The DM from Outremer

Making a Cheap Battleboard for the Final Battle

Okay, so my running of Paizo's Shackled City Adventure Path has reached the final climactic end battle. I experimented earlier with making battleboards using foam-core poster boards and decided I'd do a big one to make this battle more of an event.
First up I took a close look at the Chamber of the Tree in the Fiery Sanctum where the baddies constructed their big portal opening device. At 1 inch (25mm) to square on the map it would just fit on a 20" by 30" (500mm x 750mm) poster board.

I got some wrapping paper with 1" (25mm) squares printed on the back and taped it over the board. Then I used that grid to help free hand draw the main outlines of the cavern walls and lava channels.  When that was done I used a craft knife to cut through the paper along the traced lines to mark the actual board. Removing the now shredded paper I went over the cut lines in the board with black felt tip marker to outline everything. Next up came yellow fill with red and orange swirls for the lava channels.

For the lava rock floor I took the opportunity to use up some old gray acrylic paint I never really liked the shade of anyway.

 For the rock walls, I started with some cross hatching...

  ...then decided it looked totally awful...

...and painted over it with some brown so nobody would ever notice.

At the game I added four generic markers to portray the supports of the huge tree-shaped device. I'd made these a while back by gluing unpainted wooded pegs onto small square wood bases and painting them gray. They're handy for showing columns, trees, weird tall creatures, etc.

 ...and then the huge demons charge out of the shadows and attack!!!!

Our next game session will see if our heroes can fight their way back into the cavern in time to stop the activation ritual now underway (which they won't even notice is happening until a round or two from where we stopped last session).

Let's Talk About "The Longest Day in Chang'an" 《长安十二时辰》

Okay, so I finally finished watching "The Longest Day in Chang'an" 《长安十二时辰》on Netflix.  This is a massive new period drama from China, with 48 episodes for your extended viewing enjoyment. The basic plot is the Department of City Security in the capital of the Tang Dynasty, Chang'an, is aware of a plot to carry out some sort of massive terror attack during the Lantern Festival. They recruit Zhang Xiaoying, former soldier and security operative, from death row to lead the investigation--but they only have 24 hours to break the case.

The show apparently borrowed the format of the television show "24", but these episodes each cover 15 to 30 minutes. But before we go any further, watch these music videos of the two main songs with scenes from the show. They're basically trailers for the show and will give you a great sampler of what the show looks like--also great music.

短歌行 (A Short Ballad) "Tanka"

《清平乐》 "Spring Day at the Royal Palace"
(sung by Zhang Zining of "Rocket Girls 101")

First off I have to say the production is movie quality rather than the typical cheap-looking TV show quality.  The locations and the costumes are visually stunning.  Huge effort (and expense) went into keeping everything as historical as possible. In some of  the daytime outdoor scenes the lighting is a bit off, but not badly. The main themes are intrigue, conspiracy, action, tragic back stories, and unrequited love.

I you want to delve a bit deeper into it, there also some cool "making of" videos about the series:

(this one is about the various ways to bow or show respect in Tang China; 4:14)

(this one is a detailed look at the clothing and armor of the Tang Chinese and foreigners: 4:32)

(this one is about the makeup and hair styles)

Art Project: Painted Tabletop with Poured Resin Coating

A while back my wife did a project putting a painted "marble" top on an old cabinet and then coating it with resin.  I really liked the way it turned out and was thinking of doing something myself I decided to upgrade my beat-up old craft table by sanding it down, painting a big graphic art piece on it, then sealing it with resin to protect the painting.  Deciding on what design and colors took a while, but I finally got it done.  Then came the scary part.  If you mess up while painting you can paint over it-- but if you mess up a resin pour you're done. About that time my local craft store had a going out of business sale so I was able to get some resin kits for a reasonable price.

But first a set of images showing the painting from bare table and sketches to finished piece:

1. Assemble everything you'll need: resin kits, mixing buckets, mixing cups, plastic sheeting, blow torch, and stirring stick.

2. Also get a fire extinguisher handy if the whole blowtorch thing goes sideways.   I watched several videos on YouTube and many suggested warming up the resin bottles in not-too-hot water to make them pour a bit better.

2. And here are some views of the final result:

I still have to paint the metal frame under it, but that's just some basic paint work.

Lessons Learned:

  • Making and pouring resin is actually pretty easy.
  • Make sure your work area is VERY WELL VENTILATED. The fumes from the mixed resin don't seem too bad at first.  But even with both windows and the door open I got very light headed part way through and had to get out and get some air to recover.
  • Make sure you have a bit more resin in your pour than the bare minimum.  The top came out well coated but the edges are a bit thin and not as smooth. I used three kits, the bare minimum, but should have used four.
  • For a wide area a smaller blowtorch is better. I bought a larger one with the idea that I had a larger area to cover and didn't want it to run out mid-project.  However, in trying to reach the middle areas I had to tilt it too far over (the flame needs to be about 2-3"/50-75cm from the surface). The blowtorch needed to be upright and flamed out when tilted over where I needed it.
  • You can actually use your breath as a source of CO2 rather than a flame, but be careful about breathing in those fumes!
  • Keep and eye on the drips off the underside of the edges. I wiped the undersides three times with about a half hour wait between each wiping. Some videos suggested taping, etc. but I found wiping a couple times worked just fine.

Making an RPG Spell Template

Okay, so it's been a while now since my last post but just today I finished the main work on a spell template for role-play games.  I got the idea from some templates of this type which came up on Amazon while I was browsing. Most of them cost US$12 and up, plus shipping. They were all pretty simple and I remembered I had a bit of fairly stiff translucent plastic from an old report cover in my crafting box. Here is the project in photos:

Neo School Hack - Viera as Playable Race

Okay, this time I'm basically just stealing this character race from the Final Fantasy series of games.  I know some people who love to play "furry" or furryish races, such as nekojin.  So here is a quick version of the viera for Neo School Hack.

VieraThe viera are humanoids with leporine features, including long ears and limbs. Their trademark long ears grant them exceptionally good hearing, although they are said to have excellent senses overall. Not only do the viera's ears allow them to hear over great distances, they also allow them to listen to the voice of the Green Word. They can put this ability to great use, either to communicate with the world around them, or to summon monsters from other worlds. Furthermore, the viera have approximately three times the lifespan of humes. All viera have white hair, but some dye theirs to other colors if they live among the humes.

Final Fantasy XII : Ready for the Danger by Shappi

Viera Racial Talents

  • Salve-Maker/focus-rested: with an hour's work using natural rare ingredients you can concoct one dose of a salve or ointment which can be applied to a patient to heal one wound or remove one harmful condition.  
  • Wood-Warder/innate: your long, beautiful ears are amazing (+3 on all rolls involving hearing)
  • Hear the Green Word/focus-rested: With a full minute of quiet meditation and concentration, a viera can listen with her inner ears to the voice of the forest. The Green Word carries knowledge of any unnatural or magical manifestations within one mile. This ability can only be used in  forests and other places with lush vegetation.
For more on the viera, check out the Final Fantasy Wiki page on them.

Big List of Wuxia/Kung Fu RPGs

Okay, so for a while now I've been exploring different RPG rules sets for my next campaign. I've always been a fan of the Chinese Wuxia ("kung fu") genre, but assumed the only rules available were the old cheesy "Oriental Adventures" ones for D&D.  But then I discovered the Wuxia Community on Google+ and was introduced to a big new world of rules for this type of storytelling. With some internet searching and big help from the Google+ community I starting building a list of games for Wuxia or other "oriental" play.  This is my current list, in alphabetical order:
  1. Blue Dragon, White Tiger
  2. Dragon Lines
  3. Dragon Tiger Ox (Pathfinder)
  4. Feng Shui/Feng Shui 2
  5. Flying Swordsmen
  6. Heroes of the Jade Oath (Pathfinder)
  7. Hong Kong Action Theatre!
  8. Jade Claw
  9. Kitsunemori Campaign Setting
  10. Kung Fu Adventurers!
  11. Kung Fu Kuma (Pathfinder)
  12. Legends of the Elements (PbtA)
  13. Legends of the Wulin
  14. Mad Monks of Kwantoom (OSR)
  15. Mists of Akuma
  16. Monkey, the Role-Playing Game
  17. Oriental Adventures (AD&D)
  18. Outlaws of the Water Margin
  19. Pagoda: Wuxia Role Playing Game
  20. Peng Lai 
  21. Q•RPG: Katanas & Kung Fu
  22. Qin, The Warring States
  23. Quick20 Asiatic Adventures
  24. Rivers and Lakes
  25. The Dragon Pool
  26. Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade/Tianxia Accelerated (FATE)
  27. Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate
  28. Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade
If you know of any others please comment!

Here's What Your Barbarian Bard Plays: Mongolian Folk Metal

No, seriously. Mongolian folk metal. It's an actual thing. I totally promise I'm not making things up this time. 

 Shoog Shoog by The HU

So to start at the beginning: I recently read about a Mongolian folk metal band called The HU from an article in the South China Morning Post.  That was too intriguing to not check out...and it was totally awesome. Alas they only had two songs available on iTunes (both of which I basically immediately purchased).  Then I spotted a third song on YouTube yesterday, entitled "Shoog Shoog", and the video was totally awesome.  The music, imagery, and lyrics are just perfect for ancestors of the Great Khan.

But more than awesome music, it is perfect mood food for your more gonzo fantasy gaming "barbarian" peoples.

Not Likely to Buy the New Pathfinder Rules

So the 2.0 version of Pathfinder which Paizo steadfastly insisted for years they had absolutely no intention of working on at all will be published in August of this year. I did read through the free playtest rules when the came out--and I do want to applaud Paizo for their open playtests to involve the fan base.  There were some good ideas in there, some "meh" ideas in there, and some ideas I couldn't make up my mind about. Overall I was not immediately thrilled. Intrigued, perhaps, but not thrilled.

