Thursday, January 23, 2014

Elizabeth Sector: a Stars Without Number setting

This sector can easily neighbor any space within the Stars Without Number "After The Scream" default setting.

When I originally ran this game, I envisioned Elizabeth Sector being "north" of the Hydra sector. Not all of it was written up because at the time I assumed I would make up most of it as I went along, but the game in which Elizabeth Sector was created also only lasted three sessions.

The red dots signify an Imperial military outpost is stationed somewhere in the system.
The dot with a ring denotes the presence of a gas giant, good for refueling starships.
The little dotted lines are major trade routes between planets, essentially routes where ships are coming in and out of the system every day.
The thick blue line is the extant of the Empire's claimed space.

0000 Titan XI, Tags: Major Spaceyard, Pretech Cultists
0003 Loh, Tags: Area 51, Seismic Activity
0005 Caeli, Tags: Tyranny, Warlords
0007 Benz (Empire), Tags: Heavy Mining, Psionics Academy
0008 Babel (Empire), Tags: Hatred, Preceptor Archive
0101 Simyst, Tags: Feral World, Xenophobes
0104 Cromwell (Empire), Tags: Seagoing Cities, Forbidden Tech
0105 Stoker (Empire), Tags: Sectarians, Seismic Instability
0108 Berlanga (Empire), Tags: Radioactive World, Local Specialty
0200 Thrasja, Tags: Freak Geology, Abandoned colony
0203 Mand'gol, Tags: Eugenic Cult, Outpost World
0204 Hawking (Empire), Tags: Pilgrimage Site, Colonized Population
0206 Rhodesia (Empire), Tags: Psionics Worship, Pilgrimage Site
0207 Zahteras (Empire), Tags: Feral World, Area 51
0300 Calcitron, Tags: Radioactive World, Xenophiles
0302 Ethoevest, Tags: Pretech Cultists, Freak Weather
0303 Ningxia, Tags: Perimeter Agency, Primitive Aliens
0305 Victoria (Empire), Tags: Major Spaceyard, Tyranny
0306 Elizabeth (Empire Capital), Tags: Exchange Consulate, Heavy Industry, Seat of Government
0307 Churchill (Empire), Tags: Regional Hegemon, Restrictive Laws
0309 Sceptri, Tags: Gold Rush, Cold War
0400 Orteck, Tags: Tyranny, Freak Weather
0402 Jeth, Tags: Psionics Academy, Pilgrimage Site
0404 Darwin (Empire), Tags: Xenophobes, Major Spaceyard
0406 Cedon (Empire), Tags: Trade Hub, Local Tech-energy weapons
0408 Cleese (Empire), Tags: Badlands World, Abandoned colony
0503 Morgan, Tags: Quarantined World, Seismic Instability
0505 New Rhodesia (Empire), Tags: Feral World, Tomb World
0507 Turing (Empire), Tags: Eugenic Cult, Altered humanity
0600 Verona, Tags: Radioactive World, Seismic Instability
0602 Danusdor, Tags: Major Spaceyard, Theocracy
0603 Quen, Tags: Altered humanity, Freak Weather
0605 Arena (Empire), Tags: Oceanic World, Out of Contact
0606 Tyndale (Empire), Tags: Major Spaceyard, Tyranny
0609 Yi Xiu, Tags: Unbraked AI, Eugenic Cult
0700 Orden, Tags: Hostile Biosphere, Warlords
0701 Tantis, Tags: Hostile Space, Secret Masters
0703 Paven, Tags: Desert World, Primitive Aliens
0704 Steed, Tags: Badlands, Freak Geology, Pilgrimage
0708 V'Opon, Tags: Cold War, Tyranny

This closeup shows the only planets I wrote up details for, even though I charted and named about 40 planets in the whole sector. I generated tags for the other planets, but did nothing else. I also borrowed the Law and Starbase levels from classic Traveller.

0305 Victoria (Empire)
Surface Water: 20%
Weather/Climate: Temperate/Normal
Biosphere: Miscible
Population: 6 billion (Tech 4)
Tags: Major Spaceyard, Tyranny
A wealthy agricultural world, Victoria is a small but industrious world. The planetary government allocates the use of industrial resources in order to supply the Empire with its fleet. The people of Victoria dwell in superskyscrapers connected via a network of subways and enclosed elevated trains, known as the Tunnels.
Victoria was the first world to be settled post-Scream by travelers from Elizabeth. The world was sufficiently habitable to allow the colonists to establish a home and spread out to what became the other nearby worlds as their numbers grew. For this reason the people of Victoria have always considered themselves the original and best of the colony worlds.
Victoria produces most of the warships used throughout the Empire. Conditions in Victoria's industrial citis are rather grim, with unrest common among the workers.
Law: Controlled. Many laws exist; most are for the convenience of the state. Only light weaponry may be owned and licenses are required. Broadcast communications and print are regulated.
Starbase: A Class - in orbit
A crossroads of the Empire on par with Elizabeth and Cedon. Hundreds of passngers and cargo containers go through Victoria's space every day. Hundreds of travelers find a temporary home here, either waiting for an interstellar connection, a shipboard job, or just a working passage to Somewhere Else. There are plenty of luxury hotel rooms, but also cheaper hostel space. There are high-end retailers and elegant dining establishments, but also more more varied budget options as well.

0306 Elizabeth (Empire Capital)
Thick, tainted by industrial pollution
Surface Water: 55%
Weather/Climate: Temperate/Normal
Biosphere: Miscible
Population: 9 billion (Tech 5)
Tags: Exchange Consulate, Heavy Industry, Seat of Government
Elizabeth has been the most important world in the sector for the last 500 years, and it prides itself on being an island of decency, consistent economic growth, and the stable seat of galactic government. There is growing unrest in the sector, as the Silence fades more and more worlds with unsavory elements are being adopted into the expanding borders of the Empire. No single world poses a threat to Elizabeth, or the Empire as a whole, but some whisper that it’s only a matter of time before a coalition of independent worlds bands together to stop the inevitable encroachment.
A strong segment of the Galactic Senate is arguing for a wider outreach to the other worlds of the sector, insisting on exploratory missions to revive old drill routes and rediscover the half-legendary stars marked on maps that were current six centuries ago. This “Scout faction” is currently overruled by the dominant “Law faction”, one that wishes to concentrate on internal development and securing harmony on their own world first. Law and government on Elizabeth is reasonably fair and open, but there remain vast gulfs between the poorest and richest on the world. Many of the more impoverished are tempted to seek salvage permits, gaining permission to attempt to loot the ancient sealed villas and bunkers of the pre-Scream wealthy. Many of them never return, claimed by centuries-old automatic defense systems and runaway maltech research that had been kept sealed since the start of the Silence.
Law: Repressive. There are many laws and regulations, taxes are heavy, and weapons are forbidden or restricted. There is strict regulation of home computers, photocopiers, broadcasters and other means of information distribution and access
Starbase: A - in orbit
Hundreds, if not thousands, of passngers and cargo containers go through multiple starbases orbiting Elizabeth every day. Hundreds of travelers find a temporary home here, either waiting for an interstellar connection, a shipboard job, or just a working passage to Somewhere Else. There are plenty of luxury hotel rooms, but also cheaper hostel space. There are high-end retailers and elegant dining establishments, but also more more varied budget options as well.

0406 Cedon (Empire)
Surface Water: 64% (polar ice caps)
Weather/Climate: Temperate/Cold
Biosphere: Miscible
Population: 85 million (Tech 5)
Tags: Trade Hub, Local Tech-energy weapons
Enemies: Unscrupulous monopolist, Offworld industrialist, Thieving dockworker
Friends: Rich tourist, Friendly spaceport urchin
Complications: Faction schemes to seize trade hub, Saboteurs seek to blow up rival's warehouses
Things: Secret blueprints for energy weapon construction, Shipment of offworld goods
Places: Lethal R&D center, Elegant restaurant, Street lined with warehouses
Cedon’s major city is Caroginia, perched along a mountain range that was equipped with powerful antiaircraft and antispacecraft laser cannons installed before the Scream. A few smaller towns are perched along the lower ridges of the mountains. Within the mountains is an ancient military outpost where libraries were once taken from to help rebuild civilization on Cedon. The combination of advanced knowledge and powerful military tech has left Cedon with a culture that exalts education as well as military service.
Cedon is the wealthiest world of the Empire and has become the backbone of the Imperial Fleet. Local tech manufacturers carry lucrative military contracts and most companies pool their fortunes into funding further research and education for their own population, hoping to ensure that they will maintain a monopoly on the technology.
Few locals travel outside of the established cities since the weather can become dangerously cold, and the threat of native predators makes camping difficult. Local custom involves sending criminals into the frozen wastes with nothing more than their clothing, a water bottle and a tent.
Law: Repressive. There are many laws and regulations, strictly enforced, most deal with weapons or taxation, which is heavy and often unfair. Civilian weapons are allowed but must be licensed through Imperial booking stations and may not be carried in public.
Starbase: A - planetside and in orbit
The great crossroads of the Empire, Cedon processed hundreds of passengers and cargo containers every day, usually with a full commercial shipyard. There are several smaller starbases servicing Cedon both in orbit and planetside but the largest and most lucrative port is Twin Crest. Hundreds of travelers find a temporary home here, either waiting for an interstellar connection, a shipboard job, or just a working passage to Somewhere Else.
The transient accommodations are more varied than any smaller port: plenty of luxury hotel rooms, but also more cheap hostel space. The same is true of shopping; there are of course more high-end retailers, but also more, and more varied, goods at the budget shops. It is the shopkeepers' job, after all, to separate travelers from their cash (usually by fair enough means), and the port management, which draws much of its income from concessions, has no wish to discourage them.

