Category Archives: house rules

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Samhain is for Witch Hunters

Tonight All Hallow’s Eve is upon us, and compared to last year there has been a complete dearth of Witch Hunter material.  Especially compared with last year!  There are a lot of excuses I could throw out there, chef among them being that my group really hasn’t played since August!  But most of it comes down to just being a bit tapped out this year.  I’ve had to focus on a lot of other things, which hasn’t meant much time scratching notes in the old notebook.

But I’m not going to let a Halloween go by without something for fellow fans of the Witch Hunter rpg.  This has been a strange year for us.  No official releases, very little ink spilled about the direction of the game.  The property has changed hands, and while there have been some promises, for the most part it’s been quiet as the grave.

j-_sprenger_and_h-_institutoris_malleus_maleficarum-_wellcome_l0000980Those of you who visit this site regularly know that since my group started play four years ago, we’ve incorporated a lot of “fixes” in our game.  Most of them I’ve posted here in various blog posts spread out over three years.  But if you are one of the two or three people who wish you could get all of our House Rules in one document, well today is your lucky day.  Now you can download the Malleus Maleficarum (the Hammer of Witches) for Witch Hunter: The Invisible World 2nd edition.  This is a compendium of all the house rules and tweaks we use in our game.  I’m adding a link to the Downloads page as well.  I’m understandably biased, but I feel these changes have really fine tuned the Witch Hunter experience for our group.  And until we get an official errata document, this may be the closest thing you are going to find for the game.  I claim no official position here, and obviously none of this is sanctioned by the Witch Hunter: Revelations campaign.  But I really hope this is useful for those of you who have been following this site for your home games.

(Yes, this is a not-so-clever play on the real Malleus Maleficarum, an actual 17th century account of witch hunting and the Invisible World.  Beyond the title, there is no relation between the two documents.)

Happy Halloween, everyone!

7th Sea: Expanding NPCs

Two weeks ago, the preview copies of the Heroes and Villains decks went out to backers of the 7th Sea 2nd edition kickstarter.  It gave us our first real look at how the JWP is planning to handle NPCs in the game.  I’ll save my thoughts on the decks themselves until their final release.  But lets talk about NPCs.

Under the 7th Sea core rules, there are really only one class of NPCs: Villains.  Villains have two stats: Strength and Influence, which combine to form their Villainy Rank.  The Hero deck proposes that NPC heroes have only one stat: Strength.  Ok, fair enough.  But for me that seems awfully limited in scope.  After all, different NPCs serve different roles to the players.  I think it makes sense to expand things a bit without going crazy.

Here’s what I’m proposing — for my games, anyway:

There are Five CLASSES of NPCs.  Each class defines the role of the character to the Heroes (the PCs).  It isn’t about what role the NPC serves in the world, but how they relate to the player characters that matters.  Each has a different array of stats depending on the needs of the NPC Class.  But ultimately, there are only three stats:

  • Strength: The character’s personal ability, intellect, charm, skill with a sword, ability to use magic, etc.
  • Influence: The character’s money, resources, minions, political power, allies, etc.
  • Favor: the faith the character has in you and the resources you can draw from. (Yup, just like secret societies).

The Classes of NPCs are as follows:

Villains
Just as explained in the Core rules, Villains have a Strength and Influence score that forms their Villainy Rank.

Patrons
Patrons are influential NPCs who can provide the heroes with means, wealth, and additional influence.  Patrons have two traits: Influence and Favor.

Allies
Allies are other noteworthy NPCs the heroes can call upon for aid or assistance from time to time.  Allies have two traits: Strength and Favor.

Extras
Extras are NPCs that have a neutral relationship with the Heroes.  In most instances, there is no need to give these characters any statistical detail.  But when you do, they have only one trait: Strength.

Brutes
Brutes aren’t proper NPCs.  They are generally underlings, goons, faceless mercenaries, and other threats that they wield against the heroes.  Brutes have one trait: Strength, determined by the number of individuals in the Squad.

