Monday, March 29, 2021

"First Goddamn Week Of Winter..." - Snow-Bound.

Misery (1990).

This is entirely intended to be used for survival scenarios - it might not be suitable for ongoing, in-game weather.

It's a blunt instrument that treats a night in the desert the same as a season at McMurdo Sound or an hour on the frozen lake around Satan's genitals or a bad day on the mountainside.

Unspecified variables of shelter, clothing, equipment and morale-sapping accident can adjust dice rolls, damage suffered, time needed to recover etc.

Gaming terms are generic - disadvantage could mean roll-twice-keep-worst or a penalty to the roll; saves are actual saving throws or relevant ability checks; 'Classic Six' Ability Scores should be easy enough to interpret; same for 'proper' names of conditions and spells.

My starting point was 1e AD&D Wilderness Survival Guide, but that's heavy on the tables, the variables and the Fahrenheit. It's there if you want it. Working on the Outer Space hazards gave me some ideas that I've applied here.

As an option, Hypothermia (or just being cold enough) or being in a Whiteout could be Altered States, if that sort of thing is part of your game.

Cold Conditions - An Easy Way.

Fold everything in together and abstract it as follows.

When it's cold, you take 1 (or more) temporary damage to CON, DEX and WIS every time you fail a save - and you make a save every time unit you spend in those conditions, with adjustments to the roll for wearing the proper clothes, or being soaked to the skin, or being a bare-chested barbarian.

The frequency of the save determines the severity of the cold: shorter time between saves is worse.

If any Ability Score hits 0, you collapse and take d6 hits per time unit until you are rescued or you die. 

Ability Scores recover at a rate of 1/hour in warmth and shelter.

(You could also mod this for hot conditions - temporary damage to DEX, INT and STR, and recovery requires shade and water)

Cold Conditions - Further Elaboration.

Severity is based on the length of the time units that trigger a save or are counted against your CON (or fraction of CON).

Failing a save or hitting the limit means you suffer harm: -1, -3 then -6 to STR, CON and DEX (does not stack).

Ability Scores recover at 1/hour in warmth and shelter.


If you fail 3 cold saves in a row or hit a pre-determined CON threshold, you will begin suffering from Hypothermia.

For each time unit you suffer Hypothermia, you advance levels of harm:

  • Disadvantage on attacks and manipulation (or -2 attack penalty).
  • Move rate halved, always lose Initiative, disadvantage on movements and manoeuvres (or slowed).
  • Disoriented, disadvantage on CHA, INT and WIS (or confusion).
  • Save per time unit or pass out (or damage per time unit).
  • Save per time unit or die (or damage per time unit).

Recovery is at the rate of 1 hour per level of harm once you're out of danger - regaining Ability Scores can stack with this if you're being properly looked after, otherwise it all happens in reverse order.

(This only slightly modified subsystem has been cheerfully pillaged from Leicester's Ramble because Vance's is better than the one I was trying to construct from the Wilderness Survival Guide)


Hypothermia and Frostbite do not necessarily go together, but you can use the 3 failed saves in a row or CON threshold methods to determine when Frostbite sets in (or model it after chill metal). 

Frostbite has three stages:

  • Painful: disadvantage on attacks and manipulation if it's your hands; half move and disadvantage on movements and manoeuvres if it's your feet; treat in 2 turns or it becomes Severe.
  • Severe (Numb): take non-lethal hit point damage; treat in 2 turns or it becomes Permanent.
  • Permanent: take lethal hit point damage and you lose the body part. Risk of infection doubled until treated, plus new parts of the body are exposed.

Base hp damage on the severity of the cold and the size of the body part.

Timely treatment stops harm advancing. Recovery is 3 turns of proper treatment per level of harm, but that's not going to bring your nose back.

Snow Glare/ Snow Blindness.

When subjected to Snow Glare without eye-protection, it's like you are trying to avoid a gaze attack - apply the appropriate penalties (you at -1 to hit, enemy at +2 to hit you and no DEX, if you don't have something already).

You might still have to take the penalties even with eye protection, as it could obscure your vision in an equivalent manner, but at least you won't have to make a save every time unit (again, the shorter the more severe) or suffer Snow Blindness.

Snow Blindness means you are Blind, but you recover in exploding d6 hours once you are no longer exposed to the glare. Proper rest and treatment can reduce this to exploding d6 turns.


Chances of getting lost are rolled with disadvantage or are rolled twice as often. You must also rest twice as often or twice as long, and you can only move at half rate.

Encounter distance is reduced to minimum. Surprise chances are doubled.

For melee and missile attacks, it's as if you are trying to avoid a gaze attack - apply the appropriate penalties. Missile attacks are at disadvantage (option for crossbows and firearms to be the exception).

In a Whiteout, it's as if everything is invisible and everyone is Blind. Save vs. confusion every time unit you attempt to do anything other than hunker down and wait it out.

30 Days of Night (2007).

Other People's Stuff.

These are self-contained systems I've mentioned before, but can be bolted onto any scenario with similar winter survival concerns - as alternative or supplement.

