Monday, September 11, 2023

Building Bhakashal - Consent and Troubling Content.

I saw a post this week on Twitter indicating that one of WotC’s latest products asks the referee to check in and get consent from players to have their PCs potentially transformed into a mind flayer. Do you need to get consent from your players to run a monster that, for example, can transform the PC in a permanent way?

People are falling into familiar camps on this question, but I want to suggest that the question itself is flawed. I sometimes think that people don’t actually pay much attention to the details of the game. They appreciate the broad strokes, but they don’t really look too closely.

Let’s just take a stroll through the monster manual, shall we? In D&D you can be:

  1. Eaten alive by giant ants!

  2. Have your face burned off by anhkheg spit!

  3. Be turned to stone by a basilisk, alive but unable to move or act in any way, forever!

  4. How about fighting a swarm of 3-12 bombardier beetles, each 4 feet long, they spray reddish acidic vapor from their “abdomens” out the back!

  5. A black pudding can ooze over you, its thousands of small mouths will consume you alive while its acidic saliva dissolves your flesh!

  6. How about a carrion crawler, they paralyze you and CONSUME YOU ALIVE, or, lay eggs in you!

  7. How about a horde of foot long giant centipedes! Say 24 of them swarm you and crawl all over your body! Many people shudder at the sight of a 1 inch long centipede, can you imagine!

  8. Ear seekers are good, horrific fun, they burrow into your ear, lay eggs and the eggs hatch and eat you alive from the inside!

  9. A gelatinous cube paralyzes you then proceeds to digest you for 5-20 rounds, have your PC dissolved into nothing!

  10. Green slime will attach itself to you and in 1-4 rounds TRANSFORM YOU INTO GREEN SLIME!

  11. Don’t forget ghouls! If a ghoul kills you, they DINE ON YOUR BODY then YOU BECOME A GHOUL AND FEAST ON THE FLESH OF OTHERS!

  12. The brain on legs intellect devourer will CONSUME YOUR BRAIN AND TAKE OVER YOUR BODY, making you a meat puppet. Ouch!

  13. Mind flayers, in addition to apparently transforming you, can EAT YOUR BRAIN!

  14. The touch of a mummy brings on “rotting disease”, charming!

  15. An ochre jelly can ooze through small spaces and travel on walls and ceilings, and it can dissolve your flesh!

  16. Ogres, trolls, troglodytes and such will kill you and EAT YOU, they may start before you are dead!

  17. A peryton will tear out your heart and use it for reproduction, ICK!

  18. Rot grubs will burrow into your flesh, you either burn them out doing damage to yourself or they burrow to the heart and eat it!

  19. A shambling mound can draw you in and you suffocate and die inside of the creature  

  20. Giant ticks will drain the blood from your body until you are dead!

  21. Giant Wasps will paralyze you then insert eggs into you which hatch and devour your paralyzed body!

I’ll stop there before getting to the Fiend Folio and the Monster Manual 2. The Fiend Folio in particular has a ton of extremely grotesque and terrifying monsters, including my favorite, the Gibbering Mouther! 

Where are the consent requests for that badboy!

So here is the thing. D&D is chock full of horrific monsters like these. Any one of the listed monsters above kills in ways that are quite terrifying, and certainly as objectionable as being polymorphed by a mind flayer. Actually, being polymorphed by a mind flayer sounds positively FUN compared to being paralyzed and eaten alive by giant wasp larvae, being paralyzed, partially devoured and transformed into a ghoul or being transformed into green slime. 

Why are we requiring player consent for a mind flayer polymorph when all of these terrifying, body horror elements have been in D&D since the 1970s? Has WotC just figured out that D&D has body horror elements to it? It’s like the people running the show DON’T EVEN PLAY THE GAME. I can’t “get” how you can design for a game like D&D and not be aware of these things, green slimes, black puddings, ghouls, these aren’t “fringe” monsters, these are ICONIC! 

I think the WotC is falling down the same rabbit hole as they did when orcs became problematic. They aren’t considering the implications of what they are doing, they are just reacting without understanding.

What is the Problem?

IMO the problem here is that the hobby has adopted a consent framework for the player/referee relationship. Imported from the kink community, the idea was that just like some sexual activities require consent otherwise they can be coercive and traumatic, gaming should require consent as it has potentially traumatic elements to it. On the surface this sounds fairly reasonable, but the challenge is that it turns the relationship on its head, and makes it untenable.

Just like the objections to orcs can be applied to many monsters (I posted about this a few months ago), the objections to mind flayer transformation can be applied to other monsters. Unless you want to be asking for consent for a different monster in virtually every session you play, the consent model is not viable.

It creates a situation where the referee is beholden to individual players. 

It also takes a lot of the fun out of the process, part of the excitement is not knowing what will happen. Getting consent for each individual monster’s attacks is not a model that allows for surprise and fun.