I expect you can already figure out how this works.

Patrons are measured in their influence, because unless they are villains the players shouldn’t expect to come to blows against them.  How much and how often a Patron will exert this Influence on behalf of the heroes is measured by their Favor trait, which is handled just as one would with a Secret Society.  Favor is a resource.  Doing things for the Patron builds it up.  Calling in favors depletes it.  Simple as that.

Allies work almost the same way.  Except rather than bringing their Influence to bear for the Heroes, they exert their strength.  How often they willingly do this is measure by Favor.  Abuse an ally too much, and they won’t be so inclined to help you out in the future.

Now, I’m sure this all seems pretty elementary, so why bother?  Because this information is worthwhile when it comes to the players and how they interact with the world.  Not all Patrons are created equal.  Earning the patronage of a cardinal of the Vaticine church should have more potential ramifications than that of the Duchess of Charsouse.  But what point does Strength serve either character?  Likewise, its helpful to know how much Captain Berek of the Sea Dogs is in debt to the heroes, favor-wise, and how much muscle he can lend on your behalf.  But beyond a few key contacts, no one expects Captain Berek to have wide reaching influence.  (Actually, Berek is a bad example.  He could potentially be an Ally OR a Patron.)

This also suggests that Patrons could have schemes.  And why not?  This gives one more story hook for GMs to dress up for the players.

Consider the following guidelines when it comes to Patrons and Favor (modeled after Secret Societies, of course):

Earning Favor

  • Selling Information that is of interest a Patron is worth 2 Favor. Information of this type is not commonly known but not a closely guarded secret, such as a merchant’s previous failed businesses or the name of a privateer’s wife.
  • Aiding or acting as an agent of the Patron in a scheme that comes to fruition is worth 4 Favor. Acting as part of an unsuccessful scheme that does not fail do to your involvement is worth 2 Favor.
  • Selling a Secret that is of interest to the Patron is worth 6 Favor. Information of this type is a closely guarded secret, such as the secret bastard son of the Count or the identity of an Inquisition assassin.

Spending Favor

  • You can call upon your Patron to spend Wealth on your behalf, at a cost of 1 Favor for each point of Wealth spent. The Patron can spend up to half of his or her Influence in Wealth in this manner. Patrons will not spend beyond that unless there are special circumstances.
  • Buying Information that the Patron possesses costs 1 Favor. Information of this type is not commonly known but not a closely guarded secret, such as a merchant’s previous failed businesses or the name of a privateer’s wife.
  • Requesting an Agent of your Patron to save you from danger or help you accomplish a mission costs 3 Favor. Agents dispatched in this capacity are typically Strength 4.
  • Patrons will not typically dispense in Secrets unless the information is relevant to an assignment the Heroes are undertaking for that Patron.
  • Betraying the trust and confidence of a Patron has a cost in favor as well.  Typically the cost in Favor will be either 2 (minor breech), 4 (moderate breech), or 6 (major breech).  On minor breech of trust, the Patron may be willing to extend a second chance to the hero, depending on their relationship.  A moderate and major trust will usually result in refusal of any further involvement by the Patron.  Furthermore, if the loss in Favor results in reducing the Hero’s standing favor to 0 or less, the Patron may become an Adversary, actively working against the hero.  This could jeopardize the heroes’ relationship with other Patrons as well.

Of course, you can expand on this list.  Just as each Secret Society has two or more unique was to earn and spend favor, so should Patrons.  The Courtly Intrigue rules in the old Montaigne book would be a great place to draw inspiration.

And none of this additional definition adds weight to the game.  It simply uses the things that were already there.  So if you feel NPCs in 7th Sea are a bit on the threadbare side, try this out and see if it suits your needs better.

Heroism and Damnation

This is the second of two articles dealing with new house rules I am introducing into my Witch Hunter game.  The first can be found here.

As of October, my group will have been playing Witch Hunter: the Invisible World for four consecutive years, with the same cast of characters.  It’s been a great ride and there is still more story to tell (theirs’ and mine), assuming my players are on for the ride.

