25 December 2020


While watching the many folk and fairy tales that are on the TV during the Christmas holidays, I realized that Czech take on Hell and its inhabitants is perhaps a bit unusual. In pretty much every story, the devils (or rather čerti, singular čert) and Hell are displayed in a positive light.

Čerti are not malicious, true evil is always found among humans. Čerti might be lazy, bureaucratic and ineffectual, but in the end they are there to punish and take away the sinners, thus leaving Earth a bit better off than before. Interestingly, angels, Heaven and God appear very rarely, and justice is generally served because čerti and good humans cooperate against evil humans. The mills of God Hell grind slowly but surely.

A čert coming out of the oven to get you!

Three main types of čerti appear in the folk tales:

The trickster čert is charming and the most diabolic, tempting people to sell their soul for money, power or magic. However, he likes and oftentimes ends up helping good people who defy him, even borrowing them magic items or coming to their aid. He will employ his human friends to get at sinners who protect themselves from Hell with holy ground or other magic. He will always have a contract for one's soul ready, to be signed in blood.

The punch-clock čert is ugly and dirty, but scary only because it's his job. He will try to frighten you, but if that fails, he will probably offer you a roast and a beer, then complain about how boring the job is, or hellish wages, or some such. He's very likely to be fooled and trapped by some evil human, who than uses stolen hellish magic to commit actually evil deeds. In that case, the čert will need to be saved by the human protagonist.

The clueless, young čert is either the protagonist, or his (soon to be) friend. He's really not good at this devilish stuff, and one of his blunders will probably strand him on Earth until he can recover a lost magic item / find a fugitive sinner / otherwise make up for his mistakes. He also tends to fall in love, which generally ends up in a wedding (becoming human optional).

When Lucifer, the King of Hell himself, appears, he ranges from being a wise mentor to the protagonist, to a strict and grumpy, but still fair and just ruler. He always comes off as nearly a saint in comparison to the corrupt, lazy, spiteful and outright cruel nobles on Earth. He will grant a wish (or three wishes) as compensation to innocents dragged to Hell by mistake (caused by the young čert above).

Lucifer in attendance on human wedding.

Every čert

  • is male. Female čertice are very rare.
  • has horns. These grow with age and power, so a young and weak čert will have tiny horns, while an older čert will have much bigger goat's or ram's horns.
  • may have a hoof instead of one foot, or a tail. This is not always the case, though, so let's say 1-in-6 chance of each.
  • spits brimstone, which can start fires.
  • is immortal and immune to fire.
  • is repelled or even burned by anything holy.
  • cannot harm an innocent person.

d6 Hellish Powers

  1. Human disguise: Loose the horns, hoof and tail, plus change from any demonic garb into a commoner's clothes (weak čert), huntsman or soldier uniform (trickster čert), or a noble attire (powerful čert). Also removes the soot and smell of brimstone.
  2. Animal form: Transform into a black (d6) dog/cat/goat/horse/crow/rooster.
  3. Hell portal: Teleport between Hell and Earth with a cloud of smoke and brimstone. Most čerti can only do this when they drag a soul to Hell, but Lucifer and his trusted lieutenants can pop anywhere at will.
  4. Pyrokinesis: The more powerful the čert, the hotter the flames.
  5. Telekinesis: Only the most powerful čerti.
  6. Wish: Can grant wealth or build palaces to humans who sign away their soul in blood. Only Lucifer can grant wishes without getting a soul in return.

d8 Gifts from Hell

  1. Cloak of invisibility: As any other cloak of invisibility, but doesn't work when wet and burns up when touched by holy water.
  2. Tablecloth of wine and dine: When you unfold it, conjures a magnificent feast.
  3. Sack of soldiers: Open to summon a squad of damned soldiers that will be loyal to whomever holds the sack. Treat as normal HD 1 soldiers, except they have Morale 12 (if they run, they go back to Hell; if they die, they go back to Hell) and disappear in flames when killed.
  4. Bag of many items: Take out any item you can think of and that could fit inside of the bag. Each item taken is a sin.
  5. Coat of gold: A dirty, threadbare overcoat. When you reach into a pocket, you always find a gold coin. However, no amount of grooming can make you presentable (-4 Charisma, -4 to Reaction rolls) and the coat disappears if you ever take it off.
  6. Seven league boots
  7. Scarf of fire resistance
  8. Posh needle: Knits the most beautiful attire you can imagine out of thin air, but the clothes become ash when touched by sunlight.

All of these were given to the protagonist of one fairy tale or another.

Sinners in cages and boiling in cauldrons.

Here are several films that should give you a taste of čerti and their Hell:

  • Anděl páně (Angel of the Lord): A čert tempts his angel buddy to fall, then does his best to get him back to Heaven. Available on Netflix.
  • Čertí brko (The Magic Quill): Quite anvilicious, but has very nice depiction of bureaucratic Hell. Available on Netflix.
  • Nejlepší přítel (Best Friend): This one actually inspired the post. Available here, but without subtitles.
  • Princezna ze mlejna (Princess from the Mill): Your friendly neighbourhood čert. Available on Netflix.
  • S čerty nejsou žerty (Give the Devil His Due): Basically a cult classic around here. Available here, but without subtitles.
  • Z pekla štěstí (Devil's Own Luck): How being friendly with Hell can help you slay a dragon. Available here, but without subtitles.

So maybe the next time your players run into devils, these might be well-meaning collectors of evil souls, or good-natured spooks just doing their job.

