Epic Sword

This is a beautiful sword. I won't be talking about the actual item and its history, which can be found here. Instead, I want to talk about what it made me think of:

The pocking and nicks of the blade are not the function of age and corrosion, but the nature of the thing. It's aged appearance belies its strength, and that seemingly blunt and eroded blade is actually a keen carver of both flesh and armor alike, forever sharp, while the erratic serrations of the edge allow it to hew into almost any material.

A warrior wielding such a blade my be thought at first quixotic, but as the weapon reveals its uncanny trait for bifurcating most anything it's plied against, either or both the sword and its wielder will come to command respect.

Or perhaps the corroded appearance is also an indication of secondary properties, and the weapon actually has a corrosive or acidic effect upon that which it comes in contact, and the only safe housing for it is an enchanted sheath....


Small is Scary

In traditional fantasy role-playing games, everything is big. You thought a centipede is scary, we made it 10 feet long. That regular spider freaking you out? Here's one 5 feet tall! It doesn't really matter what it is, the rule is to make it as big (or bigger) than a person, and maybe cover it in spikes and/or bony plates.

In reality though, the bigger you make a thing, once you get over the shock factor, makes it a lot more manageable. A giant spider could cause some initial bladder control issues, but once you get over that it's a big-ass spider, it's not any different than the any other wilderness or dungeon denizen. You square up, bust out the spells, spears, and swords, and have at it, and because it's fairly large, a group can gang up on it and have a fairly easy time of hitting it, because of it's size, the tactics required are pretty straight forward.

What is really scary is the small ones, especially if you make them lethal, community web building hunters. Imagine, the trees or dungeon surfaces are wrapped in a shroud of webbing, in which tens of thousands of spiders no bigger than a large common spider (not even a tarantula) all armed with necrotic, paralyzing poison. They trail 'hook lines' down into corridors, and as passing prey connects with the slight, sticky filaments, they dislodge the spider from it's ceiling roost, where it quickly finds it's way into the warm inner folds of armor and garments, where it delivers numbing bites as it roams along.. eventually, the prey will fall as their muscles seize up, their heart barely beating, and numerous small spiders emerge from the webbing to wrap the nigh-corpse in a it's very own death-shroud to preserve it's bodily fluids, as the poor sap becomes a larder for all those hungry little monsters, poison softening the tissues of the body into a delicious soup.

How do you combat that?

Burn the webs! but alas, while direct application of flame will cause them to shrivel and singe, like many webs, they simply refuse to ignite... so one must go along and inch by inch burn the webs, but even then, you haven't destroyed the fiends, only the time-crafted lair that made their job easier. Purging expanses with fireballs and other expansive pyrotechnics can make quick work of the lair, but so many of the spiders are still in their tunneled warrens, pocking the walls, ceiling, and floors of their domain.The drag lines will still be lowered, the victims still claimed.

You can't very well fight them with sword or spear... mallets and blunt flails maybe, but even then, those weapons will take horrible abuse to eradicate so many minute foes. And even if we made these fiends the size of grapefruit, sword and spear would be blunted and dulled clashing against the stones while slaying them, but alas, they are the size of small nuts, and even harder to hit. Stomping on those you can reach may work well at first, but that may simply expose you to more.

The greatest plate armor in the world, besides being impractical gear for dungeon delving (imo) would truly show itself as a liability against these foes... mighty warriors squealing like school-children, slapping at their face and hair, ripping armor off for fear of a spider in their gusset.

It's the smallest monsters that you need to be scared of.

Inspired in part by this tale of RL drain exploration. And this story of a house infestation.


Dungeon Thoughts

 I have used trees and tree stumps for inspiration many times. My ongoing fantasy campaign metropolis Amberuen was based on the stump of massive (about 4 feet high and about 3 in diameter at the cut line) date-palm tree. In fact, the first dungeon I designed was based on the gnarled roots of a mulberry tree at my old elementary school. So it's no surprise to me that once again, I am finding inspiration in tree stumps.

This time, I was looking for inspiration for a massive sprawl of natural caverns riddled with trails twining along cavern walls, yawning open into unfathomable depths, occasionally bridged from one side to the other, and all linking together elaborate tombs, temples, lairs, etc, carved and constructed in more traditional dungeon styles. So here, in the cracking and rotted out spaces, I find inspiration for the layout of those massive caverns.

I envision large expanses in the rotted clefts, up to tens of hundreds of feet across, and the narrower cracks snake along, 20, 50, even 100 feet across at their widest. Along the trails that skirt those sheer faces, are carved tombs and temples, libraries and laboratories, dungeons and prisons, and the lairs of whatever happens to call this place home. 


