"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Thursday, December 29, 2022


Since I first started playing their games back in the early 80s, Chaosium’s Basic RolePlaying—the engine that powers most of their RPGs—has been my “baseline” system, the rules set that I return to again and again. Be it RuneQuest or Call of Cthulhu, Superworld or Nephilim, Stormbringer or Pendragon, or more recently the “generic” presentation of the rules in the Big Gold Book, I must have run thousands of BRP sessions by now. Like any GM who spends a lot of time with a system, I occasionally tinker with it, tweaking it for different genres or styles of play. Part of the charm of BRP is how flexible it is, and how modular. You can add, subtract, or modify the rules without “breaking” the game.

I have published some of these tweaks in Six Seasons in Sartar, The Company of the Dragon, and The Seven Tailed Wolf, as well as the Six Seasons in Sartar HQ/13G Conversion Guide. But I thought here at the end of 2022, I might share some of the tweaks I use for more “cinematic” styles of play. 

Make Opposed Rolls A Fight

One of the reasons combat is such an RPG mainstay is that it contains multiple variables. Skill rolls tend to be pretty binary…you pass or you fail in a single throw. But in combat, you roll to hit, and the opponent rolls to dodge or parry. Then if you do hit, you still roll your damage…which could end up being a negligible amount blocked by your opponent’s toughness or armor. Combat is thrilling because of the back-and-forth, the tension of extended uncertainty.

But this can work for opposed rolls as well. 

Whenever I want to make opposed rolls particularly tense, I do the following. Take the two skills being pitted against each other and divide them by 5. This gives you “contest points.” For example, you are interrogating a prisoner. Your Intimidate skill is 72%. The prisoner resists with their own Intimidate of 58%. This gives you 14 contest points, and your prisoner has 12.

You begin the first exchange. You put them under hot lights, threaten them, rough them up a bit, and they resist. You roll Intimidate and fail with an 83. The prisoner succeeds with a 37. The prisoner spits in your face, tells you to do something anatomically impossible to yourself, questions your mother’s virtue, and so on. For “damage” I like to use a D6, but your mileage will vary. For longer contests use a D4, for shorter, a D8 or D10. Because the prisoner won the round, they roll a D6 and get a 5. You get red faced and flustered, and your contest points are not down to 9. The prisoner still has 12.

If one side fumbles a roll, I like to make them roll a D4 and remove that from their own contest points. This is in addition to any “damage” inflicted by the opponent. For example, if the roll above had been a fumble instead of a failure, in addition to the 5 points you from your contest points, you would lose an additional D4 as well. In the case of a critical, roll double damage. If both sides score the same relative result—both fail, both succeed, both get specials or criticals—it’s a stalemate. No points are lost on either side.

The exchanges continue until one side or the other reaches zero contest points or less. In the example above, if the prisoner reaches zero they “break” and tell the players want they want to know. If the player reaches zero, there is no way to get the prisoner to talk. They need to try something else.

Obviously, you aren’t going to want to do this with every opposed roll. Just use it when you want to increase the drama and tension. I find it works well with:

  • Chases (more on this shortly)
  • Debates
  • Bargaining
  • Seductions (like the lady says, “love is a battlefield”)
  • Interrogations
  • Drinking contests (use CON as contest points and CON x 5 for rolls…”damage” depends on the strength of the alcohol)
  • Dance offs (in case you are running a campaign based on Footloose or West Side Story

Chase Sequences

I used BRP several years ago for a Mission Impossible/James Bond kind of cinematic spy campaign, and used a modified version of the opposed rolls contest rules above. It works like this:

Each side uses the appropriate chase skill. Drive, Ride, Pilot, Swim, Fly, etc. For a chase on foot, go with DEX (or if you want to get really serious about it, average DEX and CON). This gives you your “chase points” (basically the contest points from above). For skills divide by 5. For DEX, multiply by 5.

First, determine the range. I basically use the range track in Basic Roleplaying, p. 216 but omit range 5, “out of sight.” Range 1 is “side-by-side,” range 2 is “near,” range 3 is “far,” and range 4 is “very far.” If circumstances don’t dictate the starting range, just roll a D4. 

MOV determines initiative. If both MOVs are equal, the side with the higher DEX goes. They declare what they are trying to accomplish. “I run the red light.” “I lock lasers and fire.” “I run faster to escape.” “I try to pull a 180.” “I turn down the alley.” The opponent declares what they are doing to stop them. “I raise shields.” “I accelerate to catch them.” “I evade their fire.” Keep range in mind. You can’t ram their vehicle or tackle them unless you are “near” or “side-by-side.”

