High level design concept for a Fangbone! tabletop game

This is really just a broadside, where I’d start if I were to make a Fangbone! tabletop game. Needless to say, there’s no nitty-gritty, yet, because I just came up with this in the shower the other day – plus, since it’s a branded IP that I’m not affiliated with in any way nor being paid to design for, fleshing this out into something playable is extremely low on my list of priorities. Still, I thought I’d share.


2-4 players

Character-deck based, similar to Red Dragon Inn.


  1. Drool
  2. Fangbone
  3. Bill
  4. CID

Note that for 2 players, player 2 controls both Fangbone and Bill characters/decks.

Game starts with the Fangbone player in possession of the Toe of Drool.

Drool player plays monsters, cards to enhance monsters, and cards that directly affect human players.

Drool player’s objective is to a) gain the Toe, b) open portal to Skullbania and get the Toe through. A monster gaining the Toe leads to a “sudden death” of X rounds before the Toe is lost and Drool player wins.

Fangbone/Bill player(s) goal is to defeat X number of Drool’s monsters while keeping the Toe between the two characters/players. Fangbone/Bill players always win and lose as a team (b/c battlebros). Certain cards may enable trading the Toe between characters – e.g., a monster seizes Toe from Fangbone, Fangbone player has a card allowing him to pass the Toe to another character to keep Drool player from capturing it.

CID player’s goal is to be in possession of the Toe when Drool’s final monster is defeated in the round. CID player may actively help or hinder Fangbone/Bill player(s) throughout the course of the game, but will lose if Drool possesses the Toe and opens the portal.

Drool would have two decks; one would consist of monsters and minions with different strengths and abilities-a round would begin with Drool playing a monster/minion with which he will attempt to seize the Toe. The other deck would consist of spells and actions that would allow the monster to take the Toe, evade attacks, weaken other player’s characters. Monster would have its own stats and fixed set of actions it could take in addition to those played by Drool.

Human players would have cards similar to the monster, but actions would be limited to playable cards. Characters have a limited amount of “health” each round. If the character becomes KOed, they lose action(s) and the player/character/monster that KOed them takes possession of the Toe.

Fangbone’s deck would consist largely of offensive actions, featuring weapons, animals, and Skullbanian characters.

Bill’s deck would consist largely of defensive actions, featuring earth stuff, classmates, etc. Bill’s damaging actions would make up a smaller portion of his deck, which instead would provide assists, and combos to Fangbone and recover/prevent loss of the Toe. Slightly more health recovery cards.

Cid’s deck would consist of thiefy “Shadowstepper” tricks, largely to prevent damage, prevent loss of the Toe, and to take control of the Toe.

Note that for balance, a game featuring Cid or any other additional characters, Drool player may need additional cards/actions/monsters.

If I were somehow tasked with actual creation of a licensed Fangbone game, I’d almost certainly opt to take these design notes and approach experienced card game designers (Red Dragon Inn or Epic Spell Wars teams) with additional setting info, characters, monsters, cards, and go from there rather than try to build it myself from the ground up. But hey, the 1st stage thinky work is already done!

Crypt of the Ultralich Index Card D&D Booster Pack

I haven’t actually written up these cards or used them in a game, but I was toying around with this idea. This is an example of the sort of “set” I tend to write up if I’m in a game of Index Card D&D.

I’m a big fan of ridiculous spells and random effects. Several of my past spells have had bizarre effects ranging from “regain a few HP” to “take 30 damage and deal 60 damage divided any way you choose”.

So, uh… here are a few ideas I had while trying to stay awake Sunday on the drive back from Dallas.

Indestructible Dweomer of the Ultralich – Spell

DC: 0

Lose all HP. Become undead. Gain one spell die for each HP lost. Damage reduces spell dice instead of HP. Character dies when spell dice pool reaches 0. Gain following DC-4 spell ability: prevent damage from one source.

