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RPG Design


Immense: a quick walk around the world


How large is Khara Thel?

Considering one contiguous landmass makes up Khara Thel, with a plethora of archipelago around it, it is IMMENSE. I’m not just telling you to brag but when I see people say their lands are huge, comparing it to Russia, I have to stick a finger up and say, “Ahem. That’s not so big.”


You see Khara Thel is more like a ball of string. It’s coiled on itself. The land winds and wends about for many thousands of leagues. Let’s go on a little journey with the archmage and scholar, Meyendir Aravalon.


Starting in Iron Claw, North East of the whole world map, we walk a 1,000 miles to Mekong Reldeng. The Boarland Scrubs were a concern – all those mounted Tharkhor on their huge war-boars. Quite the sight, was it not?

From Mekong Relden we walk to Al Hadir, don’t worry about the Ring Channel it’s small enough for us to walk over in this special journey. We are well away from the Gorgax Islands so you’re quite safe, but thank you for the reminder of their dangers. That was another 1,400miles by the way.

From Al Hadir, and its marvellous deserts, we’re going to pass some very rough country. The Blood Ochre Mountains with their ruby mines and slave-labour camps, then over to the rainforests on the other side and the Sea of Mists. It’s lonely out here. No civilization but we follow the rough mountains all the way to the land of the Pilanen – those with the connection to elemental light. Only 5,500 miles. I know you’re tired but we’ve just started this journey. Gird yourself, there’s more, and those Pilanen made boots should last quite a lot longer than your last two pairs.

Now I’m going to let you in on a secret. We travel south-west for a time, past the kingdoms of Nalien Dreenai, and along the coast of the Sea of Draxaam. Here are the hidden kingdoms. You’re very special in having the opportunity to visit these places. The Kingdoms of Eafwhaine have rarely been seen by those of the north. How far? I forgot to mention, yes. I lost count after 1,000 leagues. Oh yes, forgive me, in miles: that’s 3,000. Although I think it was a bit further.

We are a little over half-way and I can see your third pair of boots is wearing thin. I guess the Pilanen boots aren’t as sturdy as they are comfortable. The Vahltic Empire’s southern, and oldest, territories are our next stop. Only another 3,000 miles. Yes it is true. They border Morranzano, home of the Genlei of Shadow. That’s right, not darkness like the Blakh.

North West we head now, into tropical mountains and many huge river valleys. The Inland Sea. Quite a sight, and freshwater, too. This is the northern reach of the Vahltic Empire. A quaint 4,000 miles but weren’t the roads just marvellous. To the east is the free city of Imjin. A strange city-state built on many islands in a river delta. Possibly the largest hive of villainy outside of Krenshae or Port Cutthross. Yes; hard to believe.

Onwards, around the Inland Sea and North East again, through the Khob Odan. A vast dry basin with a few wide but shallow rivers feeding the mighty Mustang River as it passes through. Mostly grass struggling through shale and gravel aid its appearance as arid but that is deceiving. There is quite a lot of life here. Between the three Trade Cities and the various nomad tribes it forms a region many outsiders call the Mustang Territories. How far? Forgive my rambling, a mere 3,500miles.

Storm Bay and its peoples are over there to the north but we’re passing most of them by and heading up to Kiltayre’s coast and the land of the Rett. Just a short leg of another 3,000miles.

So how far have we travelled? I’m sure you don’t really want to know given the state of your poor feet.

Oh? You insist? Very well, it was no less than 24,400 miles.

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Sword’s Edge Publishing

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Sword’s Edge Publishing seems to have a similar thought and preference behind what makes gaming fun. I’m adding them to the RPG Design blogroll.

Check out their products at

Of particular note is Sword Noir: Hardboiled Sword and Sorcery. A strong influence from the Lankhmar series is obvious and it shows through in the desire to have a fast, combat-is-not-a-lifestyle, characters have flaws, approach to RPG design. There’s a lot of similarities in the thought-process to Simple 2d6. I recommend you get out and at least have a look.

On top of that is the collection of Sword Noir fiction: For Simple Coin, available on RPGNow.


Get Sword Noir from

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Simple 2d6 Release


After running through a beta with good results here is the Simple 2d6 release.

It’s free, it’s fast, and it works.

