'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Corrupt Cliffs

Corrupt Cliffs
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Friday, July 2, 2021

The Quest for Approachable Narrative Dice

The Quest for Approachable Narrative Dice

 I was introduced to the Genesys system a few years ago, and have since played it a few times with a GM who was experienced with the system.  It took all the things I loved about 2d20 and added to them; success by measure, complications on successes, plus failure with benefit.  Once you played the system the dice were pretty straightforward. Coming into the game for the first time?  woah.  Those dice were cryptic, can we just play D&D 5E? 

Building ideas around how to make a simpler version of this idea rattles around in my brain from time to time, and it appears not only in my mind.  Recently a friend replied to a post on Twitter, which made it clear that other people have it rattling around in their minds as well.  How can we get all of the flavors of the Genesys system in an approachable system that can bolt onto a d20 game?  How can we do it with basic dice?

Ideas on the issue

I think a lot of systems do *PART* of the Genesys narrative dice well.  Generally, the part where we determine how well you succeeded: Savage Worlds with its raises, 2d20 with its momentum, AGE with its stunt dice, to name a few.  2d20 even allows for negative effects on successes.  None that I have seen incorporate everything, and generally don't have any positive outcomes from failing, ie you are climbing a cliff, and you fail the roll, but in doing so make it easier for your party member to climb because you created a handhold as you dislodged a rock.

Further down in the Twitter thread this was suggested...

My ideas

My first thought was that it was an interesting idea, but it didn't scale.  No matter how skilled or how easy or difficult the task was your narrative effects chances were exactly the same, but I thought it had a good idea behind it. 

Keeping with that idea, what if we scaled the number of dice we are rollings?  Add 1d6 to the pool for each of the stat bonuses?  Subtract 1d6 for each step of 5 around the DC of 15, with a minimum roll of 2d6?  In the end, I don't think that works particularly well either.  

My next idea involved the first idea, but using multi-colored d6s.  Start with 2 pools of d6s, one for skill, and one for the task.  Each of these pools starts with 1d6 in them.  Add 1 skill die to the pool for each stat bonus, ie +3 strength gives 3 good dice +1 in the pool for a total of 4 dice.  Add 1 task die to the pool for each step above a DC of 5, ie a DC of 15 adds 2 task dice to the pool, for a total of 3 bad dice in the pool.  When the d20 is rolled the d6 pool is rolled with the d20.  Subtract task die total from skill die total.  A positive total gives an advantage, a negative total yields a disadvantage.  Going back to Jason's idea, we could incorporate double of either yielding a triumph or despair as well.  

My final idea is essentially the same as my second idea. but with no math.  It uses multi-colored fate dice.  One pool for the task, and one pool for the skill.  Compare the two dice rolls, A "+" in one pool can cancel out a "+" or two "-" in the other pool. 1 "-" dice face can cancel out 1/2 of a "+" face. Whichever pool has remaining value determines advantage or disadvantage.  Finally, if there were 2 "+" dice faces n the original roll then we can add a triumph or despair to the roll, depending on the pool it was rolled on.

Let's test this out, and say we have a barbarian named Grunar trying to climb a snake tower.  The GM rules that since they have a rope it will only be a DC 10 test.  Grunar has a strength of 15 giving him a +2 to his athletics check.  

Skill dice = 3.  (2 from a strength of 15 + 1 for default)
Task dice = 2. (1 from a DC of 10 + 1 for default)

Roll 1
So we roll a d20 and 5 fate dice.  
D20 roll: 14+2 = 16 = SUCCESS
Skill dice = _,+,+ 
Task dice = -,+
"+" from Task dice cancels out one skill dice "+".
"-" from Task dice cancels out 1/2 of the "+" from the Skill dice. Resulting in an advantage.
Additionally, since the Skill roll has 2 "+"s a Triumph is also generated.

Roll 2
D20 roll: 10+2 = 12 = FAILURE
Skill dice = _,_,_
Task dice = _,_
Straight failure.

Roll 3
D20 roll: 7+2 = 10 = FAILURE
Skill dice = -,_,_
Task dice = +,_
"-" from Skill dice cancels out half of the "+" from the Task dice.  Resulting in a disadvantage.


I think this might be a good starting point but would definitely need some testing and tweaking.  One of the other large parts of this puzzle would be to determine what exactly an advantage, disadvantage, triumph, and despair look like in your game.  If you have thoughts on this or have implemented something similar in your game, drop a note below.  I would love to hear your thoughts on the whole idea or what you have done. 

