RPG posts about using 2d6 systems like Traveller, or my own take, Just Halberds.

2020-04-22 What about opposed 2d6 probabilities?

I was wondering: if we roll opposed 2d6 rolls, what are the chances of beating your opponent? It must be around 50% but somewhat less, because both rolling a seven – the most likely result – is undecided, that is: you didn’t beat your opponent.

And what about your chances when you get a +1 and your opponent doesn’t? I started wondering but I also didn’t want to dive back into the introduction to statistics I must have in my bookshelf somewhere. And I also didn’t want to look it up on AnyDice.

I started thinking: with just 2d6, it should be possible to explain it all using tables and counting... and I did it! I wrote a little three page PDF about it: Understanding 2d6 Math.

Enjoy! 🙂


Comments on 2020-04-22 What about opposed 2d6 probabilities?

I’d also consider loop N over {0..11}{output 2d6-2d6<N named "+[N]"}

edkalrio 2020-04-23 12:19 UTC

Oh, very cool! Thank’s a lot.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-23 18:07 UTC

Ynas Midgard’s review of Best Left Buried makes me think I should have a look at its mechanics...

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-27 08:17 UTC

It always struck me as super weird that Starblazer and Anglerre didn’t use 2d6 vs 7 instead of the cockamamie system it went with, which has the exact same probabilities as 2d6 vs 7 in every single way.

Sandra 2020-09-14 21:44 UTC

Ah, those were the 1d6-1d6 systems, right? A sort of Fate dice alternative. I think they wanted to keep the Fate ladder and that’s why they didn’t want to start using a ladder centred around 7 instead of 0... But I’m just guessing.

– Alex 2020-09-15 08:00 UTC

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2020-04-20 To specialize in combat

Yesterday’s session was interesting in terms of playtesting. Remember our setup? We had one more spellcaster this time around:

  • Boris the fighter
  • Rothilion the archer
  • Legoshi the archer
  • Sora the assassin
  • Nonuru the aeromancer
  • Natascha the aquamancer
  • Fo Pi the pyromancer
  • Kingu the geomancer

Also remember that last session did not involve any fights. This time around, Boris the fighter wanted to fight! Soon, one of the sidequests that popped up was “retrieve the sword Meteorstrike from a band of bugbears outside of town.”

As explained previously, when taking notes for a fight, I just add up all the hit dice and go from there:

  • bugbears ♡♡♡ ♡♡♡ ♡♡♡ ♡♡♡ ♡♡♡ ♡♡♡ ♡♡♡ ♡♡♡ ♡♡♡ ♡♡♡ ♡♡♡ ♡♡♡ +1 swordfighting, sneaking, ambushing

That’s a lot of hits!

The players managed to sneak up to them and surprise them. How did I handle surprise? I let the initiative system carry it: whenever a player acts for the first time, they can use any +1 they get because they’re sneaking or ambushing or assassinating, depending on their skill; and as long as the players keep the initiative, the bugbears count as surprised, meaning they can’t use any of their skills effectively, thus they fight at +0 instead of +1.

Sadly for the players, I still rolled very well and two characters dropped to below zero hits. One player noticed that there was always a chance to lose four hits in every roll, so the game was super dangerous. We decided to keep using the notorious Death & Dismemberment table. It’s very forgiving when it comes to dying. And so the two characters rolled one more time:

2instant death: beheaded or similar; the victim may only be raised by resurrection
3fatal wound and death at the end of the fight: pierced lung, cracked spine or similar; regeneration can avert death; the victim may be raised by resurrection or raise dead
4loose a limb; roll 1d4: 1 – sword arm, 2 – shield arm, 3, 4 – leg; death can be averted by applying a tourniquet or cauterizing the wound with fire, you can regrow the limb using regeneration
5, 6broken bone; roll 1d4: 1 – sword arm, 2 – shield arm, 3 – leg, 4 – rib; healing takes 2d4+9 weeks (sessions); regeneration can mend broken bones
7, 8unconscious for the rest of the fight
9stunned: at -1 for the rest of the fight
10knocked down: at -1 until you spend the initiative to get up
11you can take it!
12adrenalin rush! Get back one ♡

Remember we still use the names and descriptions of a lot of D&D-like spells with every spell being a special ability characters can learn.

Sadly, one of the players rolled a 2 and their character died. They announced that they are going to play a fighter, next.

Indeed, that’s one of the issues I noticed tonight. The lone fighter really dominated the game: it was very easy to nominate them for the next roll, and they interposed themselves a lot when the others got attacked (and indeed when they did not, the archer went down).

On the one hand, the player of the fighter got what they wanted. They wanted a fight, and they got a fight. They’re playing a fighter and they totally ruled. That’s cool.

The spellcasters realized that if they wanted to join a fight, they needed guards – they needed a front rank to hold back the enemies. The alternative would be a game like last session where the party decided not to fight. Sadly, they also don’t have many people versed in talking, so it’s a bit weird. They have a lot of spellcasters that want to fight.

I’m not sure: is this a problem of the rules that I need to fix, or is this a problem the players need to solve? 🤔

When I talked about it on Mastodon, @Halfjack said:

Be careful when playtesting of turning a player’s concerns into a failure to address the game. If they aren’t getting it, it’s possible the game isn’t pitching it yet.

Good point.


Comments on 2020-04-20 To specialize in combat

I love my random mini-setting generator Hex Describe spitting out magic weapons I added to it so long ago. Like this one: “The long sword Meteorstrike +1/+3 vs. dragons, an old elven sword forged in the dragon wars.”

