use. The invading Saxons were a different flavor of paganism. Thus, I added the alternate religions (not all of which are part of this 5th edition book, but available in supplements such as the Book of Knights and Ladies). 

Mostly, the game mechanics please me. I have devised a heads/tails system, the multiple dice Ghostbusters system (later used in a Star Wars game), and helped develop several games using the Basic Roleplaying d100 system. But this one, the Pendragon system, is my favorite. 

The game covers combat, personal behavior, relationships, the passage of time, and the generation of families, all within one system. I spent countless hours working out the exact values for the people and creatures. I wanted to be sure that the monsters were compatible with the scale of the people. I tested it time and again to make sure that the Troit Boar, for instance, could not be killed by a normal human, that the Saxons would be formidable and scary fighters, and that the game’s early armor did not stop all blows from normal fighting men, but that the later armor nearly did so. I have never been dissatisfied with the final stats. 

Thus, to me, the combination of mechanics and the Arthurian setting came together. 

I enjoyed the challenge of joining the imaginary places of legend into the fabric of British geography, combined with the historical 6th-century facts. I used Phyllis Ann Karr’s book, The Arthurian Companion, as a starting point. But I’d disagreed with a few placements based on my own reading. There were many decisions that were simply arbitrary, but most of them had reasons. I also searched out maps of 6th-Century Britain for the roads and settlements, and even used maps of that old coastline, which do not match those of today. It was a heady and satisfying effort. 

Finally, the background took shape. King Arthur derives, ultimately, from British legend. I scoured my library of folklore and legend for all the places and things that might work with the medieval legend. I never used any ghost story or weird event that occurred beyond medieval history, but put in every place of faeries, every healing well I found, and the sites of ghosts, monsters, and faeries. 

So it was that Pendragon became my most satisfying work. It brought together my professional game design career with my personal delight in the literature, my historical interests with the folklore interests, my pleasure at artistic creativity with its agony. 

And it has brought us together, the players, Gamemasters, and designers. I invite you to enjoy it yourself, and hope the combination gives you pleasure as it has me. 

— Greg Stafford 

Revised Player Character Pregens for the RuneQuest Glorantha Quickstart

Yanioth Image

You can find the RuneQuest QuickStart Adventure here.

I’ve changed up the list of Rune Magic spells to match the spells found in the RQG Core Book. I’ve also altered the spell notion terms from those found in the Quickstart to those found in the Core Book (so, now a spell might have the notation, [1, Touch, Instant, Nonstackable], as opposed to the notation from the quickstart).

Each booklet contains the information you would find on a character sheet. But also contains brief descriptions of the the character’s cult and god, descriptions of the Runes of Glorantha, and brief descriptions of the character’s Spirit and Rune spells.

I hope this is useful for people. I’m still plowing through the rules. But I’ve found that making tools like this lets me get a grasp on new rules. And I believe it will help my players in a couple of weeks have a quick reference for both rules and some of the texture of Glorantha as they sink into the setting and the game for the first time.

Click on the image of each character to link to the Player Character Booklet:

YANIOTHYanioth Image


VOSTORVostor Image


VASANAVasana Image


SORALASorala Image


HARMASTHarmast Image


Pregen Player Character Booklets for the RuneQuest Glorantha Quickstart

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In celebration of Runequest Gloranatha: Quickstart Rules and Adventure coming home with ENnie Gold, and because RuneQuest Glorantha is now available in PDF and soon to be available in print, and because I’ll be running the Quickstart at a local convention at the end of the month I decided to take the Pregenerated Player Characters and build little booklets for each PC.

Each booklet contains the relevant Rune Descriptions, Rune Spells, Spirit Magic Spells, and short descriptions of the respective PC’s cult, as well as all the other information contained on each of the PC’s character sheet from the Quickstart.

My design goal was to build a little booklet which would allow a Player to flip through the booklet and find the relevant information for a specific rule or topic on a given page.

I’m a big fan of the A5/8.5×5.5 format at the gaming table. They take up less space, you can hold them in your hands easily when flipping through them. The PDF is in a A5 format. You can print the PDFs using “booklet” formatting and get a 20 page doc on five sheets of paper. (There’s a short table of contents after the coverer page. The whole idea is to make an easy to use, easy to access document for someone sitting down to play RuneQuest Glorantha for the first time.)