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Rescue of Gunnlief

The following is a write up from a recent Conan 2d20 game I ran over roll20 for my local group.  I hope you enjoy!

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Travel Interludes in Sword & Sorcery

Welcome back to another exciting blog post!  Today I want to share the first pass of my ideas behind travel interludes.  Way less overhead than a hex crawl, way more story telling then waving your hands and bein at the end of the journey.  This represents my first pass at the idea with no real testing.

After a quick chat this afternoon, something I was aware of but had completely forgotten, was that this system was inspired by Savage Worlds as well.  

The Interlude

When characters travel from one location to another, a common question is often, “How do we resolve this?”.  Is it a hex crawl?  Do we just wave our hands and say it happens?  Both of these are valid and have their place, but both have weaknesses as well.

If your adventure is not focused on the outdoors, and you just need to move the PCs from one city to another, hex crawls introduce too much time, energy and wasted narrative that isn’t part of the sword and sorcery tale you and your players are telling.

On the other hand, simply waving your hands and saying it happens and you are not in Tarantia solves the logistic aspects of the hex crawl but it also removes ALL of the narrative qualities of a trip. 

This system is inspired by Sword & Sorcery films and a card mechanic that I first encountered created by Chris Hartigan, who took the idea from Savage Worlds and adopted it into his games.  It was a system I enjoyed and went on to adopt and modify into my narrative terrain cards system.  This is unsurprisingly a variation of that system.  It will utilize a standard deck of 52 cards, as the original system used for a chase mechanic.


The first part of this system is to determine how many phases of the interlude exist?  This answer is simply 1 phase per player.  This system will require each player to tell a short tale of the adventure with the cards steering the direction it goes.  The order the players go can be any that is desired.

If you know how the distance between the two points and the length it takes to travel between A and B, you can determine the time each phase actually takes, but it isn’t important to the overall system.

The Cards

As discussed above, the cards will denote the basic idea of the phase.

The suit will determine the overall classification, and the number how intense the encounter is.

Hearts - Interaction (Story teller, Bards, Village, Fortune Teller)

1982 Conan example - Witch/Subedei.

Diamond - Trade (Wandering sales, Hub city)

1982 Conan example - City with lizards on a stick, Zamora.

Clubs - Conflict

1982 Conan example - Dogs chasing him.

Spades - Environmental

examples - Storms, flash floods, earthquakes, tornado

Ie drawing a 10 of clubs would indicate that the party encountered some sort of major conflict along the way.  What story makes up that conflict, even what that conflict was, is up to the player.  These narrative phases will generally have no effect mechanically on the overall story.

Benefits of Travel (optional)

Players can come up with a sort of hook that might be helpful in the upcoming adventure.  This should be a minor advantage gained under a specific set of circumstances.  Since the players do not know what is coming up in the adventure it can be difficult to necessarily know what sort of advantage they might incur.

It should be sufficient for the players to specify they have found a piece of equipment or gained some information that might be useful later.

If you want the players to be more specific, you as the GM should be sure to present them with an opportunity to use it.

Some examples might be that the party encountered a wandering fortune teller who foretold them of some bad event. You could then allow the player to gain inspiration in 5e, or an extra die in Conan 2d20, when attempting to avoid something, ie an ambush, trap, etc.

Face Cards (optional)

If a face card is flipped up during the interlude you can provide the central player some sort of newly found equipment based on the story they tell.  An example of this from the 1982 Conan might be Conan finding the burial chamber of the Atlantean king when being chased by the wild dogs.  With this system he would have flipped a king of clubs, denoting a conflict, the dogs, and an upgrade, the sword. 

The level of the equipment should be tailored to the face card pulled with Jacks being a very minor upgrade to the king being a major piece of equipment.


Overall the drive of this mechanism is to quickly move players from one end of the map to the other with out. Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Torch Hexflower

Welcome back everyone!  It has been a little while since I made a post here, but fear not I haven't forgotten about the blog or my readers!  My morning blog time has been largely (completely) replaced with doing some more post secondary training!  

A little while ago Matt Hayles, who I know through the local RPG community, was making posts about hex flowers.  He in turn picked them up from Goblin's Henchman.  Goblin's Henchman has an instruction cookbook on these things as a mechanic, which I haven't read, but you can grab a copy here!

Looking at the idea, I thought they looked fun and wanted to look into them deeper.  At the same point I was working on a way to make torches more fun in my sword & sorcery games without it turning into a resource slog.  At present I haven't actually attempted this as a mechanic, largely because I think it will work way better during an in person game.

