The Motorhead: A S&W Whitebox Class

If there is a classic example of “better living through chemistry” the Motorhead is it. Using advanced pharmaceuticals, DNA techniques, and nano-tech they can push the human body (including the brain) beyond its natural limits. Of course, when you violate nature there is a price to pay and as the Motorhead up powers more and more their body or mind may simply collapse from the strain.

The Good: Up reaching a level the Motorhead can pick up to his level number in improvements but can pick fewer or even zero. The improvements are permanent. The same item can be picked multiple times at the same level:

  • Improve STR, DEX, CON, or INT by +1
  • Add 1d6 HP
  • Add +1 to armor class without armor
  • Add +1 to saving throws
  • Add +1 to BAB
  • Add +1d4 to HtH damage

The Bad: The human body is still just a human body. After selecting your improvements record their total value (+1 for most, the die results for Hit Point improvement, and the roll of 1d4 for the extra HtH die). When you next go up a level before picking improvements make a saving throw versus death with the total value of the prior level’s improvements as a penalty. The Motorhead is the classic example of living fast and dying young.

The Ugly: However, some Motorheads aren’t that lucky. If you survive the saving throw versus death make a second one with the same penalty. If you fail roll you suffer a permanent disability. Roll d4 and apply the following:

  1. Enfeebled: STR and CON reduced by your new level
  2. Drooling Idiot: INT reduced by your new level.
  3. Fragile: Lose level d3 HPs and your unarmored AC is reduced by your new level.
  4. Unbalanced: DEX is reduced by your new level and you gain a a to hit penalty equal to your new level.

This disabilities stack. If you suffer disabilities at levels 2 and 4 and roll a 4 both times your to hit penalty is -6.

In all other respects treat the Motorhead as a normal Swords & Wizardry Whitebox fighter.

The Motorhead is a class for my RiDoR Project

Monday Pointers, March 18, 2013 Edition

Wow did a lot of people post interesting stuff while I was on vacation:

D4: Vampires of Mexico
While the Rifts:2112 is a very different direction from my RDR ideas they’ve been worth reading. His ideas on using local vampires to replace both the pseudo-European vampires of the Vampire Kingdoms (and the lame alien intelligences) is worth outright stealing. Matriarchal vampire kingdoms in old Mexico whose cast of male ghouls are what most gringos think vampires are is inspired. Read it as a case study in using local color/inspiration instead of bog standard D&D monsters for a better game if nothing else.

D6: Fancy Pants PCs
I especially like his rules for privileged backgrounds at level 1. Requiring a justification, no matter how lame, and the pseudo-patron gifts are exactly the kind of touches that make old school play different from more modern games. Sure, you can point buy the same thing in Hero/GURPS/EABA/Storytellering and so on (and I’ve had fun with 3 of those 4…haven’t had a chance to play EABA yet) but that’s a surface similarity. Underneath is a world of difference in attitude and outcomes in play.

D8: Glorantha 4th Edition
I had thought a little on these lines (although I’m much more in the “Exalted is Glorantha” school) but never this thoroughly. This might go in my “someday/maybe” pile. Oh, and the Shadow power source could map well to Trolls.

D10: But officer I was just eating porridge when the blonde broke in…
Beedo wonders what the wandering monsters are doing and creates some tables for more interesting encounters.

D12: Read all those Marvel comics you can’t afford
Hat tip to Aos at The Metal Earth for pointing me to a $60/year digital archive at Marvel. The only downside is its Marvel. If only DC would get this smart and let me read their back catalog online.

R is for Rifts

Okay, who didn’t see this entry coming?

For the three of you out there who don’t know what Rifts is the following is the description from the Palladium catalog:

Rifts® is a multi-genre role-playing game that captures the imagination unlike any other. Elements of magic, horror, and the supernatural co-exist with science, high technology and the ordinary. The game spans countless dimensions, making anything and everything possible. Players are truly limited only by their imaginations!