0505 New Rhodesia (Empire)
Surface Water: 36%
Weather/Climate: Temperate/Warm
Biosphere: Hybrid
Population: 45 million (Tech 4)
Tags: Feral World, Tomb World
Enemies: Avaricious Scavenger, Decadent Noble, Xenophobic Local
Friends: Aspiring Reformer, Scavenger Fleet Captain, Salvaging Historian
Complications: Horrific Local "Celebrations," Unstable Structures
Things: Wealth accumulated through brutality, Psitech caches, Ancient documents
Places: Ruined hydroponic facility, Crucifixion squares
New Rhodesia is a recent acquisition for the Empire. Only ten years ago slavery was legal, and is likely still practiced in the more rural areas of the planet. The populace is entertained with bloodsports and gladiatorial games, gambling and prostitution is operated by local crime syndicates who make no allusions to being legitimate government agencies with the natives. They have all been slowly forced to reform local customs by associative Imperial forces. The Empire's presence is very thin, but the few Imperial Marines stationed on New Rhodesia have found that police brutality is rarely reported and crime drastically disappears whenever they crucify a local troublemaker in the middle of town.
The Empire has placed a starbase around New Rhodesia with the hopes that increased traffic will help change local customs and bring the citizens of this lost planet around to Imperial rule. In effect it has simply given the local crimelords a jumping point to stretch their tentacles into neighboring star systems.
Law: Very free. Nothing is illegal except higher court crimes, and slavery of course. Use of force or intimidation against citizens is tolerated. Ownership of all but military-grade weapons is unrestricted. Imperial taxes are light, local taxes are another story.
Starbase: C - in orbit
The starbase around New Rhodesia, nicknamed Ekanga for the local warlord who first claimed it as his own, has about 70 landing bays, half of them are currently not equipped with proper berths. Since the Imperials moved in the starbase operates a regular orbital shuttle service to carry crew and passengers to the planet, and vice versa.
Modest but adequate shopping and restaurants, and an overabundance of distracting entertainment, are available for passengers and crews. Conventional ship's stocks are available, and unrefined fuel is always available. Most minor repairs and maintenance can be performed without undue delays. Handling of ordinary container cargo is efficient, though goods requiring very special handling may slow the routine. The unused sections of the starbase offer smuggling opportunities aplenty, and the Imperial Marines are too short staffed to catch everyone and everything that moves around Ekanga.

0605 Arena (Empire)
Surface Water: 82%
Weather/Climate: Humid/Warm
Biosphere: Miscible
Pop: 63 million (Tech 3)
Tags: Oceanic World, Minimal Contact
Enemies: Pirate raider, violent "salvager" gang, Fearful local ruler
Friends: Daredevil fisherman, Hermit, scheming Tribal noble
Complications: regular storms, natives are suscetible to disease
Things: enormous prey fauna, ancient (rusty) equipment, beached submarine
Places: floating city, submerged city, long-lost landing site in swamp
Covered in swamps and bogs, Arena has recently been surveyed and found to be rich in methane. The Empire has begun slowly moving into the Arena system in the hopes of creating several refineries. One starbase already exists but it is lightly manned and doesn't see much traffic except from free traders and ne'er-do-wells from New Rhodesia. The locals of Arena devolved into warring tribes after the Scream, desperate to salvage any material they could from the once great pylon cities which dotted the surface of Arena's oceans and swamps. Many of the cities sunk into the waters but Arena still supports a thriving population clustered in magnificent cities which rise out of swamps and ocean shallows. These pylon cities sometimes rise up to three kilom into the sky. Bubble cities on the ocean floors are present, but few of these are inhabited, and floating raft-cities house many of Arena's nomadic seafarers who follow herds of marine creatures that provide them food. Entrepreneurs and fishermen fill out the best of the communities, but some communities consist mainly of scavengers and pirates. Despite the overwhelming xenophobia from many of the natives, a few enterprising locals eagerly invite offworlders of all backgrounds in the hopes of improving their own lives.
Law: Repressive. The colonial government installed by the Empire has absolute control over the populace. A particularly ruthless governor, confronted with rioting and unrest, once made an example of an entire pylon city by shutting down the life support systems. Over 1,000 people were killed, and the riots ended promptly. The current administration, luckily, is less harsh, and restrictions have been greatly eased. There is still discontent however; local "patriots" have engaged in periodic acts of sabotage and defiance.
Starbase: E Class - planetside. Several platforms embedded in shallow swamps dot the landscape of Arena's surface. Offices (if present) operate landing lights and handle the standard paperwork on transient vessels. Very few of these platforms contain cargo stores or provide sleeping accommodations. The more advanced platforms have facilities for fueling or routine repairs. There are no retail stores or food services. Some platforms temporarily shut down during heavy rains, and a few have even been abandoned leading some locals to use them for unsavory practices. Working stations have 2 to 4 workers, and are constructed with landing platforms so that ships can land directly to release or load cargo.
Starbase: A Class - in orbit. All of the amenities with none of population. This starbase was installed by the Empire in the hopes of processing thousands of passengers and cargo containers every day, but the economy is slow to move into Arena's space. There are varied accommodations and a full support staff for repairs and refueling here, but there is also a heightened security presence since they have fewer people to process through customs.

0704 Steed
Surface Water: 14%
Weather/Climate: Dry Rock/Warm
Biosphere: Hybrid
Population: roughly 1 million (Tech 4)
Tags: Badlands, Freak Geology, Pilgrimage
Enemies: Raiders, Cultist believes its work of aliens, Saboteur devoted to belief
Friends: Native desperate to leave, Naive Imperial pilgrim, Research scientist
Complications: Local plague, radioactivity, lethal weather, seismic activity
Things: Ancient relics, hidden veins of precious minerals, Maltech reasearch docs
Places: ruined city, bizarre geological formation, imposing holy structure
Steed is a largely unvisited world due to an unbreathable atmosphere and a windy, humid climate. Surrounding the inhospitable world is an asteroid field which is considered a dangerous hiding spot for pirates and smugglers looking to cross into Imperial space. The only inhabitants of the planet below are venomous wildlife and a group of cultists (Mothers of the Wind) who venerate the planet, claiming it's a terraformed wonder of an ancient alien race. The Ragged Plain serves as the cult's refuge, an unusual geological formation of over a million perfectly round hills spread over an area more than 40,000 square kilometers around. The Ragged Plain is difficult to land a large ship in, but the cult's insistence that ancient relics and structures can be found on the planet's surface compels curious money-hungry traders into visiting. The planet's only other notable feature is a canyon nearly 900 kilometers long and 15 kilometers deep. Nobody has ever fully explored the canyon due to Steed's corrosive atmosphere forcing any trip to the surface to be a short venture, but adventurous propectors have claimed the canyon holds valuable mineral and metal deposits which would make Steed a very resource rich planet. Several consortia are even now preparing expeditions to investigate the truth of these reports.
Law: Anarchic. There is no Imperial presence here and locals do not impose taxes on visitors.
Starbase: E Class - planetside
The office (if present) operates the landing lights and approach beacon, handles the standard paperwork on transient vessels, stores cargo of Imperial concern (mail, mostly), and provides a place for passengers to wait out of the rain or vacuum.
There are no facilities for fueling or routine servicing of ships. If convenient, the port will be located near a body of water from which properly equipped vessels may draw unrefined fuel. Some emergency parts and supplies are stocked. If there have been several emergency touchdowns recently, the supply may be depleted. This means the crew will simply have to send a message (provided another ship is outbound to carry the message) and wait for the supply ship.
E Class ports have no surfaced or covered berths or hangars; some examples must temporarily shut down operations after a hard rain. Local residents may lease longterm berthing space, but must prepare and maintain any improvements themselves.
There are no retail stores or food service, though the general manager (the person staffing the office) might share his coffee. Directions will be provided to the nearest habitation, along with advice on local customs, law levels, and anything else likely to get the visitor in trouble. There is a minimal office here that operates a landing strip and approach beacon, it provides a place for passengers to wait out of the rain but there are bae facilities for refueling and routine servicing of ships. There are no covered berths or hangars. Local residents may lease longterm berthing space, but these are just temporarily converted warehouses. Major repairs require out-of-system asistance.
The ground base has a single retail store/food service. Directions will be provided to the nearest accommodations, along with advice on local customs, law levels, and anything else likely to get visitors in trouble.
This spaceport is located 48 kilometers south of the only major settlement, a large township called Ansipoca.

What are tags?

The tag system is unique to Stars Without Number. Each world is given one or two tags, and these tags give some generic but informative details of people, places, and things that the planet could feature during a session of play. There are five categories under each tag: Enemies, Friends, Complications, Things, and Places. I really like the tag system, and I wish a few fantasy settings used something similar for detailing cities, wilderness, and dungeon encounters. The city of Waterdeep in the Forgotten Realms could have used a similar system for it's neighborhoods, instead of the ward descriptions and endless NPC write-ups which never really helped.

The beauty of the tag system is that it allows the GM to come up with details on the spot as they need them. For example, the players were on their way to Arena (0605) and in the first session I established that it was mostly covered in water. The "Oceanic World" tag is primarily what I used to describe the place when the players were there dropping off some contraband goods. While looking at the tag, I needed a Place for them to drop the goods and found "floating spaceport" as one of the ideas listed under the tag, since they were dropping off contraband I decided it was an abandoned spaceport. Abandoned because it was built into a shallow swamp that sometimes suffers from tidal shifts that engulf the entire platform, an idea that occurred to me from looking at "seas wracked by regular storms" under Complications. I needed somebody for them to be delivering the contraband to, and the Enemies category seemed more appropriate for smuggling goods into the hands of, I chose "pirate raider" as a suitable candidate and at the last minute decided that the whole exchange would be broken up by the local authorities. It was a quick little scenario that I put together in less than 30 seconds from looking at a few generalized descriptions under a single tag.

Have I mentioned that I really like the tag system?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

recycled thoughts and house rules for Stars Without Number

UPDATE! Hello redditors! I'm putting together a pdf with all of my house rules (and without all of my crazy public musings about rules) and I will link to it at the top of this page as soon as it's done. Thanks for stopping by!

The rules for Stars Without Number are free!

This all started because I wanted to include a way for PCs to get critical hits and that led me to expanding upon the central rules. When I first GMed Stars Without Number I tweaked it slightly to give PCs a little more edge, and to make some of the generic qualities of combat a little more exciting. Being able to critically hit an opponent is a big thing and it's not part of the rules as written. As much as I enjoy the rules, I think older game systems evolved into modern systems because around the table there is a real need to serve the players' basic drive to succeed in heroic and exciting ways. At the time I was GMing my players didn't want to keep playing Stars Without Number, but it still lingers in my mind as one of the superior OSR systems. What follows here is a collection of all of my personal notes and house rules, culled from my old blog:

I have noticed that character disadvantages in multiple game systems have some real failures on designers' parts. GURPS alone has about four or five different variations of "impulsiveness" that when you really examine the rules behind them become quite game-y. The whole point-buy system of character creation lends itself to min/maxing and I'm not fond of it, though I do like giving my players the option to spend points into customizing their characters. I prefer the idea that if you can purchase an advantage it comes with a random disadvantage. Otherwise you can wind up with a character who becomes a walking tank with minimal conflicts during downtime.

