Tuesday 12 May 2020

Soft-Ass D&D

(Part of a series now I guess;
Char Gen for Soft D&D
Shinto in Cumbria
A World without Violence
Monster Brainstorm /
Goose-Gold & Goblins /

I'm old now and I'm getting soft. Recently I've been making consistently brilliant strategic decisions in Ryuutama with Noisms. I really liked the idea of Ryuutama and the promise the game seemed to make with its art and with the idea of play it presented, much as, on picking up Mouse Guard, I really liked the idea of what that game is about.

In both cases I found the actual play (in Ryuutama) and what I perceived as play (in Mouse Guard, which I never actually ran) as being weirdly abstract and discomforting.

Ryuutama feels like quite a displaced 'dual pathway' system. Roll some dice for your abstract properties. Ok now do some roleplaying as instructed to in the text. Ok now roll some dice.

A lot of the ways you can usefully affect dice rolling are through thinking about logistics ahead of time? which seems odd to me for the game Ryuutama was presenting itself as.

Anyway; since our Ryuutama game essentially devolved into Old School D&D anyway, I started thinking about how you could alter the old school D&D rules and assumptions to produce a fundamentally different character of play.

Here followeth my schemes;

(All of these illustrations are by Varguy - who does pictures I like which seems like they come from nonexistant Ghibli films.)



A Shop

Look at that fuckin angry toadstool!


The primary and simplest one was the replacement of the standard reaction table with something with a more complex and subtle arrangement of social and emotional interactions.

Scrap once said that in my Adventures there was no real dividing line between Monsters and NPC's, which I think is largely true, and which I think is a better way of going about things in general. I've even started to use the word 'agents' in my head at least, when thinking about these things.

The basic table is very old school - its essentially about how much of a threat something is going to be to you *right now*, and if it isn't a threat then the nature of the interaction is blank and totally open, depending entirely on the predilections of the DM & players.

Classic Monster Reaction Roll

2 or less - Hostile, attacks
3-5 - Unfriendly, may attack
6-8 - Neutral, uncertain
9-11 - Indifferent, uninterested
12+ - Friendly, helpful

(OK I was at least partly wrong, this is much less tilted towards violence than I was half-remembering.)

Ghibli-esque Monster Reaction Roll

2 or less - Angry.
3-4 - Deceptive/Manipulative.
5-6 - Upset/Sad.
7-8 - Curious.
9-10 - Social.
11 - Impressed.
12+ - Joyous, brimming over.

All except 'Sad' are meant to provide an immediate relationship with the PCs

Then to add complexity - throw in ANOTHER COLUMN.

I suppose this would actually end up somewhat awkward if you were rolling two sets of 2d6, so lets amend it so you are rolling 2 d12. After all, with a low assumption of immediate conflict, the necessity of a flat curve which reduces the likelihood of a combat encounter is less important.

So; roll 2 d12s and read right to left as they land

Right - This person is;

1 - Angry!
2-3 - Deceptive/Manipulative.
4-5 - Upset/Sad.
6-8 - Busy/Working.
9-10 - Seeking social contact.
11 - Impressed.
12+ - Joyous!

Left - Because of..

1 - An environmental change.
2-3 - Social or cultural change.
4-5 - Altered close relationship.
6-8 - Another agent or group.
9-10 - An object, Treasure or resource they have or want.
11 - A magical effect.
12+ - The PCs.

Hmm, perhaps I was inadvertently ripping off this Joseph Manola post?


Curiosity I've found about D&D is that languages *as they work in real life, don't really work well, unless you are in a city-like environment where there are many different languages spoken in a small space across multiple levels of society, meaning each language presents extra problem-solving opportunities, but if you lack that language, as its a city, there are usually ways around the problem.

In most D&D, if the majority of the party don't understand the local language, that goes out the window after a few sessions of play.

So in Ru-D&D, extra languages let you speak to unusual aspects of the world and you can spend the extra ones you get in character generation in the following way;

1 language - spend one to speak to a particular kind of vertebrae.

2 languages - spend two to speak to a particular broadly defined animal-type, like birds or four-footed animals.

3 language - spend three to speak to certain plants, rocks or limited natural phenomena, or the spirits which inhabit them. This always requires some complex diegetic expenditure of time or resources and tends to make the speaker somewhat odd.



This sounds completely insane in any diegetic sense but I think it might work.

Game starts - no PC has a weapon. Maybe someone has a walking staff.

No-one around them has a weapon. Maybe one old Adventurer in the village has an old sword they keep hung up on the wall. The village only needs one because that's how unlikely violence is. The place has lots of *problems*, but it doesn't have much *violence*.

Now, violence is still a possibility, and death can still happen. Hit Points still exist, its just very unlikely that you will meet anything truly, exceptionally immediately physically dangerous in the first session, first adventure or even the first levels.