That really doesn’t capture it. A better example is this ad from the Dragon twenty years ago when it was released. The ad also mentions the first three supplements Palladium produced for the game. The Sourcebook openly admits to being material cut from the core rules for space and it includes some excellent if whacked setting info (more about it below). The first two world books, Vampire Kingdoms and Atlantis, include some great ideas. Vampire Kingdoms features a central America ruled by vampires invulnerable to all human weapons but vulnerable to wooden stakes and running water. It was evocative enough that almost two decades later while reading the Dresden Files novel Changes I couldn’t help but imagine the Red Court Vampires of Central and South America in Rifts via the same supplement. Atlantis includes magical tattoos and the inter-dimensional slavers the Splurgoth and their Blind Slave Women who were on the cover of Rifts first addition. Either of these books would be a great supplement for an old school science-fantasy campaign.

That is the power of Rifts. It is the Arduin of the 1990s combining classic fantasy tropes in a Gamma World setting being invaded by demons from hell whose depredations are opposed by mecha pilots. Every complaint about Palladium rules I mentioned in my Palladium post are present in spades. In fact, many of those complaints apply to Rifts exclusively or nearly exclusively.

Rifts also has an excellent off-shoot/subsetting: Phase World. This intergalatic campaign divided among three galaxies is perfect for Legion of Superheroes or other space supers campaigns or wild anime style space opera as well as classic Edward “World Wrecker” Hamilton and Doc E. E. Smith space opera. Among the great additions in Phase World are the Cosmic Knights which I’ve described as “The Green Lantern Corps with a Knights of the Round Table Questing Knight image instead of magic rings.”

Still, I find myself buying Rifts books on the used market regularly. My anger over the company’s internet policy has softened enough that the latest Phase World supplements I may buy outright. I started off this month with my RDR (Rifts Done Right) material and tomorrow will include a more mundane post in that series. Rifts is a constant source of discussion and dismay over on, mainly a desire to find the right system to run it (hint, Palladium or some other classic D&D variant is a requirement IMHO).

For the old school Rifts, more than almost any other Palladium line except perhaps fantasy, is a set of overlooked classics. If you want gonzo, metal, comic book science fantasy you owe it to yourself to find a ley line and walk into the Earth of Rifts.

E is for EMaN: Extended Mobility and Neutralization Robot

Prior to the war three series of EMan Armor were produced by the US Army: Teutonic, Hospitaller, and Templar. All followed the same basic pattern. The Teutonic is described below then modifications as needed for the Hospitaller and Templar. A fourth, more powerful type, called the Dragon was designed but only rumors of its appearance are know.

Version AC Hit Points Railgun Range Railgun Damage Railgun Magazine Capacity
Teutonic 4[15] 28 4100 ft. 2d6 Superhuman 25 rounds
Hospitaler 3[16] 32 4100 ft. 2d6 Superhuman 30 rounds
Templar 2[17] 36 4500 ft. 2d6 Superhuman 25 rounds

Hand to Hand Damage: All variants do 1d6 Superhuman damage in melee combat.

Sensors:The armor has two sensors: night vision (the same effect as a dark vision spell) and heat vision (the same effect as a detect invisible spell). A successful sensor role can provide the benefits of night vision (use the chart for the spell for range using the skill roll) or heat vision (range as per spell using character level). Rolls need to made once a turn or, for invisible, when new invisible items appear. The sensors are two systems in terms of damage.

Radio: The unit has a two way military radio system with a range of about 5km. However, it is designed to provide a radio cloud so that units chain and extend their range. This feature is very rarely used in the post-Night world as very few units are available.

Reloading:The railgun takes a full turn to reload. The pilot can load single rounds then fire at a rate of one shot every other round in extreme need.

Ammo Weight: Each round weighs 1#. See APEMan Class effects of using improvised ammo. Improvised ammo has the same weight.

Cargo Capacity: 300#

Move: 15″ (150 feet) plus the ability to leap up to 10 feet vertically for each 2″ (20 ft) of horizontal movement sacrificed.