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-20 17:14 UTC

I will say that from personal experience running a lot of PbtA and similar games with initiative rules like the ones in Just Halberds, those sort of rules tend to favour some players over others a lot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a lot easier for a fighter to come up with a cool plan to keep up with a thief or wizard out of combat than it is for a thief or wizard to keep up with a fighter in combat. It also gives more talkative and outgoing personalities more attention. You can always try to put more attention back on the people that are more reserved but at that point it defeats the point of a fluid form of initiative (for me at least).

Your mileage may vary, of course, but classic D&D initiative is one of the first things I houserule into a lot of games I run. That’s the fun thing about simple rulesets though. If there’s something you don’t like, it’s super easy to change.

Malcolm 2020-04-22 04:12 UTC

Good point. For now, I think I can manage the more talkative players at the table. There’s a very extrovert dad and there are some introverted children at the table, and that dynamic has to be kept in check all the time or else we’ll do all his quests and follow all his suggestions.

Right now I fear the problem might be in the punitive consequences of failed attacks. The fire mage wants to throw a fireball in the fight. They roll +2 for being a fire mage and knowing the fire ball spell. The orcs are tough melee fighters and not particularly strong against fire so the roll +0. That is still a significant chance to take four points of damage.

In a Powered by the Apocalypse games, a hard failure isn’t always damage, it’s also other hard moves. I’ll have to think about that. On the one hand, I appreciate it more, now. On the other hand, it also puts more burden on the referee to decide the exact consequences and I don’t like that, speaking as a referee.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-22 05:11 UTC

In today’s game we used surprise rules again: the hidden troglodytes were well hidden, camouflaged as rocks in a dark cave, with a distraction set up, and the players looked up, expecting an attack from above. The troglodytes (6) ♡♡ ♡♡ ♡♡ ♡♡ ♡♡ ♡♡ +2 spear, stink, camouflage, had the initiative and while they had it, it was the surprise round and the players had to roll +0. It was brutal, they avoided the fighter and I ruled that as long as they were surprised, the fighter couldn’t guard anybody. One character dropped to zero and fell prone (-1 until spending the initiative to get up); another character dropped to zero and fell unconscious; others got hurt... then we rolled a few standoffs and I decided that this was enough to allow them a getaway, just as the guardian naga was approaching.

I’m happy with how it went.

Sadly I’m noticing how bad I am at basic math: I rolled an 11, they rolled an 8, that’s … uh … 3 … more than 1 … round up … 2 hits lost! It’s pathetic but that’s how it is. I wonder whether I can write a simple lookup table. 😀

I guess I still like Just Halberds because combat is so simple and by that I mean it requires so little involvement. It’s brutal and stupid, as it should be. It works well for kids and some adults alike. It’s a totally different mind space than deciding whether to risk alienating Melly the pyromancer, whether to visit Kevin the geomancer, whether to investigate the secret society of the Aurora, or to destroy two temples of Orcus. When you’re in a fight, the game is different, and I like that.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-29 19:10 UTC

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2020-04-20 Middle-Earth Adventures

Interesting to see another 2d6 game in development: Middle-Earth Adventures.

In that context, I’m reminded of Ray Otus’ There and Back Again, which uses 3d6, and Jeffrey Schecter’s Legends of Middle Earth, which uses up to 6d6.

And as I wrote Back in 2019:

Be sure to read 1937 Hobbit as a Setting (2017) by Josh, and The Hobbit 1937 (2010) by Steamtunnel.


Comments on 2020-04-20 Middle-Earth Adventures

Thanks for the shout out! I am slowly migrating my stuff over to https://rayotus.itch.io/. All free.

Ray Otus 2020-04-20 14:42 UTC

Thanks, I updated that link. The domain name is sadly much less interesting than Jelly Saw Games. That was a cool name!

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-20 16:16 UTC

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2020-04-16 Conflict without violence

I ran another game for a friend of mine and six kids via Zoom. It went fine. Today was the first session without a fight and some of the kids were vocal about the fact that there had been no fight. They wanted to fight! Even though we have don’t have many fighters in this party. Today we had:

  • Boris the fighter
  • Rothilion the archer
  • Legoshi the archer
  • Sora the assassin
  • Nonuru the aeromancer
  • Natascha the aquamancer
  • Fo Pi the pyromancer

The conflicts all required people to talk and none of the characters had social skills. They convinced the marauding soldiers to quit their marauding and return home, with the help of a hefty bribe; they failed to convince the powerful water mage to leave their home and move elsewhere; they managed to convince the bitter elf that they had “resolved” the problem with the powerful water mage and had him reveal the power of the dwarven piecer (a magic sword). There were a few more rolls – whether the fighter was making a good impression on the water mage, whether the old woman in that village would talk to the archer, whether she trusted the archer, and so on.

I guess this is simply a post to say that the simple 2d6 system I’m using works quite well for non-combat conflict. 👍

As for the setting, I’m using a mini-setting generated by Hex Describe. That is, it’s a setting with stats and treasure for a classic D&D campaign using typical treasure tables and magic items. I’m essentially trying to talk myself into “every level is worth a skill” (and every skill may or may not be worth +1).


The dragon hunter fighter _Ravivarnan_ (level 9) is trying to hire two score desperate peasants to go and slay _Burning Bone of the Mountain_ (2209). “I am generous: two shares of the treasure found for me, the rest to be shared equally amongst the other survivors.” A potion of _silver tongue_ (royal purple, silvery flakes, 1h, everybody who hears your voice must save vs. spells or be _charmed_ ). A goblin assassin’s _short bow_ +1 with plenty of notches along its side. A suit of elven _plate armour_ +1 with elven runes commemorating the slaying of the green dragon _Forest Despair of the Forest_.

I’m starting him with 3 hits for being a hero, +2 for heavy armour, +1 for the elven bonus, +1 for the shield, for a total of 7 hits.