Reality Engines and the End of Time

Borrowing from Moorcock's The Dancers at the End of Time

A distant future of some race who mastered... everything. Their world was manned by orbiting reality engines capable of restructuring matter, serving the whims of the inhabitants of that world who were schooled in the codes the machines read telepathically from the operators. One only need to know the codes to hack reality.

Time passes. Boredom, bad code, unforeseen and sudden threat... something plucked these godlings from the world.

The most potent machines, the reality engines, go silent. The maintenance engines that regulated climate and safety, no longer registering the inputs of either the reality engines or the masters, go into standby mode with minimum climate control to conserve energy.

The menageries (that included savage men) that were kept private game farms and parks the size of nations if not continents, grow fallow, the animals and men continue to survive as the world enters an ice age, and eventually, emerges from the ice age as the climate engines begin receiving erratic signals that ghost the will of the old masters.

The remnants of the old civilization are all but literally wiped from the face of the planet, scoured by glaciation, the world is changed, and into it, a savage but changed man explores. The minds of some men are growing to duplicate the old masters, but lacking the codes, they cannot access the reality engines with any reliability... only the climate and security engines respond, sensing something, and not needing complex commands, begin operating on standing protocols.

There may be hardware based interface devices or boosters for the reality engines... but the codes are still missing. So trial and error... and error, and trial, and limited success, but the reality engines take thousands, or tens of thousands, of years to master, and the fleeting lives of men barely allow rudimentary influence, even with an ancient artifact, and teaching the codes, the rituals, the words and motions to structure the thought to make the engines understand, change from person to person because no two minds are mapped precisely the same... and so the science of the ancients is a mystery, naught but magic, passed on from gifted master to gifted student, so rarely with success.Those beings able to reach out to the climate and security engines have an easier time... the codes are easier because so much of it runs on protocols... but so much less powerful.

The earth is a warren of tunnels, where all manner of curious construction and machine tunnels where there are still the remnants of the old engines, and rogue engines lurk both in the depths, and in the sky above, touched by erratic minds of men, they have grown some semblance of thought and take peculiar, unpredictable action, anticipating desires of long gone masters in the context of a radically changed world. Those in the depths churn out all manner of strangeness, mimicking the whims of the reclusive masters who choose to claim their demesne as a dark underworld, and not surprisingly, those temperaments, mimicked by corrupted engines, produce horrifying results.


Flame Lances

A glass ampule as long as a man’s arm and no bigger around than a finger is suspended by golden wires from a large hoop. Within the ampule is a clear solution of distilled ichors and refined compounds of rare elements, and therein, a deep red crystal slowly and nigh imperceptibly grows. When it has filled the ampule, the end will be broken off and the perfect crystal shaft will be retained..

Further down the low workbench, gnarled hands wield a wooden tool to press against a long narrow strip of delicately carved and inlaid metal, bending it down into a long channel on the bench and folding it over to form a cylinder of richly carved glyphs and circuitous lines, on both the inside and out. The delicate lines come into perfect alignment as the tube is formed round. The tube when completed is pulled from the channel and inspected for flaw, and finding none, the crafter channels his will and forces the thin breech in the tubes surface to bind itself closed, welding tight by sheer will.

Another tube, larger around and made of heavier metal carved and inlaid only on it’s interior, is formed next. The red crystal is secured inside the narrow tube which is in turn secured inside the larger tube, and that to wooden stock. A small panel of brass, inlaid and with a red stone matching the crystal shaft at the center of the assembly is placed near the closed end of the of this assembly.

And that is how the flame lances of mighty Amberuen are crafted.

Pressing upon the small red stone and focusing on the invocation of fire will produce a jet of magic flame at least the length of 4 men, expanding wide enough to catch a man full on and touch upon those ranked beside him to either side. The stone is charged with it’s own energies, but those will be supplemented by the potency of the wielder, and when the stone is drained, it may draw on the life-force of it’s user, making them weak and vulnerable. Charging the stone must be done with care, and carelessly swapping stones may cause risk to all around.