Non-APEMaN Pilot Usage: Modern Soldiers trained in Armor Pilot may use the EMaN armor but with half their attack bonus (round down) and attacks (round up). Persons not trained in armor piloting may not use power armor but may hide inside it.

Repair: As a product of pre-Night technology the cost of materials is twice that for contemporary vehicles and equipment. In most locations it is also half as common. The suits may be repaired with contemporary materials with normal costs and rarity. However, for every two hit points repaired in this manner one is removed from the maximum hit points of the armor with a minimum maximum hit points equal to half stated above.

Start-up and Shut-down: One of the downsides of the unit is it’s start-up and shut-down time. Each take a full turn (10 minutes). A pilot may attempt to speed either up by rolling his pilot skill. A successful skill roll lowers the time by one round (1 minute) for the roll value with a minimum of 1 minute shutdown. On failed start-up add one minute to the start-up time although the pilot can try again with a +1 for each penalty minute accrued. A failed shut-down immediately shuts down the unit but adds a five minute penalty to the next start-up including the +5 penalty to a hurried start-up roll.

D is for Damage

The single biggest complaint about Rifts is MDC. Originally introduced in Robotech to give different scales for mecha from humans it actually worked fairly well. One MDC=100 SDC (hit points). More importantly, while it scales down (1 MDC to an SDC structure/person is recorded as 100 SDC) it doesn’t scale up (doing 100 SDC to an MDC creature does nothing).

However, when transplanted to Rifts and applied to creatures as well as objects it started to break down. Specifically, if MDC weapons are in use and you don’t have MDC armor you are 1 hit (maybe 2 if you don’t have excess blow through armor) from death. There are MDC hand guns in Rifts while some tanks have SDC guns so an infantry man in MDC armor with one of this pistols can walk up to a talk and waste it without risk.

The general solution is to reduce MDC:SDC ratios (20:1 and 10:1 are popular) and allow SDC to do divide by ratio and round down MDC damage. A much better solution, in my view, was presented by Jim Stoner a decade ago. My S&W RDR system draws heavily on it.

The key idea is hit points/armor and damage ratings have both a number (25 hp, d6 damage) and a scale (normal, superhuman, supernatural). When the scale of the target and the attack are the same it’s just a normal game. It is important to remember armor can upgrade your defenses. If you have modern armor treat your defenses as superhuman when figuring effects of hits for example. When they are different the following chart gives the changes to the effect.

Attack Type Defense Type
Normal Superhuman Supernatural
Normal Glancing No Damage No Damage No Damage
Hit Full Damage Half Damage (round down) Quarter Damage (round down)
Superhuman Glancing Half Damage No Damage No Damage
Hit Double Damage Full Damage Half Damage (round down)
Supernatural Glancing Full Damage Half Damage (round down) No Damage
Hit Quadrupled Damage Double Damage Full Damage

Critical Hits:A roll of a natural 20 is a possible critical hit. Roll the attack again and if it hits treat it as one scale higher. This is an open ended roll up to a Critical Supernatural hit which does double the supernatural damage.

If an attack is insured at least a glance a roll of 1 will do no damage regardless of damage class difference.

What does what class of damage and provides what class of effect?

Hand to hand attacks by normal humans and similar monsters plus most pre-modern weapons do normal damage. Armor from the same period provides normal defense. Most creatures and structures have normal hit points.

Modern weapons (post 1920ish) do superhuman and modern armor is superhuman in defense. Modern harden structures and armored equipment have superhuman hit points. Some medium level magic and supernatural creatures (troll, ogres, giants) might do superhuman damage and have superhuman hit points.

Highly magical creatures such as dragons and demons, very powerful magic spells, and Clarke’s Third Law level technology do supernatural damage. The creatures and equipment at this level have supernatural defenses.

Note on Magic Weapons/Armor:My general rule for magic weapons/armor will be they do the class they are in unless otherwise noted. There is no reason a sword +1 or plate +1 can’t be rated superhuman. My one exception would be shields. I would not let shields alone upgrade defenses.

