Sunday, September 27, 2020

GLOG Class: Heresiarch


"The founder of a heresy or the leader of a heretical sect."


Obviously, anyone can be a heretic; it takes a special kind of person to lead the heresy itself.

GLOG Class: Heresiarch

A: Heretic, Following, Signs & Miracles
B: Secret Heretics
C: Shelter for the Faithful
D: Intercessor, Divinity
Δ: Open, Published, Excommunicated, Persecuted, Martyred

Starting skills [1d3]: 1 = theological zealot, 2 = political splinter-leader, 3 = divine incarnation 
(Honestly, as you level up, you should probably get whichever of these you didn't start with. All three will become basically true as time goes on.)

Starting equipment: garb, accouterments, and texts as befits your particular heresy; a relic of your life from before becoming the Heresiarch.

(A) Heretic
You are a heretic from the established religion and Church of the land, meaning you have significantly divergent beliefs, enough that things have gotten ugly. You should work with your GM to figure out (or come up with) both what the established Church is, and then what your specific heresy believes that marks it as divergent. Salty Dan's CK3 religion generator is a good resource for doing this.

Because you are a heretic, the Church wants you driven out, disproven, and dead. They will sink considerable resources into doing so, relative to the power and visibility of your movement. If you meet a member of the Church hierarchy who knows you as a heretic, expect them to treat you as a foe.

(A) Following
As leader of the heresy, you have followers, other heretics who believe in your cause, and believe in you.

You can maintain a number of followers equal to [templates] × (highest of INT, WIS, or CHA) score. Any more than that and some voices will be unheard, some concerns unaddressed, and you'll have rapid desertions until you reach your max follower count.

In general, your followers will look to you as their leader, and physically follow as best they can. If they come to you with theological, spiritual, or ethical questions, they will accept whatever you say; you are the Heresiarch, you are their leader.

Your followers will, in general, give you what resources and supplies they can spare. You are broadly expected to provide food, water, and shelter for your followers. For every day in which you don't, you will lose 1d6 followers for each you fail to provide.

When you give a difficult order to your followers—which could be difficult in the sense of "charge those armed Temple Guards" or difficult in the sense of "leave your home and families to travel with me"—roll 2d6:

2–3: Your followers break and run, to a one. You lose all of your followers.
4–6:  Your most devout follow the order, but many do not. You lose half of your followers.
7: Most of your followers obey, but you lose a few stragglers. You lose 1d6 followers.
8–10: Your followers obey the order, to a one.
11 or higher: Your followers obey the order with such zeal that onlookers can't help but feel your movement's righteousness. You gain 1d6 followers. 

If you have recently performed a miracle in front of your followers, add +1 to the roll.

What orders are considered difficult can change on a day-to-day basis; if your followers are well-fed and happy, nearly anything can be done; if your followers haven't slept in the three days and are pursued by inquisitors, even something as simple as "keep walking" could be a difficult order.

If you spend an hour talking to someone and they aren't indignant and furious by the end of it, you can recruit them as a follower (this works cumulatively on groups; if you spend six hours talking with a group of six, you can recruit them all at once). 

If you're talking to someone who already hates the Church or has lost their faith, it only takes a minute of listening before they will join you.

(A) Signs & Miracles
Starting at template A and for each successive lettered template, one Sign manifests itself: roll 1d6 to determine which Sign appears, and which corresponding miracle you gain. If you roll a repeat, roll again.

Your followers interpret these as Signs from G_d, proof of your divine provenance. The Church interpret these Signs as illusion and deception, proof that you are consorting with witches and demons.

Your Signs and their Miracles are:
  1. Sign of the Dawn.
    For three days, there will be only be darkness or light: the sun will either never rise or never set.
    You can perform the prophesied Miracle of Radiance: at any time, day or night, you summon the light of your star, enough to light a temple's courtyard, town's square, or mountain's clearing. This light comes from the heavens, and thus cannot pierce ceilings or the earth, but is as bright as daylight.
  2. Sign of the Prophet.
    A burning red comet stretches across the sky, lasting for a year and a day.
    You can perform the Miracle of Divination: once per session, you go into meditation. The GM will secretly tell you (via note, whisper, or text) something that is true or will be true; this may be vague or unclear, but it will be true.
  3. Sign of the Dead.
    For one week, spirits of the dead return to the earth: family members and friends return to their homes as spectral ghosts.
    You can perform the Miracle of Resurrection: you raise a person that has died in the past seven days from the dead. Before performing the next resurrection, you must wait seven days; then seven weeks; then seven lunar months; then seven years. 
  4. Sign of the Waters.
    For a lunar month, a significant body of water, such as a river or oasis, runs crimson.
    You can perform the Miracle of Tides: you can walk on water, and can cause [templates] followers to walk with you. Once per lunar month, you can cause a body of water to dramatically change and shift, such as reversing a river or parting a sea.
  5. Sign of the Harvest.
    All of the crops in the land grow ripe overnight.
    You can perform the Miracle of Sustenance: if a non-follower freely provides you with food and water, you can multiply that food and water, enough for [templates] × 100 people.
  6. Sign of the Bells.
    When you are in town, every bell rings on the hour, every hour.
    You can perform the Miracle of Judgement: when you spend one hour talking to someone, you learn their most terrible secret and their greatest virtue; they know, instinctively, that you have learned these secrets. If you are speaking with a member of the Church hierarchy, this only takes one minute, rather than one hour.
  7. Sign of the Apocalypse.
    Mountains rend in twain, the sea rushes over the land, the earth splits asunder, fires burn in the sky, and blood runs from the eyes. 
    Non-believers are waver in their beliefs as your followers' faith only grow stronger; the ensuing chaos shakes the Church's power to its very foundations. You are canonized in the eyes of the faithful, and your memory will remain exalted forevermore.
(B) Secret Heretics
When you meet a member of the Church hierarchy or somebody else important (a military officer, a noble, a merchant captain, etc.), there is a [templates]-in-50 chance that they are secretly a devotee of your heresy. 

