Tag Archives: Homebrews

Tabletop Games for Children 2: Introducing Storyforge

Last week, I discussed creating a tabletop game for children. I wanted three main things: it to be story-driven, it had to be customization to whatever sort of story you want to play, and it had to be easy to learn and simple to play.

To that end, I’ve wound up with Storyforge. I’m not sure if I’m going to stick with the name… What can I say? I have a smithy theme going on.

I’m working on a full set of rules right now, but in the meantime, let’s explore the basic features of the game.

Description affects story, not mechanics

Like any RPG, there’s plenty of spot for character description, including things like race. However, nothing in the description is going to affect mechanics in any way. For example, whether you play a human, a troll, or a fairy, the actual mechanics of the game will not be affected, so there is no need to worry about game balance if someone wants to play something unusual.

Simple abilities make complex stories

Each character has four ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Charisma. These four abilities are the key to any story action outside of combat. When a player wants their character to do something, they explain it and, if it’s something that the character can obviously do, they do it. If, however, there is a risk or chance of failure, they need to roll for it. Whatever they are doing is related back to one of the four abilities, they roll a d20 and add that abilities score, and check against the challenge set by the GM to see if they succeed.

Since we’re not assigning specific tasks to specific abilities, what ability is used is up to the player’s explanation. For example, maybe a player wants to intimidate someone with subtle threats; they want to use Charisma. On the other hand, if they intimidate someone by picking up a golf club and bending it in half, they want to use Strength. As long as the players and GM agree that using a specific ability for a specific task makes sense, they’re good to go.

Generating scores for these abilities is as easy as picking numbers. At level one, players give one ability at +3, one ability a +2, one ability a +1, and one ability a +0. (Having +0 doesn’t mean you can’t use an ability, just that you’re not exceptionally good at it.) Every time they level up, a player can add 1 to any of those scores. Things like magic items can also give bonuses to the scores.

Descriptive combat, customizable combat

Combat is similar to the story action described above. There are four combat scores: Melee, Ranged, Magic, and Defense. When I attack you, I describe which score I’m using (“I’m attacking with my sword, so I use melee”), and roll a d20, adding the relevant score. You roll your defense (a d20 plus your defense score). If I get higher than you, I hit you. If not, I miss.

After that, the details are all in description. Whether I’m attacking with a giant axe, or a whip, or two swords, I’m using melee. If you’re defending with your heavy armor, or by parrying me, or by dodging, its all defense. Melee works for any attack when you’re next to the enemy. Ranged is for any attack where you’re not next to the enemy (within a limit… Say, 10 squares). Magic can be either adjacent or not adjacent to enemy.

Everything else is set the same for everyone. Everyone starts with the same movement speed (for example, up to 5 squares per turn). Every successful attack does exactly 1 point of damage. Every player always has the same amount of health (I’m thinking 7). To add a little more risk, there can be a critical hit system: if you roll a 20 on your attack, you roll a d6 for damage, instead of just doing a single point.

Special abilities for unique characters

The final thing making characters unique will be their Special Abilities. Every character gets one special ability at 1st level, then one more at every odd-numbered level (3, 5, 7, etc.). Special abilities are picked from a list (I’m making about fifty of them).

Every special ability is different, but most are designed to give bonuses to certain rolls if certain conditions are met. Because I like rolling dice, bonuses to hit are met by rolling twice, and taking the higher result (as opposed to a flat number bonus, which I feel because less impactful when the overall scores get bigger). Bonuses to damage simply give you an extra point of damage (so 2 for a normal hit, or 1d6+1 for a critical). For example, one special ability might let you roll to hit twice and take the higher result if you make a melee attack after moving at least 3 squares in a straight line towards an enemy. Another might let you roll twice for a magic attack on a turn where you have not been attacked yourself, or roll twice to defend against a ranged attack.

There will be a few different special ability for each type of attack, for defense, and for general things like ability scores. There will be chains, but nothing more complicated than “you need to take this one before that one;” so no complicated, multi-point prerequisites. My hope is that, with special abilities, you can customize your character to a certain style of play – whether that’s investing really heavily in one tactic or taking a little bit in multiple tactics is up to you.