Lifecurse of the Ultralich – Trap

DC: 14

All PCs in a room regain all missing HP. All undead in a room must save against DC 14 or be destroyed.

Bloodsword of the Ultralich – Treasure

1d8 damage

+2 to attacks

For each 4 damage done using this sword, gain 1 spell die.

Urion the Ultralich – Monster

4HD x # of players

AC 13

  1. Casts random PC spell; if no PC spells, draw top card & use as spell, item or “summon”
  2. Turn random PC Undead
  3. Random Undead in room takes 10 damage
  4. Living heal 10, Urion takes 10 dmg, undead PCs take 20 dmg
  5. Summon 1d6 1HP AC 10 skeleton guards; PCs must att SGs
  6. Use or Attack w/random item

NTRPGCon: A Tale of Three DMs

This is not a full con report, and I don’t know if I’ll have time to give one, but I’d like to share my experience of the games I signed up for. I won’t use any names, but suffice it to say that these are all well-known and famous DMs.

DM the First –

This DM was running OD&D, 3 volumes only. We were all pre-gen 2nd level characters, Fighters, Clerics, and MUs. The party had a list of general adventuring equipment that we were assumed to have, and before we went to the dungeon, we were told we could get one or two reasonable miscellaneous items. The dungeon was a simple and straight-forward (though non-linear) old school dungeon, with each room as a set-piece puzzle or encounter. The encounters/puzzles were well hinted at, and while not particularly inspired, enjoyable and not unfair. Obvious ogre lair was obvious enough to not mess with, for instance. Fake vampire room was an easy enough puzzle and someone only died because we couldn’t leave well enough alone. The fights we had, we both got lucky AND made correct tactical choices, so we won them. The final set-piece encounter was a cheesy Fleetwood Mac joke. It was not a mind-blowing experience, but the DM was a nice guy, fun to be around, friendly, and I had a pretty good time. I would not mind gaming with him again, though I’d prefer more of an experience of ‘this is what it’s like to game at my table’ than ‘this is a simulation of what it’s like to game at my table’.

DM the Second –

This DM was running OD&D + Greyhawk. We were playing 9th level pre-gen characters with some pretty tough and high level equipment. This DM was an asshole. He would berate players and treat them like they were stupid for not asking enough questions and would berate players and treat them like they were stupid for asking too many questions. One door that sealed in a couple of undead trolls was apparently covered with sigils and warnings about the trolls, but, oh, we didn’t see the sigils and warnings because we didn’t specifically look at the door for them. I got yelled at for overthinking when I asked if a pair of silver manacles in a dungeon cell included both pieces for hands and for legs and was told to use it as hack-silver and divide it among the party because ‘old school’. An AOE sleep hit my character at one point, and the lady next to me said “I try to wake him up” – DM says “okay, you hit him to wake him up, and he punches you in the face”; she did one damage to me and I apparently punched her for 8. At one point, he berated the party for not mapping, the whole “mapping is a dying art” bit, despite the fact that one player HAD been mapping for the first half of the session before giving up. Turns out, the entire “adventure” was a playtest of a series of TPK monsters famous DM had been hired to design based on an early monster he’d designed. He was very proud of the fact that even the friendly-ish neutral good variant managed to kill and eat us. I was scheduled for another game with this DM on Sunday, but he was such an abrasive dick that I skipped out and we left the con a few hours early.