As for skills, I’m brainstorming nine “skills” based on the description above: dragon hunter, assassin, archer, hunter, sneak, talk, heal, climb, stab.

Let’s say the party manages to jump Ravivarnan: I might give him a +2 with his knife (assassin, stab). If Ravivarnan manages to ambush the players, however, I’ll give him +5 (assassin, archer, sneak, climb, goblin assassin’s short bow +1). I imagine him climbing up to an excellent position, preparing his arrows, and then as long as he wins the opposed rolls he keeps the initiative and keeps shooting. In order to close in, they have to beat that. It imagine that this is going to be hard.

As for magic items, I think simply taking magic items with their D&D bonuses works really well and makes them wonderful. I make sure to provide visible magic effects: the dwarven piercer +1 has glowing runes that can be activated; the plate armour +3 dedicated Nergal is black and has green lines of glowing power pulsating when activated. It works well.

The plate armour +3 turns the fighter into a power house: 3 hits, +2 for heavy armour, +3 for the magic bonus, +1 for the shield, for a total of 9 hits! At least he can tank...

As I'm using this setting, I realize how many high-level characters there are, how powerful the magic items are they carry, how easy they are to kill if you meat them alone and you have a party of seven or ten characters... We’ll see how this develops. Perhaps this is not a campaign to run for fifty sessions. Maybe just twenty sessions? I don’t know.

I’m thinking of announcing that building a stronghold and establishing yourself simply costs 100’000 gold pieces. It’s an idea I got from Freebooters on the Frontier, if I remember correctly. Perhaps that’s a good way to make all the money found mean something. Right now the D&D treasures distributed by Hex Describe are mostly useless for the characters in this campaign. Making a building the explicit goal of the campaign (or the optional exit for the characters) makes sense to me, at least.


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2020-04-10 Monsters and Spells for Just Halberds

I’ve added some monsters and spells to Just Halberds. The monsters

As you can see in the list below, it’s not always about fighting. Bureaucrats make life difficult for you, bards make fun of you, bandits blackmail you. When looking at the numbers below, remember that this is their best skill. If bandits add one when threatening people, they probably don’t add anything when you beat them up. When boars add one when charging, they probably don’t add anything when in melee.

  • bandits ♡, +1 when threatening, blackmailing, ambushing, hiding
  • bards ♡, +2 when singing and dancing, telling stories and mocking people
  • basilisks ♡♡♡♡♡♡, +3 due to their poisonous miasma
  • bears ♡♡♡, +2 when they are hurt or defending their young
  • boars ♡♡♡, +2 when charging into melee
  • bureaucrats ♡, +1 when using forms and prescriptions
  • demons ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡, +3 with their flaming weapon
  • dragons ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡, +3 with their dragon breath
  • dwarves ♡♡♡♡, +2 when handling stone, with heavy armour and a shield
  • elves ♡, +2 when using their charm
  • frogling ♡, +1 in the first round when jumping
  • general ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡, +2 when at war, with heavy armour and a shield
  • ghouls ♡♡, +2 when underground and using their aura of fear
  • giants ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡, +3 when they can use their size
  • guards ♡♡♡, +0, with light armour and a shield
  • harpies ♡♡♡, +2 when using their charm
  • hellhounds ♡♡♡♡♡, +2 with their fire breath
  • heroes ♡♡♡♡♡♡, +2, with heavy armour and a shield
  • knights ♡♡♡♡♡, +2, with heavy armour and a shield
  • lizard people ♡♡, +1 when telling stories
  • medusas ♡♡♡♡, +2 with their soft voice, +3 with their petrifying snake hair
  • minotaurs ♡♡♡♡♡♡, +2 in their labyrinth
  • mummies ♡♡♡♡♡, +2 with their dry voice, -1 when faced with water
  • nagas ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡, +3 with their sea of flames and their charm
  • orks ♡, +1 when using violence or handling iron
  • spies ♡, +2 when forging, lying, sneaking, or disguising themselves
  • thieves ♡, +1 when sneaking, climbing, and stealing
  • trolls ♡♡♡♡♡♡, +3 as long they stand on solid ground
  • vampires ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡, +3 with their power of domination
  • werewolves ♡♡♡♡, +2 in their wild shape
  • witches ♡♡♡♡♡, +2 when using their charm and throwing their curses
  • wolves and wardogs ♡♡, +0 but tough

I basically took the monsters from Halberds & Helmets that I really liked, looked at their hit dice and the write-ups I had done at the time, and picked a bonus. 🙂

Then I wrote up some spells based on the elemental magic users I have in my campaign (one for each element and an animal friend), and the spells I noted on the monster list above and tried to keep it to a line each in the PDF. A ☆ marks the more powerful spells. Learning them should be a reward from somebody in the game. Learning spells in-game from other people remains an aspect I still like very much about the B/X magic system! See 2013-11-26 A Strict Reading of the Magic System for more.

Here’s the list I have so far:

  • air bending controls the air flow in your vicinity (smell, spores, poison)
  • aura of fear ☆ prevents opponents nearby from acting against you
  • charm makes others act like your best friends using your voice (and revulsion, later)
  • domination ☆ forces an opponent to obey your orders (and pure hatred, later)
  • dragon breath ☆ burns down an entire village; anybody who cannot run must die
  • fire ball ☆ causes a small explosion on a surface you can see, throwing people around
  • fire bolt hits an opponent you can see and sets things on fire
  • fire breath ☆ sets somebody nearby on fire, dealing continuous damage
  • flaming weapon turns an ordinary weapon into a flaming +1 weapon, for a fight
  • hail of stones raises nearby pebbles and stones and throws them at a target
  • icicle hits an opponent you can see but needs water to turn into ice
  • poisonous miasma ☆ poisons an entire village and those that cannot leave must die
  • sea of flames sets everything around you on fire, dealing damage to all who stay
  • strangulation lifts somebody up and keeps hurting them
  • talk to animals enables you to speak to all the animals around you
  • wave requires a source of water and magnifies it in order to wash away anything

Perhaps it’s more interesting to consider how I adjudicate some of the spells.