I made a listing of the Traits from Fallout and edited them slightly to fit into Stars Without Number, then I went over them and fidgeted with them all a little so nobody would be able to cancel out the negative quality from one trait by selecting another with a more powerful positive effect.


Ripped almost word-for-word from the Fallout Wiki.
Choose one, or roll two randomly (1d12):

1 Bruiser:
A little slower, but a little bigger. You may not hit as quickly, but they will feel it when you do! Your initiative suffers a -4 penalty, but your overall Strength is increased by +2 and you do an additional point of damage with unarmed attacks.

2 Destroyer: The flamethrower that burns twice as bright burns half as long. All of your attacks with weapons are considered critical hits regardless of your roll, but equipment tends to break very easily when you use it as all of your misses with weapons are critical fumbles.

3 Fast Metabolism: Your metabolic rate is twice normal. This means that you are much less resistant to radiation and poison, but your body heals faster. Healing rates are doubled, and recovery times are halved; saving throws against radiation suffer a -3 penalty and poisons are considered one toxicity level higher.

4 Finesse: Your attacks show a lot of finesse. You don't do as much damage, but you hit more often. +1 attack bonus; -1 damage.

5 Gifted: You have more innate abilities than most, so you have not spent as much time honing your skills. +1 to all ability scores; receive one less skill point per level.

6 Good Natured: You studied less-combative skills as you were growing up. Your combat skills suffer significantly, but other skills are substantially improved. +1 to all Culture, Persuade, and Tech/Medical rolls; -3 to all attack rolls.

7 Hair Trigger: By not paying attention to any threats, you can act a lot faster in a turn. This lowers your armor class to just what you are wearing, but you react much faster in a combat turn. +4 to initiative and you always win ties; no Dexterity bonus for defense.

8 Hoarder: You may not be very strong, but somehow you carry more than your fair share of equipment. You gain +3 to encumbrance but -1 to overall strength.

9 Sex Appeal: You've got the "right" stuff that makes you particularly attractive to others. But those who are not amenable to your attractiveness tend to become quite jealous. +2 to Persuade checks and reaction modifiers when appropriate, and -2 when inappropriate.

10 Skilled: Since you spent more time improving your skills than a normal person, you start with better skill levels. The tradeoff is that you do not gain any extra abilities. You may add 3 skill points at 1st level, but do not take an Upgrade at 1st level.

11 Small Frame: You are not quite as big as other people, but that never slowed you down. You can't carry as much and your Encumbrance is -2, but you're more agile with +2 to overall Dexterity.

12 Strong Arm: You swing harder, not better. Your unarmed attacks are very brutal and add +1d4 damage, but lack finesse. You never cause a critical hit with unarmed melee damage.

Character Creation is a step by step process.

It's more important to me that player's define an overall goal for their character, or life's mission, because I can construct adventures around the goal. Character disadvantages, or Setbacks, are also integral to character creation. The player would have to take at least one as the last step. But then, I also wanted to make it something that could be used to improve a character. If somebody wants to start with more money, then they'd take a Setback. If they want to improve one of their abilities by +1, then they'd take a Setback.


A tricky proposition, because they basically will work like Feats and I didn't want to unbalance the rules that are already established here. I didn't want to change the focus of the game, but merely supplement what is already there with a little boost for players and make it a little more cinematic.

When feats were first implemented in 3rd edition D&D, I think the idea might have been to strip away special combat moves from non-warrior classes and introduce a way of customizing combat options for warriors. I don't think it ended up really working, since most times I've played 3rd edition non-warrior PCs still want to trip, bull rush, charge, grapple, and pin their opponents. Also, I've heard of DMs who will construct encounters specifically to foil the combat abilities of a warrior, so somebody whose built their character to fight hordes of orcs and goblins with Great Cleave is going to end up facing off against a lone minotaur or giant most of the time, and in my mind that defeats the point of creating those kinds of characters. Why specialize if you never get to use your specialization?

When looking at my options of what to include, I decided to make two rules for myself:
1) no Upgrades that simply add bonuses to skill checks
2) as few combat-related Upgrades as possible

For inspiration I started with the Fallout wiki again, and constructed a rudimentary set of Upgrades. I managed to avoid combat-related Upgrades until I realized I wanted to put in critical hits. At first I only had three combat-related Upgrades, but as I analyzed the skills that were available I saw a few huge holes within the structure of combat that I really felt could be filled with a few new things. I had a secondary list of skills that were affected by Upgrades and as I transferred skills from one list to the other I ended up with a list of skills that weren't affected by my Upgrades at all. This included all of the versatile skills that are frequently considered "must haves" for a sci-fi setting like Computer, Navigation, Perception, and Stealth. This means nobody can take a single Upgrade which sets their inherent skill at a higher level from the other players who might not select the same Upgrade.

The Tactics and Leadership skills were a headache though.

Mechanically this all ended up working well. The only thing left was to tweak a few of the Upgrades so that some would have requirements that made sense. In most places this was simply having a point in a specific skill that seemed related, but I was keen to give level requirements for the few combat Upgrades I included and still have them be balanced for warrior-types to get them early and have them feel somewhat out of reach for non-warriors. After all of that I reviewed the list of Upgrades that required a skill, then trimmed the requirements from some and left the rest intact.

Finally, I created one class-specific Upgrade for each of the three classes.

Here is a basic summary of each Upgrade (with Prerequisites listed in parenthesis).

Animal Empathy: use Persuade to change the attitude of a wild or domestic animal - affects animals with any level of Intelligence
Assessment: choose a subject and in place of a combat action make a Perception check - succeed and the GM tells you the subject’s total attack bonus without modifiers
Better Criticals: gain a damage bonus of +1d6 every time you score a critical hit (Level 6+)
Chemist: make drugs or chems that last twice as long with a Science/Intelligence roll (Skill: Science 1+)
Demolition Expert: when using explosives of any kind you never critically fumble a roll, and when determining damage roll twice and take the best result (Level 6+)
Die Hard: when hit points are reduced to 0, immediately perform one last action (not movement) before collapsing (Class: Warrior)
Dodger: natural Armor Class is 3 points lower
Eidetic Memory: +2 on checks to remember things, including saving throws against effects that alter or erase memories, no unskilled penalties on Intelligence rolls (Must be taken at 1st level.)
Grim Reaper: killing somebody in combat immediately allows you to move and make another attack (Level 14+)
Healer: doubles the effectiveness of medicine or any kind of medical care you give
Intense Training: raise an ability by a single point - can take this multiple times
Jack-of-All-Trades: use any Profession, Tech, or Vehicle skill without untrained penalties (Class: Expert)
Life Giver: gain an additional Hit Point per level - can take this multiple times
Martial Artist: choose a style - may be selected multiple times, each time a new style is learned - taking any style raises the martial artist's unarmed combat damage to 1d10 (Skill: Combat/Unarmed 1+) ...without going into details, there are five different styles, each style gives two maneuvers which can only be performed by those with the Upgrade
Master Tactician: apply a Tactics skill check bonus to allies using Leadership skill (Skill: Leadership 0+, Tactics 1+)
More Criticals: critical hits occur whenever you exceed your target number to hit by 5, instead of having to exceed your target number by 10 (Level 6+)
Pack Rat: halve the encumbrance rating of all items you carry down to a minimum of 1
Paralyzing Palm: using an Unarmed attack the target must make a Physical Effect saving throw or cannot act for 1d4 rounds (Skill: Combat/Unarmed 1+, Level 6+)
Prone Fighting: suffer no penalties on attack rolls for being prone, and opponents do not gain any bonus to hit with melee attacks while you are prone
Psychic Focus: choose a Psionic power, either targets suffer a -3 penalty to their saving throws against that power, or it costs half as many Psi Points to activate (round up) - can take this more than once, each time it applies to a different power (Class: Psychic)
Silent Running: can use Stealth and suffer no penalties for movement speed or armor worn (Level 8+)
Skilled: gain four skill raises to four different skills that you have at least 0+ in
Smooth Talker: suffer no unskilled penalty for any Charisma-based or social skill checks
Sneak Attack: when hitting surprised or unaware opponents (using Stealth) automatically inflict the maximum possible damage, no roll is necessary - opponents who cannot be surprised are immune (Level 2+)
Stonewall: whenever targeted by an ability that would knock you down, you may resist the knockdown with a successful Physical Effect save
Super Slam: you knock an opponent down to the ground when you inflict half of their Constitution score in damage from a single hit using an unarmed attack
Swift Learner: at each level earn an additional +1 skill point (Int 10+)
Taunt: make a skill check with either Persuade or Tactics, with success the target is shaken and you manage to get something out of them - during combat, use an action and if the target fails a Mental Effect save they are shaken for three rounds (–2 to all attack rolls, checks, and saving throws) - cannot Taunt somebody more than once in a given scene
Toughness: reduces damage you take by 1 point, to a minimum of 1 point (Con 10+)
Track: You can find and follow tracks left by other creatures - lots of modifiers!
Two-Fisted: reduce the penalty for attacking with your primary hand from -4 to -1 and for your off hand from -8 to -2
Wild Talent: choose a Level 1 Psionic power, you have developed a single Psionic ability - it costs 1 point of System Strain to use the power - may only be taken once (cannot be taken by Psychics)

32 Upgrades, or 36 if you count the different styles of Martial Arts, with 12 of them being used purely for combat. I'm leery about more than a third of them being primarily for combat, but I honestly couldn't think of any that I would want to get rid of. It's a pretty good ratio too since the maximum Upgrades a character could earn over their career is 12, and that's only if they make it to 20th level.


The skill system in Stars Without Number is based on 1970s-era Traveller (roll 2d6 usually against a target number of 8, add your skill and ability modifier), but the level and combat system is like a simplified version of 1st edition AD&D (roll d20 and add your class bonus, skill bonus, and opponent's Armor Class to the roll).

While learning the skills from Stars Without Number I only found one thing incongruous, and that is the distinction between Postech and Pretech specialties under the Tech skill. The classifications seemed rather arbitrary and open-ended, and perhaps that was done on purpose to give the GM control over what could fall under those categories of Tech.

Postech: Mechanical and electronic technology developed after the Scream, including almost all of the technology in use on modern frontier worlds.
Pretech: Advanced technology dating from before the Scream, often requiring manufacturing techniques that are no longer available on the frontier.

The definitions rely far too much upon the campaign setting presented within the rulebook and even though it is a very generalized setting, for a while I simply chose to ignore those words while I toyed with the system. Then I find myself confronted with them while I tweaked the skills to fit my custom rules, and found myself forced to remove the two skills associated with them. Instead of simply gutting them entirely, I am choosing to replace them with some specialties that I find more appropriate, and sorely lacking from the skills already available.