There's Something in the Ice.

Electricity and Heat in your base is yes/no - for each day you don't have Heat, you take damage or an Injury. Every time you take an Injury, roll over your total on 2d6 or you die.

(Food and Water is counted in units per person per day, with the same result if you go without)

Do Not Let Us Die in the Dark Night of This Cold Winter.

Cold vs. Fuel, measured as units, and Fuel is consumed even if there isn't enough to beat the Cold.

Someone dies every game turn (could be a day, could be a week) when Cold beats Fuel - or you could have a death with no Fuel, but with not enough a person gets Sick.

(Also covers Hungry? vs. Food and Sick? vs. Medicine, but it's only the NPCs that suffer in this mini-game)

Saturday, March 27, 2021

"I Can't Lie To You About Your Chances..." - Air, Gravity, Hard Vacuum & Radiation.

Inseminoid (1981) - I've read the novelisation.
It's someone dying in a space suit - for illustrative purposes.

Outer space is one of the ideal survival horror settings, but it's not just about aliens, robots or remote corporate decisions.

This post has sci fi in mind, though I've used fantasy as the base - AD&D Spelljammer and Dungeoneer's Survival Guide were source material. Nothing is meant to accurately reflect IRL conditions, but to approximate genre expectations - your needs may differ.

Intended as system agnostic, it's all clearly D&D adjacent - I'm sure 'save' and 'STR' (etc) map easily enough.


Fresh Air.

Fine to breathe, even if it is a bit stale and smelly - there is no mechanical effect.

Thin Air.

Still good to breathe, but you need to rest twice as often or twice as long. 

Using BECMI dungeon exploration as a guide, so this is 1 turn of rest after 2.5 (or round in either direction) turns of activity, or 2 turns of rest after 5. 

BECMI has combat take up 1 turn, even when it only lasts a few rounds, so maybe the remainder is a rest/recovery period - total of 2 turns in a Thin Air environment or take fatigue penalties.

Strenuous activity can be treated in a similar way to combat.

Foul Air.

Not fine. Ability Checks and attack rolls are -2 (or disadvantage) until you get some Fresh Air (immediate recovery) or Thin Air (need to rest 1 turn to get the benefit).

As an option, treat Foul Air and Thin Air the same mechanically.

Depleted Air.

Big problem that could kill you.

Same properties as Foul and Thin Air, plus you need to make a save each turn (twice or at disadvantage if you're not taking proper rest) or pass out.

Then, if you don't receive breathable air, save each turn or die

Noxious Air.

Polluted with gas, particulate or smoke.

Save each time unit (the smaller, the more noxious) or cumulative -3 Ability Scores and attack rolls.

If any Ability Score hits 0, you collapse helpless. If it's smoke making the air noxious, you start taking lethal damage (or treat as Depleted Air).

You can use Noxious Air for tear gas. 

Recovery rate is 3 points per turn with Fresh Air, half that rate if it's Foul or Thin.

Stench of Death/Rotting Flesh.

Can be treated as any of the other air-types for effect, but won't kill you under normal circumstances. 

As an option, can have the same effect as being Sick (as from Radiation, see below) or any other handy sickness/nausea mechanic you have knocking around.

A sudden rush of air can have a short effect (as little as 1 round) and then dissipate - for when you open damaged hibernation chambers and failed-to-escape pods, for instance.


In High, Low and Zero Gravity you:

  • Need to rest twice as long or twice as often.
  • Roll for attacks, movement and stability at disadvantage.

High Gravity halves your movement and you cannot jump; fall damage is doubled; you can only act every other round; your encumbrance allowance is halved; STR check to get back on your feet or perform a fancy manoeuvre.

Low Gravity halves fall damage and doubles jump distance; you need a movement/stability check to move at more than half rate; you act last in a round; DEX check to get back on your feet or perform a fancy manoeuvre. Natural healing rate halved. 

Zero Gravity means you cannot fall but you cannot move without something to hold on to; you can only act every other round; you are Sick (as from Radiation, see below); WIS check to right yourself or perform a fancy manoeuvre. Natural healing rate only 10%.

Spending extended periods (more than a week) in Low and Zero Gravity will Weaken you (as from Radiation, see below) and requires x2 time spent in Low Gravity (x4 in Zero Gravity) for recovery in Normal Gravity. A suitable rehabilitation regime can reduce this.

Proper training, special equipment and experience can reduce/eliminate penalties.

Hard Vacuum.

Realistically, you die - no save. But genre and drama have different requirements.

No air, no flame, no sound, no winged flight.

You can use suffocation/drowning rules, or Depleted Air (save per round) if you want airlessness to be the main hazard of Hard Vacuum.

If you want people to boil away into space: fixed or rolled damage per round, but it's un-soakable, permanent hp loss. Saves for half-damage optional. 

Explosive Decompression is save or die, followed by suffocating or boiling away.

Hard Vacuum can also expose you to temperature extremes and Radiation.


The intensity of the Radiation is measured by the length of time it takes to affect you - the shorter, the more intense.