DM the Third –

This DM was running BECMI with 5th level pre-gen characters that also had some pretty cool equipment and unique abilities. The setting was awesome and I was really excited about it at first, especially playing a mid-level magic user with a couple really sweet scrying abilities on top of my base spells. The flying circus was in town and we were hired by the ringmaster to investigate a murder and by an asshole mayor to retrieve his hot daughter who’d run away to join the circus. Things started to unravel for me a couple hours in when it became clear that it was going to be a purely investigative game with almost nothing but talking to NPCs and asking them questions. The DM was actually VERY good at running an investigation game, and I feel bad about being so bored, but investigation games, in my experience, work best with 4 players, 6 max, and we had 9. Also, the setting was so neat that it seemed like a damned waste to be spending all of our time asking questions about the murder. I’m like “I don’t care about who murdered the dwarf bearded lady; there is a haunted train ride on an airship! Why aren’t we riding it?!” The carnie games, the roller coasters, the Ferris wheel, the menagerie of monsters were all things I desperately wanted to be able to interact with in some way, meaningfully or not, but I couldn’t. So, about 3 and a half hours in, I lost my ability to functionally interact with the rest of the group. 5 hours in, some carnie finally threw a punch at a fighter. 45 minutes after that, by the time the one encounter the game had been building towards, I had no idea what was going on, who we were fighting or why, because I’d zoned out so bad. Half-way through the encounter, several folks begged out because their next game was starting. I didn’t have another game, but used the excuse to leave the table as well.

Guest Post by J. Comer: On Playing Altars & Archetypes

Graham Jackson’s roleplaying game Altars & Archetypes (mentioned here on Cirsova) first came to my attention on a list of other rules-light free RPG downloads.  Its rules file, six to eight pages at best, was encouragingly short, and I eventually got my local game group to try it in 2012-3. As I’ve recently run the game a second time, and as there is very little online about playing it, this essay seemed like a good idea.  The game itself is available here:


The game’s simplicity shows in character creation.  Characters are a series of ‘archetypes’: Highwayman, Beastmaster, Alchemist, Hunter, etc.  Each is a broadly read set of skills: a Thief can pick locks and fence gems but isn’t able to fight or cast spells; a Soldier can fight or fortify a spot, but doesn’t know how to make potions, etc.  Each archetype a character has is one die: d6, d8, d10, d12.  Anything not represented by an archetype defaults to d4.  One die for each character is initiative, so fighters need a high initiative die.  In other words, this is the same idea that’s behind Savage Worlds or Throwing Stones.



The rest of the rules are easy to follow. Roll for combat. Higher number wins and the difference is the damage inflicted. The GM sets the difficulty for any task, and players roll an appropriate die: use your Acrobat archetype to leap from stone to stone in the river, but your Diplomat to negotiate safe passage.  Experience points allow you to add new dice archetypes, or improve the ones you do have.

How did this work out in practice when I ran two multi-session games of A&A on my sword-and-planet setting, called Pendleton’s World? Some things were obvious.  The armor system of the game (double damage unless you wear armor!) was easy to replace by stating that armor absorbs damage. The Action Point system (add a d4 by spending an action point) wasn’t useful and players ignored it. Combat is deadly, since players start with 10 health points and can lose 4-5 in one blow. The assumption of the game is that healing is easy to find, and that it works fast. I had to allow this, even though ‘real’ medicine doesn’t heal wounds so quickly.  Other rules (half damage from improvised weapons) seemed to work well.  When allowing characters to buy up from d12 to d20, however, the GM needs to impose intermediate steps.  Two characters with d20 archetypes nearly broke the game.  For the curious, d14, d16, and d18 can be found at Gamescience:

Adding crunch is pretty easy: if you want a psi stat, or magic points, just add them.  Encumbrance? Lists of monsters?  Chances of encounters?  This is the Mr/s Potato Head of RPGs, and the price is right.  For a beer-and-pretzels game, the system is hard to beat.

The game itself was also simple enough, though the setting took some getting used to. Two players were so creeped out by the horse-analog species being a huge human-like primate that their characters ended up walking almost the whole game.  The four player characters (three humans: a wizard, a hunter, a shaman, and a warrior-princess of the mole-folk) were sent on a quest to find an ancient ‘knowstone’, a relic engraved with scientific knowledge by a long-gone civilization.  