They will try to provide benefits accordingly, such as shelter or gold, but are unlikely to follow you or make their beliefs known openly.

(C) Shelter for the Faithful
When you enter into a city or town, your followers will connect you with other heretics, ones who have access to safe houses, hiding places, and quiet ways into & out of town. These heretics can provide enough shelter for you and 1d6+[templates] others, but no more. 

You can use this ability twice per town (once in and once out) or, if you're in town a while, twice per week.

(D) Intercessor
[Templates] times per day, you can cure someone of an affliction or ailment, such as blindness, leprosy, or a lost limb. 

(D) Divinity
After going through a complicated ritual, ordained priests of your heresy can become 1st-level Clerics, with your G_d as their deity and you as their head of religion.

Secret heretics will begin practicing more openly, founding their own communities; heretical nobility will protect other heretics dwelling in their lands.

(Δ) Open
Earned when you freely practice your heresy, rather than keeping it a secret.
You will be actively searched for and questions by Church inquisitors; you may be thrown out of churches for voicing your beliefs.
When you give a difficult order to your followers, you gain +1 to the 2d6 roll. Secret heretics will make themselves known to you as best they can.

(Δ) Published
Earned when you publish your beliefs to the world at large through printed material or fiery sermons.
Monks and clergy will write long, complicated arguments against you and your beliefs. Books bearing your words or ideas will be burned.
The chances of an important person being a secret heretic increase by 3-in-50. More people will grow angry with the Church, and actively seek you out to join you.

(Δ) Excommunicated
Earned when you are tried before an ecclesiastical court and excommunicated from the Church.
You will be barred from churches and holy sites. Faithful Church members will spit on you and curse your name.
When you give a difficult order to your followers, you gain +1 to the 2d6 roll. Roll 1d6 for another Sign & Miracle.

(Δ) Persecuted
Earned when your beliefs cause a town or city to violently drive you out.
You will be actively hunted by Church inquisitors. Faithful cities and towns will close their gates to you.
The chances of an important person being a secret heretic increase by 3-in-50. Roll 1d6 for another Sign & Miracle.

(Δ) Martyred
Earned when you are put to death for your beliefs.
If the first six Signs & Miracles have not yet occurred, following your death, there is a 50% chance another 1st-level Heresiarch will immediately arise to lead your heresy.
If the first six Signs & Miracles have occurred, the seventh Sign, the Sign of the Apocalypse, occurs.


This class has a lot going on; you can read my notes on it here.

Notes on the Heresiarch

I just published a long and complicated GLOG class called the Heresiarch. These are my notes, explanations, and thoughts on it.


To start with, my basic thoughts & feelings:

The Heresiarch is, first and foremost, a social class; its power is all in talking, and ideas, and people. It's got some useful "magic" or whatever in the Miracles, but it's not particularly good at fighting things or delving into dungeons or whatever else ordinary adventurers do. If you're running a game that's mostly about climbing into holes in the ground and killing whatever lives there, the Heresiarch is going to blow.

But, if you're running a domain-ish game, a game where you travel around and pick up a lot of minions and interact with kings and the like, the Heresiarch will be real interesting indeed.


In terms of influence, there are two primary sources: the Hocus from Apocalypse World, and a mishmash of Biblical figures, mostly Jesus and Moses (and a dash of your apocalypse doomsday cult figures, a la David Khoresh). It also draws off of CK2's heresy/secret cult mechanics, some of Deus & Vayra's NLNW/Unfinished World content, and Sword of Mass Destruction's revised Clerics.

Like Gun Priest and OG Wizard, this is a class that has a fair amount of, like, "magic shit" going on, but very little in terms of actual magic. It's in that weird kind of liminal space, where it's clear to both player and character that something a little bit extraordinary has occurred, but neither can quite pin down the degree of influence brought by the supernatural.


Some rapid-fire commentary about mechanics-y things:

Heretic isn't mechanical; it's literally just the "you are a heretic" feature. Following has a lot of words, but it basically boils down to: you have a mob of followers that you have to care about, you can bully them by rolling 2d6, and if someone listens to you, they will probably join you. 

Secret Heretics and Shelter for the Faithful are both really about just saying "you have more followers and they can help you out sometimes." That's about it, really.

Intercessor is the "healers heal good" perk; don't let it heal HP, just more RP-ish afflictions. Divinity is another not-really-mechanical one, it basically just says "hey you reached level 4, you get a real religion now, hooray!"

Signs & Miracles are the power meat of this class, other than followers. It's important to note that the Signs just happen. The Heresiarch is here to shake things up, for better or worse, and the Signs are how that happens. 