At the moment my current group is running three concurrent campaigns with Pathfinder 1.0 (1E? Classic?) so we're pretty darn invested, both psychologically and financially. Most of the group bought D&D 5E when it came out and one of our members ran a short multi-session playtest for us. I like the new 5E rules, both for what they are and for the refreshing escape they present from the bloat and hyper-detailing of Pathfinder.  The rest of the group was mixed in their reactions to 5E. I'm still considering using it for my Next Big Campaign when we finish the Shackled City Adventure Path I'm running now.

As for buying the Pathfinder 2E rulebook, I am daunted by the sheer size of it: over 600 pages. Granted that's the Player's Handbook and DM's Guide combined in one massive tome but it gives the impression that there is almost immediate rules bloat. The idea of making the climb up the side of a new Mount Everest of crunch-bloat is a huge turn-off. It would have to be something really exciting to be worth that effort. Nowadays I really do think you can achieve the same results at the table with more streamlined rules. My gaming group, however, mostly either positively enjoys the super-customization possible with Pathfinder 1E or is fine with crunchy rules in general. I'm not sure if a majority will buy the new rules or if either of my fellow GMs are considering converting their campaigns.

So at present I do not plan to buy the new edition of Pathfinder. If someone in our group converts their existing game or starts a new one with the new edition then I may let myself be dragged in, but otherwise no.

Polytheism in RPGs: UR Doin' It Rong

Okay, so my favorite character class to play in RPGs (well, D&D style fantasy games) is the cleric.  In fact, my first ever RPG character was a cleric.  All I really remember of that game is a raft trip that the party barely survived, which was awesome.

The early editions of D&D (and Chivalry & Sorcery) based their clerics heavily on ideas derived from Christianity, both biblical references (such as the spell "Sticks to Snakes") and the church in medieval times.  Later more non-christian, polytheistic elements, both historical and fictional, were added to RPG gaming.  But the people making the games and playing them were overwhelmingly from Western civilization countries which are basically culturally monotheistic.

This monotheistic, christian cultural background leads game developers, GMs, and players to handle fantasy polytheistic clerics, religions, and temples like monotheistic, semi-christian ones.  For instance, I was listening to an RPG podcast this week and one of the poddies mentioned making a fighter who would follow a particular deity.  That's not generally how polytheistic cultures do things.  In most RPGs the various deities in a fantasy pantheon are typically treated like individual monotheistic faiths.  Even the layouts of temples are frequently very much like a christian church, with rows of pews, a lectern for sermons, an altar at the far end, and even stained glass windows. 

As someone who likes studying history and world cultures, I find this failure to grasp the basics disappointing and annoying.  I can forgive the early authors of the role-playing hobby a certain narrowness of vision.  The whole concept was a work in progress.  Today, however, the Internet puts the universe at one's fingertips.

So what are these games missing?  First off, polytheism features pantheons of multiple deities, with each major cultural region having its own.  For instance, during the Roman Empire there was the Greco-Roman pantheon (Zeus, Athena, etc.), the Egyptian pantheon (Hathor, Horus, etc.), the Celtic pantheon, and so on.  The people living in a particular area worship their cultural pantheon in their particular way.  All their temples are built in the same style, according to that culture's local architectural traditions.  Polytheistic cultures are often said to be accepting of foreign deities, and this is true to a point.  Often what happens is they find a deity amidst their pantheon which corresponds to the foreign god and accept it on that basis.

People in a polytheistic culture are not limited to selecting only one deity from their pantheon to follow, forsaking all others.  Typically, they worship all of them--as needed.  Planning a sea voyage?  Then prayers to Neptune are in order.  Heading off to war?  A proper sacrifice to Mars is a good idea.  The situation with priests may be different, depending on the culture.  In some, priests are actually dedicated to just one deity.  In others, they are more general holy persons who may or may not serve at a particular location.  However, it is possibly for individuals to have a favorite deity for some reason, or even for a particular city to have a favored deity.  Corinth was associated with the goddess Aphrodite, for instance.  But that did not require rejection of or hostility towards any of the other deities.

Temples where not usually laid out like Christian churches.  The typical temple would be centered around a main idol to one deity, or maybe three. The main idol would be in a central chamber facing the main (or only) entrance.  This chamber might be very high in order to accommodate as large and imposing an idol as possible. The facing of the idol/entrance was usually based on a theological or cosmological concept, such as facing east towards the rising sun. There could be smaller idols to other minor deities to the sides. In front of the main room would be either an antechamber, enclosed forecourt, or open plaza; in the case of a very small temple in a rural area there might be just a simple cleared area of ground out in front.  Pews or seating were not typical. Priestly staff and worshipers would stand, kneel, or sit on either the bare floor (stone, wood, or packed earth) or perhaps on mats or rugs.

Beyond the basic layout of main chamber and a room or open area in front many variations and expansions were possible based on the cultural architectural norms, site topology, and need for other buildings such as dormitories, libraries, schools, courtyards, etc.

So here are some example images I grabbed from the Internet which illustrate typical temple layouts:

Also, here are some Wikipedia articles with examples of real temple styles, showing the rich variety of architectural forms used for worship:

Neo School Hack - Moar Classes

This "book" adds some totally optional classes to the core Neo School Hack rules. Herein you will find the Druid, Knight, Oracle, Templar of the Imperial Ancestor Cult, Warlock, White Monk, Imperial Legionary, and White-Haired Witch. Feel free to add any, all, or none of them to your game--and do please hack them all you want.


- The druid is a person with an intimate spiritual connection with nature.  A druid has sacred nature powers, with some able to transform into beasts of the wild.  Druids embrace all that is natural and keep manufactured posessions to a minimum, particularly metal armor.

Inherent: Squeak and Roar/focus: you can speak to any animal--if they feel like talking to you.

Classic Weapon: sickle

  • Magic Mushrooms/focus-rested: you channel green energies and lovely sacred mushrooms appear (one per point of Commitment bonus); a person eating one will be healed of 1 wound, or cured of poison, or cured of natural diseases
  • Barkskin/focus-encounter: your skin transforms, becoming as tough as thick bark for an hour; you gain +2 to AC; the effect will not manifest under metal armor
  • Call Entlings/focus-encounter: communicating via sacred nature auras you summon entlings, small semi-intelligent tree creatures, from any vegetation within 100 yards; one will appear per point of Charm bonus and follow simple commands; Entling: AC-10, HP: 2, 1 x 2d10 attack for 1 wound
  • Heart of the Beast/focus-rested: you bond with an animal totem and it grants you the ability to transform into its likeness; you may pick any beast up to bear size (may be taken up to six times for a different beast form each time)
  • Totem Eidolon/constant: the druid bonds with an animal totem which manifests as a semi-substantian spirit;  it is much more intelligent than ordinary creatures of its type.  The player decides on the animal type, but it may not be larger than a large wolf.  The critter has statistics of AC = 12, HP = 3, with an appropriate single 2d10 attack (with Face Die) doing 1 wound.
  • Howling Wilderness/focus-rested: with the aid of the totem spirits you can summon a natural animal and command it; this talent can also be used to command an animal already nearby but this requires winning an opposed Commitment check.


- A knight is an aristocrat born and bred to be a warrior.  They are sent from home at an early age to be a squire at an allied household and train and learn the craft of war.  War and hunting  is their way of life.  But there's also plenty of time for romancing that special someone.

Inherent: At Home in the Saddle/constant: +2 to all rolls involving riding mounts

Classic Weapon: Lance

  • Surely You Joust/constant: the Knight's favorite activity is jousting; you get +1 to attacks with a lance while riding a mount and +1 AC against any attack while riding a mount.
  • Sword & Board/constant: the Knight's second favorite activity is melee combat with a shield and a one-handed weapon; in each combat round the Knight may choose to emphasize the weapon (+1 to hit) or the shield (+1 to AC).
  • Heraldry/constant: growing up in chivalric social circles a Knight learns to recognize heraldric coats of arms and similar devices; +2 to Awareness checks to know who a particular sign belongs to and a bit about their background; the player also gets to design their own unique coat of arms for their family.
  • Under Armor/constant: the training of a Knight includes wearing armor and exercising in it constantly; you have the special encumbrance capacity of one extra Heavy Thing for the purpose of wearing armor or carrying a shield.
  • Courtly Love/focus-rested: a Knight is a lover as well as a fighter; +2 to any attribute rolls to romance the apple of your eye.
  • Falconry/focus: Knights love to go hunting when not jousting or romancing, especially the high class and expensive method using trained falcons; +2 to any attribute roll involving falconry; and you get one trained bird of prey (hawk, owl, killer bat, tiny pterodactyl, etc.) and a basic set of gear (such as a glove, hood, lure, etc.) [Creature: AC-10, 1 HP, 1 x 2d10 attack (claws) for 1 wound]


- An oracle is blessed, some would say cursed, with the mystical ability to see both the past and the future.  They know exactly what's the worst that could happen.  Or maybe there will be cake.

Inherent: Saw That Coming/rested: one free re-roll per day.