Instead, I would recommend that gaming develop an opt out system, the referee makes clear the kind of game they are running, and players can opt out as they like. That way no one person is ending the fun for everyone, and there is still some mystery involved.

For my part, when a new player wants to join us, I send a standard document to the newcomers and their parents (I run an after school program) outlining the aspects of the game, I tell them that character death is on the table, that we don’t do “take backs”, that once the dice are rolled we don’t change results, that the game has multiple gods and a polytheistic setting, that players can play PCs of any gender (e.g., not their own if they like) and that there are a ton of grotesque, horrific monsters in the game (I cite a few of the examples above) that can kill you in terrifying ways.

If someone isn’t on board with the game I’m running, then they are welcome to find another table.

Having said that, once you are at the table then things are a bit different. If someone objects to a game element after they have been a player for a while, I generally remove it. This has only happened once in the last 4 years of my after school program, one player hated spiders, so I changed the spiders in encounters to lizards. Over time that player became OK with spiders, so we added them back.

Getting consent from players for particular monsters is unwieldy, there are too many monsters in D&D which, if actually played as written, are just as terrifying as a mind flayer transformation, and thus would also require consent. The referee already has a lot on their plates, and it makes much more sense for them to be clear about the kind of game they are running in a general way, and putting the burden back on the players to decide if it's the game for them or not. Don’t ask players for consent and change it if they don’t consent, get players to make the decision as to whether or not they want to play in the game as is. 

I await the enterprising individual who will list all the D&D monsters with grotesque and horrific attacks on a consent sheet and require the players to tick off all of the objectionable options.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Building Bhakashal – Game Design and History


Another day on Twitter, another person dunking on AD&D for “bad design”. I get so tired of this sort of thing, and it seems to be on the uptake. Gygax is a common target, and since he’s dead, its oddly easier and more acceptable to criticize his work. Combine that with his perceived politics and it's a tempting option. 

I think it's fundamentally flawed.

TTRPGs were something new when AD&D was produced, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that AD&D wasn’t as slick and well organized as TTRPGs are today. We’ve had decades of experience to draw upon, Gygax’s work was the first of its kind. Yes, there were earlier iterations of D&D, but Gygax was trying to square the circle, to take both old wargame practices and at-the-table experience and standardize them in some way so they could provide a baseline for convention gaming. And he was doing it in a rush.

He was quite literally doing something that had not been done before and was also adding significant content to the existing game in the process. Looking back on this and calling it “badly designed” is ahistorical and misconstrued. I’m an academic. Academic literature is much like this, initial forays into new subjects are often coarse and somewhat clunky by later standards, because THOSE STANDARDS WERE NOT IN PLAY WHEN THE EARLIER WORK WAS DONE. AD&D is no different.

Also, and this is important context, Gygax was a bit of an encyclopedist, I believe he worked as an actuary for a time, he liked tables and lists, and given that the TTRPG was in its infancy, an encyclopedic approach is not uncommon. Later iterations of the game, and other games had the benefit of time and experience to reflect upon. TTRPG theory developed in the wake of early D&D, and fed into the design process. Gygax did not have the benefit of formalized theory to draw upon.

As a result, the AD&D DMG is hard to read, it’s not just his vocabulary, or his fondness for statistics, the organization and presentation is a challenge. Things are scattered around; you need to use the index and the TOC to find a lot of things. Rules are scattered here and there.

Is it a challenge? Yes! And later iterations of the game worked to present the material in a more intuitive way, and that’s a good thing. But that doesn’t make the older game “badly designed”, it was an early attempt at something without meaningful precedents. Gygax wasn’t TRYING to make the game difficult to understand, he was assuming you had experience with earlier iterations of the game, and that you were familiar with wargames (as, to be fair, many early adopters were) and he was putting together a reference document for your use. Later iterations were designed with newcomers that had little to no experience in mind, this is not uncommon.

People often complain that newer games can seem slick and soulless compared to early AD&D, and I would agree with that. But they are MUCH easier to learn and use. So, as with all things, there are benefits and drawbacks to each approach. But the same logic applies to early AD&D, it is flavorful and enigmatic, it reads like some lost text, just familiar enough to read but different and challenging enough to seem alien, magical and strange. The weird, esoteric bits, the hidden details, they all give the work a feel that newer books lack.

So just like newer games, there are benefits and drawbacks. Learning AD&D was a challenge, but it also felt like an achievement, and the game has an arcane, esoteric feel to it that few games can match. The cost to this is that it is harder to learn and play. The benefit to this is that the game has atmosphere and immersion that few can match.

People on social media are such positivists and presentists about game design, there is a trajectory towards the “ideal game”, older games are further away from the ideal, so they are by definition inferior. BUT YOU DON’T GET MODERN GAMES WITHOUT OLDER GAMES. The present builds on the past, holding up old games and suggesting they are “terribly designed” is just showing your vast ignorance about both game design and history.

To be clear, being able to work your way through AD&D doesn’t make you “smarter” than anyone else.