I have been looking at a lot of different resolution mechanics lately, and I have three or four observations that start to muddle and blur the more I think about them, so this is my effort at sorting it out:


  • Arbitrary non-formula targets, typically with non-mathematical column and row designations. 'Weapon-type versus armor type' or early 'saving throw' tables are excellent examples of this class of tables. While attribute and level modifiers may be applied to those arbitrary targets, that functionally adds a third or even forth (imaginary) numerical axis onto an arbitrary and indispensable table. Many early games had multiple charts like this.
  • Semi-arbitrary obscure, vague, or multiple formula targets, often with multiple formulas changing out at arbitrary points, in a course approximation of a curve, or actual undefined curves. Often with an upper limit. Modifiers may be applied to the roll, or affect the column or row checked, such distinctions may produce different targets. This class could be further defined, but ranking such nuances is not my concern.
  • Linear- or stepped- simple formula driven targets. Modifiers applied to rolls vs shifting columns or rows may still yield inconsistent results. Stepped targets are often the result of rounding at some step of calculation.

Class modifiers:

Class may affect which table or progression on a table one uses, or give no-, flat-, arbitrary-, or linear- bonus to either the die result, or the column or row consulted.

Level modifiers:

Level is likely to be one of the axial conditions of a table, but if not, it's likely to be a linear modifier to die results.

Attribute modifiers:

  • Arbitrary attribute modifiers tend to apply bonuses to die rolls at the extreme ranges of the attribute. Early games may apply a +3 to the extreme (18, typically), +2 for a 17, and +1 for a 16.  Some may grant +1 for a 15 as well. Similar penalties for the lower extant of the die range were typical. This is the most common format, and although it's typically applied to bell-curved attributes (3d6), the bonuses themselves are applied in a linear fashion at the extremes of the curve. This may not be best representative of the superior specimen an (18) represents as the best of the best, with less than 1% of the population having such capability: super-star professional athletes, and daunting intellects such as Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Tesla... they are the 18's to whom a measly +3 is granted in such a system, while a 15 still represents the top 5% of the population, but in many systems gets not advantage, and in others, a scant +1. 
  • Over/Under Linear attribute modifiers typically build off a median score, and add accordingly, so if 10 is the median or baseline: 11 grants +1, 12 a +2, and so on to 18 with +8. Inversely, 9 is -1, 8 is -2, and so on. Penalties and bonuses could be ramped infinitely for super-humanly grand (or pathetic) scores. Systems such as this certainly resolve another complain often heard regarding arbitrary modifier systems: 'what is the difference between 13 and 14?' A score of 14 seems far from an 18, but it represents the top 10 percent, which may not be an olympic gold medalist or revolutionary mind, but could sill find themselves playing for a professional or regional team, or a published and well respected intellectual, and deserving of some modifier.
  • Add-only Linear attribute modifiers simply add the value of the attribute as a bonus to die rolls. Has the charm of simplicity, no additional tables or lore to parse. This system requires higher targets and mandates that NPCs (and possibly objects) be given some sort of stat or built in modifiers to achieve equity with fully stat'ed characters.

Dice Check Mechanics:

Dice combinations rolled for a check, and their ramifications. I am making a general assumption that ability scores are distributed on a 3d6 bell-curve, and that the 3d6 curve is a fair representation of all functional human capability at both extremes. I am also going to assume that if skills are in play, they are on a flat or linear advancement system. While some systems plot skills on a curve, they are rare enough in my experience that this is the only mention they need for this topic. I will probably visit this concept in more detail in the future.
  • Curved distributions are produced by two or more dice, 3d6 being most common. Checking against a curved target (vs attribute) using a curved check mechanism (3d6 as a check roll) makes higher attributes exceedingly easy to score successes with, and low scores abysmally difficult to overcome. Using a curved mechanic is probably best when checking against linear targets (skills) modified by curved attributes.
  • Linear distributions a produced by a single die, 1d20 being the most popular for such checks. Checking against curved targets with a linear check tends to provide reasonable success/failure, even at the extremes.
To illustrate the two mechanics and their impact on play, consider:
A 15 checked against on 3d6 grants success 95.4%, while on 1d20 success is 75% likely, an 18 checked against on 3d6 is 100% success but on 1d20 grants success only 90%. An attribute score of 15 in a system favoring curved checks is superior to an 18 in a linear check system.


Where the Bugbears Are

Goblin Illustration, J. Jacobs. English Fairy Tales, 1895
Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons
While perhaps the body is a bit lean for my concept of Bugbears, the face on this fella is nearly perfect.


Serendipity Indeed

Over at Telecanter's Receding Rules, some interesting public domain images were shared. Among them was this particular image.

 And this reminded me of some lore of the mesa city of Amberuen:

In the middling days of the existence of the mecca city, after the wrath of their lord cleaved the side open, a would-be prophet imbibed too deeply of knowledge, and became obsessed with the truth of things, and came to know more than mortal minds are meant to know. He ultimately went utterly mad, and was confined into the vault of secrets, where all dangerous truths are kept to keep mortal minds safe and happy. 