The Miracles are the meatier spell-ish powers; most are not super combat-useful, so be generous in how your Heresiarch can use them. For the Divination, as GM, the best revelations are super specific but kind of lacking context: "Duke Belair will betray you," say, or "it will not rain for one month." Things that are workable and easily-proven, but not immediately useful in the moment.


Δ templates, pronounced as "delta templates," are templates that you get the benefits of not as you level up, but instead when you fulfill their specific narrative beats. (They're basically just Pasts/Traumas from Zombie World, if you're familiar.) 

Δ templates count as templates for the purposes of [templates], in my mind, so if you have C templates and Open+Published+Excommunicated, [templates] = 6. If you think that's super OP or whatever, you can skip it.

Generally, the Δ templates escalate and ramp up the drama as your Heresiarch gets more powerful. You get more powers and more perks, but it means the Church hates you all the more.

Note that in order to get all of the first 6 Signs & Miracles, you need both Excommunicated and Persecuted and to have hit D templates.


Martyred is this class's endgame, sort of like the Gothic Villain; it can be continuation (if the first 6 aren't fulfilled), a giant blowup ending (if they are), or something that's never triggered (which means you win, basically).

Really, Heresiarch is a campaign-plot-structure that's dressed up as a class. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Rules for Rulers



OK, so, here are a set of basic rules for playing as rulers in a medieval-fantasy context. It's basically "Crusader Kings: the TTRPG."

These rules are, as presented here, designed to be playable more or less as a standalone system; I don't have unique playbooks/character classes yet, but if you're fine with everyone being more or less the same, it should work well enough. 

I haven't tried it, but I think you could graft this onto an OSR/D&D ruleset with only minimal changes. I talk about that at the end of this post. 

This is a mammoth blogpost, be warned. If you want just the rules, here's the link: Rules for Rulers.


These rules are Powered by the Apocalypse; that means they're a hack of Apocalypse World, Vincent & Meguey Baker's hugely influential 2010/16 RPG that has since spawned a new wave of indie RPGs. Games written in their style are called Powered by the Apocalypse, or PbtA. 

There are three key things to know about PbtA games, if you're totally new (if you're not, skip ahead):

  1. When you roll, you always roll 2d6 and add an associated stat, which ranges from -2ish to +3ish. This is so universal it doesn't specify the dice, it usually just says something like "roll+Hot," or, "roll with Hot." If your total is a 10 or higher, you get what you want; if you get a 7–9, you get what you want, but reduced or at a cost; if you get a 6 or lower, you don't get what you want, and there are additional consequences, too.
  2. PbtA systems are made up of moves: a collection of triggers and their effects, which comprise all of the dice rolling. You never roll dice unless you're making a move, and moves are the only time you roll dice. When you do something in-fiction that's risky or uncertain, figure out which move you're making, and then roll based on that. To make a move, you have to do that move's trigger in-fiction; if you do that trigger, you make the move. You cannot have one without the other; to do it, do it.
  3. The GM never rolls. They'll pose problems as the world demands (which can be randomly determined), but they don't ever roll for the NPCs or monster or whatever. Good things happen when the players roll well; bad things happen when they roll poorly.
If that feels overwhelming, don't panic. Read through these rules, and if you're still confused, ask me.


These rules are designed for an extremely streamlined feudal system; actual feudalism is obscenely complicated, so here's the boiled-down version this system uses (if you've got a basic working knowledge of classic Western European feudal structure, skip ahead):

At the top, there's a singular ruler, usually a King (ruler of a Kingdom). Beneath the King, there's a collection of Dukes (rulers of Duchies), who are like mini-Kings. Beneath the Dukes, there's a larger collection of Counts (rulers of Counties), who are like mini-Dukes. Beneath the Counts, there's a collection of Barons (rulers of Baronies), who realistically just have people beneath them, ranging from landed knights to peasants. These are collectively called Titles: the ruler of a Kingdom Title is the King, and so on.

Every ruler is also a ruler in the tier beneath them: a King is also a Duke, a Duke is also a Count, a Count is also a Baron, who is a generic landowner. The King's Barony is probably the capital of the Kingdom, and thus their County and Duchy are probably rich and powerful. 

A Kingdom is made up of Duchies, which are made up of Counties, which are made up of Baronies, which are made up of land. A "regular" Kingdom probably has a half-dozen or less Dukes, one or two dozen Counts, and dozens of Barons (and then hundreds or thousands of Knights). When we talk about the capital-N Nobility (or Nobles), this is who we are talking about. 

The Noble who rules over your is called your Liege; the Nobles you rule over are called your Vassals. Keeping your Liege happy is the second-most important thing a Noble has to do, right after keeping their Vassals happy. 

Nobles also have Claims: a Claim is essentially a (maybe-)legitimate reason that this particular Noble should control that particular Title. Yes, the laws say one thing, but if something were to shift, our Noble Claimant could make their case to the lords of the realm, and push their Claim. Pushing Claims usually results in war; it's rare to start a war without having a Claim. 

Claims most commonly come from being the non-inheriting child of a Noble; if your Duke parent dies and you aren't the inheritor (usually by not being born first), you get a Claim on your sibling's Title. There are a bunch of other ways to get Claims, these are just the most common.

Nobles also have Heirs, the people who inherit when they die. Heirs get assigned on a per-Title basis, not a per-Ruler; if a Noble rules over two Titles, they can assign separate heirs to each. Sometimes, heirs can just be named directly, but more often they're assigned by the laws of the realm: primogeniture, meaning the firstborn child inherits, is quite common. 