If anything, it makes you more persistent. You have to be willing to push through and dig deep to be able to get a handle on the rules. Many people don’t have the patience for this, and that’s fine. But to dismiss the work because of it is a mistake.

One last thing, dense, somewhat impenetrable, and encyclopedic work like Gygax’s has another advantage over slick, “intuitive” design: inspiration. AD&D has a lot going on, and all of that content works as a driver to inspire the DM to create. I still find inspiration in it today, after 40 years. No game that provides that much engagement over that many years is “badly designed”. Unintuitive, in need of editing and dense, yes, but there is a ton of good game design in AD&D (see my pinned tweet on Twitter, @blackdragoncan, if you are interested).

I suspect that the real issue here isn’t the design of the game, or the challenging nature of the prose, it’s that modern gamers can’t resist dunking on Gygax and the dense nature of AD&D is an easy target. This is such a weird thing about TTRPGs. I don’t see people dunking on musicians that create new styles of music, or artists that create new styles of art, or authors that write new kinds of stories. They are all lauded for creativity and inspiration, while accepting that things will change over time. For some reason TTRPG pioneers are seen as relics of the past to be mocked and derided.

I’ll leave it to someone more erudite than me to sort that out.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Building Bhakashal - Honor Amongst Thieves

There was a post recently on Twitter/X about the role of thieves in D&D, specifically, that PC thieves who steal from the party (or siphon off a share of the loot unbeknownst to their fellow PCs), are being jerks, and that this sort of thing should be agreed upon by everyone. In short, that it requires consent, otherwise it is a “dick move”.

I am generally all for players and referees being on the same page. So for example, if your game is to have heavy themes, it is a good idea to be open about that before you start. If I plan to run a game with big body horror elements, or analogies to real world events, I would telegraph that.

But this case strikes me as overcorrection, even more so if you look at how this would actually shake out at the table.

If a PC thief wants to steal off their fellow PCs, then there are generally two ways forward:

For example, they announce to the table that when the party is sleeping their PC is going to go through their things, and the ref rolls for results

They slip the DM a note to that effect without telling the other players

If they do a), the other players can call it out and they can all discuss it at the table. Easy.

If they do b), the DM can caution them against it, flat out say, “no, we aren’t doing that”, or let them do it and roll to see what happens. If they do it too often the will get caught out

At the very least the other players will notice when loot goes missing.

What often perplexes me about people who play D&D, is that they often fail to consider that it is different from many other games in that it has a referee, someone to adjudicate the game and deal with potentially challenging situations. There is nothing wrong with a player of a thief coming to the table at the start of the campaign and saying that their PC is likely to palm off loot and steal from their own party. But there is no need for this, and it isn’t a “dick move” to not do so.

Let the game happen. Let the thief go about their business. If they do it openly then no worries. If they choose to hide it, the party will notice that they are up to something eventually, through a failed roll, or due to the inordinate off channel chatter between the DM and the thief player. When they do, let the party deal with it in whatever way they like. It never ceases to amaze me how much people want to control what happens at the table. Let the PC do what they want and let the other PCs handle it! If the players get upset at what happened, talk it out like adults, and then move forward.

I suspect that there is some “real world” equivocation happening here, e.g., if the thief PC betrays the PCs by stealing from the party then the player of the thief has betrayed us.

Thus it’s “dick” behavior.

This is sheer nonsense, and caustic to the fabric of the game. What makes D&D and role playing games different and frankly more immersive is that they are more responsive, you can only do X,Y and Z in video games and most board games, etc. But in D&D the possibilities are almost endless. Your PC has a wide scope of action, and you are hindered in only the most ephemeral way by the rules. So when people talk about getting consent to do something ENTIRELY IN GENRE AND APPROPRIATE for the game, it smacks of getting consent to slay the dragon. It’s kind of ridiculous. Unless you have reason to believe that your gaming group will be PERSONALLY OFFENDED if the PC thief steals from others, just let it happen, and most importantly, LET THEM SORT IT OUT.

It is always more interesting, fun and unpredictable to just let in-game situations play out, again, unless you have good reasons to believe that this sort of thing would make the other players very upset. For what it’s worth, I’ve played in games where this has happened many times. And in every case, they eventually caught the thief, and responded in some way to the deeds, from reducing their share of the loot for a time, to a good non-lethal thrashing, to extracting the thief’s current wealth to compensate, to a good laugh and a few threats.

Treating it like something that needs consent implies you are doing something that has the potential to be real-world harmful, and that’s a bizarre idea. Take a contrasting example, say the party has no thief, but it does have a paladin. The party finds ill gotten gains. The paladin wants to return them to their rightful owner, but the party resists the idea. Eventually the paladin leaves the party and returns with the authorities to confiscate the loot. Would this be considered a “dick move”? I suspect some would consider it as good role play

What about the fighter who insists on challenging a powerful opponent and wagering all of the party’s loot. The fighter loses all their loot. Would this be a “dick move”, nahh, it would be cool RP and an exciting fight! All other things being equal, my approach is to let the players do whatever they want, and let them reap the consequences.

