Roll Charts: Weapon Properties

Shattered Empire has a deep randomized system for generating weapons and their properties for treasure parcels and shopkeepers. This system is designed for GMs to setup before play, as it involves separate rolls for type, condition, material, and bonus properties. But what about generating quickly on the fly? What about other games that don’t have a system in place?

The following may not work with every game system, but it should be easy enough to adapt. Note: This is for generating special properties, not the base weapon itself.

Roll 1d20:

1. Unskilled Craftsmanship. The damage and attack dice each receive a -1 penalty.

2. Shoddy Craftsmanship. The damage and attack dice are each reduced by one size.

3. Damaged. The damage die receives a -1 penalty.

4. Rusty. The damage die is reduced by one size.

5. Primitive Material. The attack die receives a -1 penalty.

6. Unrefined Material. The attack die is reduced by one size.

7. Average. No change to weapon stats.

8. Refined Material. The attack die is raised by one size.

9. Quality Material. The attack die receives a +1 bonus.

10. Fine. The damage die is raised by one size.

11. Superior. The damage die receives a +1 bonus.

12. Exquisite. The damage and attack dice are each raised by one size.

13. Masterwork. The damage and attack dice each receive a +1 bonus.

14. Elemental Forge. The weapon gains a 1d4 bonus die for elemental damage (fire, cold, or lightning)

15. Paralyzing. Target is paralyzed for one round whenever weapon hits.

16. Slaying. When the weapon deals more than half of remaining HP in damage the targeted creature is instantly killed.

17. Reaping. Whenever the weapon deals a death blow, the wielder’s AP or allotment of actions is reset and their turn continues.

18. Keen. The weapon’s critical threat is increased by 3.

19. Brutal. The weapon’s damage threshold is raised by 3.

20. Legendary. The weapon deals double damage.

Rule Zero

First of all, I am under no delusion that there aren’t already 10,000 gaming blog posts called “Rule Zero,” and that they are generally about “The GM is always right,” or that “The GM can say no to anything,” so let’s just recognize that and move on.

Moved on? Great.

I invented something called Rule Zero.

Rule Zero is simple: You can try anything.

So, I’m a big fan of rules-as-roadmaps (RAR) instead of rules-as-written (RAW). Rules are there to guide both the player and the GM, to give action meaning, to establish strategy and consequence in the game world, and, as a last resort, to answer questions and respond to disputes at the table.

GMs should make rulings. These rulings may originate from their deep knowledge and implementation of the game mechanics, from random dice results, or simply off the top of their heads. In any of those cases it’s the GM making a ruling. That’s what they are there for.

But why are we collectively at the table? For fun!

Let me go back real quick. When I played my very first D&D campaign (as a player) once upon a time, I tried to do something. My character was on a small roadside cliff-edge above an enemy. I decided to jump down, swing my club, and allowing gravity and momentum to give me a boost to the attack. I had the high ground, and I was a larger creature than what I attacked. It seemed reasonable that this action-oriented type of attack would grant my character an advantage.

It didn’t. There was no official rule that said anything about having a bonus to one’s attack based on environmental elements or improvised action. My character didn’t have a specific “leap attack” or anything of that nature. Because the rules didn’t specify that I could do this, I was met with “You can’t do that.” I was penalized for creativity, immersing myself in the environment, and thinking outside the “this is what your class can do” box. A basic melee attack–clearly spelled out in the PHB–would have been a better choice with this GM. RAW screwed me.

This experience left a bad taste in my mouth, and eventually it helped lead to developing a system without classes. As a player, I never wanted to be limited ever again.

As a GM, I never wanted to limit my players, either.

This is where Rule Zero comes into play.

Rule Zero: You can try anything.

Failure is still a possibility, of course. Just because you can try doesn’t mean you can succeed. But the spirit of letting anyone attempt anything was built into BASE12 from the very beginning. In Shattered Empire, anyone can attempt a Skill check, even if they don’t possess that Skill; or rather, everyone has every Skill, but that Skill may be at level 0. You don’t have to be a Class to make a certain type of attack. In fact, even characters without training in a weapon or armor can still wield or wear that item. Training makes you more likely to succeed, but even a child can pick up a stick and try to hit an Ogre with it.