You can see how all of these start getting complicated, fast. And this is simplified. 



You are a Noble; you have a Liege and you have Vassals.

You have several stats, most of which will shift up and down with some regularity:

First are the two realm stats, which have a maximum determined by your particular Title:
  1. Coin. A measure of your liquid wealth; literal gold, but also holdings, workers, assets, treasure, and so on.
  2. Swords. A measure of your military and military-ish power; how many soldiers and operatives you control, and how effective they are.
You also have two political stats, which range from -3 to +3:
  1. Titles. These are titles you own; the stat is based on your highest title. (King is +3, Duke is +2, Count is +1, Baron is +0, Landed Knight is -1)
  2. Honor. Basically your "universal opinion modifier;" think of it as how fair, trustworthy, and generally "good" you are.
You also have two personal stats:
  1. Luck. Your personal graces, skills, and abilities: mental, social, and physical. Luck ranges from -2 to +3, and usually doesn't change.
  2. Stress. Your current psychological well-being; how much pressure you're under and how many fuckups you've made. Stress starts at 0, and goes up to 3.
These stats govern almost everything. 

A quick note on time: medieval communication, travel, warfare, and just about everything else was slow. Let your players talk as normal, and just assume that a conversation that takes ten minutes at the table takes like a month in-game (either from letters being sent, or from one lord travelling to meet another). Moves themselves could easily take weeks or months; armies and spies and merchants are also very, very slow. Don't sweat the time, just assume that it all happens slowly.


These are the basic moves that you make most of the time.

When you pay for information on someone, roll with Coin. On a 10+, you can ask 3 questions, which the GM or another player will answer truthfully; on a 7–9, ask 1, or spend 1 Coin to ask 3:
  • To whom do you owe true loyalty?
  • What's a dangerous secret of yours?
  • What does ______ think of you? What do you think of ______?
  • How could I get you to do ______?
On a miss, ask 1 anyway, but whoever you were investigating learns of your inquisition, and gets to ask 1 question of you.

When you send your operatives to scout a holding or region, roll with Swords. On a 10+, you can ask 3 questions, which the GM or another player will answer truthfully; on a 7–9, ask 1, or spend 1 Coin to ask 3:
  • What's a weakness or vulnerability of this area?
  • What wealth, resources, or benefits does this area contain?
  • Who really controls this area?
  • What's the greatest threat or danger in this area?
On a miss, ask 1 anyway, but whoever you were investigating learns of your scouting, you lose 1 Swords.

When your soldiers fight to take or defend a holding, declare how many Swords you're spending, then roll with Swords spent. On a 10+, you take it or keep it, whichever; on a 7–9, you take it or keep it, but mark 1 Stress. On a miss, your soldiers are lost; you lose the holding, and mark 1 Stress.

When you dig deep into your coffers to pay for something, declare how much Coin you're spending, then roll with Coin spent. On a 10+, you pay for it without issue; on a 7–9, you pay for it, but mark 1 Stress. On a miss, your offerings weren't enough; your gold is gone, and mark 1 Stress.

When you collect taxes or raise levies on your realm, declare which, then roll with Title. On a 10+, you replenish the chosen stat to full; on a 7–9, either mark 1 Stress to replenish the stat to full, or only replenish 1 of that stat. On a miss, mark 1 Stress, replenish no resources, and your lower classes start to grow annoyed.

When you push your luck and tempt fate, be it in battle, love, or court, roll with Luck. On a 10+, you succeed in your attempt. On a 7–9, the GM will offer you a tough choice, a hard bargain, or an ugly outcome. On a miss, fate counters; prepare for the worst.

When you aid or impede another noble who has already rolled, wager Stress (max 3), then roll with Stress wagered. On a 10+, they take +2 or -1 (your choice), at no cost to yourself; on a 7–9, they take +2 or -1, but mark the Stress you wagered. On a miss, mark the Stress you wagered to no benefit.


These moves are used in court, for intrigue and subtle guile. They involve fewer dice rolls.

When you swear a sacred oath in the eyes of gods and humanity, describe your oath. If you break your oath, you suffer -3 Honor; if you see your oath fulfilled, you gain +1 Honor.

When you claim something as truth to the entire court (usually in the context of accusations), roll with Honor. On a 10+, you are believed by all; on a 7-9, the important people believe you, but there are whispers, mark 1 Stress. On a miss, no one important believes you.
If your word is later disproven, you suffer -1 Honor.

When you commit a crime and the court believes your guilt, you lose Honor based on your guilt. Lesser crimes might only be -1, high crimes will be -3 or more. Crimes vary, but generally include: theft, slander, murder, heresy, rape, treason, assault, tyranny, and then others, based on the particular realm.
Generally, this is only for crimes against the Nobility (and other important people, like the clergy). Crimes against the peasantry are rarely an issue.

When a Favor is asked of someone else, the debtor (the person asking) names what they desire of the creditor (the person being asked). Depending on what's asked for, the debtor will owe the creditor one or more Favors in return (determined by creditor and debtor together). 
If the debtor has higher Honor or Title than the creditor, the creditor must mark 1 Stress if they refuse the original Favor. If the creditor is a Vassal of the debtor, they also suffer -1 Honor.

When a creditor demands what is owed to them by a debtor, they spend one or more Favors from the debtor and make their demands. If the debtor refuses, they mark 1 Stress and suffer -1 Honor.

