Abstract Orienteering: playing cards and Int modifiers

For when you don’t feel like tracking the constant geo-location of your players. This system works for hex-crawls, urban exploration, or abstracted subterranean movement.

The bones

This system is designed to allow the orienteer to push their luck and risk running the group into trouble.

Note: in my game, I use a small packet of cards called the meat deck.  It is constructed from the two to eight of each suit from a regular pack of playing cards, along with one of the jokers.  If you don’t want to use a meat deck, gather a pool of at least eight d8 of at least three different colours: note which colour represents spades (threats) and which represents diamonds (discoveries).

  • Each day is split into three watches of eight hours each. Each watch is split into a variable number of reaches determined by the orienteer’s skill and the luck of the draw.
  • For each reach, the orienteer draws a number of cards from the meat deck equal to one plus their Intelligence modifier, then selects one of these cards:
    • the value determines how many hours this reach lasts
    • the suit determines if there’s an encounter during the reach:
      • hearts and clubs: no encounter
      • spade: a threat
      • diamond: a discovery (esp. the keyed location for the hex)
    • treat the joker as wild: the orienteer may choose any value or suit for this card
  • Keep the cards that have been selected for each reach separate from the discard pile.
  • The orienteer may choose to end the watch at any point between reaches, unless:
    • If the total number of hours combined from all reaches exceeds eight, the party will recognise that they have become lost at the end of that reach. Becoming lost ends the watch.
  • Once the watch is over and any encounter has been resolved, shuffle all of the cards back into the meat deck.

The party may choose to press on once this watch is over. PCs may explore for a number of successive watches equal to their Constitution modifier before risking exhaustion.  (Low level groups will typically travel for one watch before resting.)

What if we want to work together?

If the orienteer wants to take useful advice from her peers, she may make a Charisma save (made one step more difficult for each PC she wishes to consult).

  • If this is successful, she may add each PCs Intelligence modifier to her own when drawing cards each reach during this watch.
  • If this is unsuccessful, she forfeits her own Intelligence modifier for this watch.

Overland standard time

This system assumes PCs travel overland at an average of three miles per hour, working with six mile hexes.

For urban or underground exploration, instead set watches to two hours total, made of eight 15m turns.

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Abstract Orienteering: playing cards and Int modifiers

d6 opportunities from the thieves’ union

Does a guild of thieves sound too trite for your campaign?  In Barnsleigh, the thieves have unionised.

1. Closed shop policy

Adna Fairfield is keen for all thieves in the town to be members of the union.  As far as she knows she’s got most of them, but she needs to check.  Break into the town constabulary and steal their records.

2. Tax makes lax

The Mayor has recently been criticised by town councillors and religious demagogues, so she’s keen to make some strong political decisions.  Bluff your way into the Princes’ ball and convince the Mayor to raise tax on home security measures.

3. Tall storeys

Some of the union’s best workers have been out of business for months following falls from upper windows.  Find a way to influence building regulations to lower overheads.

4. Sickness benefit

Being part of a union means protected sickness pay.  Break into the home of Suren Parnell & leave her a valuable painting.

5. Fragile economics

If you can’t control demand, you can control supply.  Find eight more vases like the three we already have: destroy them.

6. Picket line

Since the thieves unionised, fewer and fewer people are shopping in the market.  Fortify the picket line to insist that no theft takes place in the square.

d6 opportunities from the thieves’ union

2d6 happenstances in the town square

When the party return to civilisation, much relief can be sought in the daily tide of the town square.

Roll 2d6.  Each dice value determines a minor event happening; if doubles are scored, instead it’s a significant event.

  1. Driven by the Western edge.
  2. Driven by the Western edge.
  3. Driven by the Eastern edge.
  4. Driven by the Northern edge.
  5. Driven by the Southern edge.
  6. Something adjacent to prior or potential plot.

Beside the city square

Building a town square

Either curate from the list beneath, or select at random according to the rules beneath:

  • Roll 4d6 & assign each dice to an edge of the square
  • Repetitions are allowed—the entire square could be fenced in by churches
  • Increase the value of the Western edge by 2; decrease the value of the Eastern edge by 1—the minimum score value is one, the maximum eight
  • Increase the value of all dice by 1 for each PC that lives in this city beyond the first
  • Decrease the value of all dice by 1 for each subsequent square in the same city

One—Ocean

The square ends at a low harbour wall with a vista of the wide ocean.  The horizon dances with the rumble of a low storm.

  • Minor events: Divers stand on the harbour wall, auctioning pearls and rare fish they have caught.
  • Significant events: The tide itself is very far out.  Crabs flounder in the exposed mud.

Two—Canal

A wide canal is flanked by careful paving stones.  The water is shallow but murky.

  • Minor events: Children stood beside the canal are lowering lures into the water to catch crabs.
  • Significant events: A noted nobleman’s boat is at anchor.

Three—Garden

Edged by carefully clipped hedges, a humble civic garden is open to the public during the day.

  • Minor events: There are flower-sellers in the square.
  • Significant events: At the garden gate, a pair of young lovers are trying to keep their argument from attracting attention.