Now both sides make appropriate rolls. This does not necessarily have to be the skill that determined the initial chase points! If your Aston Martin has built-in machine-guns, you can roll your Machine-Gun skill rather that Drive. 

Compare rolls as per the opposed skill roll rules above. If you like your chases faster-paced, use a D8 or D10 for damage. Fumbles still add an extra D4 (feel free to use a D6 instead).

When one side or the other reaches zero they are “out” of the chase. The side that wins gets to declare what happens to the loser.

Example 1: Two characters are in a roof-top chase, leaping from building to building. The GM rolls a 3, so the range is “far.” While they are running, the GM decides that the critical skill here is actually “Jump.” One character has Jump 45%, the other has Jump 30% (for 9 chase points and 6 respectively). Both characters have MOV 8, but their DEXs are 14 and 12. The 14 goes first. He is the pursuer, so he says “I am going to try to close the distance between us.” The other character says “I am going to leap on to the next building and slide down to the gutter.” They both roll Jump. The pursuer rolls a 29, a success! The other character gets a 17, also a success. He leaps to the next roof top and slides down, but his pursuer does as well. Neither loses chase points. Next round the pursuer says “I will leap and make a grab at him,” but the GM reminds him the range is still “far.” “I try to catch up then.” The other character keeps running. Since both are running now, the GM decides each should roll DEX x 5. The pursuer has a 70% chance and rolls a 35. Success again. The evader has a 60% chance and rolls 43. No points lost. the chase continues. The third round they have to Jump again. The pursuer fails this time with 33. His target rolls a 24, a success! The GM had declared “damage” for this chase is D10, so he rolls. A 10! He only had 6 chase points. The GM declares the evading character makes the jump to the next roof but the pursuer doesn’t. The evader gets away and the pursuer is not dangling precariously from the edge of the roof. he now has to make a STR roll to pull himself up or fall…

Example 2: Special Agent Dina Might is in her cherry red Ferrari racing through the streets of Paris. Two police vehicles are chasing her. Her Drive is 86%, the police only have 45%. This makes the chase points 17 for Dina, and 9 for each police car. Dina has a sports car with a MOV 200. The police cars are MOV 150. She goes first. The range is 2 for the first police car and 3 for the second.

“I will slam on the brakes and spin in a 180 degree turn so the first police car blows past me,” Dina declares. She rolls a 34. A success. The first police car rolls a 07, a special success! The damage this time is a D8. The police roll a 3. Dina’s chase points are reduced to 14. The GM says, “the police car slams on its brakes and turns sideways, bumping into the front of your car but stopping you from going forward.” The second police car rolls a 71. A failure. The GM rules they close to range 2 however.

Dina curses and slams into reverse, racing backwards down the street. The first police car will right itself and resume the chase. The other police car will try to close. Dina gets a 64, a success. The police get 64 (a failure) and 09 (a special!). Dina is having a bad day. Dina beats the first police car, so they loss a D8. She rolls a 7, so the first police car is down to 2 chase points. The second car beats Dina, so she also suffers a D8. She loses 5 more points and is now down to 9 chase points. The GM decides the second police car closes the gap to range 2, near.

Dina declares she will turn down a side street and try to get away. The other two cars pursue. She gets a 16, a special! The first police car gets a 98 (a failure) and the second gets a failure too (64). Dina rolls a 3 against the first police car and a 1 against the second. The first car is out of the chase, and Dina decides that they miss the turn and crash through the window of a doughnut shop (this is Roger Moore era light comedy). The chase continues…

You will notice we are not taking into account vehicle speeds, hit points, armor, etc. That all works for more realistic genres, but this is cinematic…it is the character’s skill, not the equipment, that matters. On the other hand, there are times when it might. Imagine your spy mobile comes complete with caltrops, smoke screens, a slippery oil slick, etc. The GM might inflict a penalty on the opponents’ rolls in this case (-30 to -50% maybe). If your vehicle has heavy firepower, add a +1 or +2 to the D8 or D10 roll when you damage their chase points by shooting at them. 

Crashes will do damage when appropriate. GMs should feel free to approximate (“You ski right into the tree, taking 2D6 damage,” “you slam into the wall but the airbag goes off, take 1D8 damage”). 