My worry here is that equating things like “thieves stealing from their own party” with “personal betrayal of other players” is a category mistake.

I wonder if the issue here is that people don’t play with friends, so when a virtual stranger does something like this it feels off, rather than just being an in-game thing. I can’t think of a single instance in 40 years of gaming when this sort of thing made anyone mad. At the worst it was irritating and a group discussion ended it moving forward, at best it was a “oh, well played” moment and a good laugh.

It feels a bit sad that this is getting characterized as hostile or inappropriate play. It’s a game, it isn’t real life.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Building Bhakashal - Death

The topics of PC death comes up quite a bit on Twitter. In particular, people go back and forth about whether or not to include it in their game. Unfortunately, there is a lot of noise about this topic as people get stuck in “what ifs”. I thought I would bring some perspective based on running after school D&D games for 10-14 year old kids for the last four years. I’ve amassed over 1000 hours of table time running AD&D, and I’ve noticed some things. Over four years and 16 different groups, we have had around 15 PC deaths. Before we start the campaign the players are told directly that PC death is inevitable, and that I won’t save them from bad dice rolls. 

Everyone was on board and aware before we started. Having said that, I noticed different reactions to PC death. 

  1. Indifference - Some players don’t really care about their PC per se, they care about being able to do cool stuff. So when their PC dies, they just roll up a new one and keep going. Sometimes it is similar (another fighter!), sometimes not, but a significant number of players don’t care about PC death at all.

  2. Curiosity - I have had several players that decided that they were interested in playing a new PC (e.g., they played spell casters now want to try a martial character), so they start playing recklessly and taking chances with the intent of having their PC die so they can roll up a new PC. It has produced some interesting consequences, sometimes playing recklessly pays off and the player gets a renewed interest in their PC, but more often than not the player is just eager to try something new. 

  3. Spectacular - I have players who are interested in dying in interesting ways! At least two of my current regulars (in different games) are like this, they LOVE the idea of a spectacular character death, and they brag about how their PCs have died. They don’t try for it every session, but when a “cool” monster or situation comes up, they will push their luck hoping for a cool character death

  4. Sacrificial - On a few occasions players have had their PCs take on risks that led to death as they wanted to save a fellow PC or help the party achieve a goal. This is less common, but it has happened more than once. Losing your PCs life in a heroic way to help achieve a goal or save a fellow PC is a pretty cool way to die

However, there are occasions when a player is not good with their PC dying. They are aware of the rules, and how we play the game, they are aware that there was risk of death, and that they all signed on with knowledge of the consequences.

But D&D is a game where you can get attached to your PC, role playing can be powerful that way, and for whatever reason, they aren’t willing to go gently into that good night. In four years and over 50 players, I have only had one occasion when PC death was not embraced.

In our second year of play, my Wednesday group had a player who loved his druid PC. Over year one (80 hours) of play he leveled the PC to 5th. We had an encounter with owlbears, 4 of them, and the player in question decided to take them on in melee along with the party tanks. I’m not sure what inspired him to do this, he wasn’t that impressive in melee, there was no immediate need for him to engage that way, but for whatever reason, he decided to wade in.

The dice were not kind, and neither were the owlbears, and his PC went down, dead.

The player was not OK with this, I could tell before he said a word, his body language and tone of voice gave it away. I asked him if he was OK, or not, and he responded that he wasn’t. He didn’t want his druid to die.

Well, fortunately AD&D has rules for this.

I reviewed the options for the players, there is Raise Dead, Reincarnation, Resurrection, Limited Wish and Wish available as options.

“None of us have those spells”

“No, you don’t, but high level priests do, so perhaps you can pay to have it done.”

They reviewed their current state of loot and decided that wasn’t going to work. Life-giving magic is POWERFUL, and it takes out the caster for extended periods of time, the Temple is not going to use powerful, debilitating magic on non-believers without charging a ridiculous amount of wealth to do so. Even at the temple of the slain PCs god.

“We don’t have the loot to pay for this”

“Well, is there any other way you could get this done?”

There was some conversation, and one of the players suggested they could “work off” their debt to the temple in some way. So with that in mind, they went to the temple and made their pitch. The party of 7 would complete whatever task the Temple deemed worthy of bringing the druid back to life. I rolled an encounter reaction roll to determine their response, and it was positive.

So the Temple of Horus offered to bring the PC back to life, in exchange for the party performing a task, retrieving a lost artefact of theirs, the Mask of Horus, which was half a world away in the Lost City, hidden in the Sea of Dust. They had sent out three groups over the last four years to retrieve this item, and had a vision of outsiders finding it first. They decided that the party was that group of outsiders, and they would travel across the world to retrieve the Mask. 