Mechanical: This covers propulsion systems for most types of non-starship vehicles, all forms of power plant or engine (steam, gasoline, diesel, fuel cell, etc.), robotics, and automated factories.
Electronic: Any kind of electronic device not covered by the other specialties. This includes most forms of communications technology (radios, satellite uplinks, etc. ), electronic countermeasures, force shields, deflector arrays, sonar and acoustic gear (including underwater equipment), concealable or remote surveillance gear (hidden cameras, wiretaps, etc.) and all forms of audio, film, video and holographic editing equipment.

I was influenced by GURPS to make an electronic/mechanical split. GURPS goes overboard with specializations though, so I thought it was fun being able to look at ALL of these different versions of electronics and be able to umbrella them under one skill.

There is also one weird overlap with starships. If you're attempting to fly stealthily within a star system it's an opposed skill check of Computer vs. Vehicle/Space or Tech/Astronautic, whichever is higher. I personally don't think Vehicle/Space should be used to avoid detection, unless there is something in the space to hide behind or around, which means trying to hide your starship from detection would always come down to a Tech roll. Thinking of the scene in the first episode of Firefly, Wash tries to shut down all of the systems on his ship to avoid detection, but the ship is also perched inside a larger piece of space wreckage. It just makes sense to me that it would always default to Tech/Astronautic unless there's something for the pilot to use as "cover."

Kevin Crawford had this to say:
    "The reason I put in that skill bifurcation was largely to implicitly leave "crazy Terran Mandate tech" as the exclusive domain of characters focused on tech as their main character angle. If you're just dabbling in tech, you're going to go with Tech/Postech, because that's the great majority of what you'll encounter. You'll only go so far as to take Tech/Pretech if it's really your concept that your character is a master of all things sparking and glowy. As a consequence, Tech/Pretech is going to be lower than your character's Postech skills, making Pretech work harder and a more significant test of your character's abilities without requiring special effort from the GM to set it off. As a thematic generalization, you could really replace the two skills with "Tech/Stuff Any Professional Tech Should Be Able To Fix" and "Tech/Stuff Only Elite Wrenchmonkeys Can Handle" and get the same effect. The split you've done between Mechanical and Electronic can work just fine- Traveller does it that way, if I'm remembering right. Still, you might consider just dropping the bifurcation completely, and going with "Tech/Standard" or some such. A character whose concept is "I'm a Space Mechanic" is going to feel obligated to buy both Mechanical and Electronic skills at roughly the same level of competence, and that's going to cost substantially more than the -0 or -1 skill in Tech/Pretech that they might otherwise feel sufficient to signify their tech-awesomeness. Skill points in SWN are very limited, and you might find your tech-concept PCs struggling a bit to keep up both skills at the levels that feel "right" to them. As for the weird overlap in detection, that was a quiet gesture toward "lone pilot" competence. A character with the "I'm a pilot" concept is going to have a very good Vehicle/Space skill, but may only nod toward Tech/Astronautics. I'd rather let the pilot be able to handle that situation without requiring help, for the sake of all those space operas with lone pilots in their trusty fighters. If that's not the genre you want to emulate and you want to play up the necessity of a ship's engineer, then requiring Tech/Astronautics should work fine."
Which all makes sense.
And thus ends my mental dithering over skill checks with Stars Without Number rules.

las drogos

The more I tinkered with Stars Without Number (how many times can I link to it? not enough, it's awesome!), the more my version is turning into a simplified tabletop version of the Fallout 1 video game.

One of the big things that SWN is missing is an easy way to heal. In fact, healing is virtually nonexistent. There are rules for healing while resting, and then the Psychic class has a Biopsionics discipline that can mitigate hit point loss, but otherwise the only piece of equipment that can heal is a medical kit which only increases a doctor or nurse's skill. I've been looking at healing in several games (not just SWN and Fallout) and trying to find a way to give players a balanced way to heal without requiring a Psychic, or science fiction spellcaster. My options are a little limited, but again, Fallout provides an easy solution with drugs. Or "Chems" as they are more often referred to.

I had been ignoring drugs at first but since I included an Upgrade for making drugs last longer, I'm turning my attention to them now. In Fallout 1 drugs had a strong risk-reward mechanic, you could get a huge boost to a skill which would help out in a fight or ease your way through dialogue with an unruly NPC, but you always ran the risk of getting addicted and suffering withdrawal. I remember playing Fallout 1 and always trying to guess if this was a fight that I might need a dose of Psycho to help out with, because I didn't want to take that stuff and suffer the after effects, but I didn't want to die either. Fallout 3 virtually removed withdrawal, or made it so easy to get rid of the addiction that it's almost laughable why you would ever second guess using drugs.

I consider these to be a rough draft for playtesting.

Drugs, or "Chems," are any chemical, medicinal or otherwise, used to cause changes in a person's behavior or biological systems. The effects of drugs "stack" to provide larger bonuses together than either does individually, but this commonly leads to addiction.
Drugs may have simultaneous effects, usually with some kind of balance — it might lower one stat while raising another. The practical upshot of this is that a character can receive an extraordinary bonus to some critically required skill, but some other skill or ability is going to suffer.
Drugs are divided into two groups: addictive, and non-addictive. Abusing most drugs regularly will result in addiction, causing withdrawal symptoms when the chem wears off, resulting in lowered stats unless you continue to take the drug, or seek a restorative cure.

Anti-Tox: A potent and nearly universal antidote for poisons and toxins found on many worlds. Anti-Tox must be injected via syringe or auto-injector, and upon application acts as a Tech/Medical skill check against the poison's Toxicity. Only one application of Anti-Tox can be used effectively during each Interval of a poison. (non-addictive)

Healing Powder: A primitive analgesic paste made with plants, roots and bark. After it is applied 1d6 hit points are restored, but Dexterity suffers by -2 for 1 day. Repeat doses increases the duration of the penalty by 1 extra day. (non-addictive)

Medpak: This item consists of a small syringe filled with a nano-medication and a gauge for measuring the status of the contents. The syringe and the gauge are housed on the back of a patch that wraps around an arm. When exposed to oxygen the nano-medication instantly spoils. It was originally created as a prototype for a more universal medical gel which was never refined. They are plentiful and easy to come by in more civilized areas, although on the outskirts of civilization they can be quite rare and fetch high prices. It takes a full-round to apply a Medpak, the person administering the Medpak can concentrate on nothing else. When the medicine is injected it provides immediate healing of the body's minor wounds, healing 2d4+1 hit points. Crippled limbs and broken bones are not restored with Medpaks. (non-addictive)

Hydros: A flavorless but unpleasant paste which is ingested and begins to take effect almost immediately. Hydros has the amazing effect of being able to keep muscle tissue from atrophying while broken bones heal. This curative agent heals bones faster thus any crippled limb can usually be restored quickly with a generous helping of Hydros. After one dose of Hydros, the healing time for broken bones or crippled limbs are halved (applied after Tech/Medical might reduce the healing time). Hydros leaves the patient in a dreamlike haze while it is in their system and is addictive like morphine. While healing with Hydros, the user's Perception is reduced by -3, movement is cut in half, and they suffer a -2 to Dexterity for the duration of the healing time. Hydros is expensive and debilitating but effective. (addictive)

Null: Null is a highly potent psychopharmaceutical which makes the user temporarily impervious to pain. Null grants the user 16 bonus hit points that are lost first, meaning users suffering less than 16 points of damage will be uninjured when the drug wears off. The effect is immediate upon injection and lasts for one hour. The user suffers no ill effects from taking Null but most packages come with a label warning that the drug is highly addictive and should only be used under extreme conditions. (addictive)

Anti-Rad: An anti-radiation chemical that can significantly reduce the danger of irradiated areas. Anti-Rad is reasonably common and, like most legitimate medicinals, is non-addictive. Members of every starship engine crew should never be without a bottle of Anti-Rad pills! Anti-Rad increases saving throws against radiation by +8 and lasts for 1 full day, but requires an hour before its effects are felt. Taking multiple doses of Anti-Rad doesn’t increase the total resistance (the effects do not stack) nor does it extend the drug's active duration. (non-addictive)

Radpak: An intravenous chemical solution, administered just like a Medpak, that bonds with radiation particles and passes them completely and harmlessly through your system. It cannot be used to reverse radiation poisoning, but instead is meant to be used after being exposed to radiation to rid yourself of it before poisoning sets in or gets worse. It works instantly, preventing Constitution loss from radiation poisoning, but stays in the system for several days (1d4). It has numerous adverse side effects, most notably headaches (-2 Perception), stomach pains (-2 to Initiative), hair loss (very slim chance), and it acts as a potent diuretic. (non-addictive)

Rush: Excelenol is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant that quickens the central nervous system. It is extracted from protein-enhanced insects and administered via an inhaler. The initial euphoric rush which lends the drug its street name rarely lasts more than a minute, but during that time the user is filled with a burst of energy and strength. The user receives +4 to Initiative and +3 to overall Dexterity and Constitution for 1 minute (10 rounds). (addictive)

Crackerjack: An injected drug composed of strange, unknown chemicals of military origin. It comes with its own unique delivery system (administered like a Medpak). Upon injection the effects are immediate and last for 10 rounds, the user gains +4 to Armor Class and +4 to any attack rolls, but any rolls made with Intelligence or Wisdom suffer -3. (addictive)

Bug Juice: An advanced steroid that was popularized by professional athletes and their clandestine use of the drug. The drug is a thin green liquid typically contained in small bottles, but can also be synthesized into swallowable gelcaps. It increases Strength and reflexes, designed specifically to increase a person's deadliness in hand-to-hand combat. Consequently, any combat style whose effectiveness is influenced by Strength reaps a significant benefit from the use of Bug Juice. In those situations where unarmed combat is the law, a quick dose or two of Bug Juice prior to the commencement of hostilities can drastically shift the odds. Unfortunately, Bug Juice is highly addictive and anyone using it more than once is running a severe risk. A person going through Bug Juice withdrawal is in no condition to fight hand-to-hand. After ingesting, it takes 2d6 minutes to take effect but then lasts for 3 hours. It gives the user +4 to Strength and Constitution affecting Encumbrance and Hit Points accordingly, and also bestows +1d6 to melee and unarmed damage. (addictive)

Captivax: Designed to increase memory related functions and speed up other mental processes. These red capsules are a popular party drug, widely appreciated for their effect on creativity. They are, of course, highly addictive. It takes 2d6 minutes for Captivax to take effect but lasts for 3 hours. It gives the user +2 to overall Intelligence, +2 to Perception, and a +4 to Charisma-based rolls. (addictive)

Addiction: Each time a character takes an addictive drug there is a chance he becomes dependent upon the drug. If this happens the character's body (or mind) is in need of a daily dose of the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms which manifest as ability score or attribute penalties. In addition to this daily requirement, the character no longer receives the benefits of taking the drug (or drugs) which he is addicted to. At least, not until he overcomes his withdrawal.
Each drug has a percentage chance of becoming an addiction, multiple uses in the same day increase this percentage regardless of which drug was taken. The GM should roll this secretly and inform the player only of his penalties when acquiring an addiction.
Hydros: +10%, -3 Str/Dex
Null: +30%, -3 Dex/Int
Rush: +25%, -4 Str/Wis/Chr
Crackerjack: +20%, -3 Int/Wis/Chr
Bug Juice: +25%, -2 Str/Dex/Con
Captivax: +15%, -3 Dex/Int/Chr
For example: If a character took a dose of Rush he would have a 25% of becoming addicted to Rush. If he took Rush again in the same day his chance of getting addicted to the second dose would rise to 50%. If later on he applies Hydros to his wounds then the GM would add 10 to his addiction roll and the character would now have a 60% of becoming addicted to Hydros.

