Category Archives: Role-playing

Guest Post- Review of Hubris by James Maliszewski

Hubris: A World of Visceral Adventure is available on Drivethrurpg and Lulu.)

I’ve known Mike Evans for a long time, starting with reading his blog, way back in the mists of 2009. In the years since, we’ve exchanged emails, commented on one another’s posts on G+, and generally moved in the same circles. In that time, I’ve come to admire his creativity, his industry, and, above all, his perseverance in pursuit of his dreams, perhaps the greatest of which is his Hubris campaign setting, published in 2016.

Being an (increasingly) old and out-of-touch person, I didn’t get around to seeing a copy of Hubris: A World of Visceral Adventure until a few weeks ago, thanks to the generosity of Mike. I mention this both to thank Mike and to be upfront about our connections to one another. In my experience, many people expect a certain degree of detachment and objectivity from something purporting to be a review. If so, what follows most certainly isn’t a review so much as a collection of thoughts occasioned by reading Hubris. Even so, I hope these thoughts will nevertheless prove useful.

Hubris is an original setting for use with Goodman Games’s Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, presented in a large 348-page book. Like so many third-party DCC RPG materials, Hubris is weird. I don’t mean that negatively. What I mean is that it goes off in unexpected directions, mixing and matching stuff that generally isn’t put together (or at least that I wouldn’t put together), and then cranking it up to 11. You only need take a look at Mike’s version of Appendix N to get a sense of what I’m talking about: a stew of Lewis Carroll, Robert E. Howard, Army of Darkness, Princess Mononoke, and Metallica – just to name a few of its eclectic “literary” sources. To call it “a sword and sorcery campaign setting,” as the cover blurb does isn’t to do it justice, but then I’m not entirely sure what would do so.

For me, whose own tastes in fantasy tend toward the prosaic, what really sets Hubris apart is its wild creativity, starting with its additions and changes to the DCC RPG rules. There is, for example, a new table of occupations for starting characters. Simply reading the table gives you a good idea of what the setting of Hubris is like. There are alien abductees, chimney sweep children, flimflam artists, nosey neighbors, pig wrestlers, and snake handlers, to name but a few. There are also five new races, each with their own table of occupations. It’s amazing how much flavor is packed into this single table, except that this isn’t the only table like this. Hubris is positively packed with imaginative tables, which both efficiently present the setting without the need for lots of encylcopedia-style exposition and inspire players and judges alike.

There are four new classes, too, such as the Dr. Jekyll-like alchemist, fiendish blood witch, bestial druid, and stealthy shadowdancer. These are in addition to the aforementioned five new races, which function as classes like those in the DCC RPG rulebook. Wizards get four new patrons (in addition to freakish, living spellbooks), while clerics get twelve new gods. And, of course, both classes get new spells and other game mechanical goodies. This is all good stuff, but it’s the kind of material you’d find in almost any RPG setting book.

But the real glory of Hubris is its presentation of the setting itself. Instead of long, faux-academic entries on the Great Plains of Unbidden Sorrow or the Land of Perpetual Stone and Mire, we’re treated to short overviews of the setting’s regions, followed by tables, tables, and more tables. Some present rumors and adventure hooks, while others typical encounters, “the lay of the land” (that is, unique locales within a region), or even more specific content (such as the effects of bathing in the Black Pool of Inexplicable Ecstasy or your opponents in the Arena of Blood). It’s frankly a brilliant way of presenting a setting, one that gives judges lots of leeway to mold it to their needs while still providing plenty of details to hang their hat on.

Hubris also offers many more tables for the judge, all of which combine utility with flavor. There are tables for ancient and forgotten demigods, bandits, grave diggin’, herbs, taverns – just about anything you’d need in the course of play. That’s another aspect of Hubris that comes through in reading it: Mike has clearly used this setting extensively. Its content is geared toward play rather than simply being an exercise in creativity. Hubris is a big book, yes, but it’s filled with very practical material. This includes the magic items, monsters, and, above all, starter adventures (one of which is a funnel). Reading through this, I found myself wanting to run my own Hubris campaign and, because of the material included in its page, I felt like I could.