You suffer a unit of harm if you fail a save per time period, or you are exposed to Radiation for time periods equal to your CON (or a fraction of your CON).

  1. Poisoned: save & attack at disadvantage
  2. Weakened: half move, half damage, STR & CON at disadvantage
  3. Sick: disadvantage all Ability Scores, cannot eat/drink without making a save
  4. No natural healing
  5. No magical healing*
  6. Fail all fatigue, disease and poison saves

Units of harm are cumulative but do not stack. You can get them in any order.

For each unit of harm you take, you must also save or your condition is terminal in d6+1 weeks: -1 level/HD and -2 all Ability Scores per week you survive. 

Taking all 6 units of harm is always fatal. In a setting without magical healing, treat the * result as being terminal.

As an option, depending on genre considerations, a crit save (fail or success) gives you a mutation or you can check for psionics/wild talents.

Radiation damage direct to hit points cannot be healed naturally, and magical healing only counts as temporary hit points with regard to these wounds.

Non-sci fi terms for highly radioactive matter include warpstone, cursed metal, soul crystal, negative/positive material, and necrotic/radiant elements. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Noisy Valley - A Survival Horror Mini-Setting.

Using the same template as I did for the FKR Design Challenge, I've pulled together some of the writhing tangle of notes I've been making on reality-bending survival horror to offer up another mini-setting.

No. You are not.

Noisy Valley.

Noisy Valley is an out-of-the way, apparently unremarkable little town no one ever seems to have heard of until you hear of it yourself, but there it is and there it has always been. The current town is the New Town, with the Old Town having been depopulated, dilapidated, destroyed or even disappeared. It takes its name from a much older name for the region (possibly in a dead language) which means much the same.

This part of the country has long been associated with anomalous light forms (earthlights, corpse candles/will-o-wisps, lights-in-the-sky), out-of-place/ apparitional animals & humanoids, freak weather events, and - crucially - mysterious sounds (hummadruz, piping, EVP, skyquakes, unidentified radio/TV transmissions, localised tinnitus/aural hallucinations). 

It's a lot worse than you think.


  1. Livestock
  2. Drugs
  3. Mining
  4. Tourism
  5. Import/Distribution
  6. The Base/ The Plant

Why was the Old Town depopulated?

Roll more than once if you want cover stories/rumours.

  1. Epidemic/ Plague
  2. Contamination/ Pollution
  3. Natural Disaster
  4. Anthropogenic Disaster
  5. Forced Resettlement
  6. Mysterious Mass Disappearance

New and/or Old Town is built on...

Roll more than once if you want cover stories/rumours.

  1. Portal to Hell
  2. Ancient burial ground
  3. Religious colony
  4. Colonial atrocity
  5. Cursed/Holy land
  6. Astronomical impact event

Abnormal Atmospheric conditions.

The 'Fogworld' of Silent Hill - a layer of reality in which the environment prevents you from leaving Noisy Valley. It is sparsely populated, but there are monsters here - it feels like the people have left and the monsters have intruded, rather than reality shifted.

The shift between the levels of reality can be triggered by in-game action/inaction (failing a task, finding an item, killing a monster), follow a set time pattern or be randomised (as a wandering monster check, for example).

  1. Snow/ Frost
  2. Rain/ Flood
  3. Ash/ Smoke
  4. Fog/ Mist
  5. Mysterious Gas
  6. Thin atmosphere/ Low air pressure

The Otherworld.

Apparently the native environment of the monsters, and a twisted mirror of the real world (as encountered via the Fogworld). More obviously inhabited than the Fogworld, even if the monsters themselves are no more numerous.

  1. Arctic/ Ice Age
  2. Pelagic/ Abyssal
  3. Industrial - dieselpunk aesthetic
  4. Industrial - steampunk aesthetic
  5. Interior - ossuary/ sepulchre aesthetic
  6. Interior - liminal space/ threatening aura aesthetic

Mythic/ Symbolic Underworld Influence/ Parallel.

Use this as inspiration for locations, puzzles, traps, monsters, plots, lore etc.

Can be for the whole of Noisy Valley, or discrete locations within it.

  1. Yggdrasil
  2. Graeco-Roman Hades
  3. Diyu
  4. Dante's Inferno
  5. Egyptian afterlife
  6. D&D Cosmology (any edition)

Why is this happening?

  1. Purgatory
  2. Alien Experiment
  3. Tainted Hallucination
  4. Manifestation of Occult Practices
  5. Dream/ Nightmare
  6. Breakdown Between Realities

Roll twice.