Classic Weapon: Scythe

  • Augury/focus-rested: reach out into the Great Beyond to determine if one future course of action which will happen (or start) in the next 24 hours will turn out well or badly; need to pass a Commitment check to get an answer; +1 to the check if you use a thematically appropriate focus such as a crystal ball, sheep entrails, tarot cards, etc.
  • Palmistry/focus-encounter: everyone carries echoes in their auro of what was and what will be; while in physical contact with a living creature the oracle may attempt to learn up to three things about their past or one about their future (separate successful Commitment check for each attempted thing)
  • Happy Medium/focus-rested: even after death echoes of life remain; while touching or in proximity to a deceased creature the oracle may attempt to learn up to three things about its past (separate successful Commitment check for each attempted thing)
  • Psychometry/focus-encounter: contact with the living leaves traces which are undetectable to those lacking The Talent; while in physical contact with an object (not including deceased creatures) the oracle may attempt to learn up to three things about its past (separate successful Commitment check for each attempted thing)
  • Blinded by the Light/constant: the oracle goes blind from visions too vivid to behold, but gains deep Inner Vision providing +4 to all rolls involving oracle talents
  • Doom/focus-rested: the oracle pronounces a doom upon a person, such that when a certain circumstance occurs the victim suffers horrible consequences; once pronouced a doom can never be reversed because it is not a magical spell but a revelation of inescapable Eternal Fate; a person may only be under one doom at a time; only very rare and powerful magics or the intervention of a deity has any chance of deflecting a doom; examples of the effects of a doom could be:
  • ⦁ Permanent -4 to one attribute bonus
    ⦁ Permanent loss of 3-5 HP
    ⦁ Permanent blindness
    ⦁ Permanent paralysis of one or more limbs
    ⦁ Sterility
    ⦁ Hideous rotting plague


Templar of the Imperial Ancestor Cult
- The Imperial Ancestor Templars are the clerics of the ancient imperial ancestor cult.  They venerate the spirits of the ancestral spirits of the imperial family from back through all the centuries.

Inherent: Grave Countenance/constant: +1 to any saves vs. undead/necromancy

Classic Weapon: two-handed flail (heavy)

  • Ancient Glories/constant: Imperial Ancestor Priests memorize all the biographies of all the imperial ancestors, giving them encyclopedia knowledge of the history of the empire; +1 to Attribute rolls related to history or geography.
  • Spectral Howl/encounter: you channel spiritual essences to produce a blood-chilling spectral howl like a banshee; all non-Templars in the area must pass a Commitment save or be frozen in fear for two rounds
  • Benificence of Consecration/constant: the aura of cult consecration empowers you; you get +1 to all rolls made while on consecrated imperial ground, such as graveyards, crypts, shrines, temples, and necropolises.
  • Kannibal Kult/focus-rested: after a short ritual you consume a mouthful of the flesh of a deceased person (intelligent creature), enabling you to learn one item of information from or about that person.
  • Holy Consecration/focus-encounter: intoning an impressive prayer in the ancient court tongue, you conjure a temporary zone of consecrated space around you; any undead in the zone must retreat out of it and any attempting to enter must win an opposed Commitment check against the casting Templar.
  • As You Command/focus-encounter: with several ritual gestures and flourishes you manifest your authority as a Templar of the Imperial Ancestor Cult to command, banish, or summon the spirit of a deceased Imperial citizen; the spirit is allowed an opposed Commitment check to resist; commandings and summonings last 1 minute but banishings are (usually) permanent.


- A warlock is a type of wizard who takes the "easy" route to gain magical spells and abilities by pledging themselves to an evil infernal patron instead of studying a stack of moldy old spellbooks.  What could possibly go wrong?

Inherent: I Sense the Good in You/focus: your intimate exposure to infernal Vileness makes you strangely sensitive to creaures with the quality of Goodness.  You can suss it out with a few moments of observation and concentration.

Classic Weapon: spiky morningstar flail

  • Infernal Pact/constant-special/you make a dark, infernal pact with a powerful creature of the hells.  Each patron creature will have a set of six unique talents which then become available to the warlock to acquire as spells or supernatural abilities.  Requires payment of souls via ritual sacrifice: 6 souls for the pact with the first patron, 12 for the pact with a second patron, etc.
  • Awesome Sacrifice/focus-rested: you ritually murder and intelligent creature in an hour-long ceremony and dedicate its soul to an infernal patron with whom you already have a pact; you also gain 1 AP per HP of the victim.
  • Hellfire/focus-encounter: you project a conical jet of defiling hellfire to 30 feet; all creatures caught in the jet suffer 2 wounds, but they can avoid 1 wound by making a Daring save.
  • Mark of the Beast/constant: you volunteer to a permanent physical change of an infernal nature as stipulated by your patron; examples include a demon's tail, horns, hooves, weird glowing eyes, etc.  You suffer a penalty of -4 to social interations with non-infernal creatures but in return for this show of devotion your patron infuses you with infernal Vileness which empowers you, providing +1 to all attribute rolls.
  • Evil Eye/focus-encounter: you place a temporary infernal curse on a victim (within 30 feet), which lasts one minute or until the current action scene is over.  The victim is allowed a Commitment save, otherwise is -2 to all rolls.
  • Summon Imp/focus-rested: with a short, painful ritual requiring shedding your own blood you summon an imp (a small infernal creature about the size of a monkey or cat) to do your bidding.  The creature will remain on this plane for one hour during which it will reluctantly follow orders.  It can also cast any spell the warlock knows but will return to its own plane immediately afterwards.  [Imp: AC-10, HP 2, Attack: 1 x 2d10 (usually claw or bite)]


White Monk
- A White Monk is a martial artist specializing in using holy chakra energies to vanquish evil and heal the suffering.  Their style has a focus on hand techniques using different styles of clawed gloves.

Inherent: Fists of Fury/constant: +1 to unarmed attacks

Classic Weapon: clawed gloves (many types available)

  • Whirlwind/focus-encounter: gathering momentum with bold spinning movements you strike all enemies around you; allows the monk to make one attack against up to four adjacent enemies, but with -1 to each attack after the first
  • Air Render/constant: you project a bolt of chakra energy at one creature up to 30 feet away; allows you to make a normal attack as a ranged attack instead; clawed gloves must be worn as a focus
  • Earth Render/encounter-focus: you channel chakra into the earth to activate elemental Earth energy; blasts Earth and chakra energy up from the ground in a 30 foot line out from the monk; each creature on that line must pass an Awareness check or suffer 1 wound; clawed gloves must be worn as a focus
  • Far Fist/rested-focus: a variant of the Air Render technique which causes a blast of chakra energy to manifest at 20 to 30 feet from the monk, injuring all those within a 10 foot radius; each creature in the blast radius is allowed an Awareness check to avoid injury; clawed gloves must be worn as a focus
  • Holy Chakra Sign/rested-focus: by summoning your chakra energies and projecting them into a wounded or suffering creature you heal them of 1 wound or a disease, or one temporary ailments (such a blindness, paralysis, etc.) no matter the source
  • Exorcise/encounter-focus: striking a special holy stance you project your holy chakra energy outward, driving back undead; undead within 20 feet must pass a Commitment check or flee, not returning for 24  hours


The Imperial Legionary
- An Imperial Legionary is one of the finely trained heavy infantry of the imperial army.  As they are usually outnumbered they emphasize defensive tactics to survive battle with the hordes.

Inherent: Shield Master/constant: when using a shield, +1 to AC over and above the normal shield AC

Classic Weapon: Shield

  • Spellbreaker/focus-encounter: you can channel arcane negative energies into your shield; once charged, you can expend the charge when you roll to resist any magical attack or effect roll twice and take the highest result; a magical charge lasts 24 hours or until used or unless the legionary re-absorbs it to re-use later
  • Hold The Line/focus: you take a special stationary defensive shield stance based on centuries of imperial experience; gain +1 AC and also give any adjacent allies +1 AC; requires an equipped shield
  • Heavy Blade/constant: +1 to attacks with Heavy bladed weapons
  • Relieve The Line/constant: you know a special battle maneuver allowing you to smoothly swap places with an ally within 10'
  • Rally The Troops/focus: shout a traditional imperial battle chant to bolser morale; allows all allies nearby a +1 to their next bravery/fear type attribute check in this action scene OR one re-roll of a recently failed bravery/fear type check
  • Blessing of Victory/focus-rested: once per day you can pray at an Imperial temple or shrine or attend and Imperial religious ceremony and gain a blessing (gain 1 AP)


White-Haired Witch
- The White-haired Witch is a female wuxia martial artist with special abilities to use her hair as a long limb. Despite being called a witch she equally may appear as a dedicated avenger of injustice or an implacable tracker assassin.

Inherent: Magic White Hair/focus: you can magically extend your hair out 20 feet and grapple or roughly manipulate with it; however you cannot perform fine manipulation skills such as writing with a pen.

Classic Weapon: whip (In addition to normal Light Weapon attacks, the witch may trip, disarm, grapple, or choke an opponent following a successful whip strike.)

  • Martial Witch/constant: the witch is trained in martial arts, allowing lethal unarmed attacks as a Light Weapon and a special dodge(pass a Cunning check to flip or spin out of the path of an attack)
  • "Men are such liars"/constant: a witch can always tell if a male is lying
  • "Hmph"/focus: with a quick bad-girl smirk and slight snort, you summon qi for the fight; gain one temporary Awesome Point which can only be used in the current action scene
  • "Misfits following a misfit"/focus: after sizing them up for a few moments, the witch taunts her opponents, causing them to be Disadvantaged on their first roll against her in the current scene.
  • "Where have you flown, little Sparrow?"/rested: the witch has an uncanny ability to intuit where to find her quarry.
  • "Kill them!"/rested; a small gang of thug minions appear from nearby and perform acts of intimidation or violence for one action scene
  • Far Sighted/focus; taking a few moments to concentrate, the witch can see to three times as far as a normal person; this vision negates all distance penalties for ranged shooting 
  • Lashing Leap/rested: while lashing her whip for energy, the witch can perform a long, drifting leap covering up to 100 feet.