But before he was so confined, before the madness took him, he set about to know every stone of the mountain Amberskeir, atop which Amberuen was perched. He claimed to have seeped into the fibers of the mountain and engraved upon the very stone glyphs of binding to hold the mountain against all but the wrath of their lord, should he ever deign to smite the edifice he brought forth from the plain so many millennia before.

In some far distant future, the mountain will exist as naught but a splinter crowned with the temple of their lord, thrust out from the shattered remains of the mountain's base. For miles in all directions about the ruined mountain, chunks of stone will be scattered, engraved with the glyphs that mad prophet claimed to have made, and those who make pilgrimage to that then ancient shrine, will find that venturing off the few safe paths will result in their passage between glyphed stones allowing the power of those bindings to activate, bringing stones together with great force once again, crushing anything between them.



The sleep spell of classic D&D was always a bit of a no-fun nuke spell that gave a magic-user one moment of glory in an adventure, but left them tossing daggers and holding the torch the rest of the session, or if they were lucky, ticking charges from a wand of something useful or casting from scrolls. Of course, the material costs of making scrolls meant no regular level one MU could have a bandolier of such scrolls handy to begin with, and even so, any sentient enemies would spot the pointy hat unrolling the parchment and make him their primary target...

Spell Card by Christopher Kosciuk
But I digress. What I am interested in doing is exploring ways to balance sleep. Some will argue there is no disparity, but granting NPCs the same cudgel and will to use it as the players, and a few TPKs later, if the game is still running, everyone will probably agree to rule-0 Sleep right out of existence.

First, simply allow saving throws for all targets. that will significantly cut into it's effectiveness and give both players and mooks a reasonable chance to remain upright. Apply a -1 to initiative checks for 2d4 rounds to simulate lassitude and away you go.

Further (or in lieu of allowing saving throws) allow the spell to affect 2HD of creature per level of the caster, and prevent success against foes whose HD exceed the casters level +1, or 5HD, whichever is less. I would treat half HD creatures as 0.5HD, not rounding, but otherwise disregard hp modifiers applied to HD. This allows 2 kobolds to be affected where one orc would otherwise be sent to dreamland. One might want to consider an upper limit on the number of HD affected, but leaving it open would provide for a significant non-lethal option that scales at the same rate as most other damage based spells (i.e. magic missile's notorious power scaling).

One may also consider introducing a variant spell to use either instead-of, or along-side the existing Sleep spell that instead of an area of effect, can be targeted on one or more individuals using either or both of the aforementioned mechanics. Targeted castings ability to take out the room sweeper and not the cannon-fodder should have restrictions. Clearly, this potential abuse of an already potent spell was appreciated when the spell was originally written, as it affects lowest to highest HD by default.

If one is using some sort of magic-point (mana) based casting solution, simply tie the number of targets affected to the number of magic-points expended on the spell. This allows the spell to remain a nuclear-option, while also allowing it to be used in more finessed situations for an appropriate cost (sleep only the guard on the left).


Hobgoblins and Bugbears

The Gnuae'Moblae, the enhanced soldier castes of the Enfae, splintered into sub-castes as the defilement brought on by their enhancement set in, each attempting whatever cures they hoped would thwart their corruption. The most fortunate perhaps, being the more technical and thoughtful, isolated and stabilized their corruption by weaving the natures of the Enfae's inferior simulacrums, the Elvorae (elves) back into their own lattice, and became those we know as gnomes. On the other extreme, the common soldier class, were left out of many attempted solutions, and show the greatest degeneration, becoming what is now the common goblin. There were other castes that fared better than the common goblins, while not doing as well as the gnomes.


The officers of the Gnuae'Moblae were the highest caste, warlords and commanders of noble lineage and superior prowess in mind and body. This privileged caste, through superior breeding, talents and opportunity afforded by their rank, were able to thwart much of the degeneration that afflicted their troops.

The hobgoblin clans are normally small, relying on skill at arms and tactics, often accompanied by small bands of goblins. When marching to war, they martial large armies of regular goblins and even beast-kin to fill the roles. Hobgoblins are always well armed and equipped in standardized arms and armor, presumably crafted by hobgoblin craftsmen.