Spells that can conceivably deal damage, deal damage. A spell like wave washes away opponents when the difference is five or more, or if the opponent is out of hits.

Spells that enable a subsequent effect need to either happen before combat, like the flaming weapon, or require the initiative, and not doing anything, and therefore losing the initiative without an opposed roll.

Spells that affect multiple people at the same time involve all of them rolling their dice and comparing their result to the result of the spell-caster. So when Fo Pi casts a fire ball all the orcs in the target area need roll. If they roll less than the fire-mage, they take damage.

Spells that only have a special effect like charm can still have an effect based on the difference of the roll: one or two is the bare minimum, like the victim agreeing to some course of action and being reluctant about it. Three or four is the full effect, like the victim being charmed and doing the thing like a friend would. Five or more is a decisive effect, like the victim being a loyal friend for a day or a week, depending on how gullible they are.


Comments on 2020-04-10 Monsters and Spells for Just Halberds

This is a very tight way of stating monsters; I like it very much.

Having small HPs for heroes and enemies is good to maintain the numbers low and ease the use of maths. It also keeps the battles tense and short, combatants can die fast if they are not careful. Oh, and the heart icon is perfect. 😍 All this reminds me of Zelda, in a good way.

We can also apply to monsters the format used by D&D +1/+3 vs somebody magic weapons. For example:

  • orks ♡, +1 when using violence or handling iron / +3 when confronting elves
  • skeletons ♡, -1 by day / +1 at night
  • trolls ♡♡♡♡♡♡, +3 as long they stand on solid ground / +5 when defending their bridge

One final idea is to link HPs to monsters abilities and bonuses. When a monster loses half its HPs it may lose one special ability or get its roll penalized.

– Ludos Curator 2020-04-30 18:05 UTC

Yeah, that would work!

And yes, Zelda was an inspiration for the heart. 😀

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-30 19:45 UTC

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2020-04-07 Opposed 2d6 rolls

I got an interesting question on Reddit the other day:

Why use opposed 2d6?

Firstly, I think I like rolling dice as a referee so designs where the referee rolls no dice weren’t appealing, e.g. Dungeon World. Second, in systems where the referee sets difficulty levels I feel continuously stressed out by having to determine all these things, maybe even defend my assessment against players, e.g. Traveller. When I saw the opposed roll in the Blackmoor documentary, I saw that rolling for circumstances was best: I can always interpret the oracle of the dice.

That is, instead of wondering “how difficult is this computer to hack, exactly?” I can simply decide “it’s probably a bit harder than normal” and roll 2d6+1, and then we’ll all know whether this computer has decent ICE installed...


Comments on 2020-04-07 Opposed 2d6 rolls

Funny you should mention Traveller. There used to be a thing in classic Traveller called a “situation throw” which was just as you describe: I in my 20th century ignorance have no idea how hard it is to repair the air scrubber in the derelict vessel, so I roll 2d6 to determine the difficulty.

Traveller dice modifiers can be tacked on with a simple ±1 for each beneficial or unfortunate circumstance that is established before the roll, and the DM’s job of rationalizing why the scrubber is in such poor shape that it requires a 10 or better is a bit easier than figuring out what it “should” be.

– Christopher Jahnke 2020-04-08 00:12 UTC

Absolutely. I saw that in Chris Kubasik’s wonderful blog posts in 2017/2018: What “The Traveller” Adventure had to Say About Situation Throws and part 2 with Randomized Situation Numbers. I approve. 🙂

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-08 05:44 UTC

This! Feeling stressed about determining the difficulty of a task I absolutely didn’t think of while prepping the game. That’s probably the one thing I find most irritating when GM’ing.

I’m now thinking of doing opposed rolls with the usual d20 roll high on the players side (because that’s what they’re used to), and a bell curve Nd6 roll on the GMs side.

Wanderer Bill 2020-04-09 18:42 UTC

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2020-04-03 Episode 30

Podcast On the 2d6 system I’ve been using for my new campaign: Just Halberds. How to create a character, how to resolve conflicts, and for combat, how to combine initiative, attack, and damage, into one opposed roll.


  • Norbert G. Matausch’s Landshut Rules
  • Norbert G. Matausch’s interview with Bob Meyer on Ancient-School Roleplaying
  • Secrets of Blackmoor on the early role-playing game that David Arneson ran
  • Christopher Kubasik’s notes on an interview with Mark Miller on how Mark Miller plays Traveller
  • Christopher Kubasik’s blog post, Notes on the Personal Combat System, where he talks about the close relationship of early Traveller and Kriegsspiel: “Traveller was originally written for a much more fluid play style. Modifiers and more, based on circumstance, actions, and results are adjudicated on the fly by the Referee.”
  • Dungeon World alternatives like World of Dungeons (and the German translation)
  • 2015-12-26 Benefits of Dungeon World talks about the flow of combat: “The cinematic flow happens because the referee starts by threatening a character, the character reacts and ends up making a move. If the move was a success (they rolled 10+ on 2d6), the player keeps talking, or another player starts talking, until one of them ends up making another move. If the move was a partial success (they rolled 7–9 on 2d6), the referee is to make a soft move, that is, upping the ante, threatening the players with more enemies, a deterioration of their situation, whatever. Something gets worse but there are no immediate consequences. If the move was a failure (they rolled 6- on 2d6), then the referee is to make a hard move, that is, dealing damage, separating party members from the rest. Something bad happens and there are immediate consequences.”
  • 2019-01-01 Warm and fuzzy feels talks about the process at the table that starts with simple rules and develops into a house system by simply making rulings at the table and using them as precedent as long as you remember them. If you forget, then the ruling probably just deserved to be forgotten again and you’ll make a new one if the issue ever comes up again.
  • Just Halberds: the rules I discussed in my podcast
  • Helle Barden: the German edition of these rules

The title page of Just Halberds


Comments on 2020-04-03 Episode 30

Got some interesting questions and pointers all over the Internet.