22 December 2020

d100 Checks against 3d6 Stats

I like d100 rolls, even though I mostly ever play with d20 systems. You encounter percentages every day in your life and thus can gauge your chances at a glance, while a d20 roll can be trickier. I mean, what's easier to immediately grasp - a plain d20 against DC 16, or a percentage roll against 25% odds?

Then you add bonuses to the mix

  • Roll against DC 17 with +3 bonus.
  • Roll against base 65% skill with -30% difficulty adjustment.

and d100 is much easier to understand.

I like 3d6 stats, probably because I mostly ever play with d20 systems. They are so deeply ingrained in my mind that when I see something like Strength 58%, I just don't know what to do with that. It doesn't look right, I want my attributes in the 3-18 range. And yes, that is nothing but personal preference, but so is any other discussion of a gaming system.

I like attribute checks. Skill systems and all are great, but what if you suddenly get a corner case that doesn't fit under any of your carefully defined skills and you don't want to pluck a DC out of the thin air? Plus you can use them in place of specialized Saves, where they make a lot of sense - rather than some nebulously defined Save vs Magical Devices, roll against Dexterity to dodge the ray, or against Endurance to tank it.

And here's the conundrum - how to make my flights of fancy fit together into a coherent system? They are pretty disparate bunch, after all. Yet I might have a possible solution (aside from telling myself to go and do something more productive).

Use your normal 3d6 attributes, but when you wish to attempt a stat check, multiply the attribute score by a number corresponding to the difficulty of the task from the table below. This gives you a percentage chance of your success, and also gets rid of any further adjustments, as they should already be taken into consideration when deciding the difficulty.

We are still somewhat "plucking a DC out of the thin air", but I believe it's easier to say that a task is challenging than coming up with a DC 14 to beat. So guesstimate the difficulty, multiply the attribute and you have a percentage chance of your success:

Difficulty Multiplier 
 With 8 in Stat 
 With Average Stat 
 With 16 in Stat 

Easy: An average person can do this reliably and somebody skilled shouldn't even need to roll in the first place.

Normal: A toss-up for normal people.

Challenging: This is where the inadequate will start to really struggle.

Hard: A toss-up for talented people.

Heroic: This is a d100 roll under the basic attribute score. At the very, very best, you will have a 1-in-5 chance, and that's only with game-breaking stats. An average person can cross their fingers and pray, yet even those truly gifted will most likely fail.

Your average 3d6 attribute will have a score of 10.5, so a normal task will have a 52.5% chance of success. I can live with that little extra bonus over equal odds.

by Mateusz Mańka

Q: Hey, you claimed this will be easy and intuitive, then suddenly you want us to solve math?!

A: Well yes, but it's simple math!

Q: Aren't the chances a little low? For an average character, a normal task is 50/50 and an easy task has just under 75% chance of success?

A: Let's take for example Lamentations of the Flame Princess for comparison, shall we? A 1st level Fighter will have +1 to hit, and attacking an unarmoured opponent (AC 12) should be a normal task for them. They will have exactly 50% chance of a successful hit, so I'd say my percentages are not that far off.

Funny how the chances don't look so good, yet nobody bats an eye to roll a d20 against such odds.

14 December 2020

Class: (Un)limited Warlock

Years ago, I read a book about a demon and a wizard. I remember neither the name of the book nor anything but bits and pieces from the plot - the demon was trying to corrupt a young girl who could one day become a great force for either good or evil, the wizard was sent to stop the demon - but the way that magic worked for the wizard stuck with me.

The wizard wasn't an innate magic user, all of his magic was given to him and what he was given was everything he had. Several times throughout the book, he ended up in a situation where he really needed a spell, only for a flashback to reveal he had already used up that spell, years ago. Other times, he performed magic even though there was another way, and then a flashforward had shown us what kind of trouble this will bring to him in the future.

He had loads of power, but it was a finite, non-renewable resource.

Summoning Demons by Lukas Banas

Which brings me to the (un)limited warlocks.

Magic users tend to start weak, barely capable of casting a handful of cantrips each day, but then their power grows exponentially. Depending on your system, high level wizards might end up creating their own planes of existence and summoning dragons or angels to do their bidding, each and every day. But what if we turned this around?

Suppose that warlocks are given all their power by a patron. And by "all their power" I mean all of it - they get access to the whole spell list at level 1. However, they only get to cast each spell once, ever.

  • In Vancian system, they have no spell slots and no spell level limit. Yes, they can use wish immediately at the start of the game.
  • In GLOG, they have infinite MD and can put as many MD into a spell as they want (mishaps and dooms still apply).
  • In mana point systems - well, I don't really have experience with those...

Your warlock player might absolutely obliterate the first boss with a single fireball - and that will also be the only fireball they will ever cast. They might trivialize the first set of obstacles - but what about the second one, or the third?

The (un)limited warlocks are all about self-restraint and adaptation to growing limitations. They start overpowered and grow weaker with each spell they cast and mark off their list. Soon, they will have to get creative, because they ran out of spells that would fully fit the situation. They will have to resort to the weird spells nobody bothers to take on most magic users. Even cantrips will become a scant resource.

And once their last spell is cast and gone, their pact will be due and their patron will collect their soul for purposes unknown. No save.

Is that balanced? Hell no!

Isn't that overpowered? Of course it is!

Is it playtested? Not at all.

Would it be fun? You tell me!

A patron and their warlock.
From Dark Souls 3

Oh, and if the player wants to get all clever with multiclassing into another magic user or learning new spells - that's a no go, friend. Your patron is keeping a very close eye on you and they will protect their investments with a vengeance, if necessary. After all, they already own your soul and can repossess it in case of your early death. It was only the contract you decided to breach that was preventing your sudden demise.