The pages were built in A5 format. But you can easily print them in 8.5×5.5 format with only the slightest shrinkage to the text and no real effect on presentation.

These is a format that i came up with for myself, of course. Which reflects my own thinking and design principles. But I hope people might find them helpful for getting new demonstrations of the game up and running.

I haven’t done a final proof on these yet, so if you notice anything askew, please let me know!


RQG Yanioth QuickStart

RQG Vostor QuickStart

RQG Vasana QuickStart

RQG Sorala QuickStart

RQG Harmast QuickStart

The Mountain Witch Kickstarter


I’ve been busy working away writing scripts, so the blogging has suffered of late. But I wanted to share this link to The Mountain Witch Kickstarter.

The Mountain Witch is very much in the tradition of “story-games” so it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But it is a terrific design with a terrific premise. I want everyone who might be interested in it to be aware of it.

First published in 2004, it became a major influence on indie RPG game design. The author has thought about the game a lot, streamlined some stuff, and is getting ready to publish a new version after it not being in print for a decade.

From the Kickstarter:

It’s “Seven Samurai” meets “Reservoir Dogs” in this tabletop RPG about trust, betrayal, and confronting one’s fate.

The Mountain Witch is a self-contained role-playing adventure in which players take on the role of ronin in mythical medieval Japan. Outcast and unemployed, these samurai accept a job that no one else would take—to assault and kill the dreaded O-Yanma, the Mountain Witch of Mt Fuji. But can these individuals—who are haunted by their pasts and by dark fortune—be trusted? Can they overcome their differences and move together against the Witch? Or will dark fate overwhelm them?

More On Pointcrawls — and Thoughts on Pointcrawls for Traveller


A few weeks ago I posted a link to a very smart post about pointcrawls from Anne at DIY & Dragons.

As Anne explained in her first post on the matter:

At its most basic, pointcrawling is a way of depicting space that maps a set of known locations as “nodes” that are connected by a limited number of “paths.” Depending on a judge’s time and artistic talent, this diagram could consist of little more than numbered circles connected by straight lines (something similar to the early Scorpion Swamp pointcrawl introduced in the Fighting Fantasy books, seen in Figure 1 below.)


Figure 1. Scorpion Swamp from Fighting Fantasy 8

Alternatively, it could be much more detailed, either an artistic rendering or an information-encoding scheme to visually depict the location at each “node,” and likewise some method of giving more information about each “path.” In Figures 2 and 3 below, Hill Cantons shows a scheme for color-coding and labeling square nodes to show information about each location at a glance, while using different kinds of lines to instantly communicate information about the types of paths. (Really, his whole series of articles on this is an excellent read.)


Fig. 2 – Horizontal Undercity from Hill Cantons


Fig. 3 – Vertical Undercity from Hill Cantons

The post goes into a lot more detail. But I think the value of pointcrawls might not be immediately obvious because we are trained to expect full terrain maps and full deck plans.

But the fact is, a full deck plan of a starship might not be required for an evening of play for Traveller. Consider this: a pointcrawl could be made of a starship, showing all the chambers on board and the routes might be able to take from one chamber to another. There’s really no need to draw up full deck plans. And if one is focused on a “theater of the mind” presentation of the ship and onboard action to the Player rather than miniatures, a pointcrawl might actually make a lot more sense. One need only glance down at the nodes and connections to see where the Player Character is in relation to other elements of the ship. Notes can be marked up next to the nodes (or within them) or however you want to roll.

The point being that sometimes we get so caught up in “the way things are supposed to be done” we don’t think through, “What exactly is the most useful way to record and impart this information?” or “What do I really need to run the encounter on this starship?”

Here’s the pointcrawl of a 200 ton Type A Free Trader I just whipped up for this post.


Notice that it tells me almost anything I’m going to need to describe what is happening on a ship. Most rooms are not going to be more than 8 meters across, which means that most combats will be at Close or Short range and sometimes stretch to Medium if the combats really make sure they’re firing at each other from one end of a longer room to another. Notice that cargo hold, even from end to end, falls within Medium range. (Notice too, that at certain points, where I thought it might matter, I noted the length or dimension of a room or corridor. One could do that with every room if one wanted to.

Now, listen. We all have access to the deck plans of a 200 ton Free Trader. This illustration isn’t that big a deal, in part because we all have those plans and in part because the lower deck of a Free Trader isn’t really that complicated or big.