I say that to give some weight to this: while on the whole I think WH 2nd edition is superior to the previous edition, there is quite a bit of dead weight and cruft.  Some of these are artifacts from the previous edition, some were brought over from Arcanis without much thought or integration.  (Seriously, has anyone read the Creature Size rules lately?)  These are rules and elements that don’t really hold it back so much as add drag to what could otherwise be a lean, mean ruleset.  Take the following use for Hero Points:

 One Hero Point may be expended to gain the use of any one Talent the character qualifies for but does not currently have. This talent only applies for one action.

Now on paper, that sounds great!  And I’m sure plenty of groups and players have used that benefit extensively.  Mine…have not.  And if it’s not being used, then its just a drag.  Besides, talk about choice paralysis!  Do you really want your players reading through all the Talent descriptions and requirements in the thick of play?  I don’t.  So why not trim that rough edge and reshape it into something more useful?  Which is exactly what I’m doing.

Consider instead…

Uses For Hero Points (Revised)

Hero Points can be expended for the following effects: (Changes are in green.)

  1. Add one bonus success to any roll. The Hero Point may be expended after the dice for the action are rolled. This is the most common manner of expending a Hero Point. Additional Hero Points will need to be spent to gain a bonus success on any other actions.  (We’ve been using this tweak for months and it really has a huge affect on gameplay.  Heroes feel a lot more heroic and it offers some protection against the whiff factor.)
  2. One Hero Point may be expended to negate damage suffered from a single exchange (damage roll) up to the character’s True Faith score.
  3. One Hero Point may be expended to resist the triggering of a character’s Sin.
  4. When a character is injured, she begins to suffer penalties to her action rolls. One Hero Point may be expended to ignore all injury penalties for one round.
  5. If a character fails her roll to remain conscious, a Hero Point may be expended to remain conscious.
  6. If a Witch Hunter is killed, one Hero Point may be expended to avoid death. The character is instead unconscious and at the threshold of death. Remember, barring an exception from the GM, only one Hero Point may be spend per instance, so another Hero Point could not then be spent to remain active.
  7. One Hero Point may be spent to gain an additional Quick Action in a round.  Unlike normal conditions, this quick action may repeat a previously performed action (ie. an attack, parry, dodge, etc.)
  8. One Hero Point may be spent to increase any one Defense by 1 until your next turn (or approximation thereof).
  9. You may spend a Hero Point to grant another hero a +3d bonus to any single action.  This represents you helping the receiving hero in some way, even if its only moral support.  A hero may only receive help from one other hero for any single action. (Hat Tip: 7th Sea 2nd edition)

1, 7, and 8 pretty much cover, in the broadest terms, almost every available Talent.  Not all of them, but enough to make me happy.

With that out of the way, and after my last article on the Damnation Pool, I felt like I should turn to Damnation.  For me, damnation just never felt tempting enough.  There’s no real reason not to buy it off unless you just regularly find yourself in desperate situations with no Hero Points (which may not be uncommon if the con events I’ve played in are any indication).  Gaining Damnation shouldn’t be the goal of any witch hunter character.  But I want that slippery slope to be a bit more slippery.  These changes are meant to go hand in hand with the incorporation of the Damnation Pool.

Using Damnation (Revised)

  1. A damnation point may be spent to gain a 2 bonus successes to any roll. Damnation may be expended after the dice for the action are rolled. This is the most common manner of expending a Hero Point. Unlike Hero Points, you may expend as many Damnation dice as you wish on a single action.  Each additional point spent on an action only grants 1 additional success.  (Example: Spending 3 damnation on a single action would grant you 4 bonuses successes to your roll.)
  2. A Damnation Point may be expended to negate ALL damage inflicted from a single exchange (damage roll)!
  3.  As a character becomes injured, he begins to suffer dice penalties to his action rolls. A Damnation Point may be expended to ignore injury penalties for one scene (typically one combat, or the remainder thereof).