And when you do meet them, they will have complex needs and desires; not just be directly violent towards the PCs in particular.

Sub-Rule; If you walk around with a weapon drawn, new people/agents/NPC's /monsters, won't talk to you, most will just run away. High status NPCs will strongly criticise you. People will be afraid.


Obviously the real treasure is the friends we made along the way.

So, XP for friends?

And/or, double XP for making two people or groups friends who weren't before?

And maybe TRIPLE XP for solving one of those complex open-ended problems the village has, like a lack of water, a bad sickness, a missing child or an alcoholic farmer (and by 'fix' I mean heal, you can't kill the farmer)

Optional Rule - XP for served food. I strikes me that one diegetic element which serves this softer play in a manner similar to that in which Gold serves standard Old-School play (encouraging ambition, conflict but also lateral thinking and problem solving), is food.

Sharing food with someone, being tolerated in their personal space, talking to them, being invited to share, are all major social milestones.

Kids bloody love food, as any kids series will show (I am also a fan myself). Getting special foods, and especially being *served* special foods, and sharing food and certain drinks, is almost a marker of your integration into local societies and your ability to integrate others.

If the old witch serves you Tea, that’s one point, if you can get her to bake you a cake, that’s another, or provide a feast for the Village, that’s a treasure hoard.

Of course the children/teens who manage to provide a feast for the Whole Village are going to be considered some badass motherfuckers (by Ru-D&D standards).


Every adventure takes place in a year, possibly even across seasons.

After the adventure concludes, a year passes. The results of the adventure are incorporated into the home/local PC environment and all the social webs and local hierarchies are updated before the next adventure begins.

This is also part of how the PCs 'level up', they are literally growing up at the same time.


Integration over time lessens the sociopathic elements of new character/player combinations, and invests people in the ongoing drama/development of their village or land.

So PCs are hobbits, at least socially. They start of young, and they have a place, like a village or something, and with each completed adventure they deepen their knowledge of and relationship with, that place.


Not sure about this one.

Traditionally in fairytales, courtesy is extremely super-important. The more polite and socially perceptive you are, the better, and protagonists who lose their shit always end up doomed.

But Charisma, as beauty and personal magnetism, fits better into the concept of an embodied quality rather than a quality which the player can perform and perfect. While courtesy is something which Players can very much be good at, or, more likely, screw up to interesting result.


It might be engaging to be given a PC with very high or very low courtesy. It would give the player something interesting to play, especially if they were a child (the player) so it might be an engaging element of play regardless.

The idea of courtesy being in some way 'inborn' does match up with a fair amount of folklore/middle ages culture, where aspects we would think of as governed by descent and biology intermix much more fully in the minds of the observer.

Hmm, consider this Courteous Quest Generator

Here's those links aggaiiiin



A Shop


  1. I love this. I do quite like the courtesy of manners approach too

  2. This is good! I like it. :)

  3. I am working on a weird retro-future game based on a lot of inspirational art from the 1800s. There is a lot in here that will help make the game feel like a different future. Thank you very much for the inspiration. I will let you know if anything comes of it.

  4. Yeah, I want to play around with this idea.

  5. The "No Weapon" thing is something I actually toyed around with in my head, especially in some horror/cyberpunk context (where characters are more or less "average joes", and one of them getting access to a real weapon is a big deal). Most of the damage dealing stuff would have been tools that were never really meant for violence, fragile and possibly better used in other contexts. A game I'm playing right now, Pathologic, has a similar reverence for weapons and violence as a resource sink, both in gameplay and in its setting.

    I never thought about the "if you have a weapon people are going to assume you're hostile" thing, and I feel very dumb about it because it's genius.

    Also, I don't think it's that much insane in a diegetic sense. It's not saying "violence doesn't exist", but rather "weaponry is frowned upon", which is a actually probably true in a lot of situations that characters might find themselves in even beyond the first session.

  6. You really hit a nerve with me here (in a positive way). Currently watching studio ghibli's version of Ronia The Robber's Daughter with my son (after reading the book to him twice, he loves it as much as I did as a kid). I've been thinking about how to run an RPG for him (he'll turn six this summer) and didn't want it to turn into a murderfest. This is perfect. Should you decide to deepen it, I'd definetly buy whatever product it may become.

  7. This is gold. I've actually been working on something broadly similar, and this gives me a lot of food for thought. I especially like the reaction tables.

  8. I am amazed by how much people like this but thanks for the comments.

  9. All of this is good, but I especially like the new reaction roll. Notice how much of the classic one leads to behavior where creatures do nothing.

    1. The 70s were time rich but information poor so those tables are designed (I think) for long-term play, where they make sense cause they build a world of things that are largely indiffernt to you - which is ok if you are playing w friends for like 6 hours a day over the weekend.