But let’s say you needed to whip up a Corsair or any other kind of ship. The question is how much work do you really need to put into whipping up a new ship? Do you really need detailed deck plans to scale? Will your players ever notice if you don’t?

But let’s think about bigger locations:

  • space stations
  • underground mining operations
  • cities of a billion people
  • the continent of an alien world
  • and so on…

Do you really need a details map of all the locations?

My guess is no, you really don’t. You do need to know major locations. You do need to know how one place connects to another. (Is there a monorail between the two locations? Or do you have to walk? Use different colors for each type of movement and name travel times and your pointcrawl becomes both useful and efficient!) Entire continents can be mapped out this way, with key points of interested written down as nodes and notes about traversing the distances between the nodes right on the sheet. (Here’s a link to a post at Hill Cantons about replacing wilderness hex-maps with wilderness pointcrawls. Really worth checking out!)

Traveller is a tricky game in that the Player Characters can (and should) travel from world to world to world. This is, I think, one of the reasons the game can seem daunting to Referees (or would be Referees). If you’ve been raised on RPGs thinking you need full color maps of cities and continents draw to scale, the thought of having to create, say, 20 planets, along with all the cities, colonies, bases, and ancient ruins might seem overwhelming. And let’s be clear–IT IS OVERWHELMING!!! A given subector might have 20 planets. The idea that you, as the Referee will have all the details of those worlds mapped out and ready to go because the Players decide to have their characters pick up stakes and light out for another planet on a whim would drive anyone mad. This is supposed to be a fun hobby… not a full time job!

And keep in mind: When I write all of this, I am assuming that the original Traveller rules were designed for improvised playnot railroaded plots. The Player Characters should be able to pick up stakes and head off to a new world on a whim, and new troubles should arrive on a whim as well. That’s what the game is about.

Also keep in mind that the abstract range band system from the original Traveller rules. Marc Miller provided a solid, abstract system that could keep things moving along without getting bogged down in measuring every foot minutia. “Mapping” as we know it from early Dungeons & Dragons makes sense if you are underground, in an ill-lit environment, wondering if you’ll remember how to get out, while checking the map for empty gaps that might suggest there is a secret door you passed and missed earlier. You don’t need that level of mapping detail if you’re hangout out on a space station or taking a monorail from one city to another. The notion of pointcrawls fits right into the design philosophy of the original Traveller rules.

So, is it worth it to you to relive yourself of the responsibility of having to map out entire continents and space stations in order to give your players plenty of freedom, cut down on your prep time, and give yourself the confined to know you can handle whipping up whatever environment your players go to?

Finally, Anne has promised to get to a post about “mini-crawls” very soon. But in the meantime she has a new post up with more examples of pointcrawling.

Comments and Conversations about the Previous Post on Classic Traveller Personal Combat


This post on personal combat in Traveller Book 1 generated some great comments both in the comments section, but on several other sites across the Internet.

Over at the G+ Classic Traveller community a solid conversation took place inspired by the post. Because we covered so many ideas and topics, and the nature of the conversation revealed people sorting out ideas (including myself) I thought I’d share the thread directly, allowing people to see how the ideas flowed.

Also the group is great. And if you are interested in Classic Traveller you should check it out.

Michael Thompson
Close combat with someone who has a clue with a firearm should be deadly in short order. I was part of the security response force aboard a submarine, and we stressed the importance of finding cover and concealment, and gaining surprise.

Christopher Kubasik
+Michael Thompson I think something that can throw people off about the original Traveller combat rules is that they want RPG combat to feel like … well, RPG combat. They want lots of rounds, a slow ablative decay of hit points, and durable PCs that have time to take stock of a battle that is going south and change tactics accordingly.

Marc Miller was a captain in the army and, believe, served in Nam. He wrote the rules to reflect how he saw a firefight would go. And so the game has rules that are brutal, quick, and dependent on the Players/PCs being smart long before the bullets start flying.

Jeff R.
Another excellent post. Something to consider is that, RAW, movement is normally completed before combat throws, so it would be possible (subject to Ref judgment) for the PC under fire to “evade into cover” before the combat throw is adjudicated, or maybe even “close range” from Short to Close. In the end I find CT combat fast, furious and fun, to steal a tag-line from another game.

Christopher Kubasik
+Jeff R. Yes! I implied that in the post, but didn’t spell it out. I should probably fix that.