I made it crystal clear to the party that this was a quest that would take up most of the game year (we had just started the term at that point), and it would become the campaign for a while. It was interested to see the dynamics at play, all of the players could tell this was important to the player who had lost his PC, so they all signed on to the idea to help him out.

That was kind of awesome, they wanted to make their friend happy, and they were willing to take a SIGNIFICANT detour to do so. After some deliberation, they pooled their loot to hire a ship and crew, packed their bags and had their companion brought back from the dead.

The priests, however, were not naive, they also cast a Quest spell on the party, so if they decided to lark off and ignore their responsibilities, they would be drawn back to the fray. 

They set off on what would be an 8-month real time journey. It was quite the shift in focus for me, what was a city-based campaign became a ship-based campaign overnight. I had NOT developed the entirety of the game world, just Bhakashal, so I had to improvise like mad every session. I leaned on supplements like the spectacular Cities of Harn to stand in for population centers as they traveled. They got involved in all sorts of shenanigans as they traveled, and met people and monsters they had never seen before.

There was only one time when they got off task. It happened early on, after the second or third session on the water one of the players suggested they abandon the quest, “what was the worst that could happen?” I think they were testing my resolve, I had told them they would have to do this epic quest to repay the temple, but they thought I might change my mind as I wanted them to go back to the city setting I had so lovingly made, or that I was “just bluffing.”

LOL, indeed.

The Quest spell kicked in and over a few sessions they experienced a lot of bad luck. It became obvious they were taking penalties for betraying their quest. 

Bluff called!

So they went back to it. After 8 months of real time the party finally arrived at the Lost City. We spent the next month exploring the city, and they found the Mask of Horus. 

The point of all of this is that players vary in their experience of the game and the experience of role-playing. Some become quite invested, some less so. Some fear character death, some embrace it. 

There are different ways to accommodate these variances in player preference, Bhakashal solves this particular issue by:

  1. Rolling in the open, so PC death is fair

  2. The referee informs the players that death is on the table so there is awareness

  3. Making new PCs is easy and fast, and there are clear rules about how to introduce new PCs into an existing party

  4. Magic to bring back PCs exists and the players understand the rules surrounding them

  5. High level life-restoring magic is performed by powerful beings and always has a cost

In essence, bringing the dead PC back to life BECAME the campaign for almost a year after this happened. The players embraced the process. They pushed back initially just to see if I was serious about it. But once they realized this was a REAL quest, and that powerful life-giving magic had a REAL cost, they were totally into it. 

For my money, having death on the table, with the option to reverse it for rare cases, is the best possible mix. The players are aware of the situation from day one, they know that death is, in most cases, irreversible, and that creating a new PC is not a hardship. But for those rare cases where the player is so invested that PC death is too upsetting, there are options to get them back. In our case it has only happened once, which is, IMO, exactly right. The fact that it only happened once suggests that most players are fine with PC death, for those rare exceptions, there are options. 

I like this solution best as it keeps the electric threat of death on the table, but it allows for exceptions in special circumstances. And running the game this way has produced some of the most exciting gaming we ever had.

Sunday, June 25, 2023


Building Bhakashal - The Sova

Art By Vyacheslav Safronov

Artstation -

Bhakashal has it’s version of the 1e AD&D bard, like the AD&D version, it is a triple class PC, that passes through levels of mercenary (fighter) and spider (thief), and then begins as a Sova, a bard, gaining phantasmist (illusionist) spells. 

The Sova starts out in the employ of a Noble House, and progresses as a mercenary for as many as 5 but no more than 7 levels of experience. It is expected that while working for a Noble House as a House guard they will spend a good amount of time in the arena. A Sova needs to be exceptional at combat.

Once they have finished their levels as a mercenary, they generally travel and level as a spider, again, somewhere from 5th to 7th level. They are gaining experience of foreign cultures, learning to find their way in other lands, and to handle themselves on their own. 

They will then return to their House, and begin to level as a Sova. They will take on missions from their patron, and the goal will be for them to go to faraway lands and learn about them, as well as meeting powerful factional leaders of these lands. They are usually given some sort of seal or sign of their status at the House, and are given permission to make offers of trade, whether in information, goods or skilled practitioners. The goal is to form alliances, but also to get access to spaces of power in the lands of other nations. 

Speaking on behalf of powerful warlocks and Houses in Bhakashal gets them audiences with powerful rulers, if possible in their non-public chambers, for as phantasmists they can recall what they have seen and heard and create illusions of it. Also, when they return to Bhakashal, their patrons can have them use crystal balls, clairaudience and clairvoyance spells to scry on those leaders they have seen, as well as on any part of the foreign nations that the Sova has seen.

They are also repositories of knowledge about strange animals and monsters, any of these creatures they have seen, they can create illusions of, their knowledge of these creatures is of great value to the Noble Houses.