Hobgoblin have long pointed ears, large sharp noses, narrow eyes, high cheekbones, a pronounced jaw and tusk-like teeth or fangs. They have little if any facial hair or body hair, and their heads are covered in thin hair, though balding is common. Head ridges and goat-like horns are rare and marks of strong fae-magic potential. They stand much taller than common goblins between six and seven feet tall, with thicker more muscular frames. Hobgoblin skin coloration is fairly consistent in any given clan: typically shades of tan, sienna, or rusty-red. Their hair, if they have any, is usually black, dark green, brown, or rust red, graying with age.

Hobgoblins have rudimentary affinities toward elemental magics, namely earth and to a lesser extent, fire. Strong elemental affinities are rare, and those with them become shaman or chiefs, depending on the strength and nature of their affinities. Their affinity to the fae life-force and mind influencing powers are rare, and typically present in the fairer skinned and slighter of frame. Individuals with particularly strong fae affinities are typically marked with ridges or goat-like horns on their heads, or even more rarely, tails or other animal like manifestations. Such traits in hobgoblin society are rare and ones so endowed are typically kings and warlords. Normally, only the fae endowed among hobgoblins are able to see and pass the veil between dreams, entering the Shhee-Veld or Ghost Land.


Among the Gnuae'Moblae there was a special caste who's purpose was to bend the lattice of life using their fae affinities in order to produce the beast-kin who served as the cannon-fodder of the Enfae armies. As the degeneration began to set in, this master class of life-shaping turned their talents upon themselves, hoping to find salvation from the twisting malformation by bolstering their natures with raw animal power. What they succeeded in doing was transforming their caste into something larger and more beastial than their hobgoblin brothers.

Bugbears have wolfish faces with pointed ears, rounded noses, sharp eyes, and slightly elongated muzzles
and jaws with vicious fangs. They are typically covered in course, brown, gray, or black hair, and what skin that shows is typically dark and ranging from gray to olive green or brown. They stand six to eight feet in height, with broad muscular bodies that defy their fae ancestry.

Bugbear affinities toward elemental magics are very rare, and the fae affinities of life-weaving that brought them to this state are almost completely lacking, though they are quick healers. Bugbear are quite stealthy, and their shaman and chiefs are often able to spin glamours over weaker minded beings. Of all goblinkind, bugbears have the easiest time finding and passing the veil between dreams into the Shhee-Veld. So much so, most bugbears dwell in the Ghost Lands, and only foray into the regular realm to forage and raid. Bugbears use whatever weapons and armor they find, although more organized troupes may force goblins or other creatures to craft such items for their use.



Across the web of worlds that the Enfae Envorae claimed, they deployed first their inferior simulacrum, the Elvorae, but as the forces of the Titan were encountered, the need for local forces grew, and so the Elvorae tapped into their primal legacy and wove the lattice of life, forming minions to bend to their will and martial as armies against the giant minions of Titan.

So, the beast-kin were made to serve as cannon fodder, bred for war. They rarely exist in realms outside of core conflict where the giants and fae battled at great lengths. On those worlds, the beast-kin with traits and temperaments best suited live still. In the intervening ages, the beast-kin more often than not gave in to most of their beastial natures, forming tribal bands of nomadic raiders or burrow dwelling clans, living according to whatever predilections their ancestry dictated with the augmentation of a humanoid proclivity for tools and whatever social structures suited their beastial attitudes. They bear no true relation to either fae or beast, being made in parts from both, but belonging to neither, uniquely suspended between.

Gnoll Defenders by Ben Wootten 
There are many creeds of beast-kin, as they were formed of whatever stock seemed capable of violence or industry in whatever niche their fae masters required such services. Many have become extinct in the interceding ages, others have withdrawn to whatever environments and niches that suited their kind, and some, formed from aggressive and adaptive animals, flourished and became plagues in the realms to which they were introduced.

Among the most successful of all such beast-kin are the nefarious Gnolls, who took up some shade of the name of the Enfae overlord caste, the Gnuae'Moblae (who became the Gyo-blunn, the Goblin forebears). The Gnolls were vicious and effective, and were brought to many worlds where their hyena-like progenitors were entirely alien. They now form warlike clans of raiders and nomads, scouring the lands for prey.


And One More Thing...

... on Attributes.