  • Businesses/ locations named after horror creators.
  • Puzzles/ hazards based around corruption of beloved childhood stories/series.
  • Individual perceived experiences.
  • Be sure your sins will find you out.
  • Electronic interference.
  • Centralia.
  • Ominous/impossible radio/TV transmissions.
  • There was a hole here. It's gone now.
  • Nurses.
  • Selective/sporadic amnesia.
  • Lump of Wood/ Length of Pipe/ Kitchen Knife/ Fire or Wood Axe.
  • People going about their apparently normal business despite everything.
  • There don't seem to be any animals round here.
  • Monstrous dogs.
  • People going off on their own and reappearing apparently unharmed.
  • Machinery/ technology doesn't work, except when it does.
  • Gas masks.
  • Invulnerable or unkillable enemies.
  • Run and hide.
  • Cages.
  • False scares foreshadowing real ones.
  • Sexualised monsters.
  • NPCs that seem to be 'alternative timeline' versions of known characters (family members, close friends, offspring etc).
  • The fear of blood tends to create fear for the flesh.
  • Pripyat.
  • Time and space distortions/ loops.
  • Sirens/ tolling bells.
  • Animate wheelchairs.
  • Is there something in the toilet?
  • Body, occult, psychological and supernatural horror.
  • Death is not the end.

Supplemental Material - Other People's Stuff.

Over at The Goatman's Goblet, there's a selection of generators for small-town J-Horror which could come in useful, no matter the cultural/geographical placement of Noisy Valley. 

Checking out The Bogeyman's Cave most recent post (at time of writing), I found Raven Hill - Tristan's Ravenloft/ Silent Hill setting (they rightly point out the similarities), covering guilty consciences for characters, corrupt traits for the monsters and some guidelines for exploration of the setting.

Tristan even has a set of survival horror house rules for old school (link below Herbert West), with Luck in there as an Ability Score, replacing Wisdom. 

Wealth as an Ability Score is interesting, the modifier giving you more or fewer starting items. 

I also like the way they break down survival horror scenarios into two zones -  The Cabin and The Woods, even if neither has a tree-trunk in sight.

On the more action-oriented side of survival horror (think zombies and slashers), there's a lot of material over at The OSR Library - which also has stuff for Victorian and Colonial period adventures, the Vietnam War, Cthulhu Mythos, and Kolchak the Nightstalker. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Other People's Stuff - FKR Challenge & Monster Horror Show.

CW: nostalgic digression.

I accepted Jim Parkin's Design Challenge over at d66 Classless Kobolds, and it turned out to be a great way to think and make. Link to my attempt - I'm planning use this template in future to put stuff together when I can't yet see the whole of it.

My favourite I've seen so far is this one based on The Terror.

I could see it being turned into a full-on mini-campaign with optional additions from There's Something In The Ice and/or Do Not Let Us Die In The Dark Night Of This Cold Winter. Both of these are system minimal/ system agnostic enough that they're already FKR adjacent.

I've only been dimly aware of FKR up till now, but the system agnosticism strongly appeals to me - as well as the random tables that are part of these world-building exercises. Apparently, this is how Traveller was played BITD - so I'm sorry that I never took a proper look at it in my formative years.

Talking of formative years, FKR also puts me in mind of Monster Horror Show (which I'd love to be able to look at again, but not so much that I'm going to drop £312.17 on it).

I think I paid about 15-20 quid for a copy of Maelstrom the other year, but interest and nostalgia have their limits - and mine is a lot lower than £300.

MHS provides you with rules and monsters and spells and magic items and then says that you don't actually need any of that to run a game - you can use the Absolutely Anything Table instead. Just decide on a difficulty/likelihood for the action/situation and roll the dice - a universal mechanic using d6.

I think it even goes on to say that you don't even need to use the table, just make a judgment. Seems at least FKR adjacent.

IIRC, the included adventure is a werewolf mystery with a dungeon that (a possible false memory, I'll admit) changed depending on whether it was day or night when you went in. It had a large NPC cast, and I think the werewolf's identity was undecided at the start. I remember there being little guidance, but a sense of social space beyond The Dungeon.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Design Challenge: The Barrowmere.

Jim posted this challenge over on the Atelier Hwei discord, so I thought I'd give it a try.

I'm not that familiar with the specifics of free kriegsspiel (genre? method?), but I like the idea in principal - it's a system agnosticism I can really get on board with: here is some of the world/system, now get on with it - you know or learn the genre conventions already, so explore with those in mind.

Even if you're not intending to play it yourself, this is a good exercise for getting your world-building started, and hopefully getting an imagination feedback loop going.

The Barrowmere.

Beyond where the Barrow Downs tumbles down from Sweethouses - summer resort of the wealthy metropolitan, new land breaches the waters of the Great Grey Void like a raft of world-turtles.

Long stripped of danger and treasure, the Downs have not seen so many adventurers, cultists, scholars and speculators in a generation. An archipelago becoming a peninsula, the Barrowmere is a soggy environment thick with mounds and tombs - and the old stories of the Barrow Downs Companies suggests they are brimming with undiscovered treasure, occult secrets and bizarre beasts of ill-rumour.

Daily Events.

  1. Crackdown on unauthorised prospectors by local authorities.
  2. A previously risen section partially submerges.
  3. A previously risen section completely submerges.
  4. New company attempting to muscle in on smaller claims.
  5. Stinking miasma clings to low-lying areas - general sickness and frayed tempers.
  6. Severe storm descends from out on the Great Grey Void.

Stake/Steal A Claim on this...