The final bits

That’s Storyforge in a nutshell. You’ll notice I didn’t say many rules for things outside of combat… That’s because I don’t have many. I know being too loose might backfire, but my hope is that it becomes a fairly open, group worked, story-driven game. If it makes sense, your character can do it.

The simple rules do have their downsides. I’m not sure how to do anything with healing, for example, except for simple potions. I also know there is a chance that some things are unbalanced… Since magic can be used both close-up and at a distance, why would anyone not put all their points into that? My hopes is that that sort of unbalanced metagaming will be countered by two factors. First, things like special abilities might help… Putting all your points in magic seems like a great plan until the enemies defend better against magic than anything else. I also think that the audience of a game like this (and remember, the genesis of this was for gaming with kids and people who want story-driven games) won’t think that way. After all, magic might be the “best” choice, but if my character is a half-crocodile pirate captain, you can bet it makes more sense for me to focus on my cutlass skills instead.

I’m going to finish putting together a small rule book soon, but in the mean time, what do you think? See any really obvious pitfalls that I’ve overlooked? Any suggestions for things I might want to change or add? Would you even want to play a game like this? Let me know in the comments.

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Posted by on April 7, 2018 in Homebrews, Role-Playing Games


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Tabletop Games for Children

So it’s been… Not quite a year since I posted, but close. What can I say? I got myself on a roll of a post or more every week, and then things changed. I got a full time job. Then another one. I had a baby. Did you know how much writing time having a baby cuts into? Apparently, holding a screaming, puking hobgoblin in one arm while trying to type with the other does not lend itself well to productivity.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my screaming hobgoblin. But maybe it means I’ll come back to blogging with a more manageable schedule than a board game review and RPG idea post every single week.

Actually, it was little Hob (that’s what I’m going to call him now) that made me want to come back to this blog. See, I want to be able to play games with my son when he’s old enough not understand that dice aren’t candy. But, while I love Pathfinder and such, many of them are not really geared towards younger children. Lots of them are pretty rules intensive and, even when you can simplify them, reward an in-depth approach to the material that a casual or young player may just never have.

Once I started thinking about the difficulty that younger kids might have with tabletop RPGs, I realized something else. Think about how games like D&D are always shown on television—as if your characters can be anything or do anything your imagination can create. It’s a nice idea. But how does D&D actually go? Your character can be or do anything you can imagine… So long as you imagine something taken from this list of pre-described possibilities. Magic systems are a real solid example this. You have your fireball, your lightning bolts… But what if you want to shoot a line of cold, instead of electricity? Make an explosion of acid instead of fire? What if you want to summon the powers of sparkles and love in a glittery shower of doom? Sure, you can homebrew small changes, but things like specific elemental weaknesses and limits to areas of spells are so entwined with the rules that it’s hard to do so without far more side effects than you expect.

So I started looking for a system that would better fit what I want from a kid-friendly tabletop. I wanted something simple, and I wanted something customizable to the max. I want a system where Hob can play a grizzled human fighter, wading into battle with a greatsword if he wants to… Or he can be a goblin riding a dolphin with laser eyes, wielding a three-bladed lightsaber. I want a game that I can explain in ten minutes, and can be fun and new every time. And I wanted a game with as much story as I could get.

Apparently, I wanted a game that didn’t exist.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of tabletop games that are either aimed at children or will work for children. Fate Core has the customization I want. Dungeon World has the story driven idea I like. Even Wizards of the Coast got into it, publishing D&D for Kids. None of these systems were exactly what I wanted, though. The simple ones weren’t customizable. The customizable ones weren’t simple. They just didn’t click with me.

So I’m making my own.

My next few posts are going to be about my attempt at creating my own tabletop game. I’ve played with designing board games before (and, if this generates interest, maybe I’ll talk about them in the future), but never something like this. I’d love some feedback on it as I post.