Daniel M
At a past GenCon I ran a session in which a player, armed with a dagger, attacked a Stormtrooper in combat armor. After the dagger attack failed the trooper opened up on the player with his laser rifle and scored a hit. Everyone at the table knew that character was a goner. I picked up 5 dice, shook them, and dropped them in the middle of the table for everyone to see. 1, 1, 1, 1 and a 2. The player barely noticed the injury and the rest of his party toasted the trooper with their own weapons.

Hitting your target is only the first part of the story.

Jeff R.
+Daniel M Ha! I had something similar happen in my home game, where a foil-wielding Marquis charged an Auto-Pistol armed kidnapper and not only didn’t get hurt, but disarmed the cad…

Alistair Langsford
+Christopher Kubasik You’ve written a lot of good stuff on CT, but I think this might be the best article so far. CT and its combat always seemed to be a stumbling block with various groups when I was just getting into RPGs. But not the group I started with, of whom I and one other person out of about 8 were the only ones who didn’t have military and/or wargames experience. They had quite a different view from the rest of the roleplayers I gamed with.

I think one of the key reminders you make is that PCs are awesome when it comes to firefights. A fact many forget. But, to steal a quote from one of my favourite action movies, they’re still ‘Touchable’.

Jeff R.
Another excellent post. Something to consider is that, RAW, movement is normally completed before combat throws, so it would be possible (subject to Ref judgment) for the PC under fire to “evade into cover” before the combat throw is adjudicated, or maybe even “close range” from Short to Close. In the end I find CT combat fast, furious and fun, to steal a tag-line from another game.

Christopher Kubasik
+Jeff R. Yes! I implied that in the post, but didn’t spell it out. I should probably fix that.

Daniel M
At a past GenCon I ran a session in which a player, armed with a dagger, attacked a Stormtrooper in combat armor. After the dagger attack failed the trooper opened up on the player with his laser rifle and scored a hit. Everyone at the table knew that character was a goner. I picked up 5 dice, shook them, and dropped them in the middle of the table for everyone to see. 1, 1, 1, 1 and a 2. The player barely noticed the injury and the rest of his party toasted the trooper with their own weapons.

Hitting your target is only the first part of the story.

Jeff R.
+Daniel M Ha! I had something similar happen in my home game, where a foil-wielding Marquis charged an Auto-Pistol armed kidnapper and not only didn’t get hurt, but disarmed the cad…

Frank Filz
Great post. There’s a reason in Daniel M’s game when we were intercepting a ship, I had my character who had Vacc Suit-2 and Shotgun-3 EVA and come in through a different airlock (and note that a standard Traveller vacc suit counts as cloth armor). It should also be noted that the shotgun lets you hit multiple targets also… And it’s allowable at a higher law level than any other firearm…

Oh, and that Shotgun-3 skill, two of those skill levels came from mustering out…

Christopher Kubasik
+Alistair Langsford, this is a really solid point — which I made in the post but I think is worth reiterating here:

“AWESOME only in the sense of having that zero level Often people seem to complain that CT characters are limited and can’t do much and are somewhat fragile in fights. Not quite so. ON the other hand PC choices are sometimes less than awesome.”

The fact is once you add in the DMs for range, armor, and bonus or penalties for high or low characteristics, the skill level often becomes a relatively insignificant part of the calculation to hit that 8+.

Of course, most people in the world of Traveller have no combat training (not firing range training, but combat training) and so suffer the – 5 DM when using a weapon. In this regard, the PCs (with a default expertise of 0 or even skill levels) are definitely better than most folks — and so are awesome by comparison.

That most people pick up the rules, focus only on the skill rankings of a PC, and miss all those DMs for range, armor, and characteristics is caused by many reasons.

I suspect that one of them is that the combat DM matrixes split up the DMs for combat and thus makes it hard to see how the DMs will play out in a clear manner. A person sees those two matrixes, kind of gets hypnotized by all those numbers swimming around on the page that combine into something but it’s hard to see clearly unless you write it all out.

This is one of the reasons I made the weapon cards: I wanted to be able to see clearly what each weapons was going to be able to do in different circumstances. And I wanted my players to be able to see it clearly, too.