Neo School Hack - Koar Rulz

Neo School HackOkay, so Neo School Hack is my hack of the very fun and clever Old School Hack by Kirin Robinson plus ideas shamelessly stolen from Andrew Shields' epic version of Old School Hack called The World Between for Fictive Hack.  Many thanks to both of those fine designers.  Broadly defined it is a simplified and modernized "indie" version of the original Dungeons & Dragons role playing game.
My Neo School Hack has an implied fantasy Egypt background because that's the groove I was in at the time.  But that setting is not deeply baked in, so you only need to change a couple names to adapt it to your setting.

What you'll need to play:
⦁ 10-sided (d10s) and 12-sided (d12s) dice; three d10 of different colors and one d12 per player works well
⦁ A bunch of small items (game tokens, marbles, poker chips, candies, etc.) to denote the Awesome Points gained and spent during play (more of which anon).
⦁ Some scratch paper and something to write with (pencils are good so you can erase stuff)
⦁ The original Old School Hack and The World Between for Fictive Hack

Making A CharacterThe first thing players need to do is make a character.  A character has two main components: a race (humanoid species) and a class (profession).  Look over the races and classes below and check out the talents which each provides.  Races each have three unique talents and classes each have six unique talents.  At level 1 characters start with one racial talent and one class talent, and can acquire more as they gain levels.  Characters also have six attributes which represent their physical, mental, and social characteristics.


Talents have characteristics which affect how often you can use them.  They are marked as constant, encounter, or rested and also may be noted as requiring focus to use.
⦁ Constant - some function passively all the time; others are usable at the character's discretion any time, but only once per round in an action scene
⦁ Encounter - usable only once per action scene (but can be recharged in a later round during the scene by spending Awesome Points, as explained below)
⦁ Rested - usable once, after which the character must have at least 6 hours of full rest to regain it (but can also be recharged without resting by spending Awesome Points)
⦁ Focus - in an action scene the character declares intended use of the focus talent near the beginning of a round; the talent takes effect only at the end of the round (or after 5 to 10 seconds outside of an action scene)--and thus could be interrupted by events before it can be completed.


Your character has six attributes:
⦁ Awareness: alertness, perception, insight
⦁ Brawn: size, strength, toughness
⦁ Charm: social talents, ability to inspire or persuade
⦁ Commitment: devotion, intensity, will, resistance to magic
⦁ Cunning: trickery, sneakiness, lying, stealth, theft
⦁ Daring: courage, reflexes, handling risk

Determine your character's attribute values by rolling two d10 together six times, each time adding the two d10 together to end up with six values.  Check those values against the chart below to get your final attribute bonus (which might be negative!) for each.  Then allocate each bonus value to one of your character's attribute as desired.  As you place them, think about using them to express a personality for your character and also keep in mind the sorts of values which might complement the class you would like for you character.  If your rolls end up providing no positive bonuses at all, start over.

Roll Value Attribute Bonus
up to 5 -2
6 to 8 -1
9 to 11 0
12 to 14        +1
15 to 17        +2
18 to 20        +3

[Optional: you can use the array method, where each player gets an array of six bonuses and can place them as desired.  This method isn't in keeping with the spirit of old school gaming and is less fun, but is fairer because it ensures everyone starts on an equal footing.  The array bonuses are: +2, +1, +1, 0, 0, and -1.]

RACES- There are eleven races to choose from: the classic Human, Elf, Half-elf, Dwarf, and Half-Orc, plus my setting-specific Ubasti (cat people), Hathi (cow people), Sebeki (crocodile people), Anubi (black jackal people), Sethi (cobra people), and Thouti (baboon people).  As mentioned above, the animal people here are for my "Anubia" ancient Egypt setting so feel free to change names or leave some out if you so prefer.  Note that each racial talent may only be taken once, unless it says otherwise, and you may never have a total of more than three.

Adaptable/rested: start each morning with one free AP [this talent may be taken up to three times]

- Elvish Weapons/constant: +1 to hit with longbows or longswords
- Feykind/constant: +1 to attribute checks to influence any fey creatures
- Eldritch/encounter: +1 to saves against arcane magic

- Elvish Weapons/constant: +1 to hit with longbows or longswords
- Adaptable/rested: start each morning with one free AP [may be taken twice]
- Eldritch/encounter: +1 to saves against arcane magic

- Dwarvish Weapons/constant: +1 to hit with axes, hammers, or crossbows
- Heft/constant: can carry two extra Heavy Things (explained below), no problem
- Hard as Iron/encounter: +1 to Brawn-based saves against poison, disease, fatigue, etc.

- Adaptable/rested: start each morning with one free AP [may be taken twice]
- Strong Like Ox/constant: can carry one extra Heavy Thing; also get +1 to Brawn checks involving non-combat applications of muscle
- Spirit Warding/focus: ward off a ghost or spirit using innate spirituality by winning an opposed Commitment check
Ubasti (cat people)
- Nine Lives/rested: avoid loss of one wound from physical injury by making a Commitment save
- Spirit Warding/focus: ward off a ghost or spirit using innate spirituality by winning an opposed Commitment check
- Four Play/constant:  make a Daring save to land safely on all fours from tripping, falling, jumping, or being thrown

Hathi (cow people)
- Strong Like Ox/constant: can carry one extra Heavy Thing; also get +1 to Brawn checks involving non-combat applications of muscle
- Song & Dance/focus: with a short warm-up, entertain and inspire all creatures in same arena with a short moving musical performance
- Headbutt/focus: paw the ground, then bash headlong into target with +1 on a Brawn check to smash a large object or stun a creature

Sebeki (crocodile people)
- Chomp/constant: those pearly white fangs aren't just for a dazzling smile; you can chomp on your enemies with an attack which causes 1 wound
- Power Tail/constant: the broad sebeki tail makes for strong swimmers; swim and dash in the water at twice the speed of walking and running on land
- Basking/rested: you may rest in the sun, preferably on a warm surface, and become rested (to recover Rested talents) in half the normal time

Anubi (jackal people)
- Perky Ears/constant: Anubi have keen ears; +1 to Awareness checks using hearing
- Bloodhound/constant: Anubi have keen noses; +1 to Awareness checks using scent
- Friend of the Dead/rested: +1 to Charm checks when influencing any undead

Sethi (cobra people)
- Venom Fangs/rested: your small fangs do little damage, but the venom they inject can cause 1 wound (but victim gets a Brawn save to avoid the effects)
- Squamous/constant: your scaly hide is extra tough; +1 to armor class
- Speak With Forked Tongue/constant: you can communicate with any scaly creature

Thouti (baboon people)
- Mageblood/focus: you have an innate connection with the arcane; may try an Commitment check to detect the presence of magic close by
- Book Monkey/constant: the Thouti are surprisingly scholarly; you can read and write two extra starting  languages
- Blue Buttocks/focus: square off and display your outrageously blue baboon buttocks; +2 to Daring checks to annoy, distract, shock, confuse, or otherwise psychologically discomfit any or all creatures watching nearby

CLASSES- Each class has a Classic Weapon; characters get +1 to hit when using the Classic Weapon of their class.  The weapons below are selected for an Egyptian-Arabian themed setting, but ones more suited to the more traditional European/medieval themed fantasy setting are provided in brackets.
- Each class has an Inherent (unique) talent which they get for free at first level
- Some talents can be taken more than once and if so, their effects may stack together
- Some talents access a sub-set of several themed talents; in some cases you may only ever pick one of that sub-set, in others you may pick one sub-talent each time the talent is taken
- There are nine core classes to choose from: Bashi-Bazouk, Cleric, Dervish/Houri, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Thief, Witch, and Wizard
- The bashi-bazouk is a wild native warrior, fierce in battle and enjoying an affinity with the spirit world.

Classic Weapon: javelin [axe]

Inherent: Long Arm/constant: +1 to hit with thrown weapons

Gruesome Kill/focus:  If you inflict at least 1 more Wound than you need to for defeating your foe, you can messily destroy your once-living target. Minions and toughs will flee from you unless something scarier compels them to stay; if in doubt, roll 2d10. If you roll higher than the total number of Wounds arrayed against you, they flee.

Battle Presence/focus: If you can look an attacking foe in the eye, you can take one die from the foe’s attack. (A foe with a light weapon would roll 2d10 instead of 3d10 to hit.) This works against one foe per use, maximum once per round. A minion will automatically run. Out of combat, you get +2 to your attempts to intimidate or resist intimidation.

Headlong/encounter: You're an expert at rushing in to attack. Once per encounter you can make both a Move action and an Attack action in the same round, with a +2 bonus to the attack.

Canny Prey/constant: Either a base Awareness test when none would be allowed, or +2 to a normal Awareness test, to detect traps and ambushes. You also know how to set traps, where they should be, and how they work.

Ghost Strike/encounter: Your culture is closer to the spirit world in everyday life.  You know how to strike ghosts and spirits as though they were physical.  You can use this with a melee weapon, a thrown weapon, or flame.

Spirit Friend/focus-rested: A spirit of a deceased member of your clan has somehow become attached to you.  You can summon him or her with a few moments of calm meditiation, some kind words, and a small offering of fruit, wine, etc.  The spirit appears as a floating light source that follows your commands, including being able to shine as brightly as a torch or as dim as a candle.  It can also guide you towards safety for a short while.

- The cleric is a priest, priestess or other holy person devoted to a single deity.
Classic Weapon: mace

Inherent: Sign of Faith/constant: +1 to Commitment if displaying your holy symbol

Prayer of Healing/focus-rested: This spell invokes your deity to close wounds and restore health and energy.  By laying your hands on someone who is down to 2 hit points or less, which could be yourself, you bring them back up to 1 hit point less than their normal full amount of wounds in a quick ritual that lights up the area around you with sacred glowing symbols appropriate to your deity.