The basic idea is when the players light a torch you place a marker in the middle of the hex flower, and as they progress through the dungeon they roll 2d6, each roll moves the marker through the flower. If the marker moves off the flower simply place it back on the other side of the flower.

The players get to watch and make the rolls seeing the torch staying lit or eventually going out.  My hope is that it will make the torch a fun little mini game and add a little bit of tension to the torch.

Depending on the system you are playing you might even opt to let players re-roll if it is going badly for them.  Perhaps in D&D 5e you could allow them to burn inspiration or an action to get a re-roll as they fight to keep the torch lit.  In Conan 2d20 or other similar games you could use momentum or advantage to allow the players to influence the torch.

Either way I hope this idea will be useful or at least get those creative juices flowing!

Looking forward to getting back around the table with everyone!  

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Conan 2d20 on Roll20: Custom Sheets

NEW: Youtube Introduction to the Custom Sheet!

UPDATED: January 12, 2022.  

- Fixed an issues with ranged damage being calculated with coordination instead of Awarness.

- Switched right and left soak on armor panel

- KNOWN BUG.  Submitting a NULL value when spending gold causes an API crash.

Alright, if you follow me at all, anywhere on social media, you are likely aware I've been working on a Conan 2d20 sheet for Roll20.  The sheet won't be available via the standard channel since it requires the API and there are already two free sheets available directly.  For those of you who expressed interest and wanted something with a little more automation, I still wanted to make this available.

Requirements:    Roll20 Pro Subscription.  No way around it, the sheet uses the API extensively.

Set-up Requirements: Like most Conan games on Roll20 we will need a few roll tables.  

CD for combat dice with the following entries: 1, 2, -, -, 1 + effect, 1+ effect.

HITLOC for hit locations with the following entries: Head, Torso, Right Arm, Left Arm, Right Leg, Left Leg.  These entries need the following weights as well: 2,6,3,3,3,3.

Finally you will require a character named GMPANEL.  This is the Doom pool.  This is the player momentum pool.  The Character sheet makes calls to the API using this object by name.  It must be named this or the sheet will not work.

Basic Game Setup

Ok, now that we know what we need lets walk through the steps.  I have a video detailing these steps here: VIDEO LINK

  1. Copy and paste the HTML code into a game's custom sheet HTML.
  2. Repeat this for the CSS code.
  3. Save these.
  4. Switch to your Game's API input and add a new script, I normally named it Conan.js
  5. Copy and paste the API code here.  
  6. Save it.
  7. Open the game and create the two roll tables
  8. Create the GMPANEL character.
  9. Open the GMPANEL, go to the character sheet and select the GMPANEL tab.
  10. Click Initialize.


To make the panel more useful I generally create a token the represents the character and link the tokens bars to doom and momentum.  I also allow the players to see the text on the bars and set the DOOM max to 1, so it always displays a bar with the numbers on showing doom.

Creating a character

!!IMPORTANT!! Anytime you create a new character you need to go to the GMPANEL on that character sheet and click initialize.  This sets up the characters attributes so the API can call them when it needs to.  If you do not do this, the API will likely attempt to get attributes that do not exist, resulting in a crash.

!help will bring up some basic help and a few API commands you will find useful as GM.

The Code:
I will update the dates on these as I make modifications and release new versions.

Last updated these on May 9, 2021.  I inadvertently broke the combat dice without realizing it.  That is fixed.  Also noted the pay upkeep was not working properly due to sheet workers.  Still has some issues. The main UI for the character sheet has been updated as well (I believe the last update had the original version)

HTML CODE: Updated January 12, 2022
CSS CODE: Updated January 12, 2022
API CODE: Updated January 12, 2022

Going forward the sheet can be found here: https://github.com/starshipsandsteel/Custom_2d20Sheet-roll20

If you open the code and simply copy and past it as is, it will mostly be fine, but I have found it will append a little snippet of code to the end of the copy and paste.  This doesn't seem to affect the HTML and CSS, but it breaks the API.  After you paste the API into the API window, scroll to the bottom and delete the bad part of the code.

All graphics are hosted on IMGUR.

And one final note.  If you go looking through the code, you will most assuredly find references to things and classes that are no longer used or commented out.  Some things need to get reimplemented still, others need to get removed.  Code cleanup is the least fun part, and so the last thing I do...IF I do it. :)

If you have feedback or ideas of improvement, I would love to hear them, even if I don't use them.
Stay strong!

Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through a proven methodology for fighting a new virus. Stay Strong.

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Saturday, November 28, 2020

John Carter of Mars for Roll20

 Welcome back to Starships and Steel!  

It has been a little while since the last post, but I want to assure everyone that I am still here and I am still playing and creating my own personal RPG experiences.  Most recently I ran a game of Conan 2d20 and a game of Vaesen at the RPG Alliance Convention (online) up here in Calgary.  It was a solid weekend of gaming, playing in two other games.

I have never been a large fan of the original roll20 Conan sheet. Although functional I always felt it wasn't the best way to go about things, and that combined with its creation during the quickstart rules has directly lead to this John Carter project.

Moving forward to run a Conan 2d20 game for all experience levels I elected to write a new Conan sheet that ended up leveraging the Roll20 API.  This means it is not exactly user friendly, but it is functional (It has not support for Alchemy or Sorcery at the moment) and I will most likely make it available in another format for Pro level Roll20 accounts.

After playing Conan 2d20 the sheet was tweaked and the result left me with, what I think is, a decent framework for 2d20.  Of course in creating this sheet for John Carter I have ripped out all the API functionality, basically the sheet no longer tracks momentum and threat, leaving that to the players and GMs.

Without further pre-amble, below is the top-half of the roll20 sheet.

One of the largest modifications I made to the layout was to favor a sheet that scrolls down the page.  During the convention game of Conan I hosted it was determined it was easier for the players to scroll up and down vs. left and right.  The other largest change I made was simpler and larger button iconography.

As we go over the sheet I will explain it's basic functionality, what it does and what it doesn't do.  We shall start at the top and work our way down the sheet, skipping the top player name box, as it is pretty self explanatory.  

Repeating Fields

If you are new to Rol20, this is something that you will figure out, but I thought I would make a quick note about it.  Below lists of items, such as Core Equipment, Weapons, Talents etc, you will see a plus and a lock.

Clicking the "PLUS" will allow your to add a new entry.  I find that sometimes it has trouble accepting a value, if it does, just try again and it will take it, usually, on the second try.  This is a roll20 quirk.

Clicking on the "LOCK" will unlock the table and allow you to sort or delete items from it.  Clicking "LOCK" again will finalize and relock the table.

Stress & Afflictions

The stress panel is a fairly straight forward affair.  
  • Max stress for each of the three tracks is calculated from the character's stat block.  
  • The two attributes each one effects is listed below its name.
  • Each stress track has a unique color, this is handy to color code the 3 red circles above a roll20 icon for a character and link them appropriately left to right for simple reference.
  • Each track has 5 checkboxes below it to represent the various afflictions.
  • Finally the reset stress button resets all stress tracks to full.

The heart of the sheet: Attributes & Die Roller

This section is broken into two major sections.  On the left is the attributes panel that allows a player to enter their character's attributes and on the right, the rolling interface.  We will focus on the right.  The top 3/4s allows us to choose the attributes, difficulty and dice, and the bottom 1/4 shows us the number of d20s we are rolling.
  1. The first thing you do is click the check's difficulty.  This number will populate below in the step 2 section, "> vs. difficulty".
  2. Next we will pick our two attributes.  Back over on the attributes side we will note there are two buttons an A and a B, click "A" next to your first attribute and "B" for your second.  These will populate and update the Target Number and Focus values for the roll.  Back to the difficulty line we see that after our base difficulty we have a box listed as "+ Harms (Max D5).  This box will populate based on your afflictions and chosen stats.  It may not show all afflictions, ie if you have a difficulty 3 check and have 3 afflictions, it will only show 2 of your afflictions and max out the test at D5.
  3. Choose bonus dice.  4 options are available: Momentum (gem), Threat (skull and crossbones), Luck (gold coin), Other (Question mark). Clicking these will update the total dice we are rolling in the bottom 1/4.  It will max out at 3. Below these is a "Reset Dice" button.  This will clear out any dice you have picked from previous rolls and allow you to start again if you change your mind on how you are buying your dice.
One of the things to note, is that this doesn't actually track your Threat and Momentum, it simply reports what was used in the check roll so you and your players/GM can track it how you please.

Finally once everything is set, clicking roll dice will roll the requested check and output a result to the chat window.
Here we see Johnny has rolled a "Cunning + Might" test, using 2 threat.  His difficulty was 1 and he got a total of 3 listed successes.  NOTE:  Since the result in Roll20 is highlighted you *MUST* hover over it to see the actual result.  Complications and bonus successes are *NOT* added into the result.