C is for Cyborg

The Cyborg is type of fighter. He has decided to trade parts of his body for mechanical replacements. This make him tougher and faster but at the cost of connection to the natural world. This both makes him less able to use magic and less able to heal from damage versus being repaired.

For all rules effects except as noted below treat him as a fighter per the S&W Whitebox rules or whatever baseline rules set you are using.

Hit points: The biggest complexity of the cyborg is he has both normal hit points (based on his biological being) and superhuman hit points (for his cyborg parts). These need to be tracked separately.

Normal hit points are gained as per the S&W rules. See the chart below, however, for modifiers to the roll at each level.

Superhuman hit points start at zero and are gained once at character creation based on which body parts are replaced. Superhuman hit points take damage first but cannot be healed naturally or magically (exception: some technomancer repair spells) but must actually be repaired. If there is spillover damage after superhuman hit points are all lost they spill over to regular hit points and any multiplier is applied to those points before damage is taken.

Replacement Parts:

The player must choose at character generation which body parts have been replaced.

Body Part Armor Class Improvement Supernatural Hit Points Hit Dice Penalty Other Advantages
Off Arm -1[+1] +2 -1 Hand to hand damage becomes superhuman
+1 penalty to fine motor skill activities
Favored Arm -1[+1]

+2 -1 Melee weapon damage becomes superhuman
+1 penalty to fine motor skill activities; loses half of all bonuses from magic weapons.
Legs -2[+2] +6 -2 Double all movement rates
Torso -2[+2] +6 -2 +2 to all saving throws against physical damage/attacks; loses ability use magical potions
Head -2[+2] +6 -2 +2 to all saving throws against magical damage/attacks; gain dark vision initially and one sense addition every odd level up to (and including) level 9; loses ability to use magical scrolls and any magic item with an activation word;

Hit dice penalty applies at all hit dice rolls after first level. It cannot result in negative hit points but can result in zero being gained. In fact, taking any combo that leads to -6 or more will mean the character is at max hit points ever at first level.

If all available replacement parts are taken (full cyborg) the character no longer needs to eat but will lose 1 superhuman hit point per week without regular preventive maintenance (not field maintenance).

Additional sense abilities for a cyborg head should be a permanent version of a sense enhancing spell. More powerful spells (such as detect invisible) should require a sensors skill roll.

Skills:Field mechanic and survival at 1. In addition, starting at level 2 the gain one skill point per even level. Characters with a cyborg head may spend points on sensors skill.

C is For Combat

An outline of the changes and additions to S&W combat for the high powered future of RDR.

Basic Philosophy

One of the key ideas of Palladium’s Megaversal System is the idea that the basic processes are the same regardless of genre. Thus, at its core, Rifts uses the same combat system as all Palladium games. This, in fact, is very true. Rifts combat (in the core at least) is closer to combat in The Mechanoids Invasion than combat in D&D3 is to OD&D. This is both a source of many complaints about Rifts and, IMHO, a strength.

You can find the complaints all over the net so I’ll concentrate on why I consider it a strength. As has been hashed over forever combat in classic D&D, and thus in the clones, is highly abstract. It isn’t designed to treat combat blow by blow but to get combat over quickly so the main thrust, exploration, can continue. As such, keeping that same abstract style in a game about exploring and being the white hatted sheriff in a post-magical holocaust world makes sense. The changes and additions should be only those needed to represent the broader scale of damage capability offered by high tech and, to a lesser degree, a higher magical baseline. It is to these ends I present these additions.

My additions and changes come in two big sections. Today we’re going to cover additions to include new weapons types, long ranges, and the idea of hitting versus penetrating. Tomorrow, under D is for Damage we’ll cover my damage scaling system.