Feel the Evil/constant: Above and beyond simple malevolence in someone's heart, some places, things and people in the world reek of true evil, whether they are touched by fell gods or by demonic taint.  You can sense this kind of greater evil by merely taking a moment and focusing; if it disguised you make focus, and by taking the time to make an actual Awareness check you may be able to discern its true source or nature.

Turn Undead/focus-rested: By invoking your god and displaying your holy symbol, you acquire a holy (or unholy) aura around you and those nearby.  Any non-minion undead must test their Daring against your Commitment +2  to be able to attack anyone in your party, while Minions can't attack at all.  If you remain undamaged for three rounds of concentrating, you can disperse the aura outward, either destroying (holy) or controlling (unholy) any one undead or group of minions in the same arena.

Bless/focus-rested: By invoking your god you can provide a blessing to any one person who does not follow a deity opposed to yours.  That person may add +2 to any one roll they make during the next hour.

Light/focus: With a short prayer the cleric creates a ball of light which floats nearby and follows the cleric around.  It provides the same light as a torch or lantern and lasts an hour unless dismissed.
Shield of Faith/encounter-focus: The cleric uses the power of faith to summon an aura of holiness (or unholiness) providing protection of +1 to AC for the rest of the encounter.

- The Dervish (male) or Houri (female) is a dancer with aspects of a thief and a mystic.

Classic Weapon: whip

Inherent: Devastatingly Effective/constant: +1 to Charm rolls while wearing your dance outfit

Endless Darts/constant: You like to always have a cache of sharp things hidden around your
person, which you can use above and beyond your main weapon as a secondary Ranged or Light weapon. Any attempts to disarm you will always result in your having at least one small blade somewhere that was missed.

Nimble/constant: Years of training in body movements, dance, and acrobatic maneuvers makes the Dervish/Houri extremely nimble; gain an extra +1 AC when Defending and +2 to any Cunning or Daring checks involving balance, acrobatics, or other tricky physical maneuvers.

Blurring Whirl/encounter: By spinning with mystical energy, the Dervish/Houri whirls around so fast that he or she becomes a blur; -2 to any attacks on the dancer.

Awesome Trance/rested-focus: By dancing into a trance state for a couple minutes the Dervish/Houri can summon mystical energies; gain 1 AP.

Center of Attention/encounter-focus: The Dervish/Houri bursts into an amazing acrobatic-dance routine wrapped in mystical powers; all creatures nearby must make a Commitment save or just stand there watching with amazement; can be maintained for a number of rounds equal to the dancer's Commitment or Brawn bonus.

Double Trouble/focus: After dancing up some momentum, the Dervish/Houri is able to make one normal attack against each of two adjacent enemies.

- The fighter is just that: a master of weapons and combat.

Classic Weapon: scimitar [longsword]

Inherent: Hack & Slash/constant: +1 to hit with all melee weapons

Weapon of Choice/constant: You've become adeptly familiar with a specific weapon of your choice, and you use it as a natural extension of your body. As long as you are wielding it, all your attack dice are Face Dice (see combat rules below). If for whatever reason you take up a new weapon, a week of training will switch your Weapon of Choice to that one.

Tough Bastard/constant: Getting beat up as often as you do has its advantages. You're tougher than most, and can take more punishment because of it. You start off with seven hit points instead of the usual five. Plus you've usually got some old war stories and a don't-mess-with-me countenance that gives you a +2 on any Charm check when trying to talk someone out of violence.

Shield Bash/constant: If you are wielding a Shield, you can attempt a special attack with it that stuns an opponent, interrupting any focus action underway and preventing them from using the Attack action this round or the next.

Parry/constant: If Defending or Protecting, and wielding a weapon or shield you may attempt an attack roll against one successful attack; if your attack roll exceeds the attacker's roll then you have parried the attack and it fails.

Exploit Weakness/focus: Practice in fighting means you have a trained eye for an Achilles’ Heel.  Every couple of fights you can carefully observe that a monster or an opponent has a weakness, and if you are able to successfully Focus on it, attacks you make against it that round get a +1 bonus to hit and do an extra point of damage.

Disarm/constant: You can attempt a special attack which causes the target to drop one specified weapon they are carrying (attacker tries an opposed Cunning check against the defender's Daring)

- The paladin is a crusading holy warrior devoted to a good deity.

Classic Weapon: khopesh sword [warhammer]

Inherent: They Dare Not/constant: +1 to all saves vs. unholy or evil spells

Detect Evil/focus: concentrating, the paladin listens to the surrounding auras and will sense any evil creatures in a 90-degree area out to 30 feet.

Lay on Hands/focus-rested: pausing to pray and gather holy energy, the paladin can lay a hand on any injured person who is not evil and heal them of 1 wound.

Sacred Purity/constant: filled with holy essence, the paladin may re-roll any failed save against diseases, normal or magical.

Holy Aura/focus-encounter: the paladin's inner resolve makes fear impossible, no matter what the circumstances; and with a strong declaration of holy purpose, all companions and allies within 15 feet are emboldened, gaining +2 to any rolls against fear.

Glow/focus-encounter: pausing to pray and express inner holy essence, the paladin glows with a golden light like a divine torch; lasts for one hour but can be dispelled earlier

Devotion (may not be taken by other classes; may choose only one devotion ever)
-- Divine Avenger/focus-encounter: channeling holy energy into a held or thrown weapon, the paladin gains +1 to hit and +1 wound of damage to attacks against evil creatures for the duration of that encounter.
-- Divine Protector/focus-encounter: channeling holy energy into a held shield, the paladin gains +2 AC and +2 to saves when attacked by evil creatures for the duration of that encounter.
-- Divine Knight/focus-rested: the paladin gains a loyal, divine riding creature which is more intelligent than ordinary ones of its type.  It can be called with a special prayer; once called it remains until dismissed to return to the heavens, ready to be recalled later.  The mount comes saddled and armored, with AC = 14, HP = 3, with an appropriate single 2d10 attack (with Face Dice) doing 1 wound.

- The ranger is a scout and a hunter, at one with the outdoors and the animals which live there.
Classic Weapon: bow

Inherent: Tuli's Revenge/constant +1 to hit with bows

Deadly Shot/focus-encounter: taking careful aim at an enemy's vital point, the ranger scores +1 wound on a hit

Boon Companion/constant: the ranger gains a loyal companion creature which is more intelligent than ordinary ones of its type.  The player decides on the animal type, but it may not be larger than a large wolf.  The critter has statistics of AC = 10, HP = 3, with an appropriate single 2d10 attack (with Face Die) doing 1 wound.

Survival/constant: the ranger is a master of wilderness knowledge and easily finds food and shelter in normal wilderness situations, and gets +2 to Awareness rolls to survive in unusual environments

Natural Shadow/focus: with a few moments of preparation the ranger blends into nearby natural terrain, gaining +2 to Cunning rolls to avoid being noticed

Down Boy--Here Kitty/focus-encounter: using your charismatic presence and animal lore, you turn away (Daring check at +1) or lure closer (Charm check at +1) one animal-like creature; may be used on multiple animals per encounter but only once per animal.

It Went That-a-way/focus: taking a few moments to study the scene the ranger tracks quarry easily, if slowly, in favorable conditions (soft earth, etc.), and gets +2 to Cunning rolls in difficult circumstances; this talent may be used in reverse to cover tracks

- The thief is just that: a thief.  They may also be known as burglars, assassins, highwaymen, footpads, "scouts", etc.  Either way they'll likely end up dangling in a noose some day.

Classic Weapon: dagger

Inherent: Lucky Bastard/rested: once per day you may re-roll any one roll in a situation where you are in danger

Busy Hands/focus: A successful Cunning check against a nearby person's Awareness allows you to remove and acquire any visible object that they are not actively holding, no matter what the situation is.  During combat this is usually noticed, regardless of success.

Quick as a Flash/constant (immediate): Whenever you are surprised by something or someone, including traps going off, you get to add a +1 on the next die roll you make as long as it happens directly afterwards.

Pick Locks/focus: With a bit of time and patience you can find, disable, or re-enable devices like locks and traps.  You get +2 to Cunning checks to attempt.  Also gives you knowledge of how to use special small tool kits which add +1 to the roll if you have one.

Climbing/constant: You know a bunch of tricks about climbing different stuff and you've done it plenty of times.  You get a +2 to Daring checks for climbing and if you're next to someone climbing without this talent you can lend them an Awesome Point to spend if they start to fall.

Backstab/focus: By attacking an opponent from behind (or above) who is currently unaware of you or distracted, you get a +2 to hit them and do an extra two wounds of damage if you succeed.

Sneak/focus: You can attempt a focus action in combat to slip past opponents without being attacked;  you also get +2 to normal attempts to sneak around quietly and unseen outside of combat.

- A witch is the student or apostle of a strange, mysterious entity who grants magical powers (and sometimes cats) in return for conversation, tea, and occasional live sacrifices.

Classic Weapon: broom

Inherent: Cackle/focus: you unleash an unnerving creepy cackle like only a witch can; your victim must make a Commitment check against your Cunning check or quiver with fear for a round.

Swept Away/rested: hopping astride a broom you fly up into the air and away; you can fly for one hour per point of Commitment bonus (but a minimun of one hour even if the bonus is 0 or less).

Bubbling Cauldron/focus-rested: from a small cauldron full of weird ingredients bubbling over a fire you can draw off one potion or handful of dust containing any spell you know; a person hit with the dust or ingesting the potion is affected by the contained spell

Hex/focus-encounter: with a creepy cackle you hex a creature with black magic; creatures are allowed a Commitment save, otherwise they will suffer -2 to all rolls for 24 hours; may be cast in reverse to remove the hex; hexes may be placed on objects so that anyone touching them is hexed.