Uses 4 and 5 remain unchanged.

Making Sense of Damnation

This is the first of two articles dealing with some new House Rules I’m going to be introducing into my Witch Hunter game.  The second can be found here.

One of the parts of the Witch Hunter rules that feels a bit threadbare are the rules for Damnation.  Oh, the basics make sense.  Characters earn Damnation points for giving into their sins.  Sins grant a special benefit (like a Talent, Edge, or Advantage) when activated and damnation points can be spent just like Hero Points in play. That part is crystal clear.  The rest is sort of…vague and handwavy.

Unlike 1st edition, the GM no longer has to worry about tracking individual Damnation scores for adversaries. Instead, many Powers can be enhanced by using the PCs’ own damnation against them. But the rules are unclear how this is supposed to work. Does it eliminate the PC’s damnation point? Can a player tap into a damnation point that has been used by an adversary? When does a PC’s damnation recharge for other encounters?

After reading over the Conan Quickstart and the new edition of 7th Sea, I’m going to test out a new feature in my witch hunter game: the Damnation Pool.  I want to see how they affect the ebb and flow of the game. With the Damnation Pool, damnation becomes a limited resource for the GM to heighten the tension of an encounter or a scene. It clarifies all the above questions and gives the GM some new tools for screwing with the players. About the only big change to the rules is how the GM activates character sins (which probably needed some guidance anyway).  There’s probably some cool way to tie the damnation pool into Story Themes, but I’m not there yet.

I wanted to throw this out there for anyone interested to review and play around with. I’d really like to get some feedback on this. So dig in and don’t hold back.

The Damnation Pool

Where heroes have Hero Points, the GM has the Damnation Pool. This resource allows you to add drama to a scene, reinforce your adversaries, and boosting certain diabolical powers of the Adversary.

At the beginning of each game, the Damnation Pool has a number of points equal to the number of players, plus one point for each point of damnation possessed by the Witch Hunters.

Using Damnation

  • Activate a Hero’s Sin. Spend a Damnation Point to activate a character’s Sin.
  • Bonus Success. Spend a Damnation Point to give a Villain a free success to any action (including damage). The GM may spend multiple Damnation points on a single action in this manner.
  • Seize the Initiative. Spend a Damnation to interrupt the Initiative order and allow a lieutenant or villain (but not minions?) to act early in a combat round.
  • Enhancing Villainous Powers. Many villainous powers (such as Blast Attack, Engulf, Gestalt Body, etc.) may be enhanced with Damnation. Typically any enhancement costs 1 Damnation Point unless the power indicates otherwise.
  • Ignore a Price. Spend a Damnation point to all a Villain or Mastermind (not a minion or lieutenant) to ignore a single Price for one round or appropriate approximation thereof.
  • Ignore injury penalties. Spend a Damnation point to allow a lieutenant, villain, or mastermind to ignore any injury penalties for 1 round.

Adding to the Damnation Pool

There are two ways of increasing the Damnation Pool. The first is whenever a player uses a damnation point. This adds 1 point to the damnation pool. Likewise, any time a player voluntarily activates his Sin benefit or gains a point of damnation by his or her own actions, the Damnation Pool is increased by 1.

The Damnation pool does not increase when the GM activates a character’s Sin. This will, however, mean the starting pool will be larger on the next game session if the damnation is not eliminated through Virtuous play.

The other means of increasing the Damnation Pool is called the Devil’s Bargain. (Hat Tip: Jon Harper’s Blades in the Dark)

 The Devil’s Bargain

When a player suffers Consequences in a roll (rolling more 1s than successes), he or she has the option of taking a Devil’s Bargain. They can either ignore the consequences that accompany the action or, if the roll failed, succeed with consequences. Either choice adds 1 point to the Damnation Pool. Of course, the player may always choose to accept the consequences that accompany the roll.