In a recent G+ post on the topic of Charisma as a dump-stat and ways to beef up it's importance, I was pleasantly surprised to see somebody else had made an effort to treat the mental stats the same as the physical. Their term for Strength and Charisma's type was 'Force', and their term for Dexterity and Intelligence's type was 'Finesse'. I am not terribly excited about 'Force', but I am going to be borrowing Finesse. This line of thought made me examine the nomenclature once again, and I have come up with some other name changes for the Finesse attributes:

StrengthBrawn   Presence
Endurance  Constitution   Willpower

The use of Finesse as a type name liberates Agility, which is a more encompassing than dexterity, which has a distinct hand-eye connotation outside of RPGs. Intelligence is changed to Intellect to create a little separation from the old attribute name and the assumptions that entails, while still sharing the abbreviation INT with intuition, which captures the other aspect of the stat.
  • Brawn (PS): raw muscular development and capability.
  • Agility (PF): physical reaction speed and coordination.
  • Constitution (PE): overall bodily health, and resilience.
  • Presence (MS): strength of personality and charisma.
  • Intellect (MF): instincts, perception, and problem solving.
  • Willpower (ME): personal resolve, focus, and concentration.
I had hoped that these entries would be more akin to a final-state summary, but obviously, this has become more of a design journal, capturing the flow of thought.

An Antarctic Mystery

Thought it was about time to get this off my desktop. I pulled this unattributed image from the web recently, for inspiration or future use. I did a bit of research, and discovered it was cover art for Jules Verne's An Antarctic Mystery.


More on Attributes

An alternate six attribute system I considered, but did not document in my previous post about the 3x3 stat-grid, would treat Intelligence as Mental Agility, Wisdom as Mental Endurance, and Charisma as Mental Strength. This would eliminate the need for the Spiritual category, and maintain the dynamic I observed among the physical attributes. With some minor nomenclature changes:

StrengthBrawn   Presence
Endurance  Constitution   Willpower

This retains the more familiar six-stat block, with the names of the poorly understood attributes of Wisdom and Charisma renamed Willpower and Presence respectively, clarifying the mechanical and descriptive differences between the old attributes and the new. Intelligence is not the most precise name for what it now encapsulates, but sharing the abbreviation Int with Intuition works to it's advantage, and so it was kept as is.

And so:
  • Brawn (PS): raw muscular development and capability.
  • Dexterity (PA): physical reaction speed and coordination.
  • Constitution (PE): overall bodily health, and resilience.
  • Presence (MS): strength of personality and charisma.
  • Intelligence (MA): instincts, perception, and problem solving.
  • Willpower (ME): personal resolve, focus, and concentration.

Relative to the 3x3 Stat-Grid:

  • Intelligence is a contraction of Intuition, Acuity, and those aspects of Knowledge governing learning potential. All cognitive and intuitive work is combined, eliminating the need to speculate what attribute handles various mental gymnastics and guesswork.
  • Presence becomes the singular contributor to mental strength. Knowledge or Intelligence was a poor fit in this type: existing knowledge is covered by class and/or skills, and the learning potential is sufficiently captured by mental acuity.
  • Willpower absorbs what was Focus. This again, removes the need to make distinctions about how one maintains focus or resists influence. This attribute can also be used to generate Mana Points for casting systems and/or psychic or magical damage, using the same formula used to generate Health Points from Constitution.

My initial reluctance to use this layout was motivated by a desire to stake out unique territory and differentiate the new attributes and their roles from the established muddle of the D&D rulesets. The 3x3 stat-grid seemed to do those things. Getting into the finer details of spell casting as either skill or class based mechanics, I realized that the division of mental and spiritual was too nuanced to build solid mechanics around, causing the mental attributes to be relegated to more mundane skills and actions that most players in adventure gaming do not engage in frequently, and when they do, it's often during downtime and between game-sessions. Ths was a grievance I had with the mental attributes of classic D&D style gaming, so clearly the 3x3 stat-grid was not serving the intent of making all the attributes pertinent in play.



Dungeons & Dragons, and most D&D based retro-clones, divide attributes (stats, ability scores, traits, etc) into physical and mental groups, presumably on purpose. The physical attributes are Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution; while the mental attributes are Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. The physical attributes are clearly beneficial with mechanical applications that passively enhance players who invest enough in them. Mental attributes are ultimately useful only for specific classes. As a result the mental attributes are typically deemed dump-stats where low scores can be placed to favor more useful attributes.