Frog!/focus-encounter: you turn a living creature into a frog (or a newt); the victim gets a Commitment save otherwise will remain a frog for 24 hours; may be cast in reverse to un-frog a person

Black Cat Familiar/constant: you have an intelligent magical black cat as your constant, devoted companion; it can talk and with a moment of concentration you can see and hear what it sees and hears (and vice versa); AC-14, 1 HP.  (Optional: instead of a cat you may choose a black rat, bat, goat, owl, raven, snake, or toad.]

Lovely Complexion, Dearie/constant: your skin becomes infused with weirding and permanently turns green; only magical spells can conceal this effect; all Charm rolls you make are at -2 but you permanently gain one of two boons (your choice): +2 to Commitment saves vs. magic cast on you OR any victims of your magic are -2 on Commitment saves vs. your spells

- The wizard is a worker of magics learned and cast by dint of superior intellect, weird talents, and a certain amount of luck.

Classic Weapon: staff

Inherent: Detect Magic/focus:  From years of experience you can sense arcane energies by merely taking a moment and focusing, and by taking the time to make an actual Awareness check you may be able to discern the source or nature of those energies.

Zap/focus:  you shoot out a ray of elemental energy (pick from fire, ice, acid, or lightning before casting) at one target within 30 feet; requires a successful ranged attack (or touch attack, if adjacent) to hit doing 1 wound.

Dispell Magic/focus-rested: The ability to summon arcane powers includes the reverse: the ability to dispell those powers.  With a bit of focus the wizard can dispell any spell he knows which has been cast by someone of the same level or lower.  If casting it to block a focus spell being cast by an opponent, the wizard must make a successful Commitment check against the other caster's Commitment.

Arcane Bolt/focus-encounter:  This spell shoots out a magical bolt that automatically hits one target within 30 feet, doing 2 points of damage.  By taking a hit point of damage yourself in order to channel extra energy into it, you can increase the damage to 3 points.

Sleep/focus-rested: Your character can make his or her voice take on a particularly somber
and restful tone. Doing so, you can make two non-minion opponents or any number of Minions within 30 feet that can hear you fall asleep by making a successful Charm test vs. their Commitment(s). They’ll sleep through any normal noise, but a good shake or swift kick is all it takes to wake them.

Book of Power/constant (item): You have acquired a magical tome, known as a grimoire, containing six spells (each being a separate talent).  Pick one of the spells to acquire as a talent.  This talent may be taken more than once to learn other spells from that grimoire or from a new grimoire.

Arcane Armor/focus-rested: The Wizard conjures an aura of magical force providing protection of +1 to AC for one hour.

Awesome PointsThe gaining and spending of Awesome Points (APs) are a key part of how the rules of Neo School Hack work during play.  At the start of each session two containers are placed on the table with small items (beads, candies, marbles, etc.) to hand out as Awesome Points (APs).  One container is The Bowl, with 2 APs per player, and the other is is The Stack.  At any time–whether during character creation, someone saying something hilarious about the current events, a particularly slick move by a player character, whatever–when someone does something awesome, anyone can reach into The Bowl and give that someone an AP.  The players can spend earned APs during play as explained below; the DM can spend APs from The Stack.  When the players spend APs they are put aside out of play.  When the DM spends APs they go from The Stack into The Bowl.

Ways to Spend APs:

1 Point
- Add 2 to an Attribute roll
- Have something handy nearby or within reach
- Add a cool effect to an Attack or Attribute roll
- Use an Encounter talent again in an encounter

2 Points
- Do one extra wound of damage after a successful attack
- Shrug off (negate) a single point of damage that you've just taken
- Create an NPC you have a relationship with
- Recharge a Rested talent outside of combat without taking a full rest

3 Points
- Use a talent from your class that you don't have yet

Keep track on your character sheet of how many APs you've earned and used during a session so that you can level up (see next section).

Character ProgressionCharacters progress by earning class levels, which is called leveling up.  When all characters at the table have spent (not just earned) 12 APs each then all characters go up a level together.  Leveling up can occur any time during a play session, except while a combat or action scene is on-going.  When a character levels up they are allowed to gain one of the following:

⦁ +1 to an attribute bonus, but only to a maximum total of +3 per any one attribute.

⦁ +1 Hit Point

⦁ one new talent; NOTE: you may select a normal (not Inherent) talent from another class but can never have more talents from other classes than you do from your own class; and you may only take racial talents from your character's starting race

Doing StuffIn addition to using talents, characters can do things just using their attributes or making normal simple attacks with weapons.  When you want your character to do something which will have consequences if you fail, such as picking a lock or jumping down from a balcony, you'll need to pass an attribute check. (The original Old School Hack has a great Venn diagram page with examples of which attributes are used for which sorts of activities.) Explain what you're attempting, determine with your DM which of your six attributes is the most appropriate for the check, then roll one d12 and add the bonus for that attribute.  That final score is compared to a roll of one d12 by the DM, which may be modified plus or minus depending on the circumstances.  If your final score equals or exceeds the DM's then you succeed; if you roll less than the DM--or roll a natural 1--you fail.  If two characters are rolling against each other and they roll a tie then nothing happens, but you can usually try again.

Neo School Hack does not have a "skills system" like those in other games.  The characters are assumed to be generally unsophisticated and minimally educated people from an ancient or medieval society.  However, the attributes represent not only basic physical and mental characteristics but are also meant to reflect unspecified basic background skills and experiences.

EncumbranceEncumbrance is about how much stuff your character can carry.  Things are divided into Ordinary, Heavy, and Very Heavy.  A character can comfortably carry one Heavy thing per point of Brawn bonus; Very Heavy things count as two Heavy Things.  A character carrying their maximum amount of Heavy things is considered "encumbered".  Characters with a Brawn bonus of 0 can still carry one Heavy thing but will count as "encumbered".  An encumbered creature can only move by staggering slowly along and is -4 to all rolls.  Characters with a Brawn bonus of -1 or less cannot carry any Heavy things at all.

A dragged item is considered to be half its weight.  And if an item can be held by two people they can combine their Brawn to carry it.

CombatIn Neo School Hack your character will go on adventures and adventures tend to be dangerous.  There will be monsters, bandits, assassins, guards, and villains of every description.  At some point you'll have a fight on your hands.  Combat is handled in a manner similar to Doing Stuff.

Initiative: at the start of a combat each character and each group of bad guys rolls 1d10, with higher scores acting earlier in the round.  [Optional: characters may add their Daring bonus to their roll.]

At the start of each round each character must decide on which one of six general Actions they will perform this round.  All Actions are performed in their phases in the sequence below, with creatures with higher Initiative scores going first in that action.

1 - Defend or Protect: choosing either of these options means forgoing direct action in favor of taking a reactive stance which allows you to make a Counter-attack (a free attack) against anyone that tries to hit you in the attack turn of this round; choosing to Defend also means that your AC goes up by +2; choosing to Protect means choosing a friend next to you and suffering any attack this round directed at them

2 - Shoot: if you have a Ranged weapon you may make an attack against anyone in range; you may also choose to "draw and hold" in order to shoot during the Attack Action this round

3 - Focus or Impede: if you decide to use talent which requires Focus (like casting a spell) it's at this point you announce what you're starting to do; the effects of the talent occur in Action 7.  Alternatively you may attempt to Impede someone from moving; to Impede you must be within 5 feet of them (you are allowed a free shift of up to 5 feet first) and make a successful Daring test against their Cunning; if you succeed you might also manage to Corner them (see Action 7).

4 - Move: characters are allowed to shift position up to 5' during any of the Actions without choosing to Move, but to move more than that, including climbing, jumping, charging, etc. you must act during this Action; some moves may require an Attribute check, like Daring to swing from that tempting chandelier; if someone managed to Impede you in Action 3, you may try a Counter-attack  (free attack) against them now if you wish

5 - Attack: this action allows you to attack with non-Ranged weapons (and any Ranged weapons which took the "aim and hold" option from Action 2)

6 - Push or Throw: You can attempt to push or throw an opponent 5~10 feet; a Push requires a successful Cunning roll against their Commitment roll; a Throw requires a successful Brawn roll against their Awareness or Commitment (their choice)

7 - Focus Resolution: In this action all Focus actions finally occur, using initiative to determine the order if necessary--but only if the focuser did not suffer damage or being Pushed or Thrown.  Also, if you successfully Impeded someone and also did not take any damage since then, the Impeded turms into Cornered and they cannot choose the Move action the following round either.

To attack you roll two d10 (three d10 for Light weapons, see below).  One will be your Face Die, which must be designated before rolling.  For Light weapons you add the higher of the two non-Face dice to the Face Die; for all other weapons you add the Face Die and non-Face die together.  Then compare that final score to the target's armor class (AC).  [Optional rule: for ranged weapons you add your Daring bonus to the attack roll and for melee combat you add your Brawn bonus to it.]  If your score is higher than the target's AC you have hit!  The target will suffer one to three wounds, depending on the weapon type (see below).  And if your Face Die comes up with a 10, then you have hit them "In The Face" (Ouch!) and do an additional wound of damage.