If I have a complaint about Hubris, it’s that it’s pretty gonzo. It’s a kitchen sink setting filled with mutants, bird-men, half-demons, steam-mechs, sex prophets, and dinosaurs, among many, many other things. At times, it’s a little too much. I occasionally felt overwhelmed by it all. But, as I noted above, one of the glories of Hubris is its presentation, which is highly customizable. Don’t like some aspect of the setting? Change it or get rid of it entirely. Want to add something to it that you think is missing? Go right ahead. There’s no One True Hubris, except perhaps the one you’re using at your own table and the book makes it extremely easy to turn it into the setting you want it to be.

Ultimately, that’s why I was so inspired by Hubris. There’s no doubt that some of the material included in its pages is terrifically imaginative, but it’s the presentation that really grabbed me. Mike Evans has done a remarkable thing here, providing us with a toolkit that is simply packed with tools of every conceivable shape and size. Even if you’re not interested in using a single thing directly from Hubris – and I’d be amazed if anyone could read it and not want to swipe at least a couple of things for their own campaigns – you’ll have your eyes opened about how to introduce a setting and its details.

Hubris is terrific. I cannot recommend it highly enough.


DIY RPG Productions Rules Development Notes- Thoughts on Ability Scores and Modifiers

AI knew I wanted my system to be easily hackable, OSR-inspired/based, and could handle running D&D (and the like) modules with little change or thought. 

In the main book I will be keeping the six stats most of us are all used to: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.  All who play D&D or one of its many variants know these abilities, what they do, etc. 

I give a quick note having less abilities:

Note Different Ability Names: Some Game Masters (GMs) may feel these ability names do not fit the tone of their campaign setting or maybe they prefer fewer Abilities (or hell, some GM’s want more Abilities).  An example of this would be: Physique (merges STR, DEX, and CON), Smarts (merges INT and aspects of WIS), Grit (bravery, etc. from WIS), and Charm (Functions as CHR).  As another example, in Death is the New Pink, I refer to the stats as Badassery (Melee fighting, fortitude, intimidation, and toughness), Dodging Some Shit (Stealth, athletics, reflexes), and Moxie (Confidence, physic powers, discipline, and charisma).

So that’s that…  Ok- so what about generating abilities scores and what do they mean?

When developing this I decided to keep the “roll 3d6, add them together, and do it six times” thing.  I feel the Bell curve serves an important function in character creation and I miss it when it’s not present. 

Once the numbers have been generated, consult the table (see below) and write down the modifier next to score.  The player allocates these numbers to the six abilities as best fits their rolled background (more on this later) and play-style. 

3d6 Score Modifier
3-10 0
11-13 +1
14-15 +2
16-17 +3
18 +4

I’m keeping it familiar, but again- I’m trying to chew the fat.  When I looked at what really mattered when playing- it was the modifier (I’m not talking about roll under mechanics- as previously stated I’m moving forward with a target number/roll over mechanics).  Often, when I’m running games for newbies I get asked why they have 18 Strength and a +4 modifier, what do they do, why are they separate, etc. and I started thinking about it: Why do we have both?  I mean I get that the total is a means to an end to get to the modifier, but is having both necessary?

With how abilities and modifiers work in 3.x, the score is basically a form of advancement currency that functions to slow ability advancement or degradation.  What I mean is, if you have a 16 Strength- that gives you a +3 modifier and you won’t see that sexy +4 until you get your Strength up to 18 (so start juicing, motherfuckers!).  Characters only gain the ability to increase an attribute by +1 every four levels “naturally”, otherwise it’s using potions, magic items, spells, etc. and most of those are temporary.  The other side of the coin is losing ability scores.  You get hit by a wight that deals 1 point of Constitution damage per attack, it’s not as devastating when you get smacked from a 17 to a 16. 

In my current brain space and how I want to play games, this just seems like unnecessary bookkeeping to me.  If a PC has a +4 Constitution and get smacked in their stupid face by a wight and fails their save- guess what…?  They now have a +3 Constitution- guess it’s time they start learning how to dodge. 