Additions and Changes

Hits and Glances: The single biggest addition is the idea of a glance. A hit is defined as normal in S&W. A glance is any attack which fails to hit a target but would hit AC 9[10]. The idea is that on a glance the attacker delivered one or more blows/shots that landed on the target but did not penetrate its armor. Glances have two principle uses. When dealing with attacks whose scale is higher than the armor it is attacking (see D for Damage for explanations of scale). Second, glances may provide partial damage to vehicles and power armor. If all damage being used is the same scale and no vehicles/power armor is in use don’t worry about glances.

Using Power Armor: Users get as many attacks and bonus as they normally have if APEMaN class. Modern Soldiers trained in Armor Pilot may use the EMaN armor but with half their attack bonus (round down) and attacks (round up). Persons not trained in armor piloting may not use power armor. They may, however, use the armor for protection but won’t be able to engage in combat.

Benefits of Being in Power Armor: Damage is initially applied to the armor/vehicle with the user taking 1 HP normal for every 5 full points of damage on hits (but not glances) to the armor. This damage to occupants is not susceptible to scale difference multipliers. When the armor is reduced to zero HP it is non-functional although it still provides it’s AC to the user if he stays in it. Power armor at zero or less hit points cannot move or attack, but can communicate, use sensors, ect unless otherwise damaged. Single section vehicles function essentially the same.

Vehicles: Vehicles have one or more sections. Multi-section vehicles will have individual hit points and defined functions for each section as well as a hit location chart. When a section is reduced to zero those functions are not available.

Accessory Damage: On a glancing shot vehicles and power armor may suffer accessory damage. Determine how much the shot missed by subtracting the roll from the hit number. The roll on the power armor accessory damage chart below for power armor or single section vehicles or the vehicle hit location chart and subtract the missed amount. The hit accessory or the first listed working function for the section is damaged and out of combat. If a system is not present or already damaged the result is a “no damage” result.

Roll (d20) Hit Accessory
10 or lower Nothing Damaged
11-12 Communication
13-14 Sensors
15-16 Secondary Weapon (first listed undamaged if more than one)
17-18 Life Support
19 Primary Weapon

A is for APEMaN

The pride of the US Army in the period right before The Night of Blood and Tears was the Extended Mobility and Neutralization piloted robot. Designed for long term survivability they were the first successful attempt at larger than human sized fighting armor. While very few were deployed prior to the war they were very effective against demons, dragons, and inter-dimensional beings. As society collapsed one or more pilots were able to build fiefs by protecting the local populace with the suits as the stiffener to local militia.

While not hugely common between their strong survivability and the occasional unit found now and then in military caches they are still seen. Most suits are family heirlooms and most of those are held by de facto or outright noble families ruling over a small barony or county across the country side. Many adventurers fantasize about finding a suit and becoming a baron in their own right. While they are able to stand up to an individual dragon or demon, massed contemporary combat equipment, such as deployed by Superior and the other Lake States, can defeat an individual unit or even a small squad despite the individual superiority of the EMaN robot.

As Superior drives to expand they are pushing many barons out of their fiefs and the few that survive with their armor intact, or more often their children after a coup, have taken to the wilds as mercenaries and adventurers look for revenge or a new home.

Creating a APEMaN (Armor Pilot, Extended Mobility and Neutralization)

Requirements and abilities

Dexterity Requirement: 10+
Weapon and Armor Restrictions:APEMaN are trained in warfare and, as such,
have no restrictions on the kind of weapons or armor they can use.
Saving Throw:APEMaN receive a +2 bonus on saving throws vs. death and
poison (if using the alternative “Saving Throw Matrix” save as a fighter).
Experience Bonus for Dexterity: The APEMaN’s prime attribute is Dexterity and he thus gets a 5% XP bonus for a Dexterity of 15+.
Initial Skills: Armor Pilot and Field Mechanic at 2. Survival all at 1.

Level Advancement

Use the experience point totals, hit points, to-hit, and saving throws from the S&W Whitebox Edition.

In addition, starting at level 2 the APEMaN gains one skill point per level.