Unarmed: roll 1d10 plus the Attribute bonus of your choice; does 1 wound
- Examples: kick, punch, elbow, head butt

Light Weapons: roll 3d10; does 1 wound
- Examples: dagger, baton, dart, tomahawk, shortsword, rapier, clawed gloves

Ranged Weapons: roll 2d10; does 1 wound
- Examples: bow, longbow, crossbow, javelin, blowgun, sling

Reach Weapons: roll 2d10; does 1 wound; a combatant with a reach weapon facing an opponent without one gets +1 to AC; +1 to Impede combat checks
- Examples: quarterstaff, spear, whip, pike

Heavy Weapons: roll 2d10; does 2 wounds
- Examples: longsword, morningstar, mace, falchion, warhammer, war axe, oar

Very Heavy Weapons: roll 2d10; does 2 wounds; counts as one Heavy Thing for carrying; requires two hands to wield so cannot carry a shield at the same time; special: does 2 extra wounds on a Face Hit
- Examples: tetsubo, two-handed sword, two-handed axe, halberd, anchor

Musket [optional; per your campaign setting]: roll 2d10; does 2 wounds; counts as heavy & ranged; must be fired as a focus action because they are so slow to load

Combat Maneuver Guidelines

Bull Rush: just make a Brawn vs. Brawn check to bodily knock down or bash back an opponent

Sunder: this is an attack against an opponent's weapon, shield, or other item they are holding in order to break it; attacker makes a normal weapon attack roll, versus a Cunning check by the defender; success means the defender has their held item broken; Fighters get +1 to Sunder attacks

Feint: attacker first must win a Cunning check against the defender's Awareness check; if win that contest, then follow with an attack roll with +1 to hit; if fail then the attack is at -1 instead

Grapple/Toss/Drag/Push/Pull: just make a Brawn vs. Brawn check
Breaking an on-going Grapple/Toss/Drag/Push/Pull: make a Brawn vs. Brawn check to muscle out, or a Cunning vs. Awareness to wriggle out.

ArmorThere are five levels of armor, from no armor to special Uber armor, each with its corresponding Armor Class (AC).  In addition, there  are two types of shield which can be worn to improve your AC.  Any suit of armor or shield can be sacrificed to absorb all the damage of one attack as it shatters with the blow.

No Armor: AC-8; fighting unprotected is daring, a character surviving a fight with no armor or shield automatically earns 2 Awesome Points.

Light Armor: AC-10; this equates to regular or studded leather, hide, a chainmail shirt, tons of buckles, etc.

Heavy Armor: AC-12: this equates to a steel breastplate, scale mail, full chainmail, etc.; this counts as one Heavy Thing

Very Heavy Armor: AC-14: full steel plate armor; this counts as two Heavy Things

Uber Armor: AC-16: this is a special or unusual level of armor generally only found on the rare bad guy or very dangeous hard-to-kill monsters; generally not wearable by characters

Light Shield: gives +1 to AC; about 1 or 2 feet across

Heavy  Shield: gives +2 to AC; about 3 feet across; this counts as one Heavy Thing
Wounds and Hit Points- All characters start with a basic 5 hit points (HP).

- Each time you take a wound, mark off one Hit Point on your character sheet; if your character drops to 0 or less hit points they are Grievously Wounded.

- When Grievously Wounded, roll 1d10:
- On a roll of 1, 2, or 3: the character is Bleeding Out; if they do not receive some sort of healing or medical attention then at the end of the action scene they must pass a Commitment or Brawn check vs. 10 or die.
- On a roll of 4 or better: the character is unconscious or barely conscious but not able to do anything; at the end of the action scene the character rallies to one HP and can stagger to their feet again

- Wounds can be recovered by magical healing or by rest:
- If the character has taken 3 wounds or less they can regain all lost wounds with an hour of full rest
- If the character has taken 4 or 5 wounds they will need a full day's bed rest to recover each lost hit point.

ConditionsDuring adventures characters may be afflicted with bad things other than wounds.  We'll refer to these afflictions by the term "conditions" (or as I like to say, being "zonked").  Some examples of conditions are things like becoming deafened, dazed, nauseous, drunk, or paralyzed.  There are three basic conditional states for a creature:
1. fine (no impairments)
2. suffering a condition which partially impairs (such as blindness or nausea)
3. suffering a condition which totally impairs (such as being paralyzed or unconscious)

Fine is fine and totally impaired is totally impaired, so here's how to handle partial impairments mechanically.  When a character is suffering a condition which partially impairs and they need to roll for some action which the impairment would affect, the GM rolls a d12 against them which is the "condition die".  If the condition die beats  the character's roll, either the 1d12 roll for an attribute check or 2d10 for an attack roll, then the character action fails.

Money and EquipmentWhen a character is created they get one free weapon and either another free weapon or one free armor--but remember that each Heavy weapon, armor, or shield counts as one Heavy Thing  and each Very Heavy weapon, armor, or shield counts as two Heavy Things for encumbrance.  Also remember that if a character fights with no armor, each time they survive a combat they get 2 Awesome Points.
Each character starts with a set of ordinary clothes with a belt pouch or roomy pockets.
Each character also starts with 10 x 2d12 gold pieces (gp) [Optional: all characters start with 100 gp.]

[Detailed, extensive equipment lists already exist in various editions of D&D, and other games free online, so I won't make up another gigantic one here.  In addition, the original Old School Hack has a nice simple way of figuring costs on the fly without long lists.]

For flavor, you should consider naming the various bits of currency with real-world names, like penny, shilling, dinar, rupee, doubloon, peso, florin, etc.  It sounds more dramatic  to say "I'll give you fifteen doubloons for that fine shield."

Hirelings and HenchmenYour characters may want to hire some help.  Roughly speaking, hirelings are minor servants and guards, but henchmen are more like the sidekicks to your hero.

- Henchmen have a race and class, usually selected from those available to the players for PCs; however they start with only one talent instead of the two a PC starts with.
- Henchmen attributes come from an array of one being -1, one being +1, and the rest being 0; the +1 is usually in the attribute most useful for that henchman's class.
- Henchmen advance in class level whenever their patron PC goes up one; however, unlike PCs the only increase on gaining a level is to take a talent from their original class or race; once all the class talents and race talents have been taken the henchman may no longer go up in level.

HP: 2
AC: 8, 10 or 12 depending on class and may have a shield if appropriate for their type
Attacks: 1 x 2d10 (do get a Face Die)
Weapons: cause damage normally for their type
Talent: one chosen from the basic talent list for their class

- Hireling have a race but not a character class. They will have one racial talent.
- Hireling attibutes will all be a 0 bonus.
- Hirelings do not advance in level, but a GM may decide certain hirelings are so integrated into the campaign story that they should be promoted to Henchmen.

HP: 1
AC: 8 or 10 (light armor) when hired, but can be equipped better at the character's expense
Attacks: 1 x 2d10 (but never a Face Die)
Weapons: only cause 1 wound no matter the actual weapon type

Correcting the Pathfinder White-Haired Witch

So to follow up on my recent post doing a White-Haired Witch class for Old School Hack, I thought I would look into how to do this class properly in Pathfinder.  The version in Pathfinder is an archetype for the Witch class.  Sadly, that version would not play anything like it should.

1. Start with the Unchained Monk as the base.

2. Add whip to the weapon proficiencies and replace the crossbow with bow (longbows and shortbows)

3. Replace the Stunning First per-level abilities with this set of hexes and variant abilities:
     1st Level: Prehensile Hair (as the hex except attacks with hair do the same damage as normal
     Unarmed Strike attacks for the witch's current level)
     4th Level: Mythic Strangling Hair [treat as a hex] automatically activates when the witch uses her
     Prehensile Hair
     8th Level: Evil Eye
     12th Level: Poison Touch
     16th Level (Blind or Deafen as Stunning Fist, but only when using hair attacks)
     20th Level (Paralyze as Stunning Fist. but only when using hair attacks)

There, that should play a lot better.

Totally Stereotypical Bard Instruments for D&D Races

At the last gathering of our merry band of gamers there were some jocular comments about various instruments likely to be used by bards of particular races.  I dredged those ideas back up just recently and decided to do a quick posting on what instruments seem to me to fit with some of the main D&D races. There are three instruments for each so you can roll 1d6 if you need a random result, plus combine that with a 1d6 roll for race if you need a really randomized bard.

  1. Human           1-2/guitar; 3-4/lute; 5-6/fiddle
  2. Dwarf             1-2/bagpipe; 3-4/tuba; 5-6/trombone
  3. Elf                   1-2/harp; 3-4/flute; 5-6/recorder
  4. Halfling          1-2/accordion; 3-4/tambourine; 5-6/hurdy-gurdy
  5. Gnome            1-2/handbells; 3-4/xylophone; 5-6/hammered dulcimer
  6. Half-orc          1-2/bass drum; 3-4/digeridoo; 5-6/bongos

Sword World JRPG

Okay, so I've always been interested in RPGs produced outside the English-speaking world.  But unless you know a particular language well enough to do internet searches in it, you have to hope someone somewhere has posted in a language which you do know that well.  My starting assumption has always been that the most likely non-European culture to produce a tabletop RPG would be Japan. Japan has a rich gaming heritage with lots of fans.  And anime. And manga. And of course pocky.

Eventually I came across the Sword World RPG.  There was very little information on it and (AFAIK) no official English translation. That felt like exactly the sort of authentic thing I was looking for.  So I poked around on Amazon and ordered a copy straight from Japan.

No I don't know Japanese (my bad), except for the kanji.  So, yes, I bought it as a neato-torpedo collectors item to put on my gaming shelf.

Later I came across a fan translation wiki.  Thanks for everyone who pitched in on that!  However some parts didn't quite make sense, particularly in the character creation section.

Anyway, judging by the character classes and races in the game (you can check out the wiki for details) it looks and feels very "Final Fantasy" looking, which is cool.