Favors are an abstract measure of who owes whom; they're the basic currency in political intrigue. The regular exchange of lesser Favors between Nobles is how trust is usually built; someone who refuses to engage with Favors at all is seen as a prickly, unhelpful outcast.
Here are some common (non-exhaustive) things Favors can be spent on, either when they're asked for or called in as debt:
  • Conceal or reveal a specific secret
  • Forgive a specific oath or debt
  • Join or abandon a specific cause or Plot
  • Give or take 1 Coin or 1 Sword
  • Some other specific action
Favors are meant to be flexible; really big asks might take 2 Favors, really small things might get a 2-for-1 Favor deal. Use them as you need.


These moves are used for serious action, usually in wartime. The divide between these and Honor & Favor moves is sort of arbitrary, don't sweat them.

When you declare war, declare which of the following you are using as your cause:
  • The target has Honor less than zero; you win when you strip them all of their Titles.
  • You have legitimate Claims on the target's Title(s): you win when you take those Titles as your own.
  • You have proof the target has committed a serious crime: you win when the target is brought before court to face trial.
If you win a war, you gain +1 Honor. If you lose a war, you suffer -1 Honor. If an armistice or white peace is called, the aggressor suffers -1 Honor
If you declare(d) an unjust war, meaning you have no cause for war or your cause was to be false, you suffer -3 Honor.

When a Liege raises their banners and calls their Vassals to war, Vassals with less Honor than their Liege cannot refuse without suffering -3 Honor
If a Vassal answers the call and serves their Liege truly through the war, they gain +1 Honor.

When you are aided in war by your Vassals or allies, add the number of Nobles supporting you in this specific instance to the roll when you take or defend a holding or raise levies.

You gain a claim on a title when any of the following are true:
  • Your Noble parent dies and you do not inherit their Title
  • You fabricate a Claim by secret plot
  • You lose a Title (by any means) that you previously held
  • A bordering domain's lower classes rise up against their ruler
  • A bordering domain's ruler dies without naming an heir

When a Noble publicly names an Heir to their Title(s), that Heir gains +1 Honor. If the named Heir goes against the laws of the realm (such as skipping a firstborn), you suffer -1 Honor, and the formerly-presumed Heir will start a plot against you and the Heir.

When you strip a Vassal of their Title, that Vassal loses their title. If the Vassal has Honor less than zero, this is fine; otherwise you lose Honor equal to the Vassal's Title. If you strip a non-direct Vassal of their title (such as a King stripping a Count, or Duke stripping a Baron), you suffer -1 Honor.

When you forge a secret plot to achieve a goal, name your goal, then roll the dice
For each Noble supporting you (or extremely relevant courtiers, like spymasters or specific bodyguards), take +1 to the roll. 
For each increase in Title of their target relative to you, take -2 to the roll (so a Count plotting against a King would suffer -4). 
For each domain separating yours, take -1 to the roll (so plotting against someone in your court would take no penalty, an immediate neighbor would take -1, a faraway ruler might take -3 or more). 
On a 10+, the plot goes off without a hitch. On a 7–9, the plot works, but someone lets critical details slip to the wrong parties. On a miss, the plot fails, and you and all of your conspirators are found out.

Plots are the catch-all "do something sneaky that isn't a basic move." Like Favors, they're meant to be abstract and open-ended; you should sculpt plots to fit the exact proceedings as you need them. 
Here are some common (non-exhaustive) things Plots can do:
  • Fabricate a Claim on a Title
  • Assassinate, kidnap, or otherwise remove a Noble
  • Frame a Noble for a crime, or plan to expose for something they already did
  • Turn a Vassal's loyalties against their Liege
  • Rile up the lower classes against their ruler
  • Secretly provide another Noble with support
Obviously, Plots can be used for all sorts of things, these are merely common examples. Get creative in how you work the political game.


When you have time and opportunity, you can make a Stress move to blow off Stress; these can remove some or all of your stress, but carry cost and risk. 

If your Stress is at 3 (maximum), the GM can force you to make one of these Stress moves at any time. (GMs, be gleefully nasty when you decide to invoke this.)

When you indulge in sex, drink, or other pleasures of the flesh, roll with Coin. On a 10+, you clear all your Stress with no issues. On a 7–9, you clear all your Stress, but offend the wrong person: you owe them a Favor. On a miss, you mess up really badly; you owe someone a Favor, but clear no Stress.

When you exploit the peasantry for gain and sport, roll with Swords. On a 10+, you clear all your Stress as they grovel to you. On a 7–9, you clear all your Stress, but suffer -1 Honor. On a miss, things grow messy; you suffer -1 Honor, but clear no Stress.

When you engage in an act of over-righteous zealotry, roll with Honor. On a 10+, you clear all your Stress. On a 7–9, you clear all your Stress, but your act is witnessed by unfriendly eyes, and someone starts a Plot against you. On a miss, you still clear 1 Stress, but a Plot is started and has significant support.

When you abuse or shame a someone of lower rank, roll with Title. On a 10+, you clear all your Stress, and they mark 1 Stress. On a 7–9, you clear 1 Stress and they mark 1 Stress. On a miss, both you and they mark 1 Stress; any witnesses will be displeased with you. 


This is a random catchall section for odds and ends.