That’s pretty much it for ability scores and how to generate them- so let’s move on to…


Ability modifiers generated through character creation range from 0 to +4.  These modifiers can be increased to a max of +6 through spending Experience Points (more on this later).  Enchantments, spells, magic items, and even some standard items can increase the modifier to +8 (either permanently or for a limited time).

Characters can become proficient in skills which grants a +2 bonus to their roll (more on this later too).  There will be Traits that will give a character Advantage to their roll as well. 

All in all, the highest bonus a character could have is +10 and I have a feeling that will be uncommon. 


That is the barebones of my mechanics- the no frills, three sentence explanation of how the rules work. 

Doing Stuff: Roll 1d20, add appropriate modifiers and attempt to beat the target number.

The target numbers for my rules are: Moderate: 10; Hard: 15; Extreme: 20; Impossible: Roll a natural 20. The two most common TN used will be Moderate and Hard

Things that help the situation will give a +2 bonus to the roll. For example: Thieves tools for picking locks, alchemist kit for making poisons, rock climbing gear for scaling a mountain/building, etc.

Note: Big thanks to Kyrinn and Gregor for kicking me in the head to look at my target numbers again.

Note: The other day I mentioned my thoughts behind only rolling when necessary and when it presents an interesting situation or option. 

Killing Stuff: Roll 1d20, add STR/DEX modifier and +2 for Weapon Specialization (if applicable) and compare to the defender’s armor threshold and roll damage. 

Alternatively- Even Smaller Modifiers– I am pondering that through character generation, the highest modifier one can start with is +2 or +3 and through leveling up one can get to +4 and that would be it. I’d still keep the +2 bonus for being proficient in a skill. My current mindspace seems to like this better.

Also- big thanks to everyone who has given me great constructive feedback. I really appreciate it. It’s great to see this all from different angles.

Next one- I think I’ll tackle my thoughts on where I want to go with races in my system.


DIY RPG Productions Rules Development Notes- Thoughts on Target Number VS Roll Under

Target Numbers VS Roll Under

When I started designing my rules- this was a big hurdle for me.  First, I had to decide which way I wanted my mechanics to go: Target Number VS Roll Under.  I needed to figure this out before I moved onto Ability Scores and Modifiers. 

I pondered (what I felt were) the strengths and weaknesses of both, gauged my players thoughts and reactions to the different games and mechanics we played, and considered my desire to create something that is immediately easy to grok, but is engaging and has longevity (hopefully).    

When running Barbarians of the Ruined Earth (which uses Black Hack as a base) and Death is the New Pink (which uses Into the Odd) games for my players, I got to see how easily they understood the rules.

ME: “See your Strength score is a 8?” 

Player: “Yeah.”

ME: Ok- so you need to roll a 1d20 and get a 7 or below. 

Player: “Man- my Strength sucks.”

ME: “Yeah it does.”

Player rolls 1d20 and attempts to get a 7 or less. 

And that’s it.  Super fucking simple. 

While the game is simple- I did notice a few issues that seem to be a common issue/complaint with very rules-lite mechanics.

First– Roll Under goes against how we are programmed.  1 is less and is shit and 20 is more and is exciting.  Even when I run a game with people who have never played a RPG ever get excited when they roll a 20.  “Oh!  A 20!  That’s the highest on this dice, right?  Does something cool happen.”

Second– Without target numbers and modifiers, I feel the system loses an amount of robustness, be it through skill points, modifiers for attributes, or modifiers gained though magical items, spells, drugs, etc.  It usually boils down to gaining Advantage or Disadvantage for the situation (or canceling one another out) and rolling the dice. This is a super simple approach, easy to grok, and do- but all situations end up feeling the same mechanically.

On the other side of the coin I was worried about the escalation shit storm that usually accompanies target numbers and modifiers.  This is why I find any level past 5th in 3.x, Pathfinder, and 5e so fucking annoying.  All the math… Negative modifiers, positive modifiers, situational modifiers, Feat modifiers, spell modifiers, magic item modifiers.  This escalation creep was created to keep the game challenging.  You look at the target numbers of high level play (like 38 or some shit) and I’m all like, “Why? What purpose does this serve to anybody?  What fun does such high and ridiculous amounts of modifiers really add to the game?”