Non-player characters. I usually think of them as D&D people: guards, thieves, soldiers, tax collectors, inn keepers, they all have one hit. If soldiers and guards are wearing light armour and shield, they have 3 hits. Leaders may have three hits, plus hits granted by armour, in other words: like player characters. Famous evil doers might have up to five hits, plus hits granted by armour.

Spells per day. I don’t limit spell use per day. I’d hope that this would regulate itself at the table, if overdone. You might consider saying that this is really tiring and give the opposition a bonus, if you wanted. Or even simpler: ask the table. How do they feel about endless teleportation? They probably don’t care. What about endless magic missiles? They probably don’t care. What I’m getting at is that only very specific spells that can be cast in endless succession are problematic, and in that case maybe that spell simply needs to be changed. If you had a spell that is super powerful but it doesn’t make difference if you cast it multiple times, no problem. If the fireball kills twenty people, then being able to cast it many times in a row may be problematic, depending on how you view it. Make fireballs smaller, more like magic missiles, and the problem is solved. Or make it bigger, so that it’s effectively a fight-ending spell and make it hard to get. This makes sure that there is simply no point in casting the spell multiple times. Either way, problem solved.

– Alex Schroeder

This 2d6 game that you are working on and Landshut truly has me inspired. I am about to DM for the first time in 7 years (and play first time again in 7 years). These are the rules I am going to use with my friends this weekend who have never played.

The #1 thing holding me back the last few years is system and how my mind constantly wants to go from one thing to another. Can never commit to anything. But this system is so flexible and beautiful. Only thing I feel a lack for is the initiative system, doesn’t quite feel normal or natural to me. It feels like it would leave passive players to feeling left out. I think I prefer the system to have a built in mechanic to give the players a move.

Either way thanks Alex!

Minalt 2020-04-03 21:58 UTC

Good luck! In our games the system automatically led players to nominate each other if they hadn’t taken rolled any dice in a while. Thus, anytime a player wins the opposed roll and does damage, they need to decide who goes next. They look at the table, they need to pick somebody. This is the moment to make suggestions, to point at people, to comment that maybe Samuel has been pretty quiet lately, and so on. I’d give it a try.

If you don’t like it, I would simply go around the table, irrespective of who won the last opposed roll.

Either way, please report back! I’d love to hear how it turned out.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-03 22:04 UTC

Hi Alex. Two comments about Just Halberds.

The first one on initiative. The winner of the opposed roll decides who goes next. Can winners nominate themselves? Can the party keep nominating one another, so the only thing the enemies can do is react to them?

The second, about hits. I prefer player characters don’t die at zero hits. For me, it’s more attractive they get critically wounded, bleeding and about to die if they don’t receive help soon. This adds interest to combats, making alive characters worried about fallen party members. The players confront interesting decisions: should I keep fighting the orc or it’s better to heal the wizard? There are many tables to determine this kind of critical injuries.

– Ludos Curator 2020-04-26 18:40 UTC

Regarding initiative: the player keep nominating one of their own while they keep winning, definitely. In theory it would be possible for one player to keep nominating themselves – I find this self-regulated at the table as people negotiate their level of involvement in the scene. Some might not want to join at all, some might feel the fighter taking the brunt of the attack or leading the charge is par for the course, other might prefer a more even spread of the spotlight.

What happens to player characters at zero is up to the referee, and therefore up to the table. In my current campaign we use a Death & Dismemberment table to roll on. In other campaigns, a simple incapacitation might be enough: even a TPK just turns the game into a jail break or a slave revolt or similar.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-27 06:32 UTC

Thanks for the answers.

I like how you resolve combat in Just Halberds. It’s curious that most games include rules for opposed rolls and then they don’t utilize them in combat. A skirmish seems the most appropriate situation to use opposed rolls between opposing enemies.

I was thinking about initiative and how to resolve ranged attacks mixed with mêlée, or when new combatants enter the fray. Maybe the best solution is keep rolling, keeping in mind that in this game the roll are more abstract than in others. A roll not only represents one swing or one shot, but the maneuver, positioning, attacks, defenses and good use of all the weaponry.

– Ludos Curator 2020-04-30 16:55 UTC

Maybe. My current problem is that in an opposed roll you can always take damage – even if you think you’re a wizard in an unassailable position. I generally have a hard time thinking of other effects in a fight, sadly. I guess it is up to the referee to decide that countermeasures might actually not have an effect on the player characters. Instead, the referee might describe “future badness” – the opposition cannot hit the wizard but might be described as approaching or hiding or getting some other sort of advantage in the fiction (as in fiction first).

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-30 19:17 UTC

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2020-04-01 Skills and special abilities for Just Halberds

Perhaps it’d be nice to see what skills and special abilities I’m using in my 2d6 game of Just Halberds.

  • fist-fighting, like boxing, useful in melee
  • sword-fighting, same thing, melee
  • archery, for ranged combat (I allow shooting into melee)
  • legends, a knowledge skill which I’m going to use to dump setting info, knowing that I have at least one player that is interested; maybe also an indicator that they want to create some aspects of the setting; generally something I wouldn’t suggest you add to your skill list but I asked for player input and this is what I got so I’m going to roll with it
  • smart, an even trickier skill selected by a child and inspired by a TV show; it’s tricky because I think smart play is what players do; for now I’m simply using it to give advice and warnings to the party; I guess you could think of it as a call for support and I’m totally willing to lend that support

In general, I think you can pick any skill list a game and it would work.