Sova are the “eyes and ears” abroad for the Bhakashal noble houses, and they are assigned to places for years on end to gather information. Their thieving skills allow them to get access to places they would otherwise be barred from. Once they have been in a place, they can either reproduce it with illusions or scry upon it when back home on behalf of their patrons. They also act as liaisons and peacemakers in the outside world, trusted as neutral parties and able to persuade groups on both sides to make agreements. 

PCs who wish to be Sova’s can go on long trips to foreign lands as part of their missions, or they can be used for information gathering more locally if the party wants to stay in the area. In the city as well as abroad, Sovas are noble house spies, using their spider and phantasmist abilities to sneak into places that their patrons want to be able to scry, rivals at other houses, important strongholds, etc. They are used as information gatherers and spies, either locally or abroad. They also entertain the troops, and serve in the military during conflicts with parties outside of the city, formidable in battle, stealthy, capable of deception using their illusory abilities, and inspiration to the troops, Sovas are welcome additions to any military force. 

Sovas do not only gain tactical information and familiarity with important strategic locations on behalf of their patrons, they also gather lore about other societies, Sovas are all sages, with one major and one minor field, and two areas of specialization in their major field. When they travel to other lands they gather information related to their fields as well as general information about other cultures. 


  1. Sovas progress as mercenaries first, with all the abilities, the HD, 

    weapon proficiency and attack bonus adjustments of that class. 

    They then progress to Spider, and the same rules apply. 

    The rules below are for their status as Sovas.

  2. Sovas have a d6 for HD

  3. They gain a +1 every 2 levels on their attack bonus

  4. Stat minimums of STR 12 INT 15 DEX 16 CON 10 CHA 15

  5. They gain additional proficiency slots every 3 levels and 

    have a -2 non-proficiency penalty

  6. They progress a level by earning an experience score 

    of [4+Current Level]

  7. Spells

    1. Sovas progress as Phantasmists, and gain all of 

      their abilities

    2. Sovas generally sing their illusions for illusions 

      with verbal components, for stealthy illusions 

      they can whisper, or in extreme cases sub-vocalize, 

      but in most cases they will sing as they create illusions.

      If they use their musical instrument while casting, 

      it will either add ½ times the duration to the spell,

      ½ x range or ½ x AOE, and all saving throws

      (if applicable) are at -2.

    3. When they first start out, Sovas will be given 3 

      phantasmist spells, one offensive, one defensive, 

      and the other miscellaneous. 

    4. Sova experience level for the purposes of spell 

      casting and all varieties of charm is considered 

      to be their level as a Sova plus the highest of their 

      two other class levels (mercenary or 

      spider, whichever is higher, if they are 

      equal, it is their level in both classes + 1,

      e.g. a Sova that was a 5th level mercenary

      and a 5th level spider would cast as if they 

      were 6th level plus their level as a Sova. 

      A Sova that progressed to 5th as a mercenary

      and 7th as a Spider would cast as if they were 

      7th level plus their level as a Sova

    5. Sovas can cast 1 phantasmist spell per day 

      per level + INT bonusand have success/fail, 

      reverse/harmful odds for casting all spells: 

      odds of successful casting equal to “to know” 

      percentage +4% per level, reverse/harmful odds 

      for failed casting are 5% per level of spell. 

  8. Musicianship and Oratory - In addition to phantasmist spells, 

    Sovas have proficiency with instruments, song and oratory, 

    they can be used to both inspire, influence and charm.

    1. Inspiration: When playing their chosen instrument, 

      those aligned with the Sova will gain a +20% + 1% per 

      level bonus on their morale rolls. In addition, they will 

      gain a +1 to hit, and +1 on saving throws while the 

      Sova is playing 

    2. Influence: When playing or when engaged in oratory, 

      the Sova can influence crowds of people, even if they 

      begin as hostile. The Sova can apply their Encounter 

      Reaction bonus + 2% per level to reaction rolls. When 

      influencing an aligned crowd, this bonus doubles. When 

      influencing a neutral crowd, this bonus applies directly, 

      when starting with a hostile crowd, they suffer a 

      penalty of -10 to -30 against their bonus, depending 

      on the hostility of the crowd. On a neutral or mild 

      positive roll, the Sova can continue to persuade the 

      crowd, on a mild negative roll they will have to cease 

      and withdraw or suffer a double penalty on the next roll. 

      On a strong negative roll, they will be attacked or at the 

      least silenced. Once a single strong positive roll for a crowd

      that started neutral, or two successive strong positive rolls

      for a crowd that started hostile, they will have influenced 

      the crowd to their view. The referee may assign bonuses 

      of no more than +5% each for individual factors, say a 

      particularly persuasive argument or external factors that 

      might favor or harm their case. 

    3. Charm: The Sova can use their instrument, singing or 

      oratory to charm targets, all in hearing range are 

      susceptible, to a maximum HD of the Sova’s 

      level (count 0-levels as ½ Hd for these purposes).

