Variable d6 weapon damage

Delilah by Barry Moser
Delilah by Barry Moser

I’m not a huge fan of the highly differentiated weapon damage in DnD. All weapons are deadly in the right situations, so the 2d6 of a longsword and the d4 of a dagger don’t make that much sense to me. On the other hand, OD&D, with its flat d6 for all weapons, doesn’t sit right either.

I’m working on a 2d6 system that’s a bit more robust than my previous Maze Rats, but still simple and fast to play. One of its conceits is that I’d like to use 2d6 for everything, including damage, and this ended up evolving into a very satisfying system that both differentiates weapons and prevents the swingyness of rolling a single damage die.

There are two types of weapons, heavy and light. Heavy weapons use two hands (so this includes bows) and light weapons use one. The advantage to using a light weapon is you can also hold a shield (dual wielding weapons strikes me as a bit silly). Shields can be splintered to negate all damage from 1 attack, as per Trollsmyth’s excellent idea.

When you hit with a heavy weapon, roll 2d6 and use the greater die. When you hit with a light weapon, use the lesser one. When you make a critical hit, add them together. Simple.

This results in much lower damage output than DnD, especially since armor absorbs damage (max 2), but that just means that HP totals are lower, which reduces bookkeeping. All weapons have the same max damage, but larger weapons are tilted towards the higher end, which fits with my ethos of “All weapons can be deadly.” Looking forward to how it work in play this Tuesday.

Sellsword Diceless Playtest

On Tuesday, I ended up running my elementary school’s RPG club by myself, so I had two groups on my hands. My usual group was familiar enough with Dungeon World that they could run it themselves, so that left me with the other group, who normally played Pathfinder.

I decided to try Sellsword, the game idea I’ve been tinkering with. I’ve skimmed the Amber rules, so I spent 20 minute drawing a character sheet and company sheet, photocopied them, and was ready to go with minutes to spare.

Took me about 10 minutes
Front of the sheet. Skull-boxes are for wounds, “Day” is for how long you’ve survived. There was also a company sheet (they named theirs The Company of the Iron Claw) with a place to draw a map of their hideout. This proved a popular feature. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what happened to it.
Back of the sheet. Write your fate on the tombstone when you die.
Back of the sheet. Write your fate on the tombstone when you die.

Playing diceless has some interesting effects. The GM has to be ruthlessly fair, since everything depends on his calls. In general, I let contests be decided purely by the greater stat, and skill based things only worked if they could describe in detail exactly what they were doing. Very player focused, as opposed to character focused. Things got hairier when people started double teaming others in combat. I decided to rule that teaming up against people gives you a huge advantage, as it would in real life, and I think it played out pretty well.

I used four stats, Strength, Endurance, Speed, and Combat. Basically the same as Amber, except I used Speed instead of Psyche. One thing I didn’t do a good job of using during the game was Speed. I initially imagined it as a way to compare characters during chases, but what I should have been using it for was maneuvers. It should be the stat for gaining positional advantage.

Many of my 5th graders started figuring out how lethal this game was pretty quickly, and began avoiding combat, even though I wasn’t going my hardest at them. I only gave them four wound slots before they died, but only one ended up in the graveyard, and that was due to PvP combat. The characters were very fast to generate, but I should have made them even easier, or rather I should have had them generate a stack of characters before hand, so that they could be replaced quickly as they died. I’m still not used to running a game this lethal.

I felt that everyone acted much more realistically once they realized that they were very vulnerable (similar to my experience running World of Dungeons), and that’s a good thing. They also tried to help each other more, and were willing to retreat from a fight.

I also made a concession to character background and had them write in a friend and an enemy  on their sheet, but this was a bad idea. It makes the characters too relatable at the beginning. Instead they should write an ally and an enemy(s?) on their company sheet, which persists as the characters die.

Everyone had a great time, and there are simmering character conflicts that would be fun to explore. The two girls in the group decided to sit in the warm tavern by the fire while all the guys trudged through the rain and mud to find the bad guys, returning wounded and exhausted. The girls were planning to get the guys killed so they could start a cloak-making shop. It was great.

I’m calling a success for a first try, and I’d like to run it again with some changes. I’m also thinking about an alternate system, where players use playing cards and script out actions similar to Mouse Guard and Torchbearer. It would provide the kind of tactics and teamwork that I’m looking for. More on that later.

Sellsword Diceless

Another option for Sellsword might be to go diceless, similar to the Amber Diceless RPG. Characters simply compare stats, and if one is superior, that character always win, presuming the contest is fair and goes on for long enough. Stats are rated by who would find your skills to be exceptional:

  • 0: No one
  • 1: Your family
  • 2: A village
  • 3: A town
  • 4: A city
  • 5: A province
  • 6: A kingdom
  • 7: A continent

The greater the difference in skills, the shorter the conflict. If the local village boxer goes up against the kingdom’s greatest warrior, the conflict is over immediately. But if a town champion goes up against a city champion, he’ll likely be able to hold his ground for a good while before succumbing.

Players can tip the odds by adding narrative advantages, either by bringing in help, changing the situations, or pushing recklessly far. Bringing in help adds player collaboration, changing the situation required creative thinking, and pushing recklessly adds a strategic sacrificial element. By making the stats of the conflict quite solid, players will have a better foundation to plan on. Too often I see my 5th grade players refusing to think ahead or plan, because the dice add so much randomness that any plan would immediately go out the window once a conflict started.


Let’s try and clean up that brainstorming session into something more coherent.

The heart and soul of this RPG is inventing new solutions to difficult problems through cooperation. That’s the main skill that I’m trying to impart to my 5th graders in general, so finding a way to do that in an RPG would be perfect.

The premise of the game is clear and straightforwards: players play a company of mercenaries, or sellswords, looking to do dangerous work in exchange for food, supplies, and fame. They’re a bit more professional than murderhobos but still only barely qualified. As they become more influential and better-equipped, their goals might change, but lets leave that for later.

The game should be simple and intuitive, so pretty much everything they need should be on their sheets. No magic, no classes, no restrictions on what they can try to do. It’s all about creative solutions, right? Character creation uses an array of scores that are assigned randomly to different stats. Everyone starts at the same level, but with plenty of variety in where their talents lie.

Challenges are group-participation efforts, where players come up with a plan, and then all roll at once to see if it works. The GM gives them bonuses for good plans, or can negate rolling altogether. The challenges are like a puzzle game where they have to figure out the best way to overcome things, with roleplaying in between. I’m aiming to find a way to achieve a degree of flow in an RPG. There’s probably going to be a phase structure, similar to Torchbearer or Mouse Guard.

Poor planning results in deaths. Flip over dead characters, write their tombstone, and add them to the graveyard. Success results in more fame, influence, and more options during challenges. The trick is to present a type of challenge and then re-present it several times over the course of a session with new twists, in order to keep players focused on what they’ve learned so far.