  1. Collapsed Mound.
  2. Abandoned Excavation.
  3. Abandoned Pumping Station (odds/evens site is wholly or partially flooded).
  4. Unexcavated Mound.
  5. Flooded Tomb.
  6. Spiral Shell Structure.

Spiral Shell Structure.

Odds/evens it's intact/ ruined.

  1. Fallen, buried, flooded.
  2. Fallen, partially buried, flooded - odds/evens.
  3. Fallen, accessible.
  4. Upright, buried, flooded.
  5. Upright, partially buried, flooded - odds/evens.
  6. Upright, accessible.

Accessible means you can get to it on foot - you still need to find a way in.

Mysterious Inhabitants.

  1. Dead Dreamers: ancient, horrible, weird - their Dreaming can affect the Waking world.
  2. Mound People: exist across two dimensions simultaneously - think ours is a hallucination.
  3. Servants of the Orbus/ Orcus: death/demon worshipping cyclopes with shareable beholderkin eyes 
  4. Intelligent/ Social Undead.
  5. Sea Creatures/ Monsters: somehow able to survive out of the depths.
  6. Merfolk: this isn't your claim to stake, it's their home.

Special Fish-out-of-Water Surface Encounters.

  1. Twitching Kraken - the size of a field; surprisingly resilient and adaptable.
  2. Stranded Submarine - not from round here.
  3. Shipwreck - ancient or modern.
  4. Dead/ Dying Whale - poor thing.
  5. The opposite of Deep-Sea Divers - adventurers/prospectors from the undersea realm.
  6. Burst Abyssal Leviathan - over acres; swarming with scavengers; stomach like a collapsed circus tent.


  • Goldrush economics.
  • Unscrupulous predators.
  • Ill-prepared fortune seekers.
  • Well-prepared claim jumpers.
  • No justice without friends or money.
  • Ineffectual or overbearing local authority.
  • Cramped, insanitary conditions.
  • Revived cults/gods.
  • The mighty sea.
  • Going too far.
  • Trespass on the mythic.
  • Emerging and improvised technology.
This is a broadly hostile, unexplored and unregulated dungeon/wilderness frontier for amoral adventurers - sound familiar?

Friday, March 19, 2021

Race-as-Class: Normal Human for Old School.

Jennifer Connelly as Sarah in Labyrinth (1986).
Same as illustrates the original Noncombatant class.

This class owes a massive debt to the Noncombatant BX character class at Against the Wicked City, of which it's largely a recapitulation, with some adjustments. Theirs fits on a page, mine spills over the edges and slops onto the floor.

The Normal Human only exists in opposition/relation to The Adventure and the adventuring classes, and their special abilities will sometimes be neutralised by genre conventions and/or in-game realism.

I've tagged this as 'survival horror' because it's part of a process, but as presented this class might be lighter-hearted than the genre demands. Cut off anything that offends you herein.

Description: A Normal Human, about to cross from the mundane world to the extraordinary. 

Hopefully this is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and you'll make it home. Or you might die.

Attacks: As Normal Human.

Hit Dice: If Strength and Constitution are both 13+, use a d8; if both are 6 or less, use d4. Otherwise, use d6.

Child characters always use d4, no matter how high or low their Ability Scores are. A child character can be up to three individuals, run by the same player - they each get their own HD.

You count as having a full HD against a Fighter's multiple attacks vs. low-level monsters.

Saving Throws: As Normal Human.

XP: As a Thief n/a, you're a Normal Human.

Prime Requisite: Intelligence or Charisma, but you have to randomise - life is unfair. n/a

Armour: Any, but all the Ability Score and encumbrance restrictions, penalties for bulk/weight and fatigue rules for wearing armour that you normally handwave in your game should be applied rigorously. Introduce some if there aren't any, or don't worry about it.

Weapons: Any. You could even be skilled or specialised.

Alignment Restrictions: None.

Special Abilities.

Aging: Between adventures/experiences, your character can Age. They can skip ahead, but not back. 

Children - friends or siblings - can grow apart or remain together, but once they reach adulthood must become characters in their own right.

Adjust Ability Scores (and possibly HD) as appropriate.

Implied Abilities: Roll checks at advantage/with a bonus if they relate to your personal expertise/ experience, and you don't need to roll if it's a routine task.

Really, all characters have these, not just Normal Humans - character class is not necessarily your job, your living, or even your dream. 

Select or randomly generate a suite of possibilities based on failed/previous careers, education, background/backstory, culture, social standing and personal interests. 

Luck: If not already being used as a supplemental Ability Score, Normal Humans possess Luck as a class ability - it can only be used during adventures and has no impact on their mundane life.

Misery/Morale: If you're using this subsystem (or similar), Normal Humans start out with 0 Misery.

Normal Humans can start with 2 Misery if this is appropriate to the character, but it's not mechanically advantageous.

Once per adventure/day, you can choose to reroll a failed Misery/Morale check (or fear save or SAN roll); if you prefer, you can choose to reroll a failed death or mind-control save instead.

Arthur Dent - Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
It's funny because his homeworld was destroyed and it turned out it was just an island of ignorance anyway.