In the meantime, have you ever tried RPGs with kids? What worked, what didn’t? What kind of systems do you like best? Am I crazy for trying to make a new one? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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Posted by on March 27, 2018 in Homebrews, Role-Playing Games


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Brews out of the Box 4: Baron of Shadows

Baron of Shadows

Description: Even as you approach, he continues to chant, low in his throat. He is a tall man, his skeletal thinness emphasized by the mask designed to look like a skull covering the top portion of his face. His clothing is black, or perhaps a very dark purple, but clearly of good quality and cut. The flickering light cast by the torched burning to either side of him make all the shadows in the room jump and dance… But, as you watch, you realize that his moves more than any others. Before you can cry out warning, his shadow flows across the floor towards you and attacks.

Idea: I’ve written before about different ways to make boss fights more interesting than a one-sided slug fest, and the Baron came out of that. He was a caster (an Oracle of the Dark Tapestry, in Pathfinder) of a sufficient level to challenge the party. But on top of that he had extra abilities. His shadow could reach out and interact with the players, getting one free Combat Maneuver per round, with a bonus based on the Baron’s charisma. I contemplated allowing the shadow more actions, but I didn’t want to make it too powerful. If you’d like to make it more of a challenge, the shadow could attack or perform other actions.

And, yes, if any of you are wondering, I did get a fair amount of inspiration from Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog. Hecks, even his cultist chanting when my party encountered him was based on the “are you ready” refrain from Facilier’s “Friend’s on the Other Side.”

Mechanics: Obviously, the main flavour of the Baron comes from his shadow. Mechanically, the Baron himself functioned as an Oracle. His shadow, however, acted on his turn independently of him. It had a reach of 15 ft. and could perform on Combat Maneuver per round, without a penalty for failing (you can’t trip a shadow, after all). The shadow didn’t have to worry about things like difficult terrain or attacks of opportunity. If, however, all of the sources of light were extinguished, the shadow could no longer attack. Similarly, the shadow could not go through solid barriers that prevent light.

Statistics: Because the Baron of Shadows is almost more like a template that you would add to a creature rather than a full creature, I’m going to write it’s stats that way.

Template can only be added to a spell-casting creature.

CR: Same as base creature +1

HP: Same as base creature, + HD equal to 1/2 base creatures class HD.

Special Rule:

-Shadow: Once per turn, Baron of Shadows can make one combat maneuver attempt against a creature within 15 feet. These maneuvers have a CMB equal to the Baron’s base attack bonus + relevant spell casting ability (charisma for sorcerers, oracles, and bards, intelligence for wizards, etc.). These attempts do not provoke attacks of opportunity. Failed attempts do not allow retaliatory attempts against the shadow.

If, at any point, there is no source of light in the same area as the Baron to cast a shadow, the Baron loses this ability. The shadow cannot pass through any objects that block light, though it can travel around such objects, as long as it does not travel more than 15 feet from the Baron in total.



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Posted by on May 31, 2017 in Homebrews, Role-Playing Games


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Brews out of the Box 3: Bleeders


Description: They are heard before they can be seen. A droning buzz, wings beating impossibly fast. By the time their prey sees them, it’s too late for them to run. Carried aloft on four gossamer wings, they stand barely six inches tall, like tiny humans made of shining black stone. Their smooth, eyeless faces are split widely across the middle, a maw of tiny, needle-like teeth. In one hand, they carry a small rapier, with a tip so fine it’s practically invisible. The sting of the blades are almost painless… But they leave wounds the won’t stop bleeding. A swarm of Bleeders can leave a full grown man dead in a pool of his own blood in moments.

Idea: One of my biggest problems with Pathfinder and D&D monsters is the lack of powerful creatures that aren’t really big. Past a certain challenge rating, every monster seems to be Large sized or bigger. With the amount of Pathfinder classes that focus on attacking touch armor (I’m looking at you, Alchemists and Gunslingers), big creatures can sometimes prove… underwhelming. So I wanted a small creature that could prove a challenge. The flaw in such a plan, of course, is that while small creatures may be harder to hit, they can’t deal as much damage. Solution? Bleed damage that stacks, so that opponents end up taking damage from several sources at once.

Thematically, these were small creatures created in a pocket prison dimension, made from the same stuff that formed the building itself and the much larger construct guardians. That’s why they looked like stone; they were constructs. It was more flavor that function, though, and Bleeders could just as easily be magical creatures or fey.