Starting Equipment

Armor Selection 2d20
2-4 No armor
5-10 Fully Functional Teutonic Armor
11-15 Hospitaller Armor with max half-hitpoints
16-17 Fully Functional Hospitaller Armor
18-19 Templar Armor with max half-hitpoints
20 Fully Functional Templar Armor

APEMaN characters also start out with 3d10 rounds of rail gun ammo. The rail guns can be armed with improvised ammo but with two effects. First, improvised ammo does 1d6 Extraordinary Damage, not Superhuman. Second, on a roll or 1 on any attack roll with improvised ammo the rail gun will jam. Clearing it in combat is hard task and fumbling it makes it impossible to clear in combat. Clearing can be done automatically in 1d8 hours outside of combat.

Given PC APEMaN are wanderers despite their equipment they tend to have little money. They start with 2d4x10 gold pieces or Superior Dollars (their choice).


  1. The EMaN Robot will be described on Wednesday, April 6 as the E entry in the challenge.
  2. The hit point and damage types will be described on Tuesday, April 5 as the D (damage) entry in the challenge.
  3. Skills are chance the chance in 12 on a d12, the same as finding secret doors in the S&W rules.

All RDR material is seriously alpha at this point. My first play test game will be the first Saturday in May.

Rifts Done Right

RDR (maybe call it Radar) is a tag that I’ve added a couple of times. It is my latest probably not to be finished project. Specifically it stands for Rifts Done Right. It won’t technically be Rifts converted to a retro-clone given Palladium’s rather nasty policy of sending C&Ds to anyone who posts conversions of their material to other systems. Despite that routinely threads turn up at about converting Rifts or doing it right. Most talk about converting it to a “better system” with as diverse a list including EABA, Savage Worlds, Mutants & Masterminds, FATE in several incarnations, Hero, and GURPS regularly coming up. I think that’s misguided as the “clunky, broken, and unbalanced” system Palladium uses is a big source of the gonzo fun that makes Rifts work.

Instead, I’m working on a retro-clone based (probably Swords & Wizardry White Box) game inspired by Rifts: a gonzo post-nuclear and magical apocalypse game about guys in powered armor adventuring with dragons in order to kill demons coming to Earth via tears in reality. After all, if you want weird gonzo science fantasy after the end of the world why not go back to the original “balance, we don’t need no stinking balance” game style. Palladium’s house system has it’s roots in the late 70s/early 80s old school style. In fact, they are arguably the last great old school gaming company.

Why am I bothering to post all of this? Because in surveying my A to Z Blogging Challenge planned posts I see just how many are RDR based. Given that I figured explaining it up front was worth while.

Sure, after April it might turn out to be another Space Monks or Demon Haunted World but I hope not. Both of those projects died for lack of players for me to test my ideas. After this Saturday’s Stars without Numbers game RDR will be what I run at local meet-ups. I find it hard to create RPG material if there is no game to use them. I’m hoping it’ll be a hit at the Meetup and become a monthly game.

What Do Welsh Porn Stars Know About D&D

The Welsh Piper expanded upon an excellent idea from Zak at Playing D&D with Porn Stars. GM oriented materials, especial setting materials, are written wrong. They are long tomes of text resembling histories or fiction instead of stuff you can use at the table.

Zak has since done a couple of posts that one could see as GM exercises similar to writing exercises. The first, as part of the original post, is “What’s Chewing On That Carcass? Table For The Last NonDungeon Place Your PCs Were…(roll d6)”. The second, a day later was “d6 Why Did that Happen?” table for the last city or settlement your PCs visited. The first seems less useful to me but the second is great in terms of explaining the secret behind what to me was just an event that the players fixated on.

Yet even the first, is useful if you look at Erin’s reasons this is so brilliant. It’s a weird, simple encounter table which makes it easier for me to customize my encounter/random event tables.

What really struck me is how my “5 & 23” idea for gathering PDFs of The World After info falls into this. It’s also a cheap and easy idea for blog posts.