When I GM, one thing that I try to get across to my players is that if they can convince me that something is possible or “realistic” (relative to the environment) then they can succeed. Sometimes I’ll ask them for a Skill check without telling them which Skill. “Which Skill?” they may ask. “Whichever one will make you succeed at what you’re attempting,” I reply. Three different players may end up using a Search check, a Survival check, and an Arcana check based on individual character backstories, play styles, or critical thinking. It’s the same Skill check, but they are each rolling different Skills. Now as a GM I could have said “Everyone make a Search check to find the hidden cave entrance.” Maybe one of them has a good Search rating, and the other two are just going through the motions. Or maybe they wouldn’t: “You roll for it, my Search Skill is only 1.” It doesn’t connect the player with the character to be told what to try. Even if they suck at Search, if that’s what they choose to use for their Skill check, they’ll have a connection with their character knowing that they are struggling to do something they don’t excel at, instead of mindlessly following the GM’s instructions.

So, Rule Zero is really about experimentation, creativity, and problem solving. It’s about using the rules as a guideline, and not as a forcefield. You can try anything, and perhaps as an addendum, if you can convince me (the GM) you succeed. And, as always, it always comes back to what is the most fun.

Separating Simple From Easy:  Why BASE12? 

BASE12 isn’t for everybody; no game system is. The wide spectrum of playstyles dictates the vast array of systems and variants on the market, and that’s a good thing. Imagine if you had to play every game, regardless of setting, using the same game system? Would you really want to roll a d20 to see if you successfully charted a course for your starship? How could a complex figure like a secret government agent be summed up with only three stat categories?

The gaming boom of the aughts brought a new hurdle for developers. With a flood of new gamers–or return gamers that were away from the hobby for sometimes decades–RPGs in general took an approach of “Easy and Accessible.” It was important that newcomers not be deterred by overly complicated rules and structure. “Make it broad and approachable,” the developers thought.

The early twenty-teens saw many systems go a step further: into simplicity. It seemed reasonable that in our fast-paced/low-attention-span age that gamers would want to jump right in and game. Little setup, little structure. Just quick, easy, simple mechanics and let the role-playing take over from there.

And that, too, is a good thing. It’s especially good for pure role-players, and those that would rather meet and tell a collective story with friends than actually game.

But it’s not the only way.

I have always wanted a little more, and since I missed the boat on Pathfinder during my twenties I never quite found a system that let me dig in and get that math-crunch adrenaline rush that I craved. I wanted complicated.

And that’s why I made BASE12. I wanted a complicated, deep system. That doesn’t mean it’s hard to learn or slow to play; complicated can still exist beside quick and easy. It’s just that simple word that I wanted to get out of there.

So, yes, BASE12 is complicated. There are 12 Attributes for your character (compare this to 6 in D&D, or 5 in Savage Worlds.) This depth in defining your character’s attributes would allow you to create any type of character you can think of, and fit it into any genre.

Skills are tied to Attributes, so having more Attributes allows for more precision and variety in Skills.

Derived stats (Hit Points, Stamina Points, Action Points) as well as things like movement distance and initiative come from Attributes as well, giving greater control over minutiae.

Is it crunchy? For sure. It has depth enough for mathematicians, character tinkerers, and level-planners. But it’s still easy to learn, and quick to play.

Wanna try BASE12? It’s free under a Creative Commons license that even let’s you create and sell your own games designed for it.

Here’s a link: Base12 RPG System

Roll Charts: Holidays and Observations (repost) 

(NOTE: This is a repost of a roll chart I put up here a couple years ago, but didn’t see a good way to “reblog” it, so I just did the old copy + paste) ​

In light of Independence Day, here is a holiday roll chart! 

(begin repost) 

While tending to my holiday obligations this year, I began contemplating the conception of holidays and celebrations within a given culture, and how vital they are in providing a cultural identity. Observed holidays can speak volumes about the values, history, and priorities of a group of people. Therefore, providing such “window dressing” when introducing a new culture to your players in a home game can help an unknown city of mindless NPCs take that leap into a living breathing community of believable people. Perhaps the townspeople are busily preparing for upcoming festivities, or maybe they are already in full swing. What is the feeling in the town? Is it pulsing with excitement, or are the people somber and reflective? Holidays can help you set a mood, quickly provide narrative exposition, or give an interesting backdrop for quest hooks. Of course, sometimes a party of adventurers steamroll their way off-script into one of these locations, so having a roll-chart ready to pull up can help an unprepared GM look like a clairvoyant. So for those that want some extra details about their towns, here’s a randomized chart.

* NOTE: This is designed for a fantasy setting, but a couple tweaks could make it work for other genres.

What kind of holiday is it? (Roll 1d12)


1. A seasonal festival. Spring planting, Summer or Winter solstice, or Fall harvest.

2. Birthday of a local leader (king, governor, tribal chief, mayor’s eldest daughter)

3: Anniversary of the death of a local hero, king, or town founder.

