Working Stiffs 0.3

Image: Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines

Alright. I hacked Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition, and while running that game, I also wrote a PbdA version of VtM. Because I can’t stop myself, I just finished rewriting that hack into Working Stiffs, my general game about being a vampire serving your vampire overlords night after night, and then maybe trying to kill them. This is the 0.3 version, meaning there is more work to do, but as usual I’m sharing it once it is at a point where you could take it and try playing it. 

As always, feedback is welcome if you have a chance to take a look at it. 

And yeah I’m still writing a bunch of other stuff 🙂

What D&D Meant
Screenshot from Champions of Krynn

In the Early 90s

I started playing D&D in the early 90s, when I was around 11 years old. I actually started with Dangerous Journeys, which is really unusual, but I found that huge tome in a bookstore in the fantasy/sci-fi section (back when it was only a few shelves in a B. Dalton’s). I soon moved on to D&D – or what we called D&D, if we called it anything.

For us, D&D was a hodgepodge stitched together from disparate elements into something that I’m not sure Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson would have recognized. Here were our “core rulebooks” when we first began:

Those last three were ‘Gold Box’ games released in the early 90s. You’ll note, of course, that none of the books listed are part of the core rule-set of any edition of D&D. We used the Gold Box game manuals for some of the rules around character classes and leveling, since they were all based in the core AD&D rules. Parts of Dangerous Journeys got wedged into what we played as-needed – there is a robust character creation system in DJ, for example, that provides more interesting results than AD&D did. We also used Dragonlance Adventures for basic setting material and some special rules for that setting, but as you can see, we did not yet have copies of the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, or Monster Manual.

We had come to D&D through being fans of the Dragonlance novels, tearing our way through the Chronicles, and then Legends, and then Preludes and so on. But we didn’t even always play in Krynn – we used and hacked and adapted the resources we had for whatever purpose we had in mind. This was “D&D.”

I think this was the case for many groups, back in the day. Since 3.X, I think that the assumption of what constitutes D&D has become much more standardized, but I feel like earlier editions were more often cobbled together from hand-me-downs and whatever you might stumble across in a bookstore. There was no game store anywhere near us (at the time, walking or biking distance) and even if there was, our parents were primed to see “Dungeons & Dragons” as threatening and vaguely occult. But they knew we loved fantasy and sci-fi novels, so whatever silly game of pretend we were playing was no threat.

So, when you first started, especially if you are old like me, what was “D&D?” What resources did you have for roleplaying? Was it off the shelf core books, or did you cobble it together like we did? Let me know in the comments.

Premature Cthulhu Hack

So, turns out Sandy Petersen, one of the original designers of Call of Cthulhu, decided to share his expert opinion with regard to genomes and trans persons. Of course, he has absolutely no expertise, and could have easily just kept his trap shut. But he didn’t.

In response, I’m sharing my hack of Call of Cthulhu. It’s an improvement on the base rules, as well as a simplification, adding in a Mothership-style stress mechanic to deepen the way Sanity works. It worked really well for a few sessions of a game I ran not long ago. At the same time, this is not in any kind of polished state. These are drafts I fixed up a bit before I uploaded them.

All of this is intended to be Creative Commons, Attribution, Share-Alike, Non-Commercial.


D&D 5E: “Race” as Cosmetic with Flexible Traits

Thinking through some further house rule ideas for D&D 5E, maybe even enough for a second edition of the Hoard of House Rules. I have seen some relatively complex solutions to the race problem in D&D, and a simple option occurred to me. A lot of what’s interesting about races, I think, are the cosmetics. This especially seems to be true for tieflings, so often featured in fan art. But I digress. For those who are motivated by the minutiae of racial bonuses, you have the RAW to go with. Enjoy! For those who don’t care much but want to be maybe a cool lizard person or angel-person, these ideas are for you.

