Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Unexpected Journeys - An RPG for "The Hobbit"


Since it's the holidays, this light RPG system is inspired by the brilliant Freeform, Universal (FU) system by Nathan Russell. If anything, it’s a little simpler than FU, as it’s designed to capture something of the simplicity and swift pacing of fantasy adventures in the style of “The Hobbit” (the movies or the book, depending on your tastes).

The FU system uses no numbers, only descriptions, which allows a great deal of flexibility but also the chance to bring together characters of quite different status and ability (such as wondering wizards and homely halflings). The probabilities are very granular, and largely advantage the characters, except when chances are against them.


Characters have three descriptive qualities, or descriptors:
Kin: A lineage, background or kind (such as Dwarf, Hobbit, Dunadan, or Elf).
Calling: A profession or main area of knowledge and skill (such a burglar, warrior or ranger), which may be only an aspiration when you begin.
Trait: A special attribute or ability that defines you (such as nimble, hardy, swift, or stern).
Putting your descriptors together defines your character:
Stern Dwarvish Warrior...
Nimble Hobbit Burglar...
Hardy Dunadan Ranger...
Of course, you may have some equipment and possessions, or nothing but your waistcoat.


When you meet a hazard or trial:

  • Pick up one die if it is something any of your kin could attempt.
  • Pick up one die if it is something any of your calling could attempt.
  • Pick up one die if your character trait or ability applies.

Roll all the dice you have, and take the best result:
1: Mishap the worst outcome, with complications or losses
2-3: Awry - failure, thwarted or crooked
4-5: Square - a success, sound
6: Boon - a success, with a benefit or a clear advantage
GM: Three dice are usually enough. If there are more dice in play, perhaps the roll could be passed over and the next challenge arise?


Dangers or conditions may cause you to set down one or more of your dice, as the GM directs. But you cannot set down your last die. Roll one die for each danger after your last die and take the lowest die you roll.


In battle, make the same check as an adventuring roll, but the GM may cause you to set down dice if you are matched, or daunted, by your foe.

In battle, you may be hit and wounded if your attack goes awry, or worse. If you are hit, you may have cause to roll to check your Wounds and Weariness, as below.

Wounds and Weariness

If you are wounded, or grow weary, pick up a die and roll. Then check the result.
6: Hale
5-4:  Shaken, then hurt
3-2: Weary, then wounded (a condition against you)
1: Out of play - GM will rule on consequences
Pick up another die when you have good armour, proof against your attacker. Set down dice against deadly attacks (such as a morgul blade). Depending on the result, the GM may also assign a suitable condition.
The latest check sets your current status. If the next roll is higher than your current score, lose one point instead. Lose nothing if the roll is a 6.
Monsters and other foes may start weakened or have several dice to use up before they fall.

Good rest and other healing will restore your condition towards Hale.

Other Conditions

You may be affected by other conditions, such as becoming Lost, Frightened, Daunted, Despairing or Enchanted. The GM will tell you when a condition will also affect your rolls. Some conditions may be easy to remove or overcome, whereas others may require considerable healing or success to cast off.

At times, and with luck and skill, you may inflict conditions, as well as wounds, on your foes (such as terrifying goblins, or enraging wolves).


Every character begins with two points of Hope or Courage. You can cancel the effects of a condition with a point of Hope, or expend one point of Hope at any stage to gain another die to roll.


Generally, the gear you carry will not affect rolls, although if you lack equipment, this may be a condition against you. Only rare, strong magic can add dice to your rolls.

Long Tales

As you adventure, you may gain new descriptors at certain points, becoming Wise or Nimble or Travel-worn. However, you may also gain a Shadow, such as Pride or Greed, which acts as a negative condition for certain rolls you attempt.


This work is based on FU: The Freeform/Universal RPG (found at http://nathanrussell.net/fu), by Nathan Russell, and licensed for our use under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).

Monday, December 2, 2013

Tinkering with SKILL (Fighting Fantasy)

In a previous post, I put up some house-rules for running the venerable Fighting Fantasy system in Arihmere. I suggested a fixed SKILL score of 9 for all basic characters, but although this is near the average for any character created with the original rules (6+1d6), a SKILL of 9 would mean that most Tests of SKILL would succeed (about 83%, or 5 in 6).

This means that characters will mostly succeed at standard (unmodified) tests and have rough combat parity with many powerful FF monsters. The GM, of course, is expected to devise modifiers for situations to make play more interesting and dramatic. Characters with a high SKILL also gain less from a rare +1 magic or enhanced weapon or tool.

But if you want to make Arihmere a more dangerous place, make the standard SKILL 8 for an adventurer, and 7 for an untrained traveller at the start of adventure.

An initial SKILL of 8 means that the character is equal to a strong monster like a troll, but not a deadly or rare creature. It also means that finding a +1 item is more meaningful, as is any gain in SKILL through experience or magic. Characters with lower initial SKILL must fight harder together, and use their wits and strategy (and LUCK) to overcome tough opponents.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fighting Fantasy in Arihmere

For many gamers, the Fighting Fantasy series is the distillation of the role-playing experience: not just a first step into the hobby, but the first gaming experience, and the first set of playable rules. The fabled passages under Firetop Mountain remain the first dungeon, the first great adventure.