4. Religious high holiday, marking the adoption of a specific Deity as the town’s patron.

5. A public wedding celebration, perhaps of a notable person or persons.

6. Observed day of remembrance for a great battle, end of a war, or liberation of the town or realm from foreign control.

7. Local election, perhaps for mayor, sheriff, or judge. Public debates or voting may occur.

8. A great tournament, contest, or other organized leisure event.

9. Anniversary of some mystical or magical event that helped shape the town, such as a portal to another realm opening up , or the sudden appearance of a magical object or creature.

10. Anniversary of some natural or catastrophic event that helped shape the town, such as a great earthquake, tidal wave, or meteor that fell from the sky.

11. Strange custom. Perhaps completely superstitious, or based in religion or cultist beliefs. A day where everyone wears buckets on their heads to keep the corn-eating spirits away, for example.

12. Apocalypse celebration. According to legend, an Oracle, or the local calendar, this is the day that the world is supposed to end.


How is it celebrated? (Roll 1d20)

1. Traditional feasting.

2. Dancing, singing, and live music.

3. Courting and the admission of love for a secret object of affection. All remaining singles are randomly and forcibly coupled.

4. The granting of a boon upon the townspeople. Perhaps extra food rations, gold and treasure, or practical items.

5. With a day of silent meditation, where no business may be conducted and nobody may verbally communicate.

6. A public execution of the town’s most hated criminal.

7. With the sacrifice of an animal, where each townsperson is required to drink the beast’s blood.

8. With the sacrifice of an innocent person, virgin, or elder, in order to appease the gods or devils.

9. By exchanging gifts with strangers in the street.

10. With a huge bonfire where everyone brings an equal amount of fuel to signify unity.

11. With the juggling of geese.

12. With the choreographed mass suicide of each and every member of the town.

13. With a battle to the death between two armed combatants.

14. With the personal blessing of the town clergyman upon every citizen, including a fortune reading or prayer for luck and prosperity.

15. By sacrificing an object of personal value or importance.

16. By throwing food and excrement at all outsiders until the sun sets.

17. By participating in a seven-hour chant while holding hands in town square.

18. With the release of 1000 chickens into the village, which must be collected alive in the highest amount in order to crown the Festival Champion.

19. By marching to war on a neighboring city.

20. With a 24 Hour “purge-style” day of lawlessness with no legal ramifications.


Enjoy, and happy holidays!

Character Backstory: Description vs Discovery

My favorite thing to do in all of gaming is to make new characters. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tabletop rpg, a video game, or even a board game that allows different builds, rolling up a fresh character is my ultimate feel-good moment.

Sometimes those characters really stick with me on a deep personal level. It’s not always just my characters, either. Characters created by those in my gaming group sometimes come to life and affect me in ways that I never expected. So what is that special element that takes a half-giant cleric and turns them into my favorite comic book hero of all-time? What makes a standard npc become an integral part of a campaign when they were originally supposed to just be background dressing for a village inn?

The initial response might be “description”: Build a fully living, breathing, fleshed-out character with an elaborate background, personality quirks, desires, goals, and countless other minutiae. Make a finite being. Make it real. 

But I think many experienced gamers can recount stories of “the time they tried to make an awesome character and it just didn’t take.” What was missing? Why wasn’t Golliban the Sellsword a memorable character?

I have a working theory on this. It wasn’t that the character had too little; It was that the character had too much.

If a character is completely developed, and you try to embody that character, you are essentially limiting yourself. You are stuck inside the borders of that character description, saying to yourself “well my instinct is to do this, but my bio says I have to do this.” You better be a hell of a good actor to take on that role. And even if you are a really good actor, a character is still only as good as it was written. It is still limited. It’s still finite.

Real people grow, and explore, and change, and shift. THAT’S what makes a character in a book or movie come to life. You discover new things about them, they surprise you, they encounter things that aren’t covered in their bio. Discovery beats Description every time in the connection department.

So does that mean you should just start off with a nebulous, undefined blob and see where it takes you? Eh, probably not. You still need a road map to cross the expanse, or at least a signal flare in case you get lost.

Try this as an experiment: Give your character a “thing” that they like. Maybe they love to gamble, or they go crazy for strawberries, or they can’t sleep without their mother’s locket. You don’t have to know why yet. You can discover that as you play. Now give them a thing that they don’t like. Maybe they are afraid of rapid moving water, or they can’t stand vegetables, or goats just make them angry for some reason. Again, there doesn’t have to be an elaborate reason why set in ink. Make up a general backstory without too many specifics. Let those specifics fall into place as the game develops.