Charm Percentage - Base 30% + Sova Level + CHA Encounter Reaction bonus

  1. Humanoid targets - A successful charm 

    attempt works as a Charm Person 

    spell with no save, duration as indicated by the spell. 

    After the charm breaks, if the Sova did not harm

    those charmed, or force them to do things against 

    their will, they will not be badly disposed toward them. 

    If not, an encounter reaction roll should be made 

    at -10% to -30% depending on the nature of what 

    they were charmed to do to determine their reaction.

  2. Animal Targets - A successful charm attempt works 

    as an Animal Friendship spell with no save, duration 

    as indicated by the spell. After the charm breaks,

    the rules are the same as for humanoid targets above.

  3. Monster Targets - A successful charm attempt works

    as a Charm Monster spell with no save, duration as 

    indicated in the spell. After the charm breaks, 

    the rules are the same as for humanoid targets above.

  1. Musical Instrument 

Most Sova’s will, in addition to developing oratory and singing skills, play an instrument, you may choose by playable group (as each has preferred instruments), you can pick what fits your character concept, or you can dice for the result. The table reflects the distribution of expertise with the listed weapons in the game world at large. 

Musical Instruments (d100)

1-5. Amasfole [1]

6-8. Caysak [2]

9-15. Drum

16-17. Fiddle

18-25. Flute

26-28. Ghallug [3]  

29-35. Guitar

36-40. Harmonica

41-50. Lyre

51-55. Horn

56-58. Ionnam [4] 

59-62. Mandolin

63-65. Nophera [5]

66-70. Oborre [6] 

71. Umarak [7] 

72-75. Vogham [8] 

76-80. Xama [9]

81-83. Yomai [10] 

84-100. Ysimmon [11]

NOTES to the Musical Instrument Table

[1] An instrument of the Yalan, it is a large glass jar with multiple branches emerging from the top. To play it, the amasfole is filled with water, a fire is lit beneath the instrument, and you regulate the steam that emerges from the pipes with discs you hold in your hand.

[2] A Urdyll instrument, it consists of a steel “bowl” held in one hand and a steel ball for the other, the ball is striated with holes, striking the ball to the bowl makes high pitched notes that cascade through heavier notes

[3] The Malu created the Ghallug, it takes the form of two nested steel spheres, the outside sphere 1’ in diameter, you shake the spheres and they make vibrations that sound like booming in air but sound like rain underwater

[4] A Rakasta instrument, a brass sphere with 6 brass chimes hanging from it, the sphere is grasped in one hand while the chimes are struck with a crystalline rod, the combination of rod and chime sounds seems to hang in the air

[5] This Togmu instrument consists of a set of “pan pipes” where the pipes themselves have intricate carvings on the inside of the pipe tubes and are connected to rollers so they can be spun while they are blown into, muting, magnifying or changing the tone of the sound

[6] An Urdyll instrument, it consists of a cluster of ribbon like wires emanating from a palm sized hollow globe, the wires are connected to a loop at the end, the musician strikes the wires with a small rod

[7] The Chitin created the Umarak, a lyre like object that requires 4 hands to use, two to hold it and move it as you play it and two to work the strings. As a result only Chitin Sova’s can use this instrument.

[8] Created by the Saan, this instrument consists of a leather sac attached to a set of intertwined custom wooden pipes shaped like vines, the sac is squeezed to engage the pipes. It produces mournful, resonant sounds

[9]  The Jugyi have created a harmonica called a Xama made out of brass that has intricate vanes inside and is lined with a special moss Jugyi cultivate in their gardens, this gives the instrument a deep, resonant vibration

[10] A traditional Kutya instrument, the yomai is a pair of crystalline rods that are struck against each other to make strange, high pitched sounds that are blended together to produce subtle harmonies. The instrument will also produce sounds only the Kutya can hear, layered amongst the sounds that others can hear

[11] An instrument of the Urdyll, it is a 3 foot long sword perforated with “tubes” through the blade, used in pairs, the swords are swung around in circles and patterns to make sounds

  1. Sage Abilities

Sova are scholars dedicated to gathering knowledge for their Houses, as such each Sova is a sage with a Major field, a Minor field, and two areas of specialization in their Major field 

Sage Major and Minor Fields of Knowledge (d100)

1-4: Chitin 

5-8: Emberi

9-14: Garudin

15-20: Jugyi 

21-28: Malu 

29-36: Togmu 

37-42: Yalan 

43-44: Kutya 

45-46: Rakasta 

47-48: Urdyll 

49-52: Vodnik 

53-68: Saan 

69-74: Technology

75-79: Physical Universe

80-85: Flora

86-91: Fauna

92-100: Supernatural

Sage Categories with Specializations

Chitin (d12)

1. Art & Music

2. Biology

3. Demography

4. History

5. Languages

6. Legends & Folklore

7. Law & Customs

8. Philosophy & Ethics

9. Politics & Genealogy

10. Psychology

11. Sociology

12. Theology & Myth

Garudin (d12)