The rules for FF are elegant and concisely constructed around SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK – brief, memorable, and surprisingly flexible, but they work best for solo questing, where the single character must be as strong and capable as a party of adventurers. A few years after FF, I ran a few sessions of Fighting Fantasy: The Introductory Roleplaying Game, and they worked well for a single player but had evident weaknesses for playing with a larger group.

(I also collected the first Advanced Fighting Fantasy set, and though these rules are a fun introduction to fantasy adventure roleplaying and a useful resources, some of the flaws in the original system remained.)

Over the years, I've tinkered with the FF system and wondered if it would be possible to scale it up to a multiplayer experience without losing the fun and accessibility of the original system. Here are some ideas.

Fighting Fantasy House Rules from the Tinkerage


Skill: A character's Initial SKILL score is 9.
(Skill is so important in FF that a small difference in initial skill provides a huge advantage. A fixed Skill puts characters on an equal footing.)
Optionally, an advanced character with the ability to use magic has a SKILL of 7.

Stamina: A character's Initial STAMINA score is half of 12+2d6.
(Guarding lower Stamina means that characters should consider LUCK and Escape as options in combat more often.)

Luck: A character's Initial LUCK score is 6+1d6.

Using Skill

A test of SKILL (opening doors, detecting traps, overcoming obstacles or avoiding danger) requires a roll of less than or equal to current SKILL on two dice to succeed. The test may be subject to penalties or small bonuses depending on the situation.

In some cases, particularly in dodging sudden danger, LUCK may be used instead of SKILL.


Use the FF combat procedures. Treat wounds from combat as scrapes, scratches, knocks, and bruises, until STAMINA drops below zero and the character is severely wounded. 

Encourage the use of LUCK to enhance or deflect harm, and the Escape rule to flee combat.

Heavy weapons: A weapon that does three points of damage has a -1 penalty to attack strength.

Armour: Tough armour (mail) will turn any normal damage to a 1 point hit on a die roll of 4+ and imposes a -1 penalty on all movement.
Heavy armour (plate) will turn any normal damage to a 1 point hit on a die roll of 3+ and stop all damage on 5+, and imposes a -2 penalty on all movement and perception.

The GM should also allow rest and provisions to restore STAMINA.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Crilmede [Mini-scenario]

There are three old tombs at the back of the little cove at the upper end of the steep-sided mountain lake of Crilmede. The only way in is by boat, or the narrow, crumbling track that starts a mile back along the shore.

Two of the tombs belong to princes of the Ellfolk, but the last one, the deepest and darkest, belongs to one of the old druit arch-priests, a powerful and cruel magician. They say fifty warriors with spear and shield were sacrificed and their bodies tipped into the dark depths of the cove – but sacrifices or not, they still answer the call of the arch-priest.

Problem is, no one remember which tomb is which. What are the chances that foolhardy grave-robbers would pass the wrong door at the end of the lake?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Vensford [Mini-scenario]

The old man drinking at the inn in Addistown tries to pay with a gold imperial, a three-hundred year old coin worth more than the ramshackle inn and everything in it.

Where did this remnant of the Tharkish Dominions come from? If pressed, the old man claims he found it in the riverbank, near the shallows at Vensford, with a broken lance-point and a rusted helmet.

Perhaps the ford is the lost site of one of the desperate battles of the Tenth Tharkish War, where a legion at least was trapped and drowned in the crossing.

Would a few adventurers brave the wrath of ghosts and the river to loot the forgotten battlefield?

No one remembers that the slinking water-garg Nardog lurks in the ford. A powerful swimmer, Nardog prefers to pull his victims into the water and drown them in the deep pools. He is less sure on land, but still deadly when cornered.

Nardog: water-garg (slimy trollish hunter)
Skills, Abilities: Grasping strength, Powerful swimmer, Silent lurker, Watchful cunning
4 strikes

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Arihmere, sometimes called the Wolves’ Lane, stands at the western end of The Copper Road. Falling into the Arrant Sea, with the Withered Lands of the Fell Lords to the north and the Sundering Wars simmering beyond the southern marches, it is a domain of wolf-haunted forests, wild moors, hedged manors, watchtowers and haunted tombs, ruled by grasping lords and sly wizards.

Arihmere is one of the more disreputable kingdoms of the Harrowmarch; nevertheless, its confused history of warring realms and tottering empires has left it with many respectably terrifying ruins and guarded treasures. The old heaps and pits are still inhabited by vile creatures, and only the most cunning and well prepared can meet them and survive.


Arihmere is a setting for fantasy gaming. It's suitable as a background, a suggestive sketch, or just a hazy collection of concepts. Future posts will begin to map it and fill in the blanks.

You can adapt it to your own fantasy adventure system, and also use it as the background for the Pick-up And Play rules on the tab above.

About the Tinkerage

This blog is dedicated to the author's inveterate tinkering with tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) and scenarios. That's it. Really. A place to tinker and post ideas about rules, adventures, and worlds.
Readers are free to use anything they find here for personal, that is non-commercial, use (but it would be nice that if you like or use something, you leave a comment to say so).