Simple 2d6 ReleaseRules that stay out of the way of the gaming action.

Download Simple 2d6

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Hand Drawn Maps: Available for Commission

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Do you want a hand-drawn map for your project or novel? I draw quality maps in ink and can touch them up for good labelling in digital-art suites. Contact for rates and availability, or just for a chat about your ideas.




Schwedt: haven from the Wild Lands

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Magic System: how many spells is enough?


When I’m gaming and I’ve got a magic user I like the concept that the character can, with enough time, make spell effects on the fly. Throughout almost all the inspirational fiction the magic user is not very limited in their magic variety: just their power. They can come up with something for most any situation. I like this. What bothers me is that in the RPG sense it needs to be codified and defined. Probably to keep rules lawyer/munchkin types in line.

What do you think of magic systems with a limited series of defined spells?

What if the magic system has a limited series of defined spells and a guide for making new ones as required?

In my experience most GM’s will make up new spells without batting an eyelid – every time a new magic item comes about a new spell has to also come about to make said item.

I’m very interested in people’s thoughts on magic system ‘enumeration’.

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Magic-system Progress


In the post about Simple 2d6 for Khara Thel I stated about two weeks. There’s far more work involved than I initially outlined. Each religion that I mention has to have basic tenets listed to get an idea of how Grace can be managed and the religious caster’s relationship with their deity. Each school of magic craft needs descriptions and game mechanics. I’ve never had to describe much of this previously because I could just name a few spell lists from Rolemaster and it was done.

With a less-organised magic system to draw on I have to create the organisation of said magic system as I develop the text. This takes a lot of effort and validation. Although I have a bit of time I’m not writing much on this. The repair and painting of my house’s front and rear decks is taking more time – especially in light of the up and down weather at the moment.

Magic, as it is forming up, is looking quite good but needs more playtesting particularly through character generation. The numbers are good for raw spell casting but how they interact between magic craft types is unknown. Religious casters will use a similar number scheme but how Grace governs magic, via the caster’s relationship to the deity, means a tight behavioural restriction and subsequent motivation to the deity’s tenets.

It’s a case of chipping away continuously with the time I do have.

Here’s a simple outline of Araytor the Defender. A religion suitable for adventuring characters.

Araytor – the Defender
Basic Tenets

  • Defend the weak, innocent, meek, and good.
  • Destroy the attackers, tyrants, thugs and brutes.
  • Be honest in all your dealings with those who have not wronged you or the weak.
  • Generosity to those truly in need, be it coin, water, food, or a lesson so that they may help themselves.
  • Peace must be strived for and opportunity to make peace is the highest work.


With a low singing chant the caster takes on the aspect of the defender, unto the death. Wounds are accumulated at half the normal rate (damage inflicted is halved) and Tuf is +6 or raised 12, whichever is more. Melee skill is increased by the SM of the Spellcraft check, missile defense from aura of power is AV of Grace + SM of Spellcraft check, and all Perception checks are +6. The Doomchant lasts until the caster is killed or the defense is complete. When the defense is complete, all charges are safe from the threat, the caster has a chance of dying. Wound penalties are doubled, since the halving wears off, and this may kill the caster if it exceeds their Tuf which is also reduced when the spell wears off.
Grace Required: 10
Base Difficulty: 13
Range: Self
Duration: special (see text)

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Simple 2d6 System

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Sometimes “crunch” just gets in the way.

So I’ve devised a pretty simple system that uses 2d6 rolls for all core mechanics.

Combat is a contested roll (highest wins and the margin of victory increases the effect). Passive skills are vs. TN or highest Skill wins automatically, depending on the situation.

Simple 2d6 System Draft

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Cultures: Barduk

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A semi-nomadic people with curly black hair, hulking strong frames and wide faces with flat noses. They are tanned but not dark and have a respect in their culture for strength, music and family. Technologically they are in the stone age on their own but are adaptable enough to adopt new artifacts easily. Barduk have an egalitarian culture between the sexes with women and men having no fixed roles. The women of the Barduk are known for their sexual aggression as much as the men are known for their impressive strength. Music is popular with the Barduk, they have songs and ditties for all occasions, with most being able to hold a tune quite well. Warriors of the Barduk wear bone scale-mail armour, traditionally wield semi-edged hardwood clubs but now favour falcata, axes and bardiche, and are fond of taking trophies from their fallen foes – fingers, teeth, ears, etc.