Mostly Harmless/ Not A Threat: As long as you have caused no damage, you are not considered a credible threat and enemies will attack your companions for preference - you are still vulnerable to indirect and area of effect attacks.

You get +4 to your attack and damage rolls, but once you inflict damage you become a credible threat and lose the bonus.

Assist: Narratively, you make a vital (though possibly accidental) contribution to an ally’s attack; mechanically, you roll an extra attack for your ally at +2 to Hit/damage (or with advantage, if you prefer).

This will not make you seem a credible threat, and can be used once per adventure/day.

Duck For Cover: Once per adventure/day, you can turn a hit against you into a miss. You can decide after the roll is made, but before damage is determined.

Joseph Mazello as Tim in Jurassic Park (1993).

Hiding/ Inconspicuous: By staying put and keeping quiet, you are able to hide from pursuit/ avoid discovery. Roll d6, on a 1-2 you avoided the immediate danger and can attempt to move to a new hiding place - otherwise, stay put and put your trust in the dice and the narrative.

Roll again if the searchers persist or attempt to trick you. Three successes in a row means they move on, believing you have escaped or that there was nothing there in the first place. 

Three 'fails' in a row means that they have closed in and have you right where they want you.

Knock Out: Usually done with an improvised weapon close at hand - vase of flowers, bottle of wine, decorative lamp, pot plant, skull, Mother's ashes - which breaks in the process, but can be a weapon or bare hands.

You attack from behind - your target must save or be KO'd for d6 rounds. Ignores helmets, unless that helmet is plot armour.

Can be done because you are stealthy, or because you are Mostly Harmless/ Not A Threat. Normally only possible once per encounter, if you are spotted.

Ashley Laurence as Kirsty in Hellraiser (1987).

Whoa!/ Listen!/ Wait!: +1 Reaction Roll as long as no blood has been shed - not being perceived as a credible threat (so it doesn't work if you are) means you have a better chance of defusing tense situations. Stacks with Charisma.

Works across language and species barriers, but doesn't allow more than very basic communication in this case. Doesn't work on other Normal Humans.

Hold It!: A non-magical command or mass command effect that pauses the actors on the stage long enough to get a dia/monologue going. While it will halt proceedings for a minimum of 1 round, it cannot really be used for anything other than opening communications.

Completely optional because some people have strong opinions about this kind of 4th wall-breaking metagame genre awareness.

In-game characters like Deadpool (ffs) and (my version of) Anthraxus the Decayed are the only ones that will recognise that this is anything other than a natural lull in the action, but it affects them just the same. 

Once per adventure, specifically.

Take The Bullet: Once per encounter, a companion can 'take the bullet' to save you, though they aren't compelled to.

If an attack or effect will take you to 0 hp or less, a companion can suffer the damage instead.

Taken Prisoner/ Left for Dead: If you surrender, you will be taken prisoner by enemies, but your bonds will be loose enough that you can wriggle free in d6 hours.

If taken to 0 hp or otherwise knocked out of combat, you will be left for dead without further confirmation and will come to d6 hours later. 

One or the other, once per adventure, and no guarantee your adventurer companions are treated the same.


You're not an adventurer - you're a Normal Human who's stumbled into another world you did not know existed/ did not acknowledge. You're frequently the only one of your type in an adventuring party, though you may be the figure the party has formed around. 

Most of your special abilities only exist in relation to The Adventure (however that is defined), so cannot be used in your mundane life, and your lack of an advancement scheme means that all you take from an adventure is memories and all you bring is yourself.

When more than one Normal Human PC is involved in an adventure, they must share special abilities. They can cooperate to use them as a unit (if that makes sense in-game), or using an ability closes it off to the other(s) until it refreshes - roll dice, draw cards or rock-paper-scissors for dominance if there's a disagreement. 

  • Luck: shared as a single Ability Score between multiple Normal Humans in a party, but the individuals can use it as they wish - it is only the 'stock' that is communal.
  • Implied Abilities: always belong to the individual.
  • Mostly Harmless/ Not A Threat: the group benefits, but only needs one of them to all lose it. Exception: treat multiple child characters as individuals, even if run as a single character.
  • Take the Bullet: Normal Humans can do this for each other, if they like.
  • Taken Prisoner/ Left For Dead: what happens to one, happens to the others.

Advancement/ Experience.

Normal Humans aren't really meant to advance - to do so would mean they were adventurers in the proper sense - as they're usually just happy to get back home alive.

The original Noncombatant class advances with XP, and gets more uses of certain special abilities, as well as the usual advances for saves, hit points and attacks.

Something like the X System (which also features as the advance system in PARIAH) should work, as it allows for some mechanical growth without making the character too strongly smell of a class. It's a way of advancing like in Call of Cthulhu but without using percentiles.

Or use XP as a kind of currency (my unoriginal suggestion for Basic 1), so the Normal Human can come to a second adventure a little better prepared.


The Everyman/woman and True Innocent classes from Ghastly Affair would also suffice for Normal Human characters, and there wouldn't need to be any competition over special ability use. Strictly speaking, though, they wouldn't be Normal Humans (especially if they are able to gain levels).

