Saturday, November 18, 2023

Battle Borgs

Dorin the Doorkeeper Knight: a playtest character who dumped all of his points into Toughness. 

In 2001 one of my friends at the YMCA afterschool daycare invented a pen & paper game called Battle Borgs. At the time we were spending a lot of time playing various RPG and monster collecting games on our GameBoy colors, as well as making lots of drawings and labeling them. Battle Borgs essentially combined those to pastimes into a single game. You drew your character, wrote down their stats and three attacks, and then battled your friends with them. 

With respect to Nathan E, it didn't work very well. We never figured out a way to solve first-turn advantage and were very conservative about deviating any character's stats from the basic template, so the way to win every match was to go first, hit your opponent a couple of times with your basic attack, and then finish them off with your ultimate. Still, I can still remember all of our Borgs: Mattsum, who switched his flags with pictures of axes on them into axes with little flags on them. Sandsum, who blasted people with sand. Gryndlewing, a butterfly with sharp wings. Saber, who was fast but weak. The anime fire knight Ayen and brother the dark knight Raymen. Skug the snail, with his fearsome Head Bump attack. Smett Mess, whose hands were so big he could slap people's heads off. Smett Tippy, an upside-down Christmas tree who spun very fast to fling ornaments at people.

In 2017 I wrote a second edition of the game. Here it is!

Friday, November 17, 2023

Borderfort Burning: Dwarves

Tony DiTerlizzi

From the same project and using the same method outlined HERE.

The dwarves here were intended to be a mix of Thorin's Company, the petty dwarves of the Silmarillion, Snow White & The Seven Dwarves, Narnia, and Rumpelstiltskin, rather than the standard fantasy dwarf. Where other aspects of Borderfort Burning leaned into their Warhammer inspirations, I deliberately tried to break away from that here. They are also partly convergent evolution with, and partly inspired by Brian Yaksha's Dwarf and Gnome write-ups.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Borderfort Burning: Wood Elves

Larry MacDougall

“Borderfort Burning” is the name of an abandoned project from 2018. It was an attempt to synthesize my favorite classic fantasy influences (Tolkien, Warhammer Fantasy, Angus McBride, Japanese western fantasy) into a single, small-scale setting — essentially an expanded version of B2: Keep on the Borderlands. The scope of the setting was manageable, but since mechanically I was mostly trying to convert Adventures In Middle Earth (a 5e system) into something like B/X D&D (itself a deceptively fiddly set of rules), the rules framework I was using at the time was pretty maximalist in a way that I’m less interested in now. A lot of this material has reappeared in other projects, although as my tastes have changed the weight given to specific influences has shifted. Borderfort Burning skewed closer to Warhammer than The Hobbit, while the elves in particular also have a lot of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, the Fair Folk from Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain and the elves of Lorwyn and Shadowmoor from Magic: the Gathering in their creative makeup.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Otyugh/English Lexicon

The otyugh is a very strange monster. Being big, irascible, alien creatures that smell like literal shit and who mostly want to shovel garbage into their mouths and be left alone, few scholars have plumbed the depths of otyugh intelligence. Nevertheless, otyughs are capable of language and have their own form of polite etiquette. Indeed, many seem to understand a great deal of common speech (although they are either unable or unwilling to speak it). The next time you expect to go crawling around in otyugh territory, be sure to bring along this handy pocket phrasebook. The polite delver may avoid suffering ingestion, indignity, or a fatal blow from the otyugh’s horny feeding-palps.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Blog Update

If you look at the archives of this blog, you can tell more or less exactly when I left my old administrative assistant job and became a full-time freelance illustrator — late fall in 2022, where the last (to date!) Night-Haunted Hogwarts post appears. Two things happened there: 1) going from a salaried office job with seasonal slow periods to an art career where I’m paid per project, I suddenly had a lot less time and energy for creative side-projects, and 2) I had to turn in my work laptop. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2023


search your feelings, you know this to be true

Think about it. Master Chief has limited inventory slots (two for guns, two for grenades) designed to force the player into making interesting choices and tradeoffs. If you pick up a powerful but overly specialized weapon like a sniper rifle, gravity hammer, or rocket launcher then you'll be less flexible in situations that those weapons don't excel in, but if you keep to your solid foursquare meat-and-potatoes loadout of battle rifle and shotgun/pistol you may find yourself outgunned or outranged in a key moment. Sometimes you'll just run out of ammo for the better weapons and need to scrape by on readily available trash-tier equipment like the needler until you can scrounge something better, a design philosophy meant to generate tense moments and force the player out of entrenched habits (or learn why the plasma pistol is actually good). 

Halo also uses a two-track HP system with a large pool of easily regenerating ablative HP and a smaller one representing real injuries, which requires a limited resource to restore. The Chief spends a lot of time exploring ancient ruins, interrupting destructive alien rituals, and fighting eldritch tomb-spawned horrors. 

Plus, you can honk the little horn on the mongoose ATV.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Down/Out/Dead: A Death & Dismemberment Variant

D&D has struggled to find a good answer for "what happens when my character hits 0 HP?" The original answer "you die" leads to a lot of character deaths at 1st level, and eliminates a lot of potential drama with trying to recover/defend a downed and wounded ally, being wounded and captured, etc., so even groups who are comfortable with a high-lethality game have looked for alternatives. Conversely, many of the common alternatives, such as unconsciousness at 0 HP and death at -10 or 5th edition's death saves make the characters too resilient: character death is technically possible, but you need to work pretty hard to make it happen.

Various alternatives exist: a single saving throw at 0 HP is one perfectly good option. Two-tier HP systems, where characters have a lot of ablative HP (commonly called something like Grit, Sweat, etc.) and a small amount of "real" HP representing physical damage (Flesh, Blood, etc.), with death at 0 real HP, is another good one. Bucklers & Backswords rolls the chance of death into weapon type, which interacts nicely with Elizabethan surgery – in a rapier duel it's quite probably for the winner to end up bleeding out from a mortal wound like Inigo Montoya. Other games have adapted some technology from The One Ring and/or various PbtA-derived systems, where "Wounded" is a condition you can get and "Dying" occurs if you're Wounded twice. The most popular alternative in OSR games however is probably the Death & Dismemberment table.