To me- it doesn’t.  It’s annoying, makes character creation a chore (which as I’ve said I don’t want), and bogs down the game more than it enhances it. The only thing that high modifier does is tickle the child part of our brain that “more is better.”

After much pondering about what excites me as a GM and what my players seem to enjoy and react to I decided to go with a TN/Roll equal to or over mechanic.  Here’s notes from a previous post:

In the end, I decided to move towards a TN/Roll equal to or over mechanic. 1- I enjoy the fuck out of rolling a 20 and the thrill/dread or rolling a 1.

2- I feel (and this is totally my opinion here) that a game with small range of modifiers has a wider berth for long term play, and as my goal was to attempt to create something I’d want to run for one shots, con play, and long term- this sat right with me.

3- Those modifiers help to facilitate an easy mechanic for skills that help flush out characters to feel interesting/varied.

So What are the Target Numbers?

With my desire to avoid escalation I knew I wanted to keep the modifiers and target numbers down to a reasonable level. 

The target numbers for my rules are: Easy: 5, Moderate: 10; Hard: 15; Extreme: 19; Impossible: 22.  Mechanically, this means roll 1d20, add appropriate modifiers (ranging from 0 to 4 at character creation, up to +6 through leveling up, and up to +8 through magic items/spells, drugs, etc. and finally a +2 proficiency skill (more on this later).

These rolls are for tests like resisting poisons, charms, traps, explosions, etc.  Combat is slightly different.  That is roll 1d20 + STR/DEX modifier and +2 for Weapon Specialization (if applicable) and compare to the armor’s threshold (more on this when I talk about combat). 

There will be Traits (think very simple feats), potions, situations, etc. that will let a character roll with Advantage or Disadvantage (more on this later too when I talk about modifiers). 

On Rolling In General

I tend not to make the player roll the dice unless there is a reason or interesting situation that will come from it. I find that the thrill of giving the character’s an option is more enjoyable. “Ok you can open the lock on the treasure chest. You can take your time and will automatically succeed and you’ll disarm the trap (if there is one), but I’m going to roll a d6 and if it comes up a 1-2 something’s gonna happen… I’m gonna roll on one of my charts you dread so much. Or you can attempt to unlock the chest by succeeding on a roll. If not, there may be consequences.”

The player’s evaluate their situations and make the call. It gives them agency over the current situation in a way that normally would boil down to a roll.

I believe this is what 3.x was trying to do with taking 10 (or taking 20), but it just felt clunkily bolted on and mechanically driven more than an organic choice. Chris McDowall (author of Into the Odd) was the first person I noticed preaching this kind of philosophy and it’s definitely one I really enjoy, so I gotta give that man props there!

Alright- enough for today.


DIY RPG Productions Rules Development Notes- Thoughts on Character Creation

Character Creation, for me, needs to be smooth, quick, easy to grok, and not intimidate or fatigue new players.

Over the years I have seen how daunting character creation can be- especially for new players and if there is a high lethality to the setting/game.

Challenge One- The info dump. While this can be annoying for veteran players, my greatest concern is for newbies or those with the attention span of a 10 year old who has snorted Pixie Sticks and shotgunned a bottle of Mountain Dew…

First you have the GM’s campaign exposition- all the fluff and backstory and bullshit (the stuff I really don’t do and nix from my games, but that’s a whole different issue/thing and I wrote Hubris in the first place), then there’s the summary of the rules and showing of the dice (and the disclaimer of not to put the fucking things in your ear, nose or anus), followed by the the explanation of the races, the description of the classes, and so on and so forth.

People can become fatigued right from the get go or suffer from decision paralysis.

My main desire is to cut the fat from character creation.