Four—Cafés & inns

A miscellany of shops offering hot and alcoholic beverages.  On windless days, tables fill this edge of the square.

  • Minor events: The centre of the square is taken up by the mixing aromas of various hot food stalls.
  • Significant events: In a corner of the square is an elaborate puppet theatre.

Five—Miscellaneous shops

Shops selling sundry goods flaunt their wares to passers-by.  At least one of these stores is storied and people travel from nearby towns to peruse its stock.

  • Minor events: The regular market extends its hours well into the evening.
  • Significant events: The market is especially busy and boisterous.  Local law enforcement is present, but there seems to be no alarm.

Six—Churches

An elaborate church-front is adorned with symbols of the absent god.

  • Minor events: In a corner of the square, a street preacher addresses a small crowd.
  • Significant events: In the centre of the square, there is a gathering of ageing scholars.  Their debate can be easily mistaken for argument.

Seven—Monument

A sombre celebration of heroic achievement, ringed by shattered shells.

  • Minor events: In a corner of the square, a dungeon-diver is telling stories of the dangers they have faced.
  • Significant events: In front of the monument is a group of children.  Their teacher is explaining the cultural significance of the monument.

Eight—Civic buildings

Brutal in their simplicity, these civic offices serve both function and focus for town decisions.

  • Minor events: A small team of cleaners are sweeping the city square.
  • Significant events: There is a swelling crowd gathering here to protest.
2d6 happenstances in the town square

EXUVIAE: Relics of House Dragonfly; halfway through Kickstarting

It’s the forties. You live in a bayside city that’s secretly under the control of an insect cult, and tonight you’re going to prove it.

nymph

So, EXUVIAE has been up for two weeks on Kickstarter, happily having hit 156% of its initial target. We’ve passed one stretch goal already, so have almost half a dozen cocktails inspired by the game going into the final book, and we’re edging towards a point where we’ll be able to share the short film that Tom Thornton and I are working on with all of the backers.

If you’ve yet to back EXUVIAE and love playing investigative RPGs but lack the time to develop sufficiently interesting stories, then EXUVIAE is the game for you.

You’ve even a couple of weeks to try out the game by backing a single pound before deciding how much you want to invest.

Have you played EXUVIAE yet? I’d love to hear how your games went in the comments!

EXUVIAE: Relics of House Dragonfly; halfway through Kickstarting

INTO THE CARD — a variant for fifty-two friends

I’ve shared before how much a fan I am of Chris McDowall’s INTO THE ODD.  It remains my go-to when I’m interested in light-investment exploratory roleplay.  Coupled with the fact its rules can fit entirely within my mind and that I tend to run dungeons through a memory palace anyway, I’ve been looking for a way to make the game more portable.

I don’t tend to carry dice with me.  (If you’ve seen my Slick Thames hack of ITO, you’ll see how I also collapse the 3d6 stat generation into d4+d6+d8 {that way I only need one set of polyhedrals}.)  I do tend to carry playing cards.

INTO THE CARD

Take a regular pack of playing cards.  Remove the twelve court cards (each Jack, Queen and King).  Introduce one of the jokers (I recommend the guarantee one).  This will form a communal pile that’s drawn from whenever players would roll a dice.  Once a card is drawn, a communal discard pile builds; this is shuffled whenever the joker comes up in play.

  • Aces are always low (they always score 1).
  • The joker will always be the optimal value for the task at hand (4, 10, or 14 damage; 1 for Saves); drawing the joker also shuffles the discard pile into the stock (as in Savage Worlds).
  • If you would roll d20, instead draw two cards and combine the values.
  • Ignore differences in weapon strength.  All weapons draw one card for damage equal to the value.
  • If a draw is Impaired, instead use the suit as value: spades have 1 point, hearts have 2 halves, clubs have 3 segments, diamonds have 4 edges.  With weapon attacks, look to Impair many more than you usually would.  Players should be encouraged to use their weapons effectively and imaginatively.
  • If a draw is Enhanced, instead add the suit value to the pip value.  (The 10♦️️ is the best card in the pack: ten pips plus four edges for a diamond.)

Character Generation

  • Draw seven cards.
  • Create three pairs in any order that you choose & assign each score to STR, DEX & WIL.
  • Treat the unpaired card as Impaired.  This value becomes hp.
  • Consult whichever INTO THE ODD starter package system you are using.

This is slightly meaner than regular ITO.  The probabilities pool towards the middle of the spread (essentially 2d10 vs 1d20, though that shifts as the discard pile grows) and more damage is likely to be dealt.  Consider having it that Critical Damage will typically enable only an Impaired draw’s number of actions until you pass out.

INTO THE CARD — a variant for fifty-two friends

d6 encounters, probably

In the National Gallery, a lot of the paintings’ information panels describe their name & “probably 16–“.  It doesn’t take long to stop seeing the date, and seeing a suggestion of the content instead.  These encounters are taken verbatim from the NG information panels

1. Man transcribing lion-skin, probably

n-0694-00-000015-wpu

A sage is hard at work transcribing the spell tattooed on the back of a (thankfully, sleeping) lion.  If you come back later, he will have made you a further copy he’d be happy to sell you.  The sage, a slovenly chap named Jerome, doesn’t know what the spell is (it’s Flight).  If the lion bites anyone, the spell is cast on the bitten.