When you draw cold steel and fight for your life, roll the dice. For each of the following that are true, take +1 to the roll:
  • You have heavy arms or armor and the training to use
  • You have armed bodyguards or soldiers about you
  • Your assailant is untrained, or isn't trying to kill you
On a 10+, you survive with minimal injuries. On a 7–9, you are wounded: if you don't get to safety and receive medical attention soon, you will die. On a miss, you die: the GM will tell you how and when.

PCs can take Stress up to 3, and are in full control of themselves up to that point. NPCs are a little different: at 1 Stress, NPCs start to behave erratically, unpredictably, and out of character; at 2 Stress, NPCs start acting destructively to themselves and others, through panic and violence. At 3 Stress, an NPC has either retreated to their chambers to huddle in the fetal position, drank themselves into a coma, or has murdered at least one peasant. 

The basic rule of thumb I use for this is that a Noble has a maximum of Coins and Swords equal to their Title+1. So a Baron has a max of 1, a Count has 2, Duke 3, and King 4. 
For PCs, if they make a good case for it at chargen, shift one max from Coins to Swords or vice versa; this means a Duke with a rich, non-militant realm could have max Coins 4 and max Swords 2, while another Duke in a bitter, martial realm could have max Coins 2 and max Swords 4. 

If it's relevant, you can tack on more Titles. Emperors, with multiple client kings, could be at +4; some immortal turbo-Hegemon of a whole plane might be at +5. Beneath Landed Knights, you might have, like, hedge knights or peasant land-holders at -2. Obviously, +4 Titles are really, really good, and if Empire is a thing in your game, it could be relevant; anything less than -1 really isn't very relevant, so it would just be for times if you're tweaking these rules.

I wouldn't let players start as Kings or Barons. The interesting juicy play happens at the County and Duchy levels, where players have some power, but not all power. It depends how your players vibe, but I'd tentatively recommend players all start at the same level.
For Luck, either just give everybody +1, have them roll 1d4 from -1 to +2, or let them start at higher Luck in exchange for some nasty penalty (crappy starting Honor, smaller Coin or Swords max, a bunch of enemies, or whatever).
For Honor, start everybody at +1. Lets them be a little flexible if they want to spend it, puts them on equal with most other Nobles, but very upright lords will out-do them. 

This one's complicated. I want to have your family matter, but it would probably take a bunch more moves and/or mechanics. The shorthand I use is that for Favors and Banner-raising, house members always effectively count as having higher Honor than you (so you lose Honor for refusing), but the same is true of you to them.

Short for "relationship map," I'd recommend making a big chart with the King, Dukes, and important Counts on it. Draw lines between them, write down who has what relationship to whom. Put it somewhere in the middle of the table where everyone can see it, and then update it as needed.

You need something like a basic political map, but it doesn't need to be complicated. You can honestly just use graph paper and call each square a separate county. It's rough, but it will work fine. If you want to get super into it, you can try to apply county lines to existing territory, or just steal county maps from Crusader Kings.

There are a whole bunch of variations, but nine times out of ten, I find following an absolute cognatic primogeniture or elective monarchy is best in terms of balance between drama, complexity, and players understanding what is actually happening. Cognatic means all genders inherit equally; primogeniture means it's firstborn-takes-all, elective monarchy means that the heir is elected by the nobility (assign number of votes equal to Title * 2, simple majority). Players can wrap their heads around it, but it preserves the drama of succession.

I had sheets for this a while ago, but then my hard drive shat itself, so now I don't. Here's a list of what you need to have on a character sheet:
  1. Name
  2. Title
  3. Coin
  4. Swords
  5. Luck
  6. Honor
  7. Stress
  8. Your Liege
  9. Your Vassals
  10. Favors owed to you
  11. Favors you owe
  12. Claims
  13. Heir to your Titles
  14. Titles you are Heir to
  15. Notes
You can definitely just fit this all onto a google doc; there's not any fancy layout you need. There's a super fast and crummy one I made at the end of the separate rules doc.

Here ends the rules.


The short version of how to hack this into your game is: 
  1. Cut out Luck, tempt fate, and fight for your life.
  2. Make sure the scope of all of these moves are very broad and not very personal; if it gets personal, use regular D&D rules.
  3. Sometimes use Honor as a modifier for morale rolls. 
  4. Either make one player the child of a noble and then have that noble die, or make the PCs earn a title through questing. Whether or not all the PCs have their own Titles or if they just somehow share one big Title is up to you and your table.
The longer version is basically just that domain-level play is fundamentally different than the ordinary day-to-day D&D rules, and so I'd argue a different ruleset should be used accordingly. In my experience a lot of domain-level play in D&D ends up either relying on a lot of weird mechanical implications (where personal Charisma determines your ability to lead armies) or just saying "fuck it," and basically forcing the GM to make everything up as you go.

I've also found that a lot of domain-level play ignores the politics. Like, there might be rules for armies and sieges and whatever, but they rarely get into the personal, messy politicking of the court itself. That's really, I think, what these rules are about: they try to get at the interpersonal drama and excitement of political action on a kingdom-wide scale. 

In terms of literal conversion, the biggest thing is to cut out Luck and the physical moves. There are only two, because this isn't really a game about that kind of thing—and D&D very much is a game about that kind of thing. D&D rules are very personal and localized and detailed, this ruleset isn't; try to use the two to supplement each other. 