Stunts: As a final word on chases, sometimes the player characters will want to pull a “stunt.” This amounts to taking a penalty intentionally, but the opponent needs to take it as well. Usually I let the players declare stunts, not my NPCs…but you do you. “I leave the ski slope and ski down the bobsled run trying to escape! I will take a -30%.” “I push the nose of the fighter jet straight down and pull up seconds before I hit the ground. I take -40%.” They take a penalty to their roll but so too must the opponents. 

Paper Tigers   

Games like Feng Shui and 13th Age call them “mooks.” They exist to make player characters look tough. 

Basically, in a game like RuneQuest, Paper Tigers only have 1 hit point in each location. Any damage that gets through armor reduces that location to zero or less. In other games, just give them 3 hit points total. They might still have armor, or even dangerous fighting skills, but they have glass jaws and go down easily. 

Give It Hit Points

Like the opposed rolls rules above, this applies a bit of combat magic to other skill rolls. Basically, it amounts to giving a task “hit points.”

Imagine the player character has to crack a safe. Security guards are on the premises and time is of the essence. The GM has decided the safe has 18 “hit points.” Your character has Safecracking 68%, and the GM rules you can make one roll each minute (he simultaneously rolls each round to see if guards show up). As above, you do a D6 on a success, and double that with a critical. Each successful roll lowers the “hit points” to zero. At zero, the safe opens. A fumble might inflict penalties to further rolls (-25% or -30% is a good number).

Instant NPCs

I published a form of these in Six Seasons and Company of the Dragon as "CRs" ("character ratings"). When you need quick stats for an NPC, rate them on the same scale you would rate STR, CON, INT, etc. Basically, Computer Programmer 14, or Security Guard 12. 

Assume this rating is their highest characteristic, their number of hit points, their magic points, etc. Their other characteristics are 2 or 3 lower, and they have a low characteristics at 4 or 5 lower. Their best skills will be that number times 5. Other skills can be based off their other characteristics or lower.

For example, we have an Innkeeper 13. We assume his CHA and INT are 13 each, other characteristics are 11, and his STR is just 8. He has 13 hit points, but just 11 magic points to reflect his assumed POW. He has the skills he needs to run an inn at 65% (13 x 5), other skills around 55% or lower. 



Monday, December 19, 2022

Drives & Epic Passions, a Sneak Peak at THE FINAL RIDDLE

The following is a snippet from the upcoming "Characters" chapter of THE FINAL RIDDLE.

Drives (A Character Option)

Characters in film and fiction often behave differently than their RPG counterparts. In many horror films, someone comes up with the bright idea to split up and explore the haunted house. Your average group of Call of Cthulhu Investigators are far less likely to do so. In literature, the private investigator will accept the offer of a drink from a suspect only to get drugged. In an RPG, the character that NEVER passes up a drink will suddenly do so in the same situation, suspicious of the offer. Players know they are in a game, and many play to win, even those who are roleplay inclined. They exercise a degree of caution that characters completely under authorial control seldom do.

Lady Amarj’s characters have misgivings about their mysterious Esrolian employer from the start, but they consistently set them aside, or make excuses to themselves to justify her actions. Why? Each of them has a strong motivation to go with her into the desert. They are not gamers. They are desperate people driven to follow her.

While your players may very much be into deep roleplaying, The Final Riddle is a potentially lethal one-way journey filled with horror and Chaos, especially if you are trying to run it close to the original pillow book. To “sweeten the deal” for them slightly, we suggest the following option rule system. Drives.

A Drive is a Passion, but it starts at 90% and never changes. It can be used to augment any roll that is made in service of that Drive. With a critical, special, or regular success, the roll receives the usual 50%, 30%, or 20% bonus, BUT if the roll fails—even with a fumble—there is no penalty. There is none of the usual despondency or despair. The character doesn’t get a bonus, but the Drive remains.

On the other hand, the Drive dominates the character’s psychology. A character whose Drive is “Revelation” should always prioritize that over any other Passion. If choosing between seeking forbidden knowledge and putting their family in danger—assuming they have Love (Family) at less than 90%—they will always seek the knowledge. A character whose drive is “Opportunity” will set aside any Loyalty, Love, or even Hate in pursuit of riches…again, so long as they are under 90%. If the other Passions are equal to or greater, they player should roll both against each other.