2. Witches trying to slack off in front of their skeletal overseer, probably

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A coven of witches (Nigella, Theresa, Margovia) are working at their incantations under the watchful eye of a skeletal ostrich.  A perceptive viewer might spot that they have hidden the ingredients and vials required to make a strong healing draught.  If the bone-ostrich is distracted, they will hurry to make another batch and slip it to one of the players.

3. Needy naked ladies, probably

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A short distance away from a pile of discarded clothes, just off the path, three naked women are arguing over whose body is best.  One of the players is asked to come to a final judgement.  Unless skillful wordplay allows her to escape, the women will attack the players and try to eat their eyes.  If a judgement is made, the other two women will curse the chooser.

4. A young child empties the ocean, probably

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A young child (Minerve) is working to empty a large body of water into a hole in the ground.  If the players help, the water empties with remarkable speed; Minerve takes advantage of their becoming trapped in the mud and steals an inch of skin from each of them.  If the players investigate what’s in the hole, they find a simulacrum of Minerve himself.

5. The fin-de-siecle paper shortage, probably

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In a large pit just off the road, a group of people are working to treat and bleach some irregularly shaped pieces of material.  They are prepared to sell some finished paper (more of a vellum really) to the players; if a map is drawn on the paper that shows where the owners currently are, their rest will never be interrupted.  (The paper is made from the skin of criminals.)

6. Messianic cockblock, probably

n-0045-00-000045-wpu

A woman on the road (Ellipse) is frantically running from person to person, begging them to show her some intimacy.  Her husband believes he is the reincarnation of the messiah and as such has taken a vow of celibacy.  He is accurate in his beliefs.  Ellipse is a very skilled lover.

All images taken from the National Gallery website under a Creative Commons license.

d6 encounters, probably

PIER — a one-dimensional dungeon for INTO THE ODD

If you’ve yet to read the wonderful series of essays at The Alexandrian called Jacquaying the Dungeon, you should line that up.  Its findings aren’t mindblowing, but the clarity of dungeon design logic contained within is not to be missed.

One of the key tenets of that series is that the best dungeons have multiple paths through the space in order to reward exploration.

This is an attempt at inverting that truth.

The Hook

Heading directly into the mists off the lower coasts, there exists a pier.  No-one has gotten to the end of it.

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How does it work?

There are a number of truths about the pier.  For the first time they are encountered, they are true.  For each subsequent time the players venture along the pier, whether or not they are true is a matter of luck — a roll of 1-3 means truth; 4-6 gives the players a respite.

Before venturing onto the pier, players can spend time and effort collecting rumours about the pier.  Make a WIL save — unsuccessful rolls mean players only receive the first truth; success means players receive another random fact.

  • You can’t look back.  Looking back to the shore means you teleport back to the start of the pier.
  • Bottled water turns brackish.  You can’t take short rests.
  • It’s impossible to catch up with the pier train.
  • The train doesn’t take you to the end.
  • The third rail is alive.  (Third Rail: STR19, Armour 2, d4 coil & throw; driven to keep people off the pier; if it causes Critical Damage, it throws the target off the pier.)

The pier is cloaked in mist.  It’s only possible to see 50′ in all directions.

If a player falls into the water, the wash up on the shore a week later with an oddity.

Reaching the end

To reach the end of the pier, each of the following events must have been encountered.  With the exception of #1, each encounter is unique — if you’d encounter the same result twice, instead move up to the next undiscovered entry.

  1. CRAB BATTLE!  d8 crabs scuttle up from the underside of the pier.  They are armed with knives and like to move to the shoreside side of the players.  (Crab: STR8, 8hp, d4 weapon / d8 claw; so long as they are armed, all attacks against them are Impaired; driven to collect small weapons.)
  2. A 20′ section of the pier is missing.  There are still handrails.  The train tracks have vanished.
  3. There are two women at the edge of the pier.  One of them is crabbing, the other sells candy-floss.
  4. At the edge of the mist, floating above the sea is a firm wooden door.
  5. One of the passengers of the train offers the players a ticket stub.  For as long as it is dry, it negates any one of the pier truths.
  6. There are names engraved on the planks of the pier.  For each name that is read, that person appears from the mist and attacks the players.  The second named folk to appear begins to read the names from the planks.  (Named folk: STR12, 0hp, d10 unwieldy ghost field weapons; driven to add names to the roster {by killing people here}.)

The end of the pier

Once all of the entries have been met, it’s possible to get to the end of the pier.  This is expedited by players asking “are we there yet?”

Inside a small amusements arcade, there are a number of shove ha’penny machines.  They are rigged to never pay out.  The machines are very easy to smash open.

There’s a lady here who will sell you a suit of crabmail — name your fee.

There’s also a mystic in a polythene tent.  She invites one player to name a truth about the world.  From this point onwards, it has always been true.

PIER — a one-dimensional dungeon for INTO THE ODD