The True Innocent, being an archetype from Gothic fiction, is closer in spirit to the Normal Human than the Everyman/woman or Tradesperson (below).

AD&D 2e Ravenloft supplement, The Masque of the Red Death, includes classes as approximations of the Cleric, Fighter, Magic User and Thief for 19th-century Gothic horror adventures. 

The Tradesperson (Thief) class is closest to a Normal Human - again, allowing them to gain levels makes them something other. As an option, all character kits in the ruleset could be options for the Tradesperson - it's not going to upset things significantly.


You probably already get where I'm coming from, but let's hammer it a bit more. These are the kind of people I'm thinking of when I think of Normal Humans. Some of these are more adventurous than the others, and some are going through a funnel*:

  • Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, Poirot (it might actually be their irregular sidekicks who are the Normal Humans, not them).
  • Sarah Williams.
  • Kirsty Cotton, Nancy Thompson, Laurie Strode, Sidney Prescott (not all Final Girls are Normal Humans, and sometimes they're going through a funnel anyway). 
  • Lex and Tim Murphy, the Baudelaire siblings, Newt.
  • Peter aka Sugarbear. 
  • Bilbo and the LOTR Hobbits, though they're going through a funnel to become... Halflings (Sam's a Cleric).
  • Jonathan Harker.
  • Mina Murray/Harker (in Dracula and the earlier League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics - not the film!)
  • Xander Harris, Cordelia Chase, The Wishverse White Hats.
  • Ferdinand Lyle (Penny Dreadful - Sir Malcolm and Victor Frankenstein are edge cases, but could at least be Tradespersons with the Explorer and Physician kit, respectively - or straight Ghastly Affair characters).
  • Mystery Incorporated (Velma and Daphne in particular are edge cases, depending on the iteration).
  • Arthur Dent, most of Dr. Who's Companions.
  • Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley (definitely going through a funnel).
  • Abbot and Costello (I've got an idea that I've seen something like a Bumbling Comedy Duo class somewhere...)
  • Billy Peltzer, Marty McFly.
  • All versions of the Ghostbusters, film and cartoon (though they don't have a mundane life to go back to, unless they quit).
  • The Goonies.
  • Harry Mason, James Sutherland, Heather Mason.
  • You. Me.
*I've not played or read DCC, so hope I'm using this in a way that makes sense.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Steps Away From Doom - Some Survival Horror Mechanisms.

You'll Never Leave.

For some reason, re-reading the 1st edition Monster Manual 2 got me thinking about survival horror - in particular reality-bending Silent Hill-style survival horror (but not exclusively). Even Basic 1 and an incomplete post on combat with Bears and Whales seem to be a strand in this thinking.

I'm pre-supposing low or zero-level characters (older edition D&D and retroclones/ adjacents are sometimes presented as survival horror exemplars), and at least a passing familiarity with the genre (conventions across media). But (eg) Predator, Aliens and Resident Evil tell us there's plenty of room for heavily-armed and experienced characters - they all die the same.

And that's where I'll start: you can play survival horror characters as extremely squishy, but there should to be some kind of plot-armour for them because they need to be able to sustain play - the extremes of survival horror favour the one-shot and the contained scenario, rather than a longer campaign (opinion; you might think differently).

Hit Points.

You do not have many; you certainly don't have enough to go around tackling the survival horror scenario like it was a session of D&D. 

If you want to boost survivability via hit points, you could do worse than consider using hp=CON or the average of STR + CON.  Or temporarily adopt a SIZ (Size) Ability Score from Call of Cthulhu for hp=average of CON & SIZ, rather than favour the Fighter-types.

0 hp or less is Casualty state, rather than death state - hopefully, the monsters will not ravage your recumbent form. Maybe decide on a threshold that means definitely killed by damage. If you're using CoC CON+SIZ/2 then 3 hp is Casualty state/KO, 0 is death.

Another alternative is all monster hits are HTC (hits to concuss/ subdual/ non-lethal damage), except on a crit (or odds/evens for more deadly foes) - in this case, consider making PC attacks non-lethal and only contributing to temporarily driving a monster away.

Death's Door from Darkest Dungeon.

At 0 hp, you're at Death's Dooor and have to make a save vs. death every time you take any more damage. This kinda sorta makes you immune to damage until you die or recover, as long as the dice fall in your favour.

According to the wiki, the base chance of death 33%, which is close enough to 1-2 on a d6 to feel like an old school system-related design choice. But you could also use STR or CON or CHA, or even Luck (see below), or however 5e death saves work (I know they exist - it's just never come up when I've played).

While at Death's Door, you suffer significant penalties. These could be ported straight over from Darkest Dungeon, or something like a Lasting Wound or Death & Dismemberment condition.

Fear/ Misery/ Morale/ Sanity/ Stress.

I've already written a post outlining a Misery/Morale subsystem as an alternative to SAN, and in it made reference to other systems (Mothership, Best Left Buried, Call of Cthulhu, Fighting Fantasy) that could be plugged into another. 