Christopher Kubasik
+Jeff R. This is an important point:

“Another excellent post. Something to consider is that, RAW, movement is normally completed before combat throws, so it would be possible (subject to Ref judgment) for the PC under fire to “evade into cover” before the combat throw is adjudicated, or maybe even “close range” from Short to Close. In the end I find CT combat fast, furious and fun, to steal a tag-line from another game.”

I want to think more about this because, of course, the NPC can move at the same time as well. He can be trying to cut the PC running for cover off, or try to get to a better flanking position if he sees the PC might try to evade into cover.

This matters because of something I have never thought about before, but I’m going to give it some thought: Since all movement is simultaneous and all firing is simultaneous, when does the Referee decide what the PCs will do? How does he decide it?

Does he write it down on paper before the PCs/Players declare movements? Does he let the PCs/Players declare first and then roll a die with two or three possibilities and randomly determine which action he takes, with different odds, perhaps for different actions?

Again, I’ve never thought this through, but I do think it is worth thinking about, as it will determine how the Player feel the combat system works, if they’re enjoying it, and can help layer tension and excitement depending on how choices and actions are revealed.

Frank Filz
Back in the day, when playing RPG systems with simultaneous action in combat, I always had the players make their declarations. I would have some idea what the NPCs/monsters would do before they made their statements. Reasonable reaction to other statements was acceptable (like changing where you moved if an NPC or other player made a movement that might impact what you were doing). While I did not have exposure at that time to Free Kriegspiel, I think the way I handled simultaneous action fits well with that philosophy. I rarely had complaints from players so it must have felt natural to players (even ones with no previous wargaming experience).

In fact, watching some play of Metagaming’s Melee turned me off of initiative systems (a fast enough character could move behind an opponent and strike from behind, without the opponent having any ability to turn as the guy was circling around him).

This issue also made me wary of explicit facing (and in college, the Cold Iron game a friend developed that we played a lot had a further issue with facing and such. We usually used a hex grid for combat, but only 4 people could attack one opponent, so how do you resolve things when 6 opponents can fit around you on the board… In the end, I had written up a house rules document that laid out combat in more detail as our play developed more in the “board game” direction in the same vein as D&D 3.x.

And with all of that in mind, for my Classic Traveller play, I will allow myself to be informed by Snapshot but I won’t directly use it, keeping combat more free form (but not entirely theater of the mind – I’m ok with using a map and a grid, but we won’t always count squares or hexes).

Daniel M
+Christopher Kubasik I have to disagree with your statement “the skill level often becomes a relatively insignificant part of the calculation”. With the bell curve of two six sided dice being so short a single +1 DM from skill level can make all the difference. See my previous posting “The Power of ‘1’”.

Jeff R.
+Christopher Kubasik I don’t use a methodical decision tree, I just have an idea what the NPCs will do, go around the table asking for actions (e.g., “I dive for cover, shooting the nearest kidnapper”, “I spray my gauss rifle across the largest cluster of thugs”, etc.). The players don’t always use the “evade, close range, open range, stand” options when stating movement, though usually it’s obvious, or I ask for clarification. When it comes to combat throws I’ll sometimes decide, sometimes roll to see if shots went off before someone reached cover, depending on circumstances. I’ve resisted trying to add anything more formal, and so far it has worked just fine.

Christopher Kubasik
Hi +Daniel M, I don’t think we are disagreeing. Please note that I’ve been banging the drum to get people to understand that a skill-1 is actually a big deal in Classic Traveller 2D6 bell curve for some time now.

What I think we need to focus on in the statement you quoted is the word “relatively.” For example, someone shooting at a unarmored target at short range with an SMG is going to get a DM +5 for firing at target not wearing armor and a DM +3 for firing at a target at Short range.

For armor and range DMs alone the shooter has racked up a DM +8. Obviously on a 2D6 bell curve this is an enormous advantage. So much so that on a Throw for an 8+ to hit the PC cannot miss.

I’m not saying the SMG-1 rating the shooter poseses doesn’t matter. I’m saying that in the situation described above it matters relatively less than other DMs. In this case a PC is going to have the same odds of an effective hit whether they have SMG-1 or SMG-0.

Which was the only point I was making. Skills matter, but they are not all that matters. But people, for whatever reason, really focus on the skills and their levels when reading the Classic Traveller rules.

Christopher Kubasik
+Jeff R. Do the players find out what the NPCs are doing before or after they declare actions? (Or is it a mix of some kind?) That’s what I’m curious about.