My games tend to have a high fatality rate… when a character died in 3.x the players were CRUSHED- not so much because they liked their character (although they did), but because the sheer amount of work that went into creating the fucking thing… And now they have to do it again. When PCs were dying in my Going Medieval on Yo Ass playtests, it wasn’t such a big deal. They were still bummed their character had their heart eaten out by a giant Dire Booger, but hey- that happens in the Forever Dungeon.

I’ll touch on this more with classes and races, and the other fiddly bits, but I really want these rules to be more “show me, don’t tell me.” I don’t want to pause while players look up rules or get bummed that the ability only activates under certain conditions. I want to capture the players sense of excitement and wonder right out of the box (whether I’ll be successful or not- fuck all if I know…).

Ok… I think I’m done rambling for now.

DIY RPG Productions Rules Development Notes- A List of Thoughts to Cover

Yesterday I mentioned that I had decided to do both classless and class-based mechanics for my DIY rules and that the class rules would be house in Appendix C while rules for races would be in Appendix R.

What I plan to do is do a post on each of the following:

Note: These are all things that have bothered/irked me or caused me to ponder in some way over the years.

  • Character Creation
  • Ability Scores
  • Modifiers
  • Target Number VS Roll Under
  • Races and Classes VS Race as Class
  • Class-based VS Classless
  • Clerics and Deities
  • Magic Users and Spells
  • Abilities (in general)
  • Class Abilities VS Item-granted Abilities
  • Skills
  • Weapon Damage
  • Critical Hits and Fumbles
  • Dark Vision/Thermal Vision
  • Wounds, Death, Dying and Death Saving Throws
  • Monster Dynamics
  • Other Fiddly Bits (shit I can’t quantify right now)


DIY RPG Productions Rules Development Notes- Small Thought on Class vs Classless

When pondering this I have gone back and forth between whether the rules should be class-based or classless… Each has pros and cons (I’ll go into those in more depth in a later post)… Death is the New Pink is classless… Barbarians of the Ruined Earth is class-based… If I ever get to my cyberpunk game, I see it having the archetype-style thing that Cyberpunk 2020 did (which is basically a class).

In the end I’ve decided to do both. The mechanics that I’ve been hammering out thus far are simple and hackable enough to facilitate both with ease.

For clarity and ease of understanding, the main rules will be classless and human-centric. Appendix C will give the rules for having classes in the book and Appendix R will give rules for races. 


DIY RPG Productions Rules Development Notes- Starting at the Beginning

Ok…  let’s start at the beginning-

When I started looking at developing my own rules the first thing I looked at was roll under or roll over. I LOVE the simplicity of The Black Hack and Into the Odd and I got to experience the joy of watching players who normally never grok or care about the rules learning them and having fun!

That was definitely an amazing thing.

On the flip side, I noticed that players either succeeded everything (with just a simple roll under mechanic without modifiers/Target Numbers and high stats the challenge can become minimal) or they had low stats and became frustrated at the constant failure.

Finally- without skills in the game, I’d watch the Wizard with the 16 Wisdom do the tracking and shit while the Ranger with the 10 Wisdom sat and picked their nose. I know that this can happen in roll over/TN based games as well, but it was more pronounced to me here. There have been several hacks, houserules, etc. that have come out in the Into the Odd (ItO) and The Black Hack (TBH) communities to attempt to resolve this- and many of them are damned good.

I’ve been running Death is the New Pink (which uses Into the Odd) and Barbarians of the Ruined Earth (or other Black Hack games) for over a year now, so I’ve gotten to see where issues/etc. for my players come up and what seems fun (mechanically) and what doesn’t.

In the end, I decided to move towards a TN/Roll equal to or over mechanic. 1- I enjoy the fuck out of rolling a 20 and the thrill/dread or rolling a 1.

2- I feel (and this is totally my opinion here) that a game with small range of modifiers has a wider berth for long term play, and as my goal was to attempt to create something I’d want to run for one shots, con play, and long term- this sat right with me.

3- Those modifiers help to facilitate an easy mechanic for skills that help flush out characters to feel interesting/varied.

After that I needed to decided on the whole gambit of modifiers, etc.. but more on that later:) #diy_productions_rules_dev_notes

First post in this series.