I had made changes to the adventure, following the advice of a friend.  There was more semi-magic (remote seeing, added strength, etc) for the Rhuthuok shaman PC. I slipped in a Burrower (mole-rat hominid) male as a potential mate for the Burrower princess player character.  And I made the bandits who were scheduled to attack the party a hit squad, headed by a monk jealous of the PCs, who wanted the secrets of the knowstone for himself.  While this did not produce ‘character-driven’ adventures, as Powered By The Apocalypse tends to do, it did make the adventure much less of a ‘tour of Jim’s made-up world’ and more of a story whose characters had motives beyond ‘kill the ugly people and take their stuff’.

The story began with the departure from Vokherkhe, the huge monastery university where so much happens in my vision of Pendleton’s.  The PCs were attacked by predators, then entertained by a drunken, lecherous nobleman. The princess’ air of command enabled her to prevent a massacre when the noble’s subjects revolted.  The players then climbed into a mountain range with the help of a map stolen from the noble’s library, and found another party of adventurers dying from a ‘cursed’ tomb (which had deadly mold growing all over everything).  After a long argument about how to dispose of the bodies, the party climbed to the tomb, decided not to go in, and climbed down (This group had problems, but decisiveness wasn’t one!). They found the cave of the knowstone as a Neanderthal food-gathering party approached over a glacier. By making offerings to the wolf-spirit, the players appeased the Neanderthals, and then fled.  They were attacked by bandits, whom they defeated (those d20s again!) and returned to the monastery with drawings of the ancient stone.  

What would I do differently next time? One problem was players stretching the archetypes. Enforcing them too strictly results in lots of d4 rolls, so compromise.  The idea of a fumble or critical success resulting from one player rolling the highest number and the other the lowest is an appealing one, and I think I’ll keep it.  And, as I said above, no more d20 superheroes!

I asked the players about how things had gone, after the game was done.  Two of them said that they had enjoyed the setting. One said that Altars & Archetypes’ system was too simple. He found that narrating an action so as to cause the GM to roll a lower difficulty die was more important than other strategies. (This narrativist approach pleases me.)  He also complained that characters progressed too slowly.  I found this odd, as shifting from a d8 to a d10 is a much larger power shift than progressing from being, for example, a 32-pt TFT character to being a 34-pt, or adding a level as a Ranger in AD&D.  Nevertheless, a short game such as the one I ran might choose to include more character progression.  

Recommended for lovers of simple, rules-light fun.  

Another A&A game is detailed here.


In Case You Missed it…

Jay Barnson, who has stories with us in issues 4 and 5, was interviewed at Castalia House by Scott Cole on Monday. You can read it here.

The interview largely focuses on Barnson’s work as a game developer, so if you dig vidya, you should definitely check it out!

At some point, I’ll be posting a review of Frayed Knights, an indie FPRPG that Jay made with his Rampant Games collaborators, so be looking forward to that, too.

Dungeon Mechs and Implausible Anime Swords

Random synergy can be a great thing.

Last night, for index card D&D, I created a mech pilot character class whose starting item was a mech. Now, the mech was OP as hell, had ridiculous attack powers and was really hard to destroy. The catch, however, was that being a mech, it could only fit down certain corridors. It pretty much had to be abandoned in the first room of the dungeon. One of the other random items I’d made up for the dungeon deck was a 20 ft. Vibro-blade. It did 4d6+8 damage, except it could only be used by giants, high-level ogres, and mechs; it specifically counted as a “useless item” (certain classes benefited from acquisition or destruction of said useless items) if no one was present who could use it. It was a joke item that couldn’t really be used. Except it was used.

One of the players had written up an item of “Eat Me” Cookies that would triple your size. I found them. Of course the catch was that, much like the mech, you couldn’t leave the room you were in because you were too big and you could only shrink by crying or using the “Drink Me” Potion (which got smashed when it was dropped when people were trying to get the roaches from the Cardboard Garden brushed off of them). But being tripled in size would clearly fulfill the “giant” criteria.