I think I can rephrase that last part about addiction better. I'm not sure I'll actually use Crackerjack, I really like the name though!


Physical or mental quirks which impair your character and leave you at a disadvantage. You might acquire Setbacks through the regular course of the game, but characters do not normally start with any Setbacks.
Players may elect to start their characters with a Setback (or several Setbacks) in the interest of making your character more interesting and realistic to role-play. For each Setback you take during character creation you may raise your character's level by one (but receive only half the experience points), start with 1000 more credits, or receive an extra Trait or Upgrade.
When taking a Setback during character creation you must roll 2d6 for it, with a minus 1 modifier to the roll for each Setback after the first. If you get the same Setback twice, take a Setback one slot above your roll. (If you rolled an Injury twice, then your second Setback would actually be an Addiction.) If you receive a Terminally Ill Setback you cannot take any more Setbacks.

2) Terminally Ill
3) Limited Sense
4) Medical Condition
5) Mental Case
6) Injury
7) Addiction
8) Socially Afflicted
9) Sleep Disorder
10) Stomach Upset
11) Butterfingers
12) Space Sickness

Addiction :
You just can't focus on your daily life without indulging some habit you've formed. You have become addicted to some relatively harmful substance (tobacco) or you are severely addicted to some relatively harmless substance (coffee). Either way you suffer mentally when you don't have access to the object of your addiction, and prolonged unavailability makes you irritable and difficult to work with. You may choose the nature of your character's addiction, it might even be a psychological addiction but the effects are the same. You suffer a –1 to all rolls if the substance is not available after 24 hours. If you are forced to go without for another 24 hours then you suffer -3 to Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma until you indulge your addiction. If you go two weeks without the substance all of your affected scores permanently drop by two points, but you're no longer addicted.

Butterfingers : You are physically awkward and tend to make simple mistakes due to poor motor skills. Tech and Vehicle skills cost double the normal points, and skill Raises can never be used to increase them. Additionally, your critical fumbles have a -3 modifier.

Injury : You choose the nature of the injury (war wound, chronic back pain, botched surgery, etc.) but the effects are always the same. Roll Constitution against 10+ once per day. Failing the roll means you wake up with the pain and it might last throughout the rest of the day. While affected by the pain your Dex and Int are reduced by -5 for six hours. After every six hours you can attempt another Constitution roll against 10+ to recover from the pain. Success means you deal with the pain and the negative effects dissipate, but failure means it continues for another six hours. If you fall asleep while suffering from the pain then you do not get any decent rest and lose 1d4 Hit Points the next day as a result of exhaustion. You cannot die from this loss of Hit Points.

Limited Sense : Choose either mild deafness or myopia. Mild deafness will result in -2 to Perception and any hearing-based rolls. Myopia leaves you with a –2 penalty to see or affect things farther away than 15 yards.

Medical Condition : You have an untreatable cardiovascular disease which leaves you susceptible to feeling weak and potentially getting killed. You have a -2 penalty on any roll to remain conscious, avoid death, or resist disease or poison. In addition, your natural healing rate is cut in half (round up) and you lose System Strain at twice the normal level.

Mental Case : Some men carry a darkness inside of them that eats away at their will to live. You suffer from chronic depression and must make a Wisdom check at 8+ every morning to do anything but acquire and consume the minimum necessities for survival. Make this same check whenever you must choose between two or more actions. If you fail you take the path of least resistance. This usually means staying put and doing nothing. If somebody else shows up and demands that you do something with him failing the check means you go along with them out of apathy. On days that you pass the check you're consumed with a mania that forces you to take extreme chances and throw yourself into dangerously risky situations. Whenever you find yourself in a fight you are consumed by a death wish and throw yourself into the fight recklessly.

Sleep Disorder : You suffer from chronic insomnia and when the GM declares you must make a Constitution roll against 9+ to fall asleep easily. If you fail you lose sleep that night and the next day your Strength and Dexterity are reduced by four points (this doesn't affect Encumbrance). The insomnia continues until you succeed at the nightly Constitution roll. The GM secretly rolls 1d10 to determine how many days pass before you suffer from insomnia again. Whenever you have a traumatic experience the GM can require a Constitution roll to begin another episode of insomnia. Additionally, when you do manage to fall asleep you tend to be difficult to wake and subtract -2 to attempts to wake up.

Socially Afflicted : There is something about that is distasteful to others. You might be lacking in manners, impulsively blurt out your thoughts, completely oblivious to jests, or simply ugly as sin. Most of the time people get a bad impression from you, subtract 3 from all reaction rolls made against you or a group you are with. In addition to being disagreeable, you have difficulty communicating with others and have -2 to Instructor, Persuade, and any other social skill that might require you to be convincing.

Space Sickness : You suffer from "zero-gravity maladjustment syndrome," or space sickness. You are miserable in free fall, micro- and zero-gravity. You can never adapt to such environments and suffer -2 to all rolls and Armor Class. As well, roll Constitution against 8+ and if you fail you vomit, which is problematic if you're wearing a vacc suit.

Stomach Upset : You have a chronic gastrointestinal disorder which leaves you vigilant about what you consume or else suffer eventual starvation. You have a special diet that needs to be adhered to and your body will slowly consume itself if you don't receive the nutrients you require. You may choose what kind of diet restrictions the character has (vegan, all fruit, raw meat, etc.) and if for some reason you're unable to comply to the diet you begin to suffer the effects of starvation.

Terminally Ill : Your character is not long for this world. At the beginning of every session you must make a Physical Effect or Luck saving throw, your choice. If you fail you suffer a -4 to all rolls for the rest of that session. A failed roll also means you must make an Athletics/Con roll at 8+ (ignore the -4 penalty) or else they permanently lose 1 Hit Point. If this reduces you to 0 Hit Points, your character has died.

New Weapon: Flamethrower

Damage 2d6, Range 3 meter cone or 6 meter line, Magazine 50, Encumbrance 4
When spraying an area no attack roll is necessary. Instead everyone in the area must make an Evasion or Luck save to avoid damage. When set to shoot a stream of flame an attack roll is made as normal. Anyone hit by the flamethrower is set on fire and takes an additional 1d6 damage per round afterward, unless they spend their entire turn extinguishing the flames. Firing the weapon in two consecutive rounds overheats it, preventing it from being fired for one round. Reloading takes two rounds.

Finally, odds & ends

Skill Points: Each class doubles their skill points per level.
(If you do the math, a Warrior or Psychic will have to spend all of their skill points in one skill just to keep it at it's maximum level. Only at 10th level do they finally get a "spare" point to spend elsewhere. Most players want to have more range than one specialization, so I'm giving it to them.)

Ability Score Modifiers: I give a slightly different breakdown, as seen in the table on the right.
(I felt the range was too limited, and I just think there should be something special for having a 3 or 18 in an ability.)

Training Costs for Skills: Waived at 2nd and 3rd level. Characters are assumed to have been training beforehand. At 4th level and beyond money and time must be spent to raise skills.
(This is just a personal preference. Especially with new players, nobody likes to feel that they managed to survive to a higher level and then suddenly get hit with having to spend money.)

Lazarus Patch: All 1st level characters start with one at no cost.

Combat: Players don't like keeping track of their enemies' Armor Class, so I just give them a target number to hit that is lower than 20 based on the AC of whoever they're fighting. It's kind of like THAC0 in that respect, though I believe the correct name for what I'm doing would have to be THAC20
(I would like to change it to an ascending Armor Class system, but I'm being lazy and I'm also worried that I've changed too much already. Also, I let people make called shots and critical hits, and I kept a copy of GURPS 4e handy to use tables from that.)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

the Dwarves of Kcaltsim and Grethwrav

Click on the images to make them bigger.

Dwarves are found in the northern plains, deserts and wilds surrounding the Kcaltsim mountains. They are a short but tough race, standing about four-and-a-half feet tall, stocky and muscular. They have light gray skin and dark eyes, usually hazel or brown colored. Both males and females typically shave their heads bald though the men will grow out thick black beards. They are a long-lived race, surviving for two or three centuries.

They were once subterranean, but have mostly abandoned the caves of their homeland. They are known for their hunting rituals, strong agrarian traditions, and beautiful craftsmanship. Those Dwarves who are not farmers or hunters have great proficiency with metalcrafting or woodworking. Rarely seen outside of the lands surrounding the Kcaltsim mountains, those that do travel are usually solitary and keep to themselves. When they travel with others, they hire their services out in exchange for protection or have enough coin to outfit their caravan with the best mercenaries silver can buy.

Dwarves have an animistic view of the world and believe that hunting an animal is a sacred blessing, not a birthright. If a Dwarf can hunt and kill an animal then they are considered that animal's equal. If a Dwarf can stalk and catch an animal with their bare hands then they are considered that animal's superior. The leadership of the Dwarves is based on this tradition of receiving a title from hunting. Those who cannot hunt become farmers. While farmers make up a lower caste of Dwarven society, they are regarded as an essential part of the community and Dwarves have many feast days to celebrate the bounties of harvest.

Dwarves use a form of rune magic that they developed when they still lived underground, it is used to mold and enhance stone and metal work, but also to protect locations and people. They do not rely on the magic since the runes fade after a period of time. Wild Weargs and wolf packs live throughout the Kcaltsim mountains, and can be seen living among every Dwarf community. Dwarves have an innate telepathic bond with Weargs and rarely travel unaccompanied by one. Visitors that have proven themselves friends to the Dwarves have been known to report being guided to oasises of water or food by Wearg packs.