      Today we have stuff, but less friends and less time to advenutres need to do more faster

  10. Finally a game which allows me to indulge into my wildest, escapist-fantasies: Making friends!

    1. Lol, in the 21st century no-one has actual friends.

  11. Let every game session fill up its part of a year and no more. Then a campaign shall play across player lives as well.

    1. I mean if you can pull a 'boyhood' and get people to turn up for 10 years straight then go for it.

    2. Strange, but less so than a campaign without weapons :)

  12. In regards to courtesy vs charisma, i like the idea of courtesy. Charisma becomes somewhat abstract in games and is just a roll, but courtesy has more playable options. Are you required to toady up to this npc, flatter the fuck out of them, or would they prefer a more honest, though polite, interaction? Maybe they are gruff and prefer more blunt interactions? Maybe they are blunt but require you to be polite? It becomes more interestingly gameable I think, and also, if the player chooses how to interact, then rolls a success, maybe they have chosen the right approach and that kinda dies the work of defining the npc more.

    1. After some thought I think maybe rolling to see what approach to take with the npc, and on a successful roll players might recieve a hint as to best approach.

      Like, players come across a giant frog guarding a pond that has ingerdients they need. A player rolls their courtesy check and succeeds and the DM tells them the guard picks it's nose while checking them out. The players realise this isn't going to take courtly manners to bypass the frog, they might need to be more upfront in their approach.

  13. I really like this! Have you seen Joseph Manola's "OSR Romantic Fantasy" posts? https://udan-adan.blogspot.com/2015/07/on-romantic-fantasy-and-osr-d.html

    1. I'm sure I read it at some point, perhaps I inadvertently lifted ideas from it even.

  14. I like this and I like courtesy so much that I might just file off the serial numbers. :)
    Of course "a soft word turneth away wrath" so courtesy is a core skill for a non-violent game.
    And certain monsters will have standard responses to people so you might consider having a reaction row that leads to the default reaction for that being.

    1. Thanks for pointing me at this post, Steveg! And thank you to False Machine for writing it. I love the courtesy approach and I'm thinking the whole served food thing is something that would be lovely on its own or to incorporate into games when you can meet face to face, and actually have the banquet for real. If we can ever meet face to face again... Kappa are certainly one creature it's best to be polite to!

  15. This has been something I've wanted for awhile. I want to play Ryuutama style, but... look, I'm old and I don't want to learn a new system. B/X-etc more or less does what I want.

    The way I play this with my kids is that they look at the pictures from Ryuutama, but then I just play like it's really simple BX anyway.

    Or I just have them roll any die they want. Hi rolls means something wonderful happens, low rolls means something mildly threatening happens. "I feed it all my candy!" usually solves that.

    1. I like the approach to dice-sizes. I bet my son will as well!

    2. Thats essentially what we ended up doing too

  16. This would make a great Mist of Avalon rpg

  17. Have you played Pendragon? I'm sure you must have. Some of this reminds me of that, although Pendragon is of course quite violent at times.

    1. I have played a bit and read the rules and yes, the continuity, yearly play and courtesy all are a bit pendragony

  18. These are some great ideas. But why base in d&d when D&D, at its core, fights these ideas so much? D&D, let's face it, has violent conflict imprinted deeply in its DNA. The mechanics are all hit points, armor classes, fireballs and damage rolls.
    I feel like you could achieve this a lot easier by hacking a PbtA game. Remove anything violent from the basic moves or rephrase the violent basic move to make it clear that its a desperate last resort move.

    1. This is difficult to get into because there's about 10 years + of different people thinking about it but essentially;

      - There's a whole culture of people who disagree with your basic assumptions about D&D and about what rules signify in games.

      - A lot of the same people don't enjoy storygamy mechanics as much for a range of complex reasons.

  19. I’m reminded of Trollsmyth’s discussion of Romantic Fantasy. http://trollsmyth.blogspot.com/2016/08/romantic-fantasy-and-heroines-journey.html
    At one point I even wanted to make a Suikoden-style troupe game. But then it turned out that classic D&D was just as a capable. Essentially, every friend gave you a kind of bonus, so think of each friend as a skill or feat or what have you, and the sum of the people you bring along determines how good you are at doing stuff. It never went anywhere.
    I love the idea of making the reaction rolls more emotional. I have added a few reactions to the table years ago, but I think I was too caught up in an adversarial/bargaining mindset.

    1. Not to mention http://udan-adan.blogspot.com/2015/07/on-romantic-fantasy-and-osr-d.html

  20. When you wrote "exp for food shared" my mind went to exp for food that the player gives, but the example you gave was for food given to the player. I think it could work both ways, it would probably encourage players offering food to each character they come across which feels on theme.