The thrill-seeker. The adrenaline junkie. The one with a death wish. The character with the Adventure Drive does not feel truly alive unless they are risking that life. They do not run from danger, but towards it. Depending on their other Runes and Passions, this Drive might take many forms. A character with high martial skills and Honor might always be seeking to test their prowess, to demonstrate they are the best in the land. A character with a high Death Rune might secretly wish for death, while one with a high Darkness Rune might feel cold and empty inside and only peril makes their heart race. A character with a high Disorder Rune might just be out to watch the world burn, and if they burn with it, so be it.

Bound To Another

The servant. The shield-bearer. The lover. The follower. The custodian. The character feels they are in some way obligated to someone else, bound to them even in life and death. It doesn’t matter if this is technically true—and indeed there are many slaves who have no love for their owners—this character feels it. With high Love or Loyalty the motivation is obvious: the character feels they must do anything for the object of that Passion. With high Devotion, the character might be an initiate assigned to a higher ranking cultist and feel Bound to them. The character might be a junior officer, a batman (in the World War I sense) dedicated to a superior, or an “Alfred” (in the Batman sense). They might be a parent risking everything for a child. The crucial thing is that the character with the Bound passion will go to Hell and back for the person or persons they feel Bound to.


The treasure hunter. The beginner seeking to make a name. The social climber. The one looking for the big score. The character lacks something—wealth, fame, reputation, recognition—and they are desperate to achieve it. A character with a high Man or Harmony Rune is probably looking for status, while one with a high Fire/Sky Rune wants recognition. A character with high Earth might want wealth. While all characters with an Opportunity Drive will risk anything to get what they seek, one with high Honor or Truth will probably not be willing to throw others under the bus for it. One with high Disorder or Illusion will gladly lie, cheat, and steal to get that they believe they deserve. 


The penitent. The disgraced. The dishonored. The character has had a fall from grace, and will do anything to clear their name. There is “red in their ledger” that they will risk their lives to wipe out. A character with a high Honor is motivated by that…perhaps their Honor was once even higher until they lost it. A character with high Love or Loyalty might have betrayed the focus of that Passion, and are desperate to prove themselves once more. With a high Death Rune they were once perhaps a cold-blooded killer until something turned them from that path. Perhaps the character is tainted with Chaos somehow and seeks to wipe away the stain.


The truth-seeker. The zealot obsessed with Things-We-Were-Not-Meant-To-Know. The mystic. The spy. There is a secret out there, tantalizing, out of reach, and this character needs to know. Combined with a high Moon Rune, the character is likely on the Sevening path. With a high Truth Rune, like a certain television special agent they know the Truth is Out There and will risk anything to find it. With inclinations towards Chaos, the character might be a full-on Lovecraft-style cultist. Those with a high Death Rune might, like Dr. Frankenstein, be obsessed with the secrets of Life and Death. With a high Man Rune, they might be an information broker, a spider in a web of information for sale. Regardless, they are after secrets, and will risk anything to obtain them.

Amarj’s Suggested Character Drives

If you are playing the pre-generated characters from Lady Amarj’s pillow book, we recommend the following Drives for each.  

Darana is desperate. She is caring for her siblings in a hovel in Oldtown, and there has been no work in nearly twelve weeks. She needs this job to feed them (Bound to Another). Possibly she sees this as a way to never worry about money again (Opportunity).

Sarokar and Jolar might both be driven by Opportunity. They are swords for hire and the money is running low. However, one or both might be Bound to Another, each doing this because the other needs it. Sarokar might also be doing it for Adventure…in the pillow book he does nothing but drink when not fighting and there are hints before Jolar he longed for death. Finally, Jolar owes money to his Black Fang superiors, so Redemption might be a motive to get back into good graces with them.  

Shi’an was in Pavis looking into their father’s connections to something called the “White Bull Society” when the Windstop fell, and Revelation might be driving Shi’an as they continue looking for him. Tun-Bak was sent to watch over them by Shi’an's father (Tun-Bak is also a member of the White Bull), and is Bound to Another through through either obligation to Shi’an's father or Love for Shi’an themself.  

Simios was disgraced in Jonstown for falsifying records, and came to Pavis for a second chance. In his mind, this expedition might be it…a lost city from before Time? A forgotten goddess? This could make his name amongst the Lhankor Mhy. We think this is Redemption, but it could be played as Opportunity.

Zarxis is also a Danfive Xaron cultist working to lift the stain upon his soul (Redemption). On the other hand, he is also pursuing the Lunar path of Sevening (Revelation).