 

The Ripple Effect

A while back, I posted a collection of homebrew talents my group uses in our game.  One of these, Weapon Mastery, was put together to get rid of a bunch of redundant talents that should have been superseded by Weapon Tricks in the new edition of Witch Hunter.

stalkerunseenhuntfinal
This week, while doing some prep work for the new story arc, I noticed that by getting rid of those obnoxious talents, I’d pretty much gutted the Rank III Order Benefits for the Stalkers of the Unseen Hunt.  Easy fix, of course.  And a few email exchanges later, the Stalkers are as good as new.  Maybe even better.

For those of you following along at home, here is the revised Benefit (WH2, pg 95):

Rank III: The Stalker gains one of the above Basic or Greater Talents or one of the following Heroic Talents: Armor Piercing Shot, Grace & Speed, Lightning Draw, Lightning Reload, or Practiced Strike. The Stalker does not need to meet the Talent’s prerequisites and this talent does not count against the limitation regarding the number of Heroic Talents.

The list is a bit bigger than the other Rank Benefits.  Since Lightning Draw and Lightning Reload do essentially the same thing but apply to different weapons (firearms vs bows), it didn’t make sense to exclude one over the other. This list was approved by the players, which means there is a good chance it’s hopelessly overpowered.  But my other options, Brutal Charge and Veteran Warrior, don’t have any prerequisites.  So I decided they would be of less value as a benefit.

Wait.  You noticed that did you?  That Stab and Shoot was ditched but isn’t on the list of Talents replaced by Weapon Mastery?  You’re a sharp one, aren’t you.  Stay tuned for that.

 

Winter gives way to Spring

Last Friday, with the death of the dreaded Fire Wyrm of Polch (a caterwaul actually; not really a dragon as Petrov was quick to point out), our cadre of players put the wraps on the Winter of Discontent storyline of our Witch Hunter game.  All seven players were on hand for it, which is probably why the fight only lasted three rounds (and why I never really got the chance to retreat).  So monster dead, human sacrifice averted, all in a good day for a group of witch hunters.

Now they head west for England and a whole new hot mess of trouble.

Funny though that when all your players show up, they find things to do that reveal problems in the rulebook.

Eldritch Blast

I’ve heard that during one tournament round, it became popular to use the Eldritch Blast rite over a ship’s cannons in ship to ship combat.  So it really doesn’t surprise me that there are big differences between 1st and 2nd edition when it comes to this Hermetic rite.  The thing is, our resident hermeticist player (who is a pretty smart guy in his own right) and your’s truly (no comment) had a devil of a time working out some of the details of the rite. Don’t get me wrong, the rite isn’t broken.  The description is just…lacking.  Usually I find that blending the text of the two editions gives me satisfying results.  So here are my revisions.  Revised text is in red.

ELDRITCH BLAST (Basic; Hermeticism)
Mastery: 2
Time: 2 rounds/1 round
Defense: Avoidance
Roll Required: Yes
Duration: Instantaneous
Strain: 4
Description: For those with a meager understanding and control of the arts, this rite is by far the most dangerous and difficult to control. The magus opens herself to the mystical energies swirling around her and begins to absorb as much as her body can contain. This usually manifests as a bright nimbus of light surrounding her being. When she has as much she can possibly hold, she releases this power in a crude, unfocused blast into a shared or adjacent Area, aimed in the general direction of her target.

Make a Hermeticism (Education) roll against your target’s Avoidance.  The blast has a DM of 2, plus any bonus successes rolled.  Armor reduces damage from the blast as normal.  All other beings within the same Area as the target (friend or foe alike) are also struck by the volatile energy and suffer 2 dice of damage as well.

Boost:

  • Increase the Mastery by 1 to ignore the target’s armor value.
  • Increase the Mastery by 2 to increase the DM by 2.
  • Increase the Mastery by 2 to focus the blast so as to target only 1 creature with this rite.
  • Increase the Mastery by 2 to extend the Range of the blast from 1 area to a number equal to your Hermeticism skill rank (max. 5).