The other big thing is to try to keep these two rulesets from stepping on each other's toes. Make sure that the players know when they're using their D&D rules with d20s and attributes, and when they're breaking out their PbtA 2d6 and using moves. Domain play and dungeon play are pretty separate things, tbqh, and the more clear you make that, the better.

In terms of raw mechanics, Stress is kind of a squirrelly one; if you use a system that already has stress, you can try to graft them onto each other; I don't really have any good advice for this. You shouldn't just roll stress into HP; they're different things—stress doesn't kill you, it just makes you reckless and dumb. If you want, you can do some "Spend 1 Stress to get Advantage," or something, but that's probably not necessary overall.

Honor can be used as a modifier for morale, as I said. If you're fighting a foe known to be deeply honorable and trustworthy and just, that means you might be the baddies, so you're more likely to break; if you're fighting under the banner Lord Righteous the Good, you're much more likely to keep fighting, since your side is the right one. How exactly you want to map this onto your system depends on your Morale system; if it's the stereotypical 2d6, you can just apply Honor directly. 

The biggest problem I'm still trying to wrestle with is the question of PCs as rulers. If you're running this system here as a standalone, then everybody just plays Counts and it's kind of a semi-competitive game, but an ordinary D&D party is very cooperative. If they all get counties then they're now sort of rivals by default—but you can't really have four people rule a county together, that's just not really how feudalism works. The obvious solution is to just make one player the ruler, and have the rest of the party be their advisors, but that could get icky if your players aren't cool with that kind of obvious power imbalance. 

I dunno. 


The three major inspirations for this system are: Undying, by Paul Riddle; Cartel, by Mark Diaz-Truman, and Crusader Kings II, by Paradox Games.

As always, this is pretty untested, and you are welcome to steal and hack it to your pleasure. Let me know how it goes and what you think.

New Blogger, New Layout, New Rules

So, Blogger updated their UI to be weird and tile-based and new. Feels like some kind of strange tablet-designed thing; it's less clear, less straightforward, and less efficient than the old mode. Not a fan.

I've also updated my blog layout! The old all-white straightforward design has ended, replaced with a snazzy new dark-grey layout. Yes, it makes the ol' Goat's Head look a lot more like other OSR blogs out there, but there are two major benefits:

  1. This layout theme allows for using actual sidebars and footers; the old format didn't really support those at all. You can now see people I follow, my post archive, tags, and so on; this might get updated with a Things I Wrote You Can Buy, if I'm feeling aggressive.
  2. It's in dark mode! You can now read my blog late in the evenings without searing out your eyeballs.
If you hate either of these changes, which is understandable, you can follow me on Twitter and send me hatemail there.

As a panacea for your seething furor, I've written some new rules for domain-level play (ish). You can find these new rules here: Rules for Rulers.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Updated Seas of Sand pricing lists and merchant rolls

Disclaimer: the most economics education I have is AP Econ in high school, so this is extremely inexact. I'm a game designer, not an economist.

Over the course of my two short Seas of Sand playtest campaigns, one of the recurring issues I ran into was that of pricing—players wanted to hunt for good deals, go to cities where demand was high, and otherwise influence the prices of their goods. Which is reasonable, it makes a lot of sense; Seas leans into mercantile adventures, and so players wanting to interact with the systems there is good gameplay.

Now that those campaigns are over, I've been trying to think of a solution; the obvious answer is a series of compounding percentage modifiers (+5% for good deals, +20% for high demand, etc.), but that math gets pretty complicated fast, and quickly turns players off. 

Instead, I've made a pretty gigantic table of prices, ranging from very high demand to very low demand. Here it is:


Minimal Demand
Low Demand
Less Demand
More Demand
High Demand
Extreme Demand
Armor (light)
100 / 0.1
200 / 0.2
400 / 0.4
500 / 0.5
750 / 0.75
1000 / 1
1500 / 1.5
Armor (heavy)
1,500 / 1.5
2,500 / 2.5
4,000 / 4
5,000 / 5
5500 / 5.5
6250 / 6.25 
7500 / 7.5
150 / 0.15
250 / 0.25
500 / 0.5
750 / 0.75
1000 / 1
1250 / 1.25
2000 / 2
20 / 0.02
30 / 0.03
40 / 0.04
50 / 0.05
75 / 0.75
150 / 0.15
500 / 0.5 
300 / -
350 / -
400 / -
500 / -
600 / -
800 / - 
1200 / -
Cloth (cheap)
200 / 0.2
500 / 0.5
800 / 0.8
1000 / 1
1250 / 1.25
1500 / 1.5
2500 / 2.5
Cloth (Luxury)
20,000 / 20
30,000 / 30
40,000 / 40
50,000 / 50
60,000 / 60
70,000 / 70
80,000 / 80
Food (cheap)
50 / 0.05
100 / 0.1
150 / 0.15
200 / 0.2
400 / 0.4
800 / 0.8
2000 / 2
Food (luxury)
500 / 0.5
1,000 / 1
1,250 / 1.25
1,500 / 1.5
1,750 / 1.75
2,500 / 2.5
4,000 / 4
400,000 / 400
300 / 0.3
650 / 0.65
900 / 0.9
1,250 / 1.25
1,500 / 1.5
2,000 / 2
2,500 / 2.5
100 / 0.1
150 / 0.15
250 / 0.25
300 / 0.3
400 / 0.4
550 / 0.55
800 / 0.8
50,000 / 50
100,000 / 100
150,000 / 150
200,000 / 200
300,000 / 300
400,000 / 400
500,000 / 500
20,000 / 20
Spices (cheap)
10,000 / 10
25,000 / 25
40,000 / 40
50,000 / 50
80,000 / 80
125,000 / 125
200,000 / 200
Spices (Luxury)
50,000 / 50
100,000 / 100
200,000 / 200
250,000 / 250
300,000 / 300
350,000 / 350
400,000 / 400
250 / 2.5
350 / 3.5
450 / 0.45
500 / 0.5
750 / 0.75
1,500 / 1.5
3,000 / 3
Textiles (cheap)
750 / 0.75
1,000 / 1
1,500 / 1.5
2,000 / 2
2,500 / 2.5
3,500 / 3.5
4,500 / 4.5
Textiles (luxury)
35,000 / 35
45,000 / 45
60,000 / 60
75,000 / 75
85,000 / 85
100,000 / 100
120,000 / 120
1,000 / 1
40 / 0.04
60 / 0.06
80 / 0.08
100 / 0.1
120 / 0.12
180 / 0.18
250 / 0.25
Wood (scrap)
500 / 0.5
650 / 0.65
800 / 0.8
1,000 / 1
1,250 / 1.25
1,750 / 1.75
3,000 / 3
Wood (corded)
2,500 / 2.5
5,000 / 5
7,500 / 7.5
10,000 / 10
12,000 / 12
18,000 / 18
25,000 / 25