Special abilities are trickier. Let’s talk about spells, first.

  • air control is a spell, but it’s hard to put to good use; I don’t mind but it does require some thinking outside the box; for now players have used it to collect giant mushroom spores and to deliver those spores into the noses of orcs...
  • fireball is a simple spell that works as expected, except D&D players may expect it to be very powerful but if a newly created character is getting it, I feel it’s more like a flaming missile...
  • icicle is a spell that deals damage, maybe pierces things, or shatters, or freezes water upon impact; no issue there
  • protection is a bit harder to figure out: does it provide a +1 one for the entire fight, or just for defence? I haven’t decided
  • talk with animals works quite well
  • wave is a spell to wash people off their feet and displace them; might also deal damage if they are smashed into stuff; needs some water to be carried along, of course

As for other special abilities:

  • guard is a special ability for fighters where they can interpose themselves between an attacker and a defender; a good idea if tough orcs are attacking your mages; the tricky part is deciding when your fighter is out of actions; I guess if the fighter keeps taking damage, no problem, and if the fighter wins the opposed role, regaining the initiative means they then get to nominate somebody else to act, so there’s no actual problem at the table
  • sneaking is a straight forward specialisation; I’m not sure what sort of extra effect its use would have... perhaps this should be a skill instead of a special ability?

I’m also thinking of other skills and special abilities:

  • hardened might be a skill (anybody can learn it) that just grants you an extra hit

If you can take every skill and special ability just once that also puts a kind of limit on the numbers because it sounds awkward if your profession is fighter and your skills are sword-fighting, blade-mastery, duelling, and agility, for a total of +5 when attacking with your sword. Then again, perhaps that’s what your players like? I think I wouldn’t like any bonus that goes beyond +3. Pick a profession, maybe a skill, and maybe a special ability, and maybe use a magic weapon, that’s how you get a maximum of +4. Sounds good to me! The rest should be special abilities that grant you special effects if you use them. I think that’s going to be more entertaining.

I guess what I’d suggest, therefore:

  1. pick a list of evocative spell names from some rules you like or make up your own (picking spells from a list you already know makes it easier to agree on the effects, I’d say – specially if you’re just starting); as for myself I’m going to use my Spellcasters in this campaign so that gives me a nice set of D&D-like spells to start with
  2. pick a list of skills from some rules you like; make sure these skills are appropriate for your setting and tone (don’t use administration unless bureaucrats are important for cool adventures in your setting); avoid super specific skills because you only get to pick a single one when starting out; also make sure that the skills aren’t something everybody can do (if everybody can ride a horse, don’t add riding as a skill); also avoid skills you want your players to have (lying, scheming, knowing, persuading, charming – I like people to act at the table)

Something like this:

  • fist-fighting
  • sword-fighting
  • assassination
  • pole-arms
  • archery
  • slings
  • sneaking
  • disguising
  • singing
  • some languages
  • some instruments
  • first aid (get people back from zero hits)
  • hardiness (gives you an extra hit)
  • boating
  • hunting (includes reading trails)

And if your players want to be a specialist of a particular weapon, maybe whips, or throwing axes, or staves, something more than what being young, fit, and hungry for adventure would give you, just add it to the list. Same for social skills or thievery skills.

Also consider something like jousting or duelling if your game is about chivalry or some other honour code in a society dominated by ritual violence. It’s useless in combat but super important at social occasions amongst knights or samurai, etc.


Comments on 2020-04-01 Skills and special abilities for Just Halberds

I checked the Traveller skill list and didn’t find too many things that are exciting.

  • “appropriate for your setting and tone” ✓
  • not “super specific skills” ✗
  • not “something everybody can do” ✗
  • not “skills you want your players to have” ✗

It’s tricky!

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-02 07:10 UTC

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2020-03-29 Developing the rules

I’ve had two sessions of my 2d6 “ancient school” game, now. I started with a small set of rules (see 2020-03-27 Ancient School Rules) and I am starting to feel the urge to systematise my approach. Perhaps this should go under “Referee Guide” of the system? 🙂

How should I handle a spell with an area of effect? I have a character that can throw fireballs. I need to remember that this characters is just a beginner. So their “fireball” is more like a magic missile: it strikes a single person, or if it causes a big explosion then it’s a scary looking explosion that doesn’t really kill people. Thus, to affect more people at the same time, I should just treat that as a new spell, a new special ability.

How to handle huge differences? I mean, I basically have this rule:

If you win the opposed 2d6, you deal damage. If the difference is small, you deal one hit. If the difference is larger, let’s say three or four, you might deal two hits; more than that and it’s a “special effect” (blown back, injured, taken out, depending on the kind of attack).

The reason I use these numbers is that new character have three hits per default. Third level? Maybe. 🙂

But what happens if you win or lose with a difference of eight? Of ten? It’s overkill! I guess you could say that a difference of ten is five hits (since the current wording could be interpreted as “divide by two”) and if you have a fighter with heavy armour and a shield they have six hits so they’re still going to survive it.

Also, remember that one side rolling a two on 2d6 is a 1 in 36 chance, and the other side rolling a twelve on a 2d6 is another 1 in 36, so this should be really rare: 1 in about 1296. This isn’t going to happen often and thus a catastrophic setback would be just fine.