There are also Dwarves living on the Grethwrav Peninsula, the Svarth. These Dwarves still live in underground complexes in the mountains of the peninsula. They look exactly like their northern cousins but have luminescent red colored eyes. The southern Dwarves, the Svarth, are adept magicians and do not appear to age, they credit their immortality to a deity who they regard as the only god worthy of their worship. Calling him by name is considered blasphemy, when they speak of him they call him the Sleeping Lord. Amongst the Chiryƍ, Nymeniens and Noblei, he is called the Sleeping Bastard.

The Sleeping Lord has given many gifts of power and magic to the Svarth of the Grethwrav Peninsula, and in exchange demands complete servitude from them, but rarely appears before them or intercedes into their lives. The Grethwrav Dwarves use a magic given to them by the Sleeping Lord that is powered by blood and pain, not necessarily the caster's. With this they have developed a soul harnessing ability, and they can steal souls from fallen enemies and use the pain of those trapped souls to power magical items.

A rumor about these Svarth is that the Sleeping Lord also made them unnaturally immortal. In the same time period as the Collapse of the Wuunrlan cities, the Sleeping Lord blessed (or cursed) the southern Dwarves who worshiped him so that when they die as long as their bodies are not utterly destroyed they are returned to life one night later. Most of the Svarth from the Grethwrav Peninsula no longer age or sleep or eat. They never volunteer information about this and treat it very secretly, but accept it as the way they are.

Monday, January 20, 2014

the Aurymites

Click on the pictures to make them bigger.

Aurymites are hairless, standing between seven and nine feet tall, and have massively muscular bodies with golden skin, silvery metallic eyes and wide mouths. Their eyes grow darker as they get older, and Aurymites that manage to live into an elderly age have irises that are almost completely black. An all-female race, it is not understood how they reproduce but when they do become pregnant they gestate for a few months before commonly giving birth to twins or triplets, sometimes more. Despite the Aurymites' lanky height and widely muscular bodies they're an extremely agile race that can contort their bodies through thin gaps and claustrophobic spaces.

They speak vaguely or remain quiet when dealing with other races. Aurymites are not very emotional and are considered humorless, as hired mercenaries they are known to be rigidly disciplined. Normally they are all strict vegetarians, and they only eat meat if there is nothing else available to consume, some Aurymites would rather eat grass and leaves than eat the flesh of any animal. They can seem capricious and woe to those who carelessly offend an Aurymite's honor, as they can become suddenly and brutally violent with no warning. Fights between Aurymites are frequently to the death and blood feuds between Aurymites can last for generations, but fights between individual Aurymites are rare. Aurymites follow a code of honor that has specific rules for engaging in violence, those that do not follow the code are thought of as filthy or untrustworthy. Lies, deliberate insults, and thievery are all things that Aurymites have been known to kill over with little hesitation.

Aurymites were once part of a wealthy kingdom in the western isles that has now dissolved into anarchic conclaves, the lineage of the old kingdom remains and loyalists still follow their Queen. Aurymites who no longer follow the monarchy are considered traitors, and very few attempt to return to their homeland as there is a strong schism of hatred between the declining loyalists and growing freeborn nomads. Many Aurymites perished during the upheaval of their old kingdom and many now travel in nomadic packs, though some have settled amongst the cities of the Dwarf and Junian peoples.

Giving a hired person acclaim is common among them, they regard employers or patrons who don't personally respect them as individuals as dishonorable. Forgetting a person's name when you have spent time with them is also considered a grave offense. However, they believe that indentured servitude can be used to pay debts as long as the paymaster is fair. An Aurymite who is known to have turned their back on honor is likely to be killed amongst their own kind, even the freeborn, thus a solitary Aurymite is always to be feared and respected. Or both.

Aurymites were at one time regarded as profound philosophers and masterful healers, but the collapse of their society has led many of them to live out their lives as hunters or thieves. They still spend their leisure time philosophizing, and they enjoy debating politics and ethics though few non-Aurymites are willing to engage them. Despite their brutal reputation, Aurymites are very respectful and cordial. Disagreements and arguments are common, but as long as insults are not exchanged they can walk away as equals. Their healing abilities are well renowned, though they have never been known to share the secret with non-Aurymites.

Monday, January 13, 2014

How to cast a spell

When I was GMing 2nd and 3rd edition D&D I had this houserule that wizards didn't have to memorize spells every day but they did have to roll a skill to cast a spell. In 2nd edition it was a proficiency and in 3rd edition it was a skill, but both were called Spellcraft.

At first it was just a simple roll to see if the spell went off, a wizard PC would roll a d20 and add their Intelligence modifier. I rated the level of the spell as the difficulty, added to 10, so a 1st level spell needed an 11 or higher to cast and a 19th level spell needed a 19 or higher. Fail the roll and the spell fails, but you didn't spend the spell slot either.

During 3rd edition, I changed it to be more similar to combat. Casting a spell had a DC of 20 and the PC could add both their Spellcraft skill and their Intelligence modifier to their roll. Failing a roll still meant the spell didn't go off and you just had to try again.

I only ever had one player walk out of a game because of this houserule because anybody who played for more than one session learned about my other two houserules for wizards.

#2: Spell slots were directly translated to spell levels and could be spent like points to cast spells, so a 5th level wizard would have 10 spell levels to cast spells with while a rules-as-written 5th level wizard would have three 1st, two 2nd, and one 3rd level spell slots.

#3: Wizards could cast any level of spell as long as they had learned it and had enough spell levels to cast it, during 3rd edition days the DC for learning was based on spell level but during 2nd edition days it was a percentage roll based off Intelligence.

I forget how I adjusted 0-level spells, but players rarely used them anyway.

All of these together made wizards a lot more powerful earlier on, and it also freed the typical wizard player from focusing all of their time on strategizing their spell lists. Something else happened, during later sessions other PCs started thinking about picking up a level or two in wizard. Which made me start thinking "why do I even need a wizard class? couldn't I just let anybody with Spellcraft attempt to cast a spell?" But then I stopped GMing and sat on the player's side of the screen for the next decade or so.

Enter: World of Darkness

When I returned to GMing a longer campaign I attempted to splice my favorite setting of Birthright into the rules of World of Darkness. Instead of using the Mage rules straight from the book, I picked apart spells and applied them to the D&D tropes of spells. I had a short list of available spells that were detailed from top to bottom. And all of that was a mistake. Often my players cast spells expecting them to work just like their D&D counterparts, even though I wasn't trying to emulate them exactly but marry them to the low magic and gritty feel I was going for, or they simply forgot they had the spells.
World of Darkness combat is also a slog so many optional and house rules were introduced, but this is a different subject for another time.

Enter: Dungeon Crawl Classics

I really enjoy this system. It feeds the nostalgia of my days playing and learning the rules of 1st edition AD&D, but it's rules-light emphasis with 3rd edition mechanics means it is also very easy to learn and utilize and build upon. It's also a system that requires a wizard to roll a d20 to cast their spell. The only thing I didn't like about it was that the spells were sometimes written across 3 or 4 pages. Half of the rulebook is literally the spells many varied results, and I couldn't help but feel there is a way to simplify them, or there should be.

Enter: Apocalypse World

We played a short campaign of this and it changed the way I view role-playing games. The mechanics of the partial success are simple and evocative and can apply to anything. But the rulebook offers ideas for applying them to your favorite game. From page 279
Magic User: Cast a spell (intelligence)
Arcane magic comes from the use of formulae, ritual, and the magic user’s own life force.
Roll 7–9: Player chooses 1
Roll 10+: Player chooses 2
• the spell is not forgotten
• the spell has a powerful effect (maximize dice)
• the spell has a large effect (double range, duration, or number
• the spell does not misfire

The implication being that if you roll a 10+ and choose for the spell to have a powerful effect and it doesn't misfire, that the spell also doesn't have a large effect and you forget the spell.

Enter: OSR influences

In a low magic, dark fantasy setting, where I want ability to take precedence in defining characters, how do I apply these lessons to make spellcasting costly but powerful and evocative of old school randomness but simple to use without charts or levels?

Blood magic. Power the spell with your blood or somebody else's, roll 2d6 and add Magic.
Roll 12+: success
Roll 8-11: success, but choose 1
Miss: all 3 are true
• the spell is lost until you rest
• suffer a cumulative -1 to Magic until you rest
• the spell fails or is cast and misfires, Oracle's call

Allows the caster to know all of the magical properties of a touched magical item.
Cost: 1 hit point, +1 hit point for +1 to Magic roll

Turns the caster invisible to sight until they interact physically with another object or person.
Cost: 2 hit points, +1 hit point for +1 to Magic roll, +2 hit points for the invisibility to last until dismissed (or loss of consciousness)

A magical energy bolt flies from the caster's hand and hits another living target, causing 1d6 magical damage.
Cost: 3 hit points, +1 hit point for +1 to Magic roll, +1 hit point for +1 damage, +3 hit points for +1d6 damage

Instantly transports caster to a location they have been to before.
Cost: 4 hit points, +1 hit point for +1 to Magic roll, +4 hit points to bring another living creature and what it's carrying

Rune magic. Take the time to draw the rune with the appropriate ink, roll 2d6 and add Magic.
Roll 12+: success, choose none
Roll 8-11: success, but choose 1
Miss: all 3 are true
• working carefully, it takes twice as long to draw the rune
• your work is sloppy, use twice as much ink to draw the rune
• the rune is drawn wrong, it either works strangely or it works in a very bad way

A typical vial of ink holds 4 uses. A typical bottle of ink holds 12 uses. An entire jug would hold 36 uses.

When another living creature steps over, or passes by, this rune the caster instantly knows.
Cost: 5 minutes and 1 use of ink

When this rune is activated by a Trigger rune it makes a loud noise, determined by the writing of the rune.
Cost: 5 minutes and 1 use of ink, +10 minutes and +1 use of ink for the sound to come from somewhere other than the rune, +5 minutes and 1 use of ink to designate a person to hear the sound regardless of distance from the rune

Wall of Fire
This rune creates a wall of flames that does 1d12 damage per round. These flames must be set by a Trigger and last indefinitely or until the rune is broken, unless another Trigger is applied to cease the flames.
Cost: 4 hours and 6 uses of ink, +4 hours and 6 uses of ink for +1d12 damage per round

Protection from Heat
This rune protects the object it is written on from fire, flame, and heat. Completely.
Cost: 10 hours and 20 uses of ink

Tattooing a rune onto somebody's body always adds +4 hours and +8 uses of ink to the Cost.