A job, a physical description, and some family history will help set the framework, but don’t pigeonhole yourself. You’ll discover new things about this identity as you play–IN THE MOMENT. Those are the things that should stick and become bio.

Spend less time trying to figure out how your character would act, and instead just experience their reactions as they happen. Leave them enough air to grow and change. Learn about them at the same time your teammates are learning about them. Don’t focus so much on sticking to a plan or following a bio, just play. They’ll become the character they are meant to be if you get out of the way and just let them breathe.

Progress Report 

Lots of little things have been added or updated to Shattered Empire this last week as I continue the slow crawl towards a proper 2.0 release package. Here’s the list:

  • Added heights and weights for all player races in the PHB
  • Revised Bard Songs and added a couple of additional powers 
  • Created an exhaustive list of Bard Instruments and Magical Implements for the Treasury 
  • Updated the Class Point section and visual charts in the PHB to reflect recent changes and remove redundancies 
  • Updated the Character Sheet with sections for Class Point tracking and combat action quick reference 
  • Made some village and regional maps 

This probably means nothing to anyone, except maybe the six people that have actually played Shattered Empire. That’s okay. Making lists is fun!

Magical Implements and Consumables {Shattered Empire}

When running a game of Shattered Empire (or any High Fantasy RPG for that matter) there seems to always be some confusion over just how magical implements and such work. What’s the difference between a spellbook and a spellscroll? How is a magic wand different from a magic staff? What the hell is a rod? (And do I want to know?)

So for clarity’s sake–and because I don’t think this information is spelled out in detail all in one collection in any of the game documents–I shall now give a full explanation of what each item is and how it differs from others of the same category.


Spellbooks:  These are books that hold the “recipe” for casting a certain spell, invoking a Deity, etc. They do not have intrinsic magical properties themselves (unless the owner has cast Arcane Lock or something like that on it to keep snooping eyes out.) Meaning, an untrained warrior can’t pick up a spellbook and use it to cast a spell. Someone trained in the proper spell school can study it to learn new spells, and therefore they are sought after by competing wizards and such, but otherwise they are just an interesting–if not valuable–curiosity.

Scrolls:  Scrolls are single-use magical parchments that hold a specific spell. They can either be used to cast the spell they hold, or they can be studied to learn the spell they hold. Either way, the scroll is consumed after once use. Scrolls are unique in the fact that ANYONE can use them, since most of the magic is already imbued within the parchment in a potential state, waiting for activation by the user. This usually means just reading off an activation phrase, giving anyone with literacy an opportunity to cast a magic spell.

Wands: Wands are objects of power that, like scrolls, house one spell. The major difference is that wands usually have multiple uses, and can be “recharged” in order to continue using it to cast the spell. To use a wand you do not need to know the specific spell it holds, but you do have to be trained in the general school of magic to effectively use them. Untrained users may accidentally succeed, but often times there will be devastating results in trying to manipulate a type of magic that you don’t fully understand. A spell cannot be learned from a wand.

Staffs: Staffs function very much in the same manner as wands, however staves never “run out” of magic. They need never be recharged. Additionally, staffs (or staves) can sometimes be re-enchanted with a different spell or prayer. This is something that would normally destroy a wand. A spell cannot be learned from a staff.

Orbs: Orbs do not contain magic spells, though they are charged with pure magic themselves. Orbs are used as a focus for Arcane spellcasters, giving them all kinds of potential boons and boosts to their spellcasting. Orbs are Arcane Implements.

Rods: Rods function in the same way as orbs, only for Nature-benders, such as Druids. These are Nature Implements. They boost Commune with Nature and Commune with Spirits power schools.

Holy Symbols:  Holy Symbols are Divine Implements. They are focuses for all manner of Divine prayer schools.

Psionic Focus: Psionic powers can be amplified by a Psionic Focus. These are Psionic Implements. They augment the powers of Telekinesis and Telepathy.

Bard Instruments:  In the hands of a normal person these are no more than average musical instruments. In the hands of a Bard they become Bardic Implements, augmenting or changing the power of their Bard Songs.


Of course there are many other items that can have spell-effects associated with them. Potions, rings, amulets–these all can hold magical properties that anyone can make use of.  Shrines and Temples may grant blessings.  A circle of trees deep in the forest may grant a boon to those that stand inside.  Exploring the world of Gildeon is the only way to discover them all.