Mechanics: The most obvious thing going for the Bleeders is their size. As small creatures, they have a much higher armor class (specifically touch armor) than their bigger counterparts. They also have an attach mechanic, clinging to the bodies of their enemies, automatically dealing damage every turn. And that damage inflicts Bleed, hurting more through blood loss, making them much more dangerous than they could even hope to be through the little normal damage they could inflict with their tiny weapons.


100 hp. 1-ft space, 0-ft reach. AC: 23 (t23 ff19). Initiative: 8. Fort: 4 Ref: 10 Will: 4. Speed: 30 (fly). Damage Reduction: 10/adamantine. Spell Resistance: Perfect (see below).

Melee Attack: Rapier (+26/+21/+16, 1d4 + bleed + attach).

Special Rules:

-Attach (Successful hit automatically succeeds as if a grapple; Bleeders can still attack while grappling; as long as Bleeder is attached, its attacks resolve v. touch and target takes -2 on all roles)

-Bleed (Wounded target takes extra 1d4 damage per round at start of their turn; this effect stacks; Magical healing or heal skill stops blood loss)

-Spell Immunity (Immune to any spell that grants Spell Resistance; “Transmute Rock to Mud” slows it for 2d6 rounds, no save; “Transmute Mud to Rock” heals it; “Stone to Flesh” gets rid of Damage Immunity and Spell Resistance for 1 round).

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Posted by on March 1, 2016 in Homebrews, Role-Playing Games


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Brews out the Box 2: Aspect of the Old One

Aspect of the Old One

Description: An Aspect of the Old One is a being of madness and horror. Not the true form of a god from the darkness beyond the stars – to look upon that is to invite insanity and death. An Aspect is only a small piece of it’s true power, which has managed to leak through the locks that hold the greater being at bay and into our world. A massive, writhing ball of razor sharp tentacles undulating around an unseen core some thirty feet across, it seems to suck in the light from the area around it. At it’s center, seen through glimpses between it’s limbs, is a great eye burning with a hunger to consume… everything.

Idea: The Aspect was the Big Boss of one of my more recent campaigns. The bad guys had been working to summon the Old Ones and Outer Gods to our world, to destroy it (they think) in order to rebuild it in their image. Surprise surprise, the crazy cultists got double crossed. Turns out, they weren’t getting anything. They were stopped before they could open the gate to the Outer Gods fully, but an Aspect managed to bleed through.

The party facing the boss was a big one, and I had been having trouble finding a balance for bosses. Anything tough enough to survive a few rounds with all six of them was also dangerous enough to crush some of them, so I wanted to try something different. I wanted to force them to fight in a way other than “I hit it, it hits me, repeat” sort of brawl.

Mechanics: While it was one big thing, the Aspect fought almost like 11 distinct creatures. There was the core of it, and then 10 tentacles. The core was big, but stationary. The tentacles were smaller, and could move (though part of them always had to be touching the base). To beat the monster, the players had to kill the core… But it had huge defenses. Every tentacle they killed, however, would lower the defense of the core. The tentacles would come back, though, so the players had to jump between damaging the tentacles to make the core easier to fight, but then getting some swings at the core before the tentacles respawned. It led to the party making better teamwork decisions than the usually did, so I called it a win.

Statistics: (Made for Pathfinder). There were really two stats blocks for the Aspect, one for the core and one for each of the ten tentacles connected to it.

Aspect Core:

250 hp. 30-ft space, 0-ft reach. AC: 30 (t10 ff20). Initiative: 0. Fort: 20 Ref: 14 W: 30. CMB: 30. CMD: 40. Speed: 0. Damage Reduction: 100/-. Resist: Elements 100. SR: 100.

Melee Attack: Consume (+20 Attack, 4d6+15). Ranged Attack: Chaos Blast (60-ft line, 4d6+15 negative energy, Ref 25 halves).

Special Rules:

-Tentacle Guarded (each time a tentacle connected to the Aspect Core is destroyed, the Aspect Core’s Damange Reduction, Elemental Resistance, and Spell Resistance are reduced by 10).