Intimdation

Can you intimidate a monster?  The rules for this are…confusing at best.  A target with Malice against you (you think?!) is actually damn hard (-6 dice penalty!) to intimidate.  I get why it would be that difficult to charm someone, or command troops in battle who loathe you and everything you stand for.  But intimidate?  Yeah, that just doesn’t sit right with me.  So…revised text is in red.

INTIMIDATE (PERSONALITY OR STRENGTH) (Command Foci; pg.110-111)

Where Charm and Command produce a desired action through reasonable words, Intimidate does so by instilling fear in the subject. Intimidate may simply be based on appearance or a certain mannerism, but it can also be a direct assault against a target, such as torture, physical abuse, or threats of either or death.

Intimidate rolls are made against your opponent’s Discipline Defense.  Each bonus success rolled has the effect indicated on the Intimidate Success Table (Table 2-8, pg 111). If you do not roll enough successes to beat your target’s defense, the roll fails and complications may apply as indicated.  If the target is a minion, or otherwise undefined, his defense is equal to his Threat Rating.

You may use Intimidate to affect multiple targets. To do so, roll as normal, but you need one additional success for every two members in the group.

liverpoolattackfinal1

Getting more out of Combat

It’s funny, looking back over the last handful of RPGs I’ve played.  I really haven’t felt the need to tweak too much.  I spent a lot more time with world building or, at worst, adding a few modular rules along the edges.  I’m not really sure why Witch Hunter has been different.  It’s a good ruleset.  I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of fine tuning, tightening up things that get in the way when we are playing.  Like dropping the Attack Focus Talent requirement for specializing in a weapon.  It just felt like a superfluous requirement that did nothing more than make character creation and advancement that much more complicated.  That’s probably the biggest change we’ve made insofar as how we play the game.

These tweaks are of similar scale.

There are two nagging issues that haven’t sat well with me for a while now.  I think making these two corrections will have a real impact on play (not necessarily in a good way).  So when our campaign shifts gears in a few weeks, I think I’m going to try experimenting with these two changes and see what happens.

House Rule #1: Weapon Complexity

Rather than imposing a negative modifier to each and every attack roll, weapon complexity would be applied to the character’s initiative roll.  Thus, the player with the lighter, quicker weapon (dagger or rapier) will tend to go earlier in the combat turn than the character with the great sword.

Reason: This works out the wrinkle in the system where Complexity applies to lieutenants and villains, but not to minions.  That’s probably been more of a pain for us because we play online, but it still strikes me as a weird rule.  Also, it makes the PCs’ skills count for more.  It seems odd that the best duelist in the game will still suffer a penalty in combat.  The complexity penalty becomes a drag when you start figuring Wagers and that sort of thing.  Moving it to an initiative penalty seems to inspire the spirit of the rules (larger weapons are unwieldy) while also encouraging folks to try out weapon tricks and other stunts (which would compound the penalties).

House Rule #2: Weapon Damage

Each bonus success on an Attack roll add +1 POINT OF DAMAGE to the damage roll, instead of simply adding an extra dice to the damage pool.

Reason: I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve found there to be a very large “whiff factor” when it comes to damage rolls in Witch Hunter.  Consider, you roll a damage pool and count 7s or better.  Weapon specialization does not apply to damage rolls (that I know of anyway).  So you could roll an AMAZING Attack roll, but still flub your damage roll terribly.  This sort of thing may work in Savage Worlds, but it just falls flat for me in Witch Hunter.  Its very disheartening to watch, and even more frustrating…as a GM!  Dammit, I hate it when my critters whiff on damage!!  ARGH!!  What good are they?!  This fix would leave the damage roll intact (Ability+DM) but would dial down the double roll whiff potential.  It would also, by design, speed up combat a hair.

This is the one change I can see having the most negative impact. But since it would affect players and monsters alike, I don’t think anyone would complain about reeling it back in.  Alternatively, adding +1 or +2 to each Health Rank, based on a Talent or on Character Rank (or even Campaign Tier) could balance this out.