Characters can start out with 0 Misery, assuming they don't have a tortured backstory that has brought them into a survival horror scenario - in which case, treat as common adventurers (2 Misery). Relief/ Suffering might need to be modified for survival horror one-shots, as they were initially intended for on-going play.

I recently saw this post, which uses LotFP (so B/X or any other D&D-adjacent) to play CoC, porting over the d% sanity and magic point spell system directly - so simple that I/we didn't think to do it BITD.

If you're using SAN (or something similar), consider using it as another damage track rather than RAW - some of the 'traps' in survival horror video games are scares rather than save or die. SAN works quite  well as those abstracted hit points representing anything other than flesh, blood and bone.

Heart Attacks from Darkest Dungeon.

If you hit 12 Misery or your FEAR/SAN threshold, why not suffer a heart attack?

You might be entitled to a saving throw, or it might just immediately reduce you to 0 hp - leaving you at Death's Door. It definitely counts as 'more damage' if you are already at Death's Door.

If you survive, your FEAR/Misery/SAN recovers somewhat, but you suffer penalties thereafter - a second heart attack in the same session will probably kill you. But it's not just Dr. Who and Grobbendonk who can survive multiple heart attacks (#BOSR).


Port over pretty much unchanged from Fighting Fantasy/ Troika!. Will also work as a 3d6 Ability Score.

Luck runs out, so follow Fighting Fantasy convention and deplete by 1 each time you check/ save/  test, whether by choice or compulsion - I'm thinking of it here as being a supplement to survivability without directly boosting hit points (it falls into the category of those abstract hit points mentioned above).

Troika! has you recover 2d6 Luck for 8 hours of rest. For a one-shot or time-limited scenario or if you simply want to be more granular, this serves as a starting point for scaling down. 

You can use it as in T&T: roll over (20/25/etc - Luck) on 2d6, keep doubles and roll again. You can use it as in Fighting Fantasy, roll equal or under on 2d6/3d6/even d20. If you're using the roll under method, doubles and triples might indicate more significant failure/success.

It might be that you can spend an extra Luck point to use a relevant Ability Score bonus, or a total of 3 to use an Ability Score penalty as a bonus. I don't know where this leaves average characters - maybe they don't get this opportunity because they're average.

In T&T and Fighting Fantasy, Luck is the primary saving throw and could be used as a reroll for other failed saves - because it costs to roll it, it isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card, but it does shift survival in favour of the PCs while also placing a cost on it.


Survival horror games are also about inventory management, so making Encumbrance/ item slots the hit point alternative or simply making them vulnerable seems to be thematically appropriate.

Damage could either completely remove a slot (you can no longer carry that many items) or reduce slots allowed before suffering penalties.

Death can be at 0 items, or on the next damage suffered. 

I prefer slots to weights, and for a one-shot you could probably go as low as 8 items + 2 weapons (Lone Wolf), 10 items (Fighting Fantasy, Dragon Warriors), 5 items (plucked from nowhere) or 2 (Knightmare, I think).

Can't imagine that this isn't already an established mechanic, but haven't read widely enough to confirm.

Narrative Harm.

Either because you've had your hit points exhausted, or the dice rolls indicate you've been wounded or terrorised, you suffer significant harm - this might be physical, psychological or tied into your capitalised Fate. 

For instance, cannot grip a weapon or crumbling ledge without eye-watering shooting pains; if you see the monster again, you'll reflexively close your eyes and cover your ears; next time, the monster concentrates its malevolence on you. 

Mechanical effects can be decided at conception, introduced as relevant or might not be necessary for more narratively weighted play - you might not be using hit points, or even dice.

Once you've taken harm, reroll your hit points and keep on surviving. Eventually, it will be obvious that you're too damaged not to declare the harm as fatal.

This is a riff on the harm subsystem of Green Dawn Mall by Come Martin

It Was A Dream.

Each time you 'die' or are about to, you wake up and go again. 

This implies a certain type of scenario - the supernatural end of survival horror - and should be integrated into the construction of the adventure. It might be the way you get round certain obstacles or short-circuit certain nefarious plans.

Does everything reset when you wake up? Do things remain as they were when you 'died', or do things get a little more twisted? Has time passed at all? What do you remember?

You Were Already Dead and Now You Know It.

A logical progression of the above, and also a genre staple, but how are you going to handle it?

  • As far you know, it was all a dream but eventually you're going to catch on.
  • You respawn, reincarnate or possess a convenient body. 
  • You are now undead, with the benefits and the drawbacks. 
  • You are shifted into a parallel dimension/otherworld to continue your adventure/suffering. 
  • You are now the spirit guide of those left alive and embodied.
  • You are an unseen, voiceless, disembodied presence, cursed to witness bad decisions and gruesome demises - you may get more company, you might not.
  • You start a new adventure on the edges of the afterlife, possibly moving from survival horror to the Jim Henson watercolour steampunk of 2e AD&D Planescape (but more likely another dimension of horror).
  • Nothing changes.

I Said: You'll Never Leave.