Aspect Tentacle:

66 hp. 5-ft space (special), 10-ft reach (special). AC: 19 (t9 ff18). Initiative: 1. Fort: 7. Ref: 3. Will: 10. CMB: 16. CMD: 27. Speed: 30. Damage Reduction: 5/slashing. Immune: Cold, mind effects, breath effects, poison. Resist: Acid 10, fire 10.

Melee Attack: Tentacle (+12, 2d6+13+grab).

Special Rules:

-Constrict (every successful grapple check deals 2d6+13)

-Move (every successful grapple check moves target up to 15 feet towards Aspect Core)

-Unending (when a tentacle is destroyed, a new one grows to replace it from the core in 1d6 rounds)

-Connected (the tentacle space measures it’s tip; it can only attack from it’s tip; however, when it moves, it always has a “body” that connects it to the core, which has a space composed of 5-ft sections in a line from core to tip. Its “body” can be targeted)

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Posted by on January 26, 2016 in Homebrews, Role-Playing Games


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Brews outside the Box 1: Explination and Shadow Men

I’ll be straight with you, I’m not great at home-brewing (that is to say, creating new content following the rules of a given RPG system). What’s lucky for me is that the internet exists, and there are lots of people who are really good at homebrewing interesting classes and monsters and such… So I don’t have to.

The reason I’m not great at it is, I think, because of the rules. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m not a big fan of rules. They get… finicky. Fun is more important to me than rules. I don’t mean I cheat, I just selectively ignore some things to make sure I, and anyone playing with me, has a better time. It’s not a system that would work for everyone, but it works for me and mine.

Anyways, my casual disregard for rules led me to occasionally want monsters to do something that existing monsters just… can’t. So I would make up new monsters, to fit what I needed. Starting with a general idea of it, I would eventually work my way towards some mechanics, even if that meant having to make up new mechanics to do it.

This leads me to this “Brew outside the Box” series. In it, I’ll be giving you some examples of monsters I created to have a specific effect or impact. It’ll look something like this:

Monster Name

Description: [What characters see.]

Idea: [What I wanted the monster to be.]

Mechanics: [Any unique or invented mechanics of the monster.]

Statistics: [If I have stats for the example monster, I’ll list them here.]

Make sense? Of course it does, it’s simple. Let’s try.


The Shadow Men

Description: Shadow Men are humanoid creatures of pure darkness. The height of a human, but with all the wrong proportions: too-long legs and arms splay from a bulbous, round body, with a head set forward on a neck that looks too thin to support it. More than anything, though, what stands out are the faces: white masks, like some mockery of old theatrical costume pieces, hover an inch or so in front of where their faces should be. Wide eye-holes and gaping mouths, stretched into grotesque smiles and frowns, open to the black void beneath the mask. As they glide towards you, feet just above the ground, a sickening, giggling chortle rolls from the darkness beneath their masks.

Idea: Shadow Men were created to fill a very specific void: agents of a greater power of darkness and destruction (called The Null), shadow men were physically weak but could inhabit and possess other beings. Incapable of speech in their natural form, Shadow Men could perform any actions that their possessed host was capable of while in their body, and so could mimic them nearly perfectly. In that way, Shadow Men were infiltrators, spies, and (when in possession of an appropriate host) shock troops.

Mechanics: The most notable aspect of the Shadow Men was their possession abilities. For the sake of story, they could possess non-player characters off-screen fairly easily. If the character is more powerful, or if it was a player, the Shadow Men need to make physical contact with the character, who would then get to make an appropriate attempt to resist (I created them for D&D 3.5, so it was a Will save).

They were also, as beings of darkness, weak to light. In their natural forms, they would be destroyed if exposed to direct sunlight. Though they could stand the light for longer (minutes at a time) while possessing someone, prolonged exposure to natural light would eventually burn them out of their hosts (it was one of the only way, aside from appropriately power magic spells, to get them out of a host).

Stats: Since they tended to only fight while in possession of a host, I never created a full set of stats for the Shadow Men (and instead used their host stats). In their natural form, they had very little health, and their only attack was a touch possession attempt, with a Will save to resist.

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Posted by on December 5, 2015 in Homebrews, Role-Playing Games


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