I should get better at narrating what getting hit entails. Does a hit or two have fictional consequences? One hit, bruises, two hits, serious injuries that take a long time to heal? Perhaps I’m still thinking in D&D hit-points: those hits are more like “morale” or “will to live”?

I’m happy with using D&D HD as simple hits. Ten orcs have ten hits. Six ghouls have twelve hits. That worked just fine. An orc leader (3 HD) gets three hits. I’m also happy with the way I assigned the bonus: orcs get +0 to attack. Ghouls in their tunnels get +1. The orc leader is like a human fighter and should get +2; in this case he’s wielding a magic mace +1 so he actually gets +3. That scared the players!

I also try to assess how easily an enemy might be affected by something. Thus, if the players have the initiative and pick the fire mage to attack the ghouls, then I might say something like “the ghouls are totally not used to fight fire and so they just roll +0 this turn” – but once the ghouls aren’t attacked by magic, or if they have the initiative and decide how to attack, then they’re back to getting their +1 bonus.

I guess this could be formalised into a system of strengths and weaknesses and all that, but perhaps we don’t actually need to remember that. Do we?

I’m a big fan of Eero Tuovinen’s D&D as oral culture:

there is an important point in having the mechanical rules be an oral tradition: the process of forgetting stuff works to our advantage when we can claim that any rule unimportant enough to forget deserves to be forgotten

I totally recommend that old blog post of mine where I pulled together some good quotes on that issue: 2019-01-01 Warm and fuzzy feels.

So, given that: do I need a list of monsters and their capabilities? Do I need to write this down? Maybe not. When Norbert G. Matausch interviewed Bob Meyer on the use of dice and all that, he said:

The exact mechanisms, and way I determine results, I prefer to keep obscure by keeping them to myself.

I don’t know if I agree. I guess I like to see the wizard behind the curtain, I like to see how it all works so that it can be taken up by other people. Isn’t that how humans rose to great height: by being able to transmit their knowledge, creating culture? To keep it all in my head and not writing it down anywhere in some public place feels weird. Perhaps that’s simply the social media zeitgeist. Everything happens in public, or not at all. 😅

Anyway, I’m happy to be back blogging about role-playing games. 😁


Comments on 2020-03-29 Developing the rules

Hey Alex, great to get some insight into your gaming/refereeing process! Personally, I write down my monsters, their abilties and hits (”Orc: 1 hit, nasty bite/infectuous on 10+”, for instance). When it comes to magic, I either handwave the effects, or, for combat spells, the player rolls 1d6 or more, if the character’s experience warrants it, for damage.

It’s rulings all the way, but they have to follow from the fiction and stay consistent.

Norbert 2020-03-30 08:20 UTC

Here’s something I wonder: if the orcs win with a roll of 10 vs. the player with a roll of 9, is the effect big (”infectuous on 10+”) or small (since the difference is just one)? These first two sessions I used the difference instead of the absolute value of the winning roll.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-30 10:04 UTC

I wanted to chime in and say I’m also happy that you are blogging about role-playing games again. I love what you are achieving with Just Halberds and all the posts related to it. Have you thought of editing, illustrating and publishing it? Maybe at itch.io, the trending platform for independent games.

– Ludos Curator 2020-04-26 18:09 UTC

Well, in my mind, it is already published – right here, on this site. And I even have a cover image. 😄 I don’t know whether it really needs much more. Perhaps if I had more setting material.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-27 06:26 UTC

Yes, you are absolutely right Alex. You have published Just Halberds here, in your site. 🙂

I still think this is a perfect game for a layout in the vein of Mothership, Fleshscape and similar games.

– Ludos Curator 2020-04-30 16:36 UTC

Well, if anybody wants to collaborate on this, please contact me. 🙂

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-30 19:04 UTC

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2020-03-27 Ancient School Rules

Yesterday we had our first session for the new campaign. I’m the referee, two of my friends are players, they brought some of their kids along, one of the kids brought along their girlfriend and the girlfriend brought along her little brother. Perfect! 😃

We did a small intro of all our characters, and I asked them all to list the following:

  1. name
  2. profession (anybody can do it, but you cannot change it)
  3. a skill (anybody can do it, and you might learn new ones in-game)
  4. a special ability (you may learn new ones from teachers in-game)

I was basing my rules on Norbert G. Matausch’s Landshut Rules, the interview he did with Bob Meyer on Ancient-School Roleplaying, and very simple Dungeon World alternatives like World of Dungeons (including the German translation of World of Dungeons).

Charakters can take three hits. Light armour grant an extra hit but prevent spell casting. Heavy armour grants two extra hits but prevents spell casting, sneaking, climbing, running, and swimming. A shield grants an extra hit and also prevents spell casting, sneaking, climbing, running, and swimming.

We ended up with the following roster:

NameProfessionSkillSpecial AbilityHitsEquipment
MiaAnimal magicSmartAnimal friendship3
KinguEarth magicLegendsProtection3
Fo PiFire magicFireball3
NonuruAir magicArcherAir control3Bow and arrows
NataschaWater magicWave, icicle3
BorisWarriorSwordfightingGuard6Heavy armour, sword and shield
RothilionScoutArcherSneaking3Bow and arrows

As you can see, we have a lot of magic users! 😅

I’ll also note that Kingu’s player wanted healing and hiding, too. But it’s a bit much, I feel.

Natascha has two special abilities: the wave spell and the icicle spell. The character learned the second spell during the session.

I think that’s actually an excellent way to handle advancement: Just hand out one kind of improvement to one character per session, if appropriate based on the events during the game. I’ll see whether I can continue doing this. I don’t want to count experience points and we’d still have some sort of advancement for the characters that are playing. This is important to me as I don’t want to advance characters that aren’t playing.

I’m feeling a bit weird about having “being smart” available as a skill. Isn’t that what the players should be doing? I’ll try and handle that as a “6th sense” for dangerous situations, an early warning system.