This result is actually 5 total successes, giving Johnny 4 momentum.

Talents, Flaws and your Weapons.

The next two portions are pretty self explanatory as well.
  • Flaw gives you a simple place to store your characters flow.
  • Talents:
    • Name: Talent name
    • Grade: Talent grade
    • Circ: Circumstance when the talent becomes useful
    • Eff: The effect the talent has.
    • USE button: No real effect beyond reporting the talent to the chat box to allow others and yourself easier reading of the talent

  • Equipment:
    • Name: Equipment name.
    • Type: Core or non-core equipment.
    • Description: Description of what the item does.
  • Weapons:
    • Name: The weapon name.
    • Type & range: Melee, Near, Away, Threaten
    • Dmg: Base damage listed in Combat Dice.
    • Bonus Damage: Bonus dice to be added via momentum or other factors.
    • Roll Damage Button:  Rolls damage for the weapon and reports it to chat
    • Notes: A place to store effects etc.  Also reported with the weapon's damage roll.
For damage to work properly you will need to set up a roll table named "CD". with the following entries "1","2","-","-","1 + Effect","1 + Effect".  This will allow the character sheet to roll appropriately and report the correct amount of base damage.  You will still need to hover over the result to see any generated effects.
With this result we see it is 2 damage with 1 effect.  The weapon's notes tell us it gains +1 fear on an effect.  

Momentum, Renown, Allies and Luck

The final part of character sheet.  
  • MOMENTUM: This is simply a place to record it.  It is NOT automated in any way.
  • LUCK: Again, simply a record field.  It is NOT automated in any way.
  • Renown: Currently simply a place to keep track of your renown, nothing it updated here at the moment.
  • Experience: A basic field to store you XP.
  • Allies: A basic place to store a list of your allies.

Final thoughts, Momentum and Threat.

This is the first half of the John Carter character sheet, "Character".  A second sheet exists to allow the GM to record The Beasts of Barsoom.  Players will have no reason to use that tab.  I will try and get a blog post written about that sheet as well, but if you understand this sheet, that one will be no problem.

There are a few ways to track momentum.  

The most common way I have seen is with a deck of cards, simply handing out the cards as PCs gain and lose momentum.  This works, but I have found it to be slow.

Another way is to simply record it with a pencil and a piece of paper, which works ok for John Carter of Mars as players maintain their own momentum pool.

The method I am currently favoring is using custom token markers.  Adding a marker set with 6 gems allows a PC to turn momentum on and off as they store it from turn to turn.  This way is fast and simple.

No momentum

Custom Token Set, selecting Momentum

Assigned 3 momentum to be saved till next Turn

Without automation this provides a simply way for players and GMs to track momentum from turn to turn.

As for Threat, the Conan 2d20 sheet this is based on has a GM panel character sheet, which I will probably turn back on simply to give the GM a place to record doom and give them an easy way to report it back to the chat window so the PCs can have feedback on how much threat they have saved up.

Lacking that You can still create an Icon called "THREAT" and choose one of the status bars as your threat bar.  Make it visible to players and allow them to see the text overlay.  Finally always update the "Value" and "Max Value".

Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through a proven methodology for fighting a new virus. Stay Strong.

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Tool Trunk Thursday: Gas Arrow

Dog Brothers and Sword Sisters!  Welcome back to another installment of Tool Trunk Thursday!  I have been absent the last few weeks and so the Tool Trunk has remained firmly closed, but today we shall open it once again!

We have a local convention that will be running online this year so I have been madly prepping a Roll20 sheet to run Conan 2d20 at it.  Yes Yes, I know there is already a Roll20 sheet.  I just don't like it much.

Don't forget to grab your free narrative terrain deck!  I have used them to add more challenges to my game beyond combat and to exercise my player's narrative muscles.  I hope you like them and find them useful.  I would love to hear what you think!

Gas Arrow

Arrows prepared with poison tips are fairly common, but these arrows are a little more interesting.  They are prepared similarly to exploding arrows, but carry a payload of spores and other toxins that explode in a puff of toxic gas.  As the GM you can have this simply act like a persistent 1 poison, or you could mark the zone as gasses, requiring a resistance roll to pass through without taking damage.

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on TwitterFacebookYouTube or Instagram!
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Equipment icons are found on https://game-icons.net/ and are provided under CC BY 3.0.

Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through a proven methodology for fighting a new virus. Stay Strong.

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!