The White-Haired Witch Class for Neo School Hack

So in my buddy Steve's Pathfinder-based campaign I'm playing a witch character with the healer Hedge Witch archetype. The most recent hex I added to the character was Prehensile Hair, which allowed her to awesomely apply the finishing strike to a demon.  More recently, I was on YouTube, consuming some media, when I came across a clip of the scene from The Forbidden Kingdom (功夫之王) movie where the young punk Seeker battles the obviously more awesome White-Haired Witch (白髮魔女) and she takes the magic staff from him with her magic hair.  In that movie she's depicted as a villain, even though the character in the original novels Lian Nichang (練霓裳), nicknamed Jade Rakshasa (玉羅剎), is formidable martial arts vigilante fighting injustice.  And I thought to myself "Why isn't there a character class like that?"

Pathfinder does have an archetype for the witch class called White-Haired Witch, but all it does is swap out all the cool witch hexes--which are the core of the class--for a couple enhanced hair-weapon abilities and a handful of rogue talents. The class has no monk-style martial arts abilities. It would not play anything like the character in The Forbidden Kingdom.

So, since I'm still a bit OCD about my Neo School Hack rules, I decided NSH needed a White-Haired Witch class to remedy this glaring gaming oversight.
White-Haired Witch

- The White-haired Witch is a female wuxia martial artist with unique powers to use her hair. She may appear as a dedicated avenger of injustice or an implacable tracker assassin.

Inherent: Magic White Hair/focus: you can magically extend your hair out 30 feet and grapple or roughly manipulate with it; however you cannot perform fine manipulation skills such as writing with a pen.

Classic Weapon: whip (In addition to normal Light Weapon attacks with it, the witch may trip, disarm, grapple, or choke an opponent following a successful whip strike.)

Martial Witch ("巫侠")/constant: the witch is trained in martial arts, allowing lethal unarmed attacks as a Light Weapon and a special dodge (spend your turn to pass a Cunning check against the attacker's dice score to flip or spin out of the path of an attack)

"Men are such liars"/constant: a witch can always tell if a male is lying

"Hmph"/focus: with a quick bad-girl smirk and slight snort, the witch summons qi for the fight; gain one temporary Awesome Point which can only be used in the current action scene

"Misfits following a misfit"/focus: after sizing them up for a few moments, the witch taunts her opponents, causing all of them to be Disadvantaged on their first roll against her in the current scene.

"Where have you flown, little Sparrow?"/rested: the witch has an uncanny ability to intuit where to find her quarry.

"Kill them!"/rested; a small gang of armed thug minions suddenly appear from nearby and perform acts of intimidation or violence for one action scene

Far Sighted/focus; taking a few moments to concentrate, the witch can see to three times as far as a normal person; this vision negates all distance penalties for ranged shooting attacks.

Lashing Leap/rested: the witch can perform a long, drifting leap covering up to 50 feet; she can double this distance if lashing her whip to generate extra qi.


And, here are some awesome video clips from The Forbidden Kingdom of the witch in action which I based the character class on:
Scene at the inn:
Scene in the cherry blossom orchard:
Scene at the Jade Warlord's palace:

New Campaign Hex Map Early Draft

So I'm slowly working on the hex map for my Forest of Fiends campaign idea which may or may not actually be a real thing one day. I'm using Hexographer which is is a very simple program.  It makes getting started easy, but it's not long before you begin wishing it had more features. For most people making basic hex maps it perfectly adequate. For people who start making a crazy big map right away it leads to a lot of re-thinking your map as you go along, just saying.  The map is for a semi-sandbox adventure with a coast, deep jungle filled with adventure, and finally a great cliff atop which lies (reportedly) the homeland of the fey.

New Pathfinder Spell: Mage's Sanctum Privy

Mage's Sanctum PrivySchool: Abjuration; Level: sorceror/witch/wizard 5

Casting Time:  1 round

Components: V, S, M (a sheet of lead, sheet of paper, drop of perfume)

Range: close (25 fr. + 5 ft./2 levels)

Area: 10 ft tall by 5' square

Duration: 5 minutes per level

Saving Throw: none: Spell Resistance: no

Description: This spell conjures an enclosed privy for when you really need to go potty right now. The privy is ornately decorated inside and out and large enough for one medium or large sized humanoid creature to comfortably sit. When the mage is done all necessary business, all unpleasant wastes are sent to an unknown plane, any noxious odors disapparated, and the mage's private parts instantaneously cleansed and lightly misted with a pleasant scent.

Anyone looking into the privy from outside sees only a dark, foggy mass. Darkvision cannot penetrate it. No sounds, no matter how loud, can escape the privy, so nobody can eavesdrop from outside or be discomfited by overhearing impolite noises. Those inside can see out normally.

Divination (scrying) spells cannot perceive anything within the area, and those within are immune to detect thoughts. The ward prevents speech between those inside and those outside (because it blocks sound), but it does not prevent other communication, such as a sending or message spell, or telepathic communication, such as that between a wizard and her familiar.

Google+ is Dead! Long Live Google+ !

     So in case you hadn't heard, Google has announced the shutdown of Google+ in August of next year.  That is still a good ways off but the migration is already underway.  I have been a heavy user (well, lurker mostly) of Google+ over the last two years or so and generally enjoyed it.   Most, if not all, of the people and groups I follow there are either moving already or looking around to move soon. The most talked about alternatives as far as I've seen are MeWe, Facebook, and Discord.  I totally don't trust Facebook, and Discord looks more like it's for live gaming, but MeWe seems promising. FYI, my MeWe personal link is

    For now I'm going back to normal blogging, which suits me better than microblogging apps anyway.  My main need is an outlet to create content for myself and the gaming community.  Micro-blogging is so minimal it's almost a waste of time.

Crafting: The CharacTray(?), my hack of the CharacTable

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I decided to do a customized version of a cool lap table/tray/PED dock product for RPG gaming designed for when you don't sit at a table.  My version is built around the relatively thick/chunky notebook I use for gaming, plus my phone which I use as a notepad.  First I did a quick sketch of the layout on a big pad of graph paper:

Then I went to the art store and bought some materials, and grabbed a few tools to work with: two big sheets of 0.5" thick foam core posterboard, two sheets of soft gray foam, and more glue.

I cut out two matching rectangles from the 0.5" posterboard, one to act as the base, the other to be cut into the walls to be glued on top of the base to separate out the sections.

Then I had a quick chat with my artistic consultant, Samantha.

Next up: sketch out the walls on the "top" board:
Next, I very carefully cut out the wall sections.  I was particularly worried about the thin walls (0.5" deep and wide) would crack or bend.  I swapped in a fresh new blade for my x-acto craft knife and cut carefully.
Here are the wall sections all cut out:

Started gluing wall pieces onto base:

Completed wall gluing...waited overnight for proper drying.

Painted exposed foam core edges black, and extended paint into section floors about 2cm so no white would show after gluing in the soft foam floor linings.  While waiting for it to dry, started cutting out foam linings--always look to be doing two things at once!

But then I found that the glue had warped the base a bit. So I flipped it over and placed a weighty tome on it to get it to press back down some.

Finished gluing in foam floor linings.  While that was drying, started painting tops of wall sections.  Decided to go with a medium/dark gray which could later be drawn on with a marker to add some visual texture.

Here is the wall top painting first coat on.  The paint wouldn't mix properly and came out translucent in places, allowing the white posterboard to show through in places.  Eventually I did two coats and a lot of touch-ups.

And the final result:

Lessons Learned:
1) Even 0.5" (12.5mm) foam core board will warp with relatively (I thought) small amounts of glue. Weigh it down while it dries.
2) Leave more room for electrical cords than you think you'll need.  With the finished model there was not quite enough room to plug in the power cord for the notebook.

What If You Did Vancian Magic Like Tetris...

So I was reading an older post over at the Points of Light blog entitled D&D Doesn't Use Vancian Magic.  David's point is that although the magic system in D&D is often called "Vancian", it isn't actually an accurate simulation of how magic use is described in Vance's books, the Dying Earth novels in particular.  David provides this quote from Vance's work:

Maziriam made a selection from his books and with great effort forced five spells upon his brain: Phandaal's Gyrator, Felojun's Second Hypnotic Spell, The Excellent Prismatic Spray, The Charm of Untiring Nourishment, and the Spell of the Omnipotent Sphere. This accomplished, Maziriam drank wine and retired to his couch.

So, yes, the mage does go through his spell books and load spells into his brain. But there are not spell slots, or specified numbers of spells of particular levels--although the mages in Vance's books do seem to have a limit of how much spell power their brains can handle.

Therefore to make D&D magic more Vancian you would need to retain the spell books and spell prep time, but remove the spell slot grid where at any given level you may only memorize X number of spells of each level.  But this being a game you still want to have a way to limit the numbers/levels of spells which a mage with a given Intelligence and casting level can have mentally prepared at any given time.

And then I thought of giving each magic-using class a sheet with a grid and tiles of different shapes for the spells.  Larger spells would have larger tiles, thus taking up more space on the grid.  As long as there's room left on the grid to fit in a particular spell you can memorize it and place the tile.  That brought to mind the old game Tetris, where you have to fit tiles of different shapes (made of connected squares) into a rectangular space.  So what if the spell-tiles were not just larger, but also of more complex shapes (but probably still an assembly of squares) as the spell level increased?

That started sounding cool, until I realized that making up a set of spell tiles would be work, especially if you wanted more complex shapes.  And then I remembered those puzzles where you place geometric shapes (triangles, squares, and parallelograms) to make shapes or fill in a square: tangrams.  I think the easiest gaming aid would use magnetic pieces and a metal board.  The board would be big enough to handle your game's maximum spell-slot capacity.  I'd also want a quick reference guide printed on the back for each spell casting class showing the capacity area and how many of each geometric shape the character gets at each casting level.