The same is true for “legends”. The character knows many legends and prophesies. Perhaps I’ll handle that as an invitation to info dump setting material? But then again, I wouldn’t hold back with setting material the characters would know in-game, I think. Weird. Well, we’ll see how it goes.

As you can see, not all characters have their slots filled. It was hard for the kids to pick things. Specially the newbies and young ones didn’t know what to say; often their dad would speak up immediately and offer suggestions, predetermining what their kids would then say. I tried to step in whenever I saw that happening. I’d rather leave things open and let people choose later.

As for the rules, I’m using a simple 2d6 vs 2d6 system. This is unlike the Powered by the Apocalypse games: the referee still gets to roll. I mean, on average the difficulty is simply the average 7 but by rolling 2d6 it can vary wildly. If we roll the same number, I try to introduce a new fact, or change the situation in some non-obvious way. This isn’t always easy in the midst of combat, but I try.

People get a +1 or +2 to their rolls if they can bring their profession, skill or special ability to bear. During the game I didn’t always remember all of these so I fear on a few occasions players only got a +1 when they would have deserved a +2. When I ran the orcs, attacks by ordinary orcs got +0 and attacks by the boss got a +2.

If you win the opposed 2d6, you deal damage. If the difference is small, you deal one hit. If the difference is larger, let’s say three or four, you might deal two hits; more than that and it’s a “special effect” (blown back, injured, taken out, depending on the kind of attack).

In a fight of many against many I used the following rule: whoever wins the opposed roll does damage and picks the next character to attack, thus their side “keeps the initiative” and that means they get to choose who attacks whom. I think it doesn’t really make much of a difference mathematically but it definitely feels different.

At one point the characters were fighting two spectres, later they were fighting ten orcs and an orc leader. Here’s how I did it:

  1. every D&D hit die is a hit they can take
  2. determine their attack bonus (+0, +1, +2)
  3. determine special moves they could make (suck your soul... happily averted)

The notes I took during combat were super simple:

Image 1

Basically the ten ordinary orcs acted as a single ten hit monster with a +0 to attack, the two spectres acted as a single twelve hit monster with a +0 to attack (but with a scary special move if they land a lucky blow).

In this system, if the orcs “have the initiative” they just keep attacking whomever the want until they miss, and at that moment the players keep choosing who gets to attack whom until they miss. Missing automatically means that the other side hit you instead! Of course, the party tries to involve the warrior quite often and I think they picked the earth magic user just once, at the very beginning, to cast their protective spell. I think I’m OK with this; it all gets worked out somehow at the table. People will want to act, but acting also entails the possibility of getting hit.

It often was not clear that magic was super effective in a fight. In D&D, a hit with a fireball kills many weak enemies. But what about a fight with two spectres? I just handled it by appropriate descriptions with little mechanical effect. The fireball hits the spectre as the opposed 2d6 roll is much in favour of the magic user and thus the explosion is big, blowing the spectre back down the stairs into the mausoleum, giving the party a moment to regroup and decide what they’re going to do – in addition to the regular two hits it dealt. We’ll see how that develops. I think I’m OK with fighters being good at fighting and magic users being good at ranged combat and other kinds of tasks. I’ll just have to make sure that there are a lot of challenges that cannot be dealt with by simple fighting.

While we’re at it, I also ruled that being a warrior allowed you to cover an ally every now and then. So when the orcs attacked the water magic user at one point, the warrior said they wanted to cover he and I agreed. Apparently, being a bodyguard is the warrior’s special ability. 😃

As for the setting, I used Hex Describe. I did note some usability issues. I wanted both an HTML export and a Markdown export, but it wasn’t immediately obvious how to do it. When I tried to print the HTML to a PDF file, I realised I had nearly 140 pages of material! 😲

I guess I will use the PDF on my tablet while running the game, and I will paste snippets of the Markdown onto the campaign wiki map as we uncover more and more of the setting. My players probably won’t be reading it and therefore I think I can keep it all in English.


Comments on 2020-03-27 Ancient School Rules

Alex, I’m happy to read this! Ancient school rpg FTW!

Norbert Matausch 2020-03-27 14:04 UTC

Thanks for blogging about it. 👍

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-27 16:57 UTC

Excellent, 2d6 rules!

Wanderer Bill 2020-03-27 17:00 UTC

Re: the “legends” skill: If you are already inviting your group to participate in world building (which is a great thing!), why not have the “legend” skill grant the ability to establish a small fact about the world on the go, once per day? The Burning Wheel RPG has something like that.

E.g.: DM: The bushes around you have berries in all the colors of the rainbow. Player with legend skill: I know from ancient stories that if you eat the berries in the sequence of the rainbow’s colors, you heal your wounds.

K.T. 2020-03-28 07:34 UTC

Good idea. Got to get into the habit of asking players for input. 👍

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-28 11:23 UTC

Is there a PDF version of these rules? I love them but would also love to see some more description, in maybe an easier-to-read format.

Mardov 2020-03-30 01:14 UTC

Not yet. But you can get Norbert G. Matausch’s Landshut Rules as a PDF.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-30 05:10 UTC

I’m happy to be able to read about your game and Norbert’s rules in action - thanks for sharing! @K.T. Fantastic idea, I’ll definitely give it a chance in our next campaign!

Metwiff 2020-03-30 19:06 UTC

For now: Just Halberds. 🙂

Sources are available.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-31 21:09 UTC

So cool and written for beginners and OSR-friends alike... The last page - to me - is most important: whatever the issue - talk about it and have fun! Thanks and regards from my little Cov19-isolation, Metwiff

Metwiff 2020-04-01 11:09 UTC

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