Because if you close range to get to melee and I open range with a firearm while you charge me you might get caught out in the open at short range and I get a shot off on you. That’s going to matter!

And I agree with pretty much everything you and +Frank Filz have written about keeping it simple.

Frank Filz
So if you declare backing off to open range, and my guy is trying to close with you, then we look at relative movement rates (they may be the same) and you probably get a nice shot off. It’s also hard to judge these things in abstract scenario, once in play, we have more information to make an adjudication with.

Todd Zircher
True, true, and backing up probably means that your opponent has been flushed from cover and is open to all kinds of other hurt. 🙂

Christopher Kubasik
Yes. The part about relative movement rates I understand.

I am trying to figure out the best order to decide/reveal the NPC’s choice to open range.

If i’m the Referee it might not occur to me to have the NPC back up until the Player announces his character is going to charge. But if actions are simultaneous should I be making decisions based on foreknowledge of the PCs’ movements?

If I’m the Player I might decide I don’t want to charge if the NPC is going to back up and leave me exposed to a shotgun blast at short range.

It seems to me that a) when actions are announced and b) when characters are committed to actions matter. And I’m thinking that through.

Jeff R.
I see the issue: I run a loose game where the PCs are of heroic stamp, and they always get the benefit of the doubt. But I do decide what the NPCs are doing before asking the players, and if the NPC actions might change what the player wants to do I generally give them a chance (Saving Throw) to change, as long as the change isn’t too drastic. The NPCs never get that chance, since the story isn’t about them.

Frank Filz
+Christopher Kubasik Yea, totally. Players can make their statements of intent conditional which helps. If the player was trying to decide whether to break cover to close and the NPC was going to open range, I think either the NPC’s intent would be clear to the PC before breaking cover, or it would be more the case of the NPC backing up in reaction to the PC breaking cover.

If it really became an issue, I’d possibly call for some kind of random throw to determine who gets to react to whom (note that many initiative systems actually leave the more reactive character committing first which can seem backwards – another reason to use common sense rather than a strict procedure).

Again, I think in the moment of play, there would be more information than our cooked up scenario to help decide what happens. That doesn’t mean talking and theorizing isn’t helpful in opening our eyes to different ways to interpret the situations we face in play.

Christopher Kubasik
+Frank Filz That all seems reasonable to me. I’m a big believer in “Let the fiction sort it out.” And my first post on this issue above suggests exactly what you suggest — if I’m not sure which way an NPC will go, I’d come up with a random die roll to determine a course of action.

Whether this is “theorizing” I have no idea. (Well, that’s not true. I certainly wouldn’t consider it “theorizing.”) The rules offer no instruction on how to handle this stuff. And my thesis for the Out of the Box posts has been that many of us have been “trained” to play a certain way — and that Classic Traveller works from assumptions counter to most other RPGs. By naming specific issues at hand in apply the Classic Traveller rules the would-be Referee can visual and imagine ahead of time how the application of rules might work out.

(As a side note: I think that in many ways Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World is closest in spirit and application to games like Original D&D and original Traveller. One will note there is no initiative in AW as well, and the fiction finds a way…)

Alistair Langsford
+Frank Filz When I think about the rules, I think I have many of the same issues as +Christopher Kubasik mentioned when it comes to “simultaneous”. Mainly because of my experience from other games where you have to write your moves so the declarations as well as resolutions are simultaneous. When I’m gaming it I realise it often has come down to more of what you and +Jeff R. describe: order often becomes obvious. And we’ve forgotten to “roll for initiative” because tho’ we initially started with Mongoose Traveller we seem to have ended up running pretty much CT. I think I’ve been overthinking it. And, this isn’t a war game. I think you’ve all helped me get a better idea on how to run CT combat. Thanks.

Victor Raymond
Generally speaking, that’s why initiative has mattered in other game systems. Not that it allows someone to go first, it’s a matter of “are you acting, or reacting?” In a wargame, if you win the initiative, you have two choices:
1. Move and act first, attempting to gain an advantage before your opponent can stop you, or
2. Wait to see what your opponent does, and then act.

In either case, rules about movement and engagement model the consequences of your actions, and depending on your resources, your decision could affect the rest of the battle. A lot of this may seem abstract, but even on the 1:1 scale of CT, that’s what those bonuses for Tactics, Leader, and prior military experience model in the surprise roll.