Thursday, 31 December 2020

[Homebrew] Project Hecatomb

Can you have a d100 game without ducks?
When fate realized the bat plague alone wasn't enough to keep me from GMing it threw deadlines and the usual holiday chaos at me. Their combined pressure was enough to make me falter and realize, it's time to ease my burden by letting some things go. The plan was to wrap up my short-lived X-Plorers and D&D5e Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor campaigns, and merge the two groups. I told my players early what options I have in mind, and after a poll and a roll of a dice to break a tie here I am hacking together something from Basic Role-Playing for a sword & sorcery sandbox...

Why would I do that when there are already a couple of games based on the Chaosium percentile system out there? For the same reason you see an endless stream of D&D retroclones: they don't hit my sweet spot. The various editions of RuneQuest and Mythras are too complicated. OpenQuest's skill list isn't what I'm looking for and it threw away skill improvement by usage (an issue I also have with Mythras). The closest to my ideal would be the early editions of Drakar och Demoner, a game I know and love thanks to a swedophile friend, but being only available in swedish makes it hard to use it at the table on the fly.1 Thus I decided to follow the original DoD's example: take an early edition of Basic Role-Playing and the Magic World booklet from the Worlds of Wonder boxed set as the foundation, and start building from there.

Unlike the thick Gold Book currently sold by Chaosium, classic versions of Basic Role-Playing are 16 pages long pamphlets containing only the core mechanics of the game and meticulous gameplay examples that feel like entries from a Fighting Fantasy book. Magic World2 is a 20 pages long supplement that adds some basic rules for the fantasy genre, including professions, more skills, encumbrance, damage bonus, major wounds, monsters, magic items, and a spell system that handles each spell as a separate skill. That's a solid core to build upon, but it's nothing more than that. Here is what I'm doing with it:

1) Expand the skill list. The base BRP+MW skill list is pretty good, but lacks some skills that frequently come up in my campaigns - including craftsmanship, playing instruments, and social skills. Communication checks are originally handled by the Persuasion/Charisma roll (which is based on the Charisma/Appearance characteristic), but I find having a single value for that too simple, and I dislike how they only change when the base characteristic does. Enter Oratory and Fast Talk from RuneQuest...

2) Throw out Idea, Luck, Dodge, and Persuasion roll. I find the percentile characteristic rolls redundant when you have a solid skill list and the resistance matrix already. I specifically hate the idea of the awkward Idea roll. It's a bullshit saving throw vs player knowledge and creativity. "Oh, you had a good idea? Well let's roll to see if your character can come up with it..."

3) Change how professions work. In MW the four professions (warrior, rogue, sage, wizard) have a list of skills that are raised to a certain value based on characteristics. Instead of that I'm borrowing some ideas from Call of Cthulhu and RuneQuest 3e: a profession tells what skills are available, how many skill points can be initially distributed between them, and what starting equipment the character gets.

4) Expand the profession list. I want some more archetypes, but I want them to be flexible. The last is achieved by leaving two skills on the profession list open to the player - thus wizard can cover shaman, priest, necromancer, alchemist, whatever, depending on what skills the player chooses. And like CoC's dilettante, I have an adventurer profession for those who want a piecemeal approach.

5) Write up a proper equipment list. MW only has weapons and armour. My players usually buy everything but those. Pets, slaves, ships, property, prostitutes, you name it, they probably bought it - but weapons and armour are 99% of the time looted. While SIZ limits for armour and weapon breakage will likely change this habit this time, that won't keep my players from buying all kinds of other "goods". RQ2e, RQ3e, Mythras, ...And a Ten Foot Pole3 were very helpful in expanding the list and coming up with some rules of thumb for economy, currency, and prices.

6) Ceremonial magic! According to MW "Wizardry (binding demons), Necromancy (raising and otherwise controlling the undead), Enchantment (making magical items), and Alchemy (making magical substances)" belong here, but other than some simple and solid rules for creating potions and magic items the topic isn't covered. I want to do ceremonial magic justice by making it a desirable long-term goals for spellcasters, and expanding it with conjuring elementals, resurrection, and maybe some other options.

7) More GM-ing tools. Getting lost, encounter frequency, random encounters, random treasure, random ruins, etc. These are musthaves for me when running a sandbox campaign.

That's Hecatomb, my new year project in a nutshell. Of course there are other minor changes too and nothing is set in stone at the moment. I don't even know what are my long time plans with it... Should I leave it for private use, or share it with the community when it's done? We'll see. I intended to write this post earlier, but now that I think about it, as a new year resolution it's a fitting way to end this accursed year.

Have a wonderful New Year!

1 Yeah, I know, there are some variants available in English. I know and loathe both of them. Trudvang Chronicles is a needlessly complicated mess, while RuinMasters is awfully designed pile of utter disappointment. Seriously RiotMinds, get your shit together, and release the iconic swedish rpg that matters...

2 Not to be confused with Magic World, the setting neutral clone of Elric!, which fails to live up to the predecessor's awesomeness, is kind of a mess, but at least is available in print dirt cheap.

3 Yup, that's a RoleMaster supplement. A pretty damn good one, which is a high praise for a book that's basically a collection of price lists.


  1. Are you *really* going to run Duck Tower? Big if true.

    1. I wasn't planning to, but now that you mention... I've read it earlier this year and it's a pretty neat adventure site with an interesting core conflict.