First, treat every character as a human. Then add whatever cosmetic changes you want – feathers and a beak, scales and a shell, gossamer diaphanous wings, spiky rainbow hair and spiral ibex horns, whatever. Assume that all starting characters get +2 to one ability score and +1 to another ability score. You can also choose whether you have darkvision for 60′, but I’m using my house rule that darkvision always comes with sunlight sensitivity. In addition to those (and a starting native language), you can choose three of the following (or more if your DM says so, as long as everyone has the same options):

  • A starting feat
  • Replace the +2 and +1 with +1 to all ability scores
  • Resistance to a single damage type
  • Amphibious, and you have a swim speed of 20′
  • Wings that allow you to glide at your movement speed
  • Advantage on specific proficiency rolls (like dwarven stonecunning or wild elf stealth)
  • An additional proficiency plus an additional language
  • One supernatural knack like speaking with small burrowing animals
  • One cantrip
  • A strong build that doubles your carrying capacity
  • Any other single racial trait that you discuss with your DM

These traits can be accounted for any way you wish – physiology, culture, training, etc. but no racial essentialism because two characters with the same race might be quite different from one another. Here are some examples that don’t replicate the RAW but I think retain the spirit and remain interesting:

  • Dwarf: +2 Constsitution, +1 Wisdom, darkvision and sunlight sensitivity, one feat, resistance to poison damage, proficiency with one tool and Dwarvish
  • Elf: +2 Dexterity, +1 Intelligence, one feat, proficiency in Wisdom (Perception) and Elvish, bonus cantrip
  • Human: replace the +2 and +1 with +1 to all ability scores, one feat, proficiency in a skill of your choice and a bonus language
  • Tiefling: +2 Charisma, +1 Intelligence, darkvision and sunlight sensitivity, one feat, resistance to fire damage, proficiency in Charisma (Intimidation) and a bonus language of Abyssal or Infernal
  • Tortle: +2 Strength, +1 Wisdom, Amphibious, resistance to bludgeoning damage (for your shell), strong build

Remember that the ability score bonuses can go wherever you want, those are just my initial thoughts. Alright, there you go. Feel free to use this.

Non-Lethal D&D Part 2: Consequences

A while ago I wrote a little about non-lethal D&D, reinterpreting hit points as morale rather than meat. I thought through some of the consequences of this change, and I think it’s a great idea, especially for games with younger players, or those who don’t want a lot of the killing that comes with D&D (but don’t want to play a different game, of course).

I had some more thoughts on non-lethal D&D, about consequences of falling to 0 hit points. I actually would love more rules for different kinds of conflicts – fighting to capture, or fighting to drive away – that games like Mouse Guard handle so well. But we’re going with D&D’s system, which assumes that a fight goes until one side runs out of hit points. In our case, that means one side runs out of morale, or willingness to continue fighting. I can see three possible consequences of this: collapse to the ground, flee in terror, or surrender. Simple enough, but here are a few mechanics to go with each.

Collapse to the Ground

You fall prone and drop any weapon or shield you were holding, unable to continue. You can still defend yourself, and are assumed to take the Dodge action each round, so any attacks against you suffer disadvantage (and are clearly evil, to be blunt). Either you are utterly exhausted, or paralyzed with fear, full of abject despair. If given the chance, you can still choose to flee or surrender.

Flee in Terror

You throw down anything in your hands, as it might slow you down, and shed any gear you can easily shed. You move and take the Dash action away from danger each round until you are safe. At your discretion, you can also Dodge or Disengage if those actions seem most likely to keep you alive. You might hold onto a shield to deflect any incoming attacks, but fleeing is your priority.


You throw anything in your hands to the ground, raise your hands, and throw yourself on the mercy of your attackers. If they sought to capture you, you are captured. You are unable to take the Attack action, though you can still choose to flee if your surrender is not accepted, but surrender is much more interesting than being killed, so a DM should err on the side of NPCs and monsters accepting surrender.

Am I forgetting something important? Is there anything you would add?