Let me explain how this table works, since it's a lot:

The key information is the column on the left (goods), and the central price column (average). In a regular city at a regular time, this is what you'd pay for those goods. The first number is by the bulk (approximately 1,000 lbs.), and the second italicized number is by the pound. Merchants deal in both, depending on the good. These prices are listed in skins, or silver (1 day's worth of water = 1 skin = 1 silver piece).

The other six columns, from minimal demand to extreme demand, are just prices for the same goods as they go up and down. Take, for example, tea. Tea is ordinarily half a skin per pound, or 500 skins per bulk; if demand was a little higher, it would go up to 750 skins per bulk, but if it was a little lower, it would be 450 skins per bulk. As demand increases or decreases, so too do the prices. 

Generally speaking, luxury goods have flatter progression up and down, where cheaper, more necessary goods spike harder in both directions. Necessary goods (with inelastic demand) spike the hardest when in the most extreme demand—everyone needs food.

Gold, silver, and water don't change prices because they're used as currency; yes, this isn't how it works in actual economics, since currency exchange exists, but that's above my pay grade. Camels don't have per-pound prices because one camel roughly equals one bulk, and you can't buy 1 pound of camel.

For a hypothetical future GM of Sands, these numbers could definitely be shifted up and down as they needed. 


OK, we have a big table. What makes these prices move up and down? The unhelpful answer is "shortage and surplus," which in turn asks the question, what causes shortages and surpluses? Here's a non-comprehensive list for each.

  1. Social/market interest (people buy more of the hot new thing, now there's none left)
  2. War (merchants get nervous, people start hoarding)
  3. Piracy / privateering / other hits on merchants vessels
  4. Natural shortages, either from simple lack of availability (the iron mine is very far away) or from natural disaster (a famine decimated all the crops)
  5. Manufactured shortages, from guilds or cartels agreeing not sell too much
  6. Legal price-adjusting; the lightweight version of this is tariffs and taxes, the heavyweight is declaring a good to be illegal
  1. Social/market disinterest (people just don't want to buy the once-hot thing)
  2. Natural abundance, like finding a new vein of iron or having a boom year of camel births
  3. Artificial abundance, like a sudden new shipment arriving or a bunch of merchants all deciding to ship the same thing
  4. Government subsidy, allowing for more production that would otherwise be able
You can imagine how these kinds of tools could shift demand up and down for the players—and how the players could influence the market themselves. 

On a very rough level, I'd imagine that for each of these that apply, you'd shift the prices one column; so if you were in a city with natural abundance (-demand), but the guilds are price-fixing (+demand) and war is brewing on the horizon (+demand), you'd end up at a net +1 demand—more demand. It's rough, but I think it should work.


This tackles one of the problems I mentioned—high demand and low demand in cities—but it doesn't immediately solve the other, of how players can get better deals when they buy and sell.

To solve this, I propose the merchant roll: this is a variable pool of d6s that, when the PCs are buying or selling their cargo, they roll:

  • For every day spent in port, searching for the best deal possible (meaning crew must be fed, watered, and paid), add 1d6.
  • If you succeed on an Intelligence, Wisdom, and/or Charisma check (just roll 1d20 for all three), add 1d6 each. 
  • If you have training or skills in mercantilism, add 1d6. If you're really, really talented, add 2d6.
  • You might add additional d6s based on other external factors, depending. 
If any die shows a 6, adjust your prices one column better (cheaper if buying, more expensive if selling). This can only shift prices one column better; even the best merchants can't push their prices that far.

This generally only applies to buying and selling significant chunks of cargo; you don't need to roll this for individual pieces of gear or whatever.

This mechanizes and, on some level, ritualizes the buying-and-selling process. It's it's own little microsystem, one that I think—hope—that GMs could tweak and adjust to their own tables, as necessary.

I need to run Seas again, and that might be a while in coming, but I think this will help.

Let me know your thoughts.