  21. You should check out the Japanese TTRPG Golden Sky Stories. This is basically what that is, except it's less D&D, set in Japan, and you play magical animal creatures.

    It's literally all about solving problems in the little town you're in and IIRC there's no combat at all in it.

    1. Full disclosure I haven't played it, but I do own it and it seems like it would be good to mine ideas from that for whatever Soft D&D project you have going on.

  22. Have you ever seen the Mushi-shi anime? That would make an interesting variation framework. It is kind of a mystical version of "House", where medical problems have supernatural causes that have to be diagnosed and cured. They normally reflect psychological states. Set in feudal Japan. Very gentle; barely even mild peril.

    1. I did but I only watched a bit of it. It was good but veeery slow paced for me.

  23. Appearance = Alignment.

    Evil characters look the part and yet no one ever seems to pick up on their true intentions, while good people are primarily defined by the physical and dress characteristics which are lauded by the animation culture's mores/etc.

    Outliers' appearance are merely personifications of their personalities: slovenly, impetuous, cold/logical, wrathful.
    These are all potentially held by heroes (as opposed to villains) but the standard template character is the good boy/girl and that is the measure of Goodness.

    I suppose the chaotic personality traits/depictions ruin the old Civilisation v. Wilderness OSR analysis, but the type of setting you are describing is also outside of that paradigm.

    1. That would work pretty well in a more Feudal/Middle Ages-style game I think

  24. Befriending a dire wolf pack or robot with laser vision is one way to explore Miyazaki-land completely unarmed :)

  25. I've been playing up NPCs reacting poorly to a bunch of heavily armed oddballs for about 30 years and I'm not sure players have ever really caught on.

  26. A good amount of this reminds me of Beyond the Wall.

  27. I am 1000% on board with this idea. So much of what makes Miyazaki stories work is also the sense of space and contemplativeness. Relationships are important because of absence: there's relatively few people in the world. It's not like a city, there's always moments of quiet.

    There's fruitful things to be done in place of random encounter rolls to create a sense of space and journeying. Something similar to the UVG perhaps, or what Dungeon World does with perilous journeys.

  28. "Ryuutama feels like quite a displaced 'dual pathway' system. Roll some dice for your abstract properties. Ok now do some roleplaying as instructed to in the text. Ok now roll some dice."

    This is exactly what I thought. Ryuutama looks at the first sight the perfect thing I'd love to play. But then the rules are tons and tons of rolls that in the end do not affect anything as they are open to interpretation.

    Im perceiving a trend on the OSR to make a more "pastoral", "japanese" approach to the game. I myself im trying to do the same. I think its because there is a hidden gem game that we all need and we have never found yet, and suddently we are trying to take it down from the astral plane where it is now. I will monitor you, man

  29. I already kind of run my game like this, and there are some nice ideas here. RE: Courtesy. I am trying to refine a kind of "social combat" system around avoiding faux pas, really something more like the way in which traps are handled in OSR. When the PC's are navigating a conversation with a strange, powerful, and possibly but not yet actively hostile entity (like Xiximanter in TofSK), I have a list of faux pas written out beforehand. I then try to hint at what might be a faux pas as the PC's move through the conversation, in the same way I would hint at details of the alcove in the dungeon that might be trapped, and if a PC hits a faux pas, I make them roll a charisma test. Usually, one failed faux pas save leads to the interaction turning sour, depending on how powerful/hostile the creature is.

  30. it reminds me a bit The Forest Hymn & Picnic which uses Sotdl as a basis for its rules

  31. it reminds me a bit The Forest Hymn & Picnic which uses Sotdl as a basis for its rules

  32. the link to character gen is broken or the page has been removed

  33. Sorry for commenting an old post, but whatever.

    While I like a lot of the ideas here (it's not like I'm reading anything I found while thinking about how to run a mix of OSR D&D and "Fabula Ultima", a TTRPG born to emulate JRPG logic when it comes to beating stuff) and would love to even remotely see such a game for myself one day, I am kinda baffled by the impression that people believe Studio Ghibli to be all cozy and gentle.

    Of course, the heroes are such in their stories. But the world around them isn't such.
    Nausicaa is a post-apocalypse world where wars are still fought and you may need to drive away a monstrous mutated animal from your house.
    Castle in The Sky it's a world where ancient ruins may hide weapons from a long forgotten past and sky-pirates are a thing, just like powerful governments with powerful militaries backing them up.
    Howl is literally above a war and the people caught in the mix.
    Hell, even Pom Poki is about a conflict where violence is used (mostly directed at items, but still).

    So yeah, love the ideas and concepts. Would love to see more people playing less nihilist and terrible OSR worlds.
    But going all the way down to "everyone is at worst grumpy" feels like a way to just react to that, not to actually build something playable