These are just ideas at the moment. I'm going to flesh out Blood Magic a bit more and make it less D&D-y, but I wanted to work out how some spells I know would work in such a system before I start making really unique pain-worshiping blood throwers.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

the Masadhi

The Masadhi are a secretive race, whose homeland is as much of a mystery as their innate powers of prophecy. They often sell their services predicting the weather, the gender or birthday of a child still in its mother's womb, or even how a market will fluctuate in price, but tend to avoid dispensing prophesies about deaths or the manner of those deaths. Most do not like using their ability to prophesy since many non-Masadhi want to know things that cannot be predicted, they ritualistically insist to non-Masadhi that they would be better off if the future was not known. The Masadhi cannot predict wars, murder, theft, or other crimes (or they simply refuse to), but they can see the natural causes of death like aging, illness, and disease. Their prophesies are mutable and with the proper knowledge can sometimes be prevented or changed. Masadhi insist that their powers are not magical or divine and they "simply see the world as it is." They are also extremely intelligent, and are often sought out by powerful rulers and wealthy merchants as consultants and advisors.

They have short, misshapen bodies which they conceal under heavy cloaks that resemble heaps of scrap cloth stitched together. It is thought that their skin is pale, almost white, but some claim they possibly dye or tattoo their skin and that it is actually black as pitch. Masadhi consider it offensive for a non-Masadhi to view their skin and those non-Masadhi who seek the view are regarded as vile. Their reflective yellow eyes are noticeably distinct, and often this is the only part of their bodies that others can see. If Masadhi regard having their naked skin seen by non-Masadhi as disgusting then being touched by a non-Masadhi is ten times worse. Masadhi will justify killing someone who touches them, or tries to uncover their skin. Many a foolish drunk has tried to rip the robe off of a lone Masad passing by on the street only to have been knifed for his attempt.

They live as nomads and do not enjoy staying in one locale for too long. Masadhi are known to complain about most everything, and some say that they are so disagreeable because they simply do not feel safe. They rarely travel alone, most commonly traveling with one other Masadhi or sometimes with three, five, or seven others. Masadhi always refer to their kinsmen as their family. Nobody knows how long a Masad lives for, but some of them claim to remember things from over a century passed. It is rumored that the only way a Masad can reproduce is with the help of six other Masadhi, but the only certain fact about them is that nobody has ever seen Masadhi children.

Occasionally a lone Masad will travel with trusted non-Masadhi, but only if it suits their need to avoid living in one place. Some Masadhi settle in towns or cities, but never for more than a year or two. They are renowned for building their own temples and shrines, despite the fact that they don't worship any deities. Their temples and shrines act as symbols of refuge for other traveling Masadhi, and it is unheard of for Masadhi to sleep elsewhere if one of their shrines is vacant. Masadhi do not refer to these buildings in a spiritual or religious manner, but accept that others do and enjoy the respect that is afforded to their dwellings.

Monday, January 6, 2014

OSR comparison / review

[CORRECTION]: My initial math for Cyril's chances to hit were faulty for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. This has been corrected in the text.

I wanted to see exactly how some OSR games differed in rules and mechanics, and rather than try to write down how the mechanics differed from book to book I decided that I would make the same character in each system to see how they stacked up. These six systems lend themselves to this comparison rather easily because they all include the same basic six attributes during the first step of character creation, and the first step is described in each as rolling 3d6 and keeping them in the order they were rolled. The systems are:

Adventurer Conqueror King system (ACKS): Provides an epic fantasy game with an old school atmosphere. The big feature touted on the back cover is that characters can eventually move into the worlds of politics, finance, and leadership.
"Will you survive the perils of war and dark magic to claim a throne? Or will you meet your fate in a forgotten ruin beyond the ken of men?"

Adventures Dark and Deep (ADaD): Builds off of 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and imagines what the 2nd edition had been like under a different authorship.
"What if Gary Gygax had not left TSR in 1985, and had been allowed to continue developing the world's most famous fantasy role-playing game?"

Castles & Crusades (C&C): Uses a rules-lite and backwards-compatible approach to deliver a game written as a love letter to the nostalgia of discovering Dungeons & Dragons for the first time.
"A Game That Is Yours To Command"

Labyrinth Lord (LL): An emulation of basic D&D using a few modern touches in a slim book.
"Back to the Basics of Fantasy Roleplaying"

Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP): An often horrific re-write of old school D&D that has become infamous for both it's brutally unforgiving rules, and it's violently graphic artwork. File this one under: dark fantasy.
"Weird Fantasy Role-Playing. Mystery and Imagination. Adventure and Death."

Swords & Wizardry (S&W): An emulation of D&D that emphasizes and fixates on the sword & sorcery epics of the quintessentially influential Appendix N.
"Light your torches, don your helmets, and ready your spells..."

Keep in mind, I am not including optional rules or alternate methods of playing outlined in these rulebooks, the comparison of systems is strictly by their "official" rules as written. Apart from this, keeping the same scores I rolled for all six characters and thus making the exact same character in each game is the only rule I'm following.

Some of these games arrange the ability scores in differing orders, but the ability scores are still the same. I learned AD&D with the 2nd edition rules, which arranges the scores from top to bottom as Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom then Charisma, so that's the order I'm rolling them. I get a 5, 11, 12, 10, 13, and 7
Not the best.

Exceptions: LotFP allows you to swap one score with another in order to get a high ability score to play the character you want. None of the other systems allows for this. LotFP also allows the player to reroll all of the scores if the total modifiers added together are below zero. My rolls qualify, but the other games wouldn't allow this so I'm going to keep the scores as they are.

With 13 Wisdom being my highest stat, I've got a cleric. If the game allows for race selection outside of class than I'll also make this guy human to keep it simple. I've decided to name this guy Cyril.

Here's where the first real differences come into focus. Each system has a very different method for determining clerical spells, there are a few similarities but mostly different. Right out of the gate C&C is emulating 3rd edition D&D a lot more than 1st edition. What I find very interesting about this character is that every single system uses a different means or level of potency for Turning Undead, a staple of clerical magic.

                    ACKS           ADaD              C&C               LL            LotFP            S&W
 # of spells      no            one 1st        three 0-level     one 1st       one 1st            no
at 1st level    spells     + WIS bonus         one 1st                                               spells

  Turning        1d20             1d20              1d20              2d6             2d6             2d10
  Undead      to 4 HD      to 5 "types"     WIS check        to 3 HD   requires spell    to 5 HD

I'm surprised how little variation there is amongst some of these systems. The Saving Throw categories are identical between LL, LotFP and ACKS, and the starting numbers for a 1st-level cleric jump around quite a bit, yet retain very similar quantities. Even ability score bonuses and what is doled out with the different modifiers is virtually identical between different rule sets. S&W seems to be the clearest and simplest system to get acquainted with, even the character sheet evokes a minimalist style.

The next major difference I find is with carrying capacity and encumbrance, each game makes a different system out of it and I am beginning to think this is where you can see how each designer thinks the game should operate. Before I get into the meat of how encumbrance works, first I must have some basic equipment.

Though each game seems to have unique rules for monetary exchange rates, starting money for a cleric always seems to be 3d6x10 coins, except for C&C (2d10x10) and LL (3d8x10). For my own personal taste, I never like my characters to be encumbered so depending on the system I would choose different armor.
However, we don't have time for rational thought!
This is a comparison of how each system stacks up with an identical character, so without rolling for money I'm simply going to give my cleric Leather Armor and a Shield. Some systems use a descending Armor Class system, while others use ascending numbers, I've marked these by showing what the AC would be for leather armor first and then with shield second. I find it interesting that only two of these systems are identical.

                        ACKS       ADaD+      C&C+     LL      LotFP      S&W
Armor Class        2/3          8/7        12/13     8/7      14/15*      7/6**
Warhammer      d6/d8     d4+1/d4       d8        d6         d8        d4+1
Total Cost  
       35gp        14gp       21gp      23gp      55sp      21gp

* shields in LotFP give an extra +1 to AC vs missile attacks
+ these systems only allow shields to be employed against a certain number of attacks per round
** S&W gives both descending and ascending AC values, but ascending is an optional rule so I used the descending values

"This is all very good, but what do those Armor Class values really mean?"
A fair question, and could be adequately illustrated by explaining how Cyril might attack an exact replica of himself in each system. Cyril only wears Leather and carries a shield, but he's also a weakling, so each roll is going to come packaged with extra penalties.
In ACKS characters have Attack Throw numbers which vary based on class and level. A 1st-level Cleric has an Attack Throw of 10+ so with Cyril's -2 to hit and his AC of 3 he would need to roll a 15 or higher to hit his duplicate. That's a 30% chance of success.
C&C is one of the newer, simpler systems that uses ascending Armor Class, and it's basically right there. AC 13 with -2 Strength, Cyril needs a 15 to hit here too.
ADaD, LL, and S&W all use a descending Armor Class system and rather than keeping things simple the rules replicate the old combat matrix of 1st edition AD&D in varying levels of complexity. In ADaD you have to consult two different tables to learn what your base chance to hit is before you can start applying modifiers. Interestingly, Cyril only needs a 13 to hit his clone in Labyrinth Lord, but otherwise there's a lot of chart searching to find that Cyril still needs a 15 to hit his doppleganger.
Back to ascending Armor Class in LotFP, and that makes this simple because the number he needs to roll iS RIGHT THERE! But the (slight) brutality of LotFP is also revealed, Cyril needs a 16 or higher to hit his replicant in this system (25% chance of hitting is still less than 30%).

I should point out that both Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry have little tracks on their character sheets to help the player track what they need to roll in order to hit different values of Armor Class. Which is nice and thoughtful but I'm starting to be really confused as to why people like to make this more complex. Looking at these systems side by side it's hard for me to comprehend why gamers embrace these hurdles in the rules since it only serves to slow down the game for people who don't want to to do the math and it alienates new players who might be turned off by rules that don't make sense. (speaking from experience in both cases)

Back to equipment! Cyril's going to want a backpack, a bedroll, 10 torches, 10 days worth of rations, 50 feet of rope, one flask of oil, and a holy symbol, preferably made of silver. Pretty standard fare for a dungeon delver, not overly prepared but definitely not an amateur either. I'm ignoring the actual costs but limiting myself to purchasing the cheapest items when price differentials are available. With a 5 Strength I'm going to have an encumbered character in some of these systems, if not all of them. Let's explore these rules in each system individually, since a side by side comparison wouldn't reveal the intricacies of each difference. These examples will include both the money spent and the weight of the weapons and armor listed above.