Height: 5’8” to 6’10”

The Kryuk’all

Ma’rdul, Kechaine, Theurk and Lorbad closed on young Mardin before he realised what they were doing.

We’ve been watching you.” Theurk said.

Why?” was Mardin’s automatic response.

You show promise.” Ma’rdul said.

Promise to be one of blood-kith, a Kryuk’all.” Kechaine expanded.

Mardin gasped. Here were four of the most dangerous people in all the Barduk tribes. Kryuk’all were like dark spirits in man flesh, capable of the ultimate stealth, brutal martial skills and cunning beyond that of an old lone dara’garn.

You think I could be Kryuk’all?” Mardin asked, confounded and stunned.

Yes. You will hunt with us in the coming days. We will trek to the crater the twigs call Calnogarr and there you will take the test.”

When?” Mardin asked.

Now.” Lorbad said. His frame, huge even amongst Barduk, loomed closer to Mardin making the young man feel smaller than before he passed his rites of adolescence.

You have no choice in this.” Kechaine said.

My axe, my armour. They are in my yurt.”

We know.” The familiar voice of Uncle Brumord approached carrying Mardin’s axe and armour, as well as a few bags of food and trail satchels.

Now we leave.” Lorbad said. And they did.

The Kryuk’all are a sect within the Barduk tribes. They pick what they see as the elite amongst their people, the best trackers, the best warriors, the smartest connivers and tacticians, the most powerful of the mana-touched, but most importantly those that are highly skilled in all those things. Through a dangerous ritual in the Calnogarr Crater involving hallucinogens, trances and hypnotic suggestions, they test them and shape the promising members into the Barduk’s secret forces. Kryuk’all have a set agenda of maintaining the Barduk tribes, protecting their plains and hills, gathering information from the neighbouring and far-flung lands, and waging hidden war when the Barduk people are in conflict. Within the tribe they are feared, respected and almost venerated by young warriors but quite a few think they are spirits or old tales.

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Duration RPG System

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For a long time Khara Thel was rendered using the Rolemaster 2nd edition system with liberal amounts of the various Companion books and a serious dose of Companion VI. It satisfied me and my players well; even players who aren’t that interested in systems.

The main success of gaming I found was that the players want to suspend their disbelief. In other groups, particularly those I don’t enjoy gaming with any longer, there is a strive to use derogatory humour to unhinge the suspension of disbelief and turn the game into something stupid. Why this happens, I can’t say for sure, but I have ideas.

Rolemaster has a lot of ideas I like for creating a Fantastic Roleplaying Experience but it is also bogged down with some archetypal concepts that aren’t really needed and I will outline some of them.

  1. Professions: are a way to type your character and also to limit your character. Considering RM (Rolemaster) even has a “No Profession” profession, and all professions can learn any skill, the creators are on some level pushing for a profession-less system. More commonly called class-less system.
  2. Luck-based critical strikes: unless you are ambushing a target your critical strikes are totally random. It doesn’t matter if you’re a level 40 fighter or a level 1 mageling, when it comes to killing these two have the same chance of a critical strike that ends the fight once it is inflicted.
  3. Levelling starts too weak: level one characters in RM are far too weak compared to level 10 or level 20.

Those are three reasons I built a new system that I called Duration. The idea of Duration is that characters have a much greater chance of being alive for the duration of the adventure. It will also be a system that stays in the group for the duration of the gaming in Khara Thel – and hopefully for a great deal of other gaming.

After playtesting with some very harsh critics Duration is a workable system. Like Khara Thel I’ve made it familiar yet its own. Simple resolution that will be reminiscent of DnD, combat that has echoes of RM, and armour that protects by negating damage.

For your perusal and consideration: Duration Light

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Iron Claw

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The Kingdom of Iron Claw was the first part of Khar Thel that I made. It has changed a bit and grown a bloody great deal over the years. I love this place and keep going back there when I think of Khara Thel, particularly the city of Ferris.

Enjoy this map of Iron Claw; I know I do.

Iron Claw topo

Thanks to Jon Hoad for wanting the Duchy of Amblehock in Iron Claw.

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