We were experimenting with new boss rules this time, and had a path that specifically led to a “Boss” that was on the other side of a crocodile filled moat. So, we had the whole party carry the 20 ft Vibro-blade, used it to bridge the moat, pulled it across behind us, I ate the cookies and used it to fight the Ogre King, a 15’ tall 70HP badass. I nat 20ed him, and knocked him down almost 50 points.

Except, awesome as that was, in the end, what really did him in was a spell I’d written that someone else had found and cast, Derrik’s Daring Dweomer. It was a high casting cost spell that would either severely hurt the caster, turn enemies into metal, turn enemies into kittens, cause the magic user to explode and do stupid amounts of damage to all enemies (20 dmg for 100), or a couple other weird things. It turned the Ogre King into a 1hp kitten that I had to smash with the Vibro-blade so that I could cry and return to my normal size.

Saving Throws, Pulp Heroes and D&D

Every once in awhile, you’ll hear the complaint that lower level D&D characters don’t feel like the heroic characters from pulp adventures on account of how fragile they are. The low HP means that a couple of good hits will kill those lower level characters, whether in fights or to traps or even something as ignominious as falling down a flight of stairs.

One of my counters to this is that most pulp heroes would be at the lower end of mid-level, contra to what is suggested in many of those old articles where Gary and friends would stat up Cugel or Eric John Stark as being well into double digits with massive pools of HP to prevent low-level PCs from being able to meet and kill these characters just because they were there and they could (though I’m sure they did).

Another bug-bear of oldschool games is the saving throw, particularly in save or die situations. Why should a character with all of that HP be insta-killed?! It’s just not fair! A character who can take 8 full-on sword wounds shouldn’t be able to die just because he was bitten by a snake or had a rock fall on his head!  Besides, that’s entirely unpulpy, right?!

Well, take this from Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, at a point in his career where he’s probably level 27 and has a gorillion hit points:

Tarzan remained very quiet. He did not wish to frighten it away for he realized that one of them must be the prey of the carnivore sneaking upon them, but if he expected the thag to be frightened he soon realized his error in judgment for, uttering low grumblings, the great bull pawed the earth with a front foot, and then, lowering his massive horns, gored it angrily, and the ape-man knew that he was working his short temper up to charging pitch; nor did it seem that this was to take long for already he was advancing menacingly to the accompaniment of thunderous bellowing. His tail was up and his head down as he broke into the trot that precluded the charge.

The ape-man realized that if he was ever struck by those massive horns or that heavy head, his skull would be crushed like an eggshell.

The dizzy spinning that had been caused by the first stretching of the rawhide to his weight had lessened to a gentle turning motion; so that sometimes he faced the thag and sometimes in the opposite direction. The utter helplessness of his position galled the ape-man and gave him more concern than any consideration of impending death. From childhood he had walked hand in hand with the Grim Reaper and he had looked upon death in so many forms that it held no terror for him. He knew that it was the final experience of all created things, that it must as inevitably come to him as to others and while he loved life and did not wish to die, its mere approach induced within him no futile hysteria. But to die without a chance to fight for life was not such an end as Tarzan of the Apes would have chosen. And now, as his body slowly revolved and his eyes were turned away from the charging thag, his heart sank at the thought that he was not even to be vouchsafed the meager satisfaction of meeting death face to face.

Tarzan, with all of his HP was forced to make save-vs-death against some kind of charging inner-earth dire oryx. His saving throw numbers are probably really low at this point, and he probably could’ve made it with anything but a nat 1, but it was still going to be a case of instant-death regardless of how many hit points he has.

This ties back into the game theory that HP doesn’t represent actual wounds but exhaustion and the character’s ability to fight on under pressure in extreme circumstance. Of course, you also might say that it would not be very pulpy to fail your saving throw and be instantly killed, but D&D is a game, and without a genuine sense of risk, your game can end up in a boring slump where everyone knows that everyone is going to live no matter what, so why bother faking the suspense? And in those cases where your life is on the line AND YOU MAKE IT, how much more awesome is it? It makes those times when you could’ve lost your character but didn’t all the more special.