D&D Attributes

Listed in order of overall utility, notwithstanding class requirements or personal preference, including descriptions of the attributes and overviews of their mechanical advantages:
  • Constitution measures physical resilience and overall health. It is universally important for the extra Hit Points a high score can provide.
  • Dexterity measures physical agility and hand-eye coordination. It is also universally important for Armor Class, and to a lesser extent ranged combat, never mind the other advantages poorly armored thieves gain for a high dexterity.
  • Strength measures physical capacity for lifting, pushing, and other exertion, namely combat. Its value for any potential combatant is undeniable, and it offers escalating advantages to fighters by way of the exception strength sub-attribute (1e & 2e).
  • Intelligence reflects general knowledge, learning potential, and arguably thinking and reasoning. It grants extra languages in 1e, which converts to additional non-weapon proficiencies in 2e, making it useful, but not crucial; but does allow extra spells and easier spell training for magic-users.
  • Charisma reflects leadership, charm, and social skills, and is erroneously used as a measure of physical appearance. It is useful for those who often parley with NPC's and intelligent monsters (bringing the extra languages of intelligence into play) or for those gamers who utilize retainers or followers.
  • Wisdom is variously considered common sense, reasoning, judgement, spiritual awareness, perception, empathy, etc. It offers a boost to mental saving throws, an oft forgotten perk. It also grants clerics some extra spell capability.
The mental attributes, namely wisdom, are a bit muddled, and provide few overwhelming advantages that cannot be adjusted for via player agency. Most of the mental attributes tend to affect things that happen off the clock, like training time and cost between gaming sessions or the price of room and board and return on fenced spoils, all of which are easily written off as the cost of surviving. Up until non-weapon proficiencies were introduced in 2e, there were few meaningful mechanics that relied on mental attributes, and even those were not significant enough to warrant making an undue investment in mental attributes that were not core to the character's class.

Next Steps

Several steps need to be taken to address this dump-stat mentality and attribute irrelevance in actual play. I feel the first step is resolving the idiosyncratic nature of mental attributes by making their nature consistent with the physical attributes, which I observed followed a model of potency (strength), adaptability (agility) and vitality (endurance). Below is my first effort at uniform attributes following this model:

Type:PhysicalMental        D&D Equivalent 
StrengthStrengthKnowledge   Intelligence
AgilityDexterityAcuity           Intelligence/Wisdom
Endurance   Constitution   Will              Wisdom

The first obvious issue with this is charisma no longer is on the matrix, which is unacceptable as charisma provided some of the most obvious opportunities for mechanical application in the form of reaction checks for NPCs. Also, this breakdown illustrates the fickle double duty shared by intelligence and wisdom, and the latter, being full of so many intangible aspects, only compounds the problem. 

My first thought, and presumably the obvious idea, is to add Appeal as a fourth type:
StrengthStrength     Knowledge
AgilityDexterity  Acuity
Endurance   Constitution  Will
Appeal ComelinessCharisma

The problem here is that the corresponding physical attribute is physical attractiveness. Even granting aspects of grace and poise to this, and not just passive 'beauty', it is a highly subjective trait that I don't see as a numerically relevant for adventure-based gaming. It is also practically guaranteed to become a dump-stat: An ugly warrior or haggard wizard? No problem!

So I reexamined the basic model, and it's assumptions, but focused on the mental attributes mutability, particularly the ill-defined boundary between intelligence and wisdom, and the nebulous hints of dominion wisdom claimed over so many other traits. The more I looked, the more clear it was Wisdom was doing too much work, which made defining the roles of other mental traits difficult.


This brought me back to thoughts of other systems that separate the supernatural from the natural aspects of intellect, usually in the context of one or two attributes. What if I added a category covering the more ephemeral aspects of human capacity? Charisma certainly falls into that category, the art of inspiring and manipulating is not a learnable thing so much as a gift. One can learn skills to augment poor charisma (oration, et al), but there are those who lack such skills that are remarkable leaders or confidence men.

So I narrowed the scope of the mental category to testable mental capacities like calculation speeds, knowledge, pattern recognition, etc; and put the fuzzy bits that were left over into the new spiritual category:

StrengthBrawn   PresenceKnowledge
Endurance  Constitution   WillFocus

With the addition of a third category, I gain a set of attributes explicitly for all those things that wisdom, intelligence, charisma, or even dexterity (as luck!?) often got inconsistently tasked with resolving in the golden age of gaming, or were managed by other mechanics like saving throws, or handled as class-based abilities.
  • Brawn (PS): raw muscular development and capability.
  • Dexterity (PA): physical reaction speed and coordination.
  • Constitution (PE): overall bodily health, and resilience.
  • Presence (SS): strength of personality and charisma.
  • Intuition (SA): instincts, luck, and non-tangible perceptions.
  • Will (SE): personal resolve and resistance to trickery.
  • Knowledge (MS): learning potential and recall of information.
  • Acuity (MA): perception of details and problem solving.
  • Focus (ME): attention span and concentration.

What Next?