1. Art & Music

2. Biology

3. Demography

4. History

5. Languages

6. Legends & Folklore

7. Law & Customs

8. Philosophy & Ethics

9. Politics & Genealogy

10. Psychology

11. Sociology

12. Theology & Myth 

Emberi (d12) 

1. Art & Music

2. Biology

3. Demography

4. History

5. Languages

6. Legends & Folklore

7. Law & Customs

8. Philosophy & Ethics

9. Politics & Genealogy

10. Psychology

11. Sociology

12. Theology & Myth

Jugyi (d12) 

1. Art & Music

2. Biology

3. Demography

4. History

5. Languages

6. Legends & Folklore

7. Law & Customs

8. Philosophy & Ethics

9. Politics & Genealogy

10. Psychology

11. Sociology

12. Theology & Myth

Malu (d12) 

1. Art & Music

2. Biology

3. Demography

4. History

5. Languages

6. Legends & Folklore

7. Law & Customs

8. Philosophy & Ethics

9. Politics & Genealogy

10. Psychology

11. Sociology

12. Theology & Myth

Togmu (d12)

1. Art & Music

2. Biology

3. Demography

4. History

5. Languages

6. Legends & Folklore

7. Law & Customs

8. Philosophy & Ethics

9. Politics & Genealogy

10. Psychology

11. Sociology

12. Theology & Myth

Yalan (d12) 

1. Art & Music

2. Biology

3. Demography

4. History

5. Languages

6. Legends & Folklore

7. Law & Customs

8. Philosophy & Ethics

9. Politics & Genealogy

10. Psychology

11. Sociology

12. Theology & Myth

Kutya (d12) 

1. Art & Music

2. Biology

3. Demography

4. History

5. Languages

6. Legends & Folklore

7. Law & Customs

8. Philosophy & Ethics

9. Politics & Genealogy

10. Psychology

11. Sociology

12. Theology & Myth

Rakasta (d12)

1. Art & Music

2. Biology

3. Demography

4. History

5. Languages

6. Legends & Folklore

7. Law & Customs

8. Philosophy & Ethics

9. Politics & Genealogy

10. Psychology

11. Sociology

12. Theology & Myth

Urdyll (d12) 

1. Art & Music

2. Biology

3. Demography

4. History

5. Languages

6. Legends & Folklore

7. Law & Customs

8. Philosophy & Ethics

9. Politics & Genealogy

10. Psychology

11. Sociology

12. Theology & Myth

Vodnik (d12) 

1. Art & Music

2. Biology

3. Demography

4. History

5. Languages

6. Legends & Folklore

7. Law & Customs

8. Philosophy & Ethics

9. Politics & Genealogy

10. Psychology

11. Sociology

12. Theology & Myth

Saan (d12) 

1. Art & Music

2. Biology

3. Demography

4. History

5. Languages

6. Legends & Folklore

7. Law & Customs

8. Philosophy & Ethics

9. Politics & Genealogy

10. Psychology

11. Sociology

12. Theology & Myth

Technology (d10)

1. Land Transportation

2. Water Transportation

3. Weapons

4. Firearms

5. Armor

6. Tools

7. Writing & Books

8. Agricultural Technology

9. Precision Technology

10. Architecture & Engineering

Physical Universe (d10)

1. Astrology

2. Astronomy

3. Chemistry

4. Geography

5. Geology & Mineralogy

6. Mathematics

7. Meteorology & Climatology

8. Oceanography

9. Physics

10. Topography & Cartography

Flora (d10)

1. Bushes & Shrubs

2. Flowers

3. Fungi

4. Grasses & Grains

5. Herbs

6. Mosses & Ferns

7. Trees

8. Weeds

9-10. Monstrous flora

Fauna (d12)

1. Amphibians

2. Arachnids

3. Avions

4. Cephalopods & 

5. Echinoderms

6. Crustaceans & Mollusks

7. lchthyoids

8. Insects

9. Mammals

10. Marsupials

11. Reptiles

12. Monstrous fauna

Supernatural (d10)

1. Alchemy

2. Numerology/Cryptography

3. Divination

4. Dweomercraft

5. Heraldry, Signs & Sigils

6. Medicine

7. Metaphysics

8. Planes 

9. Other Dimensions

10. Otherworldly Beings

Chance of Knowing Answer to a Question

Question Is 




Out Of Fields 

31 %-50% (d20)

11%-20% (d10)


In Minor Field 

46%-65% (d20)

31%-40% (d10)

11%-20% (d10)

In Major Field 

61-80% (d20)

51%-60% (d10) 

26%-35% (d10)

In Special Category

81%-100% (d20)

71%-90% (d20)

61%-80% (d20)


  1. All sages have a 31-50% chance of answering a general question outside of any of their fields, and a 11-20% chance of answering a specific question outside of any of their fields.

Building Bhakashal - Consent and Troubling Content. I saw a post this week on Twitter indicating that one of WotC’s latest products asks the...