ACKS: Weight and encumbrance is measured by stones which is roughly 10 lbs. (4.5 kg) but is left purposefully vague. Various items and objects relate to this stone measurement. A thousand coins weigh one stone; armor doesn't have weight, but every point of Armor Class that a suit gives your character counts as one stone; every six items carried counts as one stone, unless they are large or unusually heavy. A character can carry about 20 stone modified by their Strength.
Poor old Cyril can only carry 18 stone, but after spending 65 gold and 5 silver he's only carrying 7 stone (about 70 lbs).

ADaD: The total encumbrance of a character is equal to the character's weight adjusted by a special modifier under Strength, which makes figuring it out simple enough but weight is randomly determined and stats don't play any role in it. Finding the page, I roll and get 176. With Cyril's Strength penalty he can only carry 151. This system limits how much can be put into backpacks and sacks, so in order to carry everything Cyril will have to purchase an extra small pouch. It doesn't matter much because all of that gear weighs less than half that.
After spending 66 gold, 22 silver and 15 copper, Cyril is carrying 72.7 lbs of gear.

C&C: They try to simplify things by giving every character an Encumbrance Rating (ER) and equipment has both weight and Encumbrance Values (EV). I'm not sure why weight is listed unless the authors wanted the reader to have a frame of reference for using ER and EV. If the total EV of all of your equipment exceeds your ER then your speed starts to slow while you begin to suffer penalties to Dexterity-based rolls. There are several categories of encumbrance based on how much you've exceeded your ER by. Every character gets an ER of 10 modified by Strength, but since Cyril is a little scrawny twit he only has an ER of 8, and just with weapon and armor Cyril is already carrying 9 EV worth of gear.
C&C also has one interesting feature related to ability scores and this comes into play now because it can modify my ER. When you're making your character you choose three of your abilities to be primary attributes, and your class will require one or two abilities to be designated as primary abilities (Wisdom for Clerics, duh!) and if you choose Strength or Constitution as primary attributes then you can add +2 to your ER. Without knowing this ahead of time I selected Constitution as one of Cyril's three primary attributes so his ER is back up to base 10.
After purchasing the rest of the gear he wants, Cyril has spent 28 gold, 1 silver and 10 copper and he's under Heavy Encumbrance with an ER of 33. The real killer here are the torches which are listed as 1 ER each, but the rules don't specify why that is or even how long the average torch should last before a new one is needed.

LL: Encumbrance is an optional rule for LL, so Cyril has no worries. But LL still manages to have the simplest system. A character can carry up to 40 lbs of gear before they are slowed down, and the maximum that any character can carry is 160 lbs. No Strength modifiers, no Encumbrance Values, and no fiddling with numbers - other than calculating the weight your character is carrying.
Using this optional rule, however, Cyril would be carrying 57 lbs of equipment and thus be slowed by one-fourth of his movement rate. Total cost? 51 gold and 5 silver.

LotFP: Another system that uses Encumbrance points rather than weight, though it asks you to use common sense when it comes to the total weight of gear carried. Every six items carried counts as 1 point of Encumbrance, with larger items and heavier armors counting a point themselves. Carrying more than 1 point of Encumbrance will slow a character down, to a maximum of 5 points.
If I'm reading this correctly Cyril is carrying 4 points worth of gear, his shield counts as 1 and his multitude of torches and rations add 3 more points, thus he is severely encumbered. Again, no rules for how long torches last or what they actually weigh. Also, Cyril spent 60 silver and 47 copper.

S&W: Another attempt at simplicity, all characters can carry 75 pounds before they are encumbered and their Strength score will have a Carrying Capacity modifier. S&W instructs the player that a normal level of general equipment will weigh about 10 pounds. They actually use the word "normal" with quotation marks. The only items with weights listed are weapons and armors.
After all of that, Cyril isn't encumbered at all. He spent 58 gold and 4 silver, and is carrying 55 lbs of gear.

                          ACKS          ADaD         C&C          LL         LotFP       S&W
Gold Spent             65              66             28            51            -            58
Silver Spent            5               22              1             5            60            4
Copper Spent          -               15             10             -            47            -
Carry Limit         18 stone     151 lbs       10 ER        40 lbs         1 E         70 lbs 
Weight Carried     7 stone     72.7 lbs       33 ER       57 lbs         4 E         55 lbs
Encumbered?         no              no          heavy       1/4th      severely      no

I think that's the meat and potatoes of the different rule systems. I'm not getting into spell lists or higher-level characters because I wanted to compare what a beginning character would look like; freshly made, rolled up randomly, and applied equally across every system. There are more OSR systems out there than these six, and I might add comparisons to those as an addendum to this post at a later date. For now, this was a lot of work and I spent as much time double-checking rules and flipping through pages as I id just writing up the character(s).

In conclusion

Each of these systems of rules has a distinct theme, whether you might call them flawed because you don't like the theme is a matter of taste. Some of them have a different frame or a different paint job, but they are all variations of the same bicycle. I feel that showing a single character in side-by-side comparison can reveal and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each system.
Below you can click on the thumbnails of each character sheet and see Cyril the Cleric as I wrote him up.

Adventurer Conqueror King System: With a 5-page long character sheet I was expecting a game that was absolutely comprehensive and exacting in detail, but it seems to be lacking in some essential organization. (Please note I only scanned in the first 2 pages of Cyril's sheet because the rest of the pages were blank.) Nothing is more frustrating than looking up some info about your character class or equipment and getting mired in pages and pages of unnecessary data. Not the worst offender of this, but the character sheet itself shows a lack of organization and a disconnect from the rules as they are doled out to the reader which left me flipping back and forth through the back in order to fill it out. I like the artistic style of this game, and despite my misgivings I'm curious about exploring some of the more complex rules, but the use of stones for encumbrance is jarring and not very intuitive to me. Weird interior layout too. A lot about this can be forgiven because the index is amazing, and if you have the pdf the page numbers are linked for quick referencing, which is double awesome!

Adventures Dark and Deep: The first thing I thought while constructing Cyril was that the rules were comprehensive and boldly written. As I dug deeper into the rulebook I found myself flipping back and forth between pages a lot. A LOT! I think this system takes too much inspiration from 1st edition AD&D because I remember feeling the exact same way when I had to flip between three different pages for the stats of one item. It is comprehensive, but it's perhaps too complex. Deliberately? I'm not sure, but it definitely feels as disorganized as anything else Gygax ever wrote. In that sense, it could be a stunning success for what the author intended! I will say that I was blown away by the character sheet, and I think it's missing a few things but it's still a great piece of work. Not since I first started playing have I seen something crafted with such delicate care and exhaustive detail. I wouldn't call this Gygax'es 2nd edition of AD&D, but I would say that it's a very good collation of 1st edition's disparities into a cohesive whole. I like a lot of what is presented here even if it's not presented in the best way. The weapons table should be on one page, together, and there's also no index, which I consider a cardinal sin!

Castles & Crusades: The rulebook is well organized but some rules seem to be lacking. There's a little too much emphasis on DIY aesthetics in some areas of the system when one considers how many supplements the same company has produced. In that regard, they're following TSR's footprints very well! Encumbrance, which is a major issue in this game, isn't expressed anywhere on the character sheet. A major oversight! Otherwise, if C&C got together with ADaD and had a baby, that game would likely be the gold standard of OSR games.

Labyrinth Lord: It doesn't feel like a rulebook but more like some old school gamers got together and attempted to reconstruct their old rulebooks from memory. The rules jump around a fair amount and some things seem thrown together while the rules are also missing a few things that might seem crucial to the average player familiar with D&D. The game is simple, which is not a bad thing, this game would be ideal for teaching a new person role-playing or perhaps gaming with children or young teens. Which makes sense because Labyrinth Lord does also have an advanced supplemental rulebook to expand upon the concepts introduced in the core game. The character sheet is equally charming in both it's simplicity and brevity. Everything you need to play a game is right here!

Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Organized and simple, yet complex enough that the unfamiliar will be perplexed by some of the inspired but unintuitive turns in the rules. Out of all of the games I looked at here, this one is by far the most brutal and unforgiving, but also the most interesting and enticing. It's probably not the easiest system to use right away, but it definitely leaves a lot to the imagination and has open spaces for expanding and complicating the skeleton of rules presented. If I were going to GM tomorrow, I would run this system.

Swords & Wizardry: THIS GAME HAS NO INDEX! Two of the games above don't have indexes either, but they do have comprehensive or intricate tables of contents and that makes up for the lack of index. This game has neither and my copy is supposedly the "fourth edition," this is an unforgivable sin in my mind. (It does have an index of it's tables, but no page numbers, so why is it there? Ugh!) I absolutely hate when a game doesn't have a way to find relevant information quickly (I'm looking at you White Wolf!) and so I got frustrated quickly with this game while writing up Cyril. However, I would put this in the same wheelhouse as Labyrinth Lord as a starter set of rules for newer players. It simplifies a lot of concepts that the other games make a lot of unnecessary noise about. The character sheet is pretty decent too, though it's missing a few concepts introduced by the ability scores and I don't think the equipment section is big enough, but it's the only character sheet here that comes on one page and I consider that a boon.

Final statement

I'm not going to call one of these games the best or the worst, I think that is entirely a distinction of taste. I think of 4th edition D&D as a board game and yet one of my gaming buddies exalts it as the system where some of his best role-playing moments have happened. I could probably say the same thing about Deadlands and I know people who hate the dice mechanics of that game.

I wanted to see how these systems stood up to one another on the fly and without much prep. I've never played any of these six titles nor have I ever read through them cover-to-cover. I did this for my own enlightenment, to really explore each rulebook on it's own and have a decent measuring stick in the form of a single character. I just happen to be sharing what I've found with you dear reader.

Out of these six systems, I am most intrigued by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I think that's the one I like the most. Swords & Wizardry might be the best of the bunch for introducing new players to D&D, but it's lack of an index and a decent table of contents makes me think Labyrinth Lord is better suited to a learning player. The average gamer is likely going to be attracted to Castles & Crusades or Adventurer Conqueror King, depending on their play style but also because the art is higher quality and just makes those games look more professional. I am most disappointed by Adventures Dark and Deep, which I could only recommend to the most hardcore of grognards, who likely already own it, and this surprises me because starting this comparison I expected to feel almost the exact opposite about both ADaD and LotFP.