The next step, now that I have this matrix locked down and documented, is to establish value ranges for these attributes, and flesh out the mechanics that handle how to apply those numbers for opposed and unopposed checks. 

This attribute matrix is robust enough that it, possibly combined with a level or skill mechanic, is sufficient for use as saving throws. I also intend to detail a tiered, broad-to-narrow scope skill system, wherein all applicable skills add to the applicable attribute and a dice roll, and are compared to either a target number or opposed roll. I want this system to rewards skills without making them mandatory to make an attempt. I also expect the combat mechanics to be a uniform part of the skill system, so no single aspect of game play has a mechanical advantage, giving it the impression that one behavior is preferred over others.

Although I have increased the number of attributes by 150%, by doing so I have made things simpler. By standardizing the nature of the attributes by type and category, I have made a uniform system where every attribute has a discernible purpose; unlike attribute systems with multiple arbitrary or ambiguous stats and setting specific jargon.

Attribute Naming

I have obviously adopting alternates to some standard attribute names, and conversely, kept several existing ones in place. These choices were not made lightly, no matter how capricious the results appear, and were all made respecting this rule:

No attributes, categories, or types can have similar names or abbreviations.

I wanted the names of both Attribute Categories and Attribute Types to be easily understood while also encompassing their entire domain. Physical, Spiritual, and Mental are practical givens, ideal for their categories. Strength, Agility, and Endurance; using the categories as modifiers make perfect sense in every case, capturing all applicable subsets while clearly communicating the nature of each type. Individual attribute names are provided for flavor and were selected for their descriptiveness and simplicity.

The D&D mental attribute names Intelligence and Wisdom were rejected because those attributes are no longer represented by a single attribute, but by the Mental and Spiritual categories, respectively. Charisma has been combined with some interpretive aspects of Wisdom to form Presence, and the name change reflects this. Strength became Brawn to avoid confusion with the type name, per the rule, above.



"Becoming Troll" by Velkis Erk
These images were intended by their creators as depictions of trolls, but these are more consistent with what I think of as goblins.

Long ago, the Enfae warrior castes known as the Gnuae'Moblae, in their lust for power, trifled with dark powers and became corrupted. Over the centuries, as their culture became more barbaric and their language degenerated, they came to call themselves the Gyo-blunn. But in the common tongue of men, they are known as Goblins.

Goblin have long pointed ears, sharp elongated noses, small eyes, high cheekbones, and tusk-like teeth or fangs. They have little if any facial hair and body hair, and their heads are covered in thin hair, though balding is common. Head ridges and goat-like horns are rare and marks of strong fae-magic potential. Their bodies are lean and muscular.

"Troll" by Alexey S. Lipatov
Goblin coloration is fairly consistent in any given clan: typically shades of olive green, tan, or gray. Their hair, if they have any, is usually black, dark green, brown, or less often, coppery red, graying with age.

A fair matrix of Goblin skin tones,
but I doubt those are the names they
would use for those colors.
The more degenerated goblin clans and subspecies have rounder, larger, and less pointed features: larger eyes; broader, longer noses; and thicker, longer ears. Their bodies are thicker and gnarled, their skin mottled and darker with lumps and lesions, and little if any hair. The less fae-influence, the more pronounced these traits, and the weaker their magical aptitudes.

Most goblins have affinities toward elemental magics, but those strengths are normally rudimentary. Strong elemental affinities are rare, and those with them become the craftsmen, bosses, or shaman of goblin society, depending on the strength and nature of their affinities.

Goblins with affinities toward the life-force and mind influencing powers of their fae ancestors are few, and are normally found in the less degenerate clans and individuals. Individuals with particularly strong fae affinities are typically marked with ridges or goat-like horns on their heads, or even more rarely, tails or other animal like manifestations. In goblin clans, such goblins are occasionally killed to protect power structures, but more typically, they become commanders, shaman or seers, or even chiefs and kings.

The Shhee-Veld, image attribution unknown
Some of those with fae affinities can find the veils between the Enfae dreams and see through from the fifth (the dream or realm of human activity) and into the sixth dream' that the goblins call Shhee-Veld or The Ghost Land. Shhee-Veld is a darkened world full of spirit beings, strongly charged with black energy. It is there, that the few remaining original goblins, those corrupted Enfae warlords, eternally young, dwell in their fortified palaces, commanding armies of elite goblins. Those goblin god-kings are worshipped by the lowest castes of goblinkind, a belief that if they prove their worth, they will be revived in the Shee-Veld to join those grand armies, waiting to amass the numbers required to emerge forth and reclaim all the dreams for goblin glory.