Thursday, February 23, 2023

Bill Willingham on Polite Society

 Face it, if you want something in this harsh and unforgiving world, you have to do unto others as the royal and filthy rich have done unto you: you gotta steal it.

-   Mark Finn


Mark Finn, raconteur both extraordinary and professional, has a ‘zine in this year’s Zinequest.   Polite Society is all about heists and big-time capers a la the greatest heroes of Sword & Sorcery.  What does Mark Finn know about Sword & Sorcery?  Mark literally wrote the book on Robert E. Howard


Yes, it’s that Mark Finn.  So you know it’s going to be good.


But don’t take my word for it.  Here’s what Bill “Fables” Willingham has to say:

Let me tell you some of the reasons you should consider buying Mark Finn’s new ttrpg zines called, POLITE SOCIETY: The Zine for Thieves, Scoundrels, and Ne’er-Do-Wells. 

First of all, Mark writes good rules. Like him, they’re aged in fine oak casks, and go down as smooth as 20 year old scotch. No critique intended against every year’s new crop of hot young gunslinger rules writers – you all have your place keeping the games fresh and alive – but give me rules by one of the old guard rpg guys with nothing more to prove. He’s already spent a lifetime behind the dice, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and we reap the rewards.

Polite Society works. And, believe me, as one of its playtesters (along with Bill Williams and Brad Thomte), I tried in every way possible to wreck, ravage, and undermine those rules, because trying to get away with all kinds of sabotage is part of a playtester’s remit. Test To Destruction is the operable term. No destruction occurred, and instead we had a wonderful extended campaign. I’ve playtested many a game (including, but not limited to TSR’s Star Frontiers, and Top Secret, and too many D&D modules to count, and the original revamp of Jeff Dee’s and Jack Herman’s Villains & Vigilantes), and this is the first time the system being tested didn’t need a ton of work, just to make it minimally playable.*

But a set of cool rules (to quote Spicoli) isn’t enough. That’s the same as admiring a well-written recipe and actually eating the dish that results from it. Can you plan and execute a good, workable caper with Polite Society? The answer is unequivocally YES. Not only can you run a good heist, and maybe even a great one, but you can do so with only a few minute’s preparation. One of the best parts of every playtest sessions was after the fact, when Mark would run down the checklist of what went into planning that day’s caper. The job, the twist, the unexpected complication, and so much more – it’s all in there, every time.

So then, without reservation, or hesitation, I invite you to back Mark’s crowdfunding campaign, and/or buy the zines as they appear. In this brave new age of larceny-themed fantasy role playing games (and movies it seems) this is an addition to the popular new subgenre that’s guaranteed to stand out.

Thank you for listening,

Bill Willingham

Former TSR staff artist; lifetime gamer; creator of the long-running comic series Fables.

*For example, in Top Secret did you know there was originally a defensive fighting position one could get into during Hand to Hand Combat in which you could not possibly be touched? Of course you didn’t, because we found it and fixed it. And the hand grenade damage rules were flummoxed by us playtesters by taking turns swallowing each grenade thrown. Since it only did a single d10 of damage, but did it to everyone in its area of effect, we’d just take turns taking the hit for the team.


And yes, it's this Bill Willingham:

Monday, February 13, 2023

Mad Mashup: Elves

Elves represent the greatest deviation I’m making from the classic classes.  B/X elves are warrior-wizards.  My elves are much more Tolkienesque.  They’re an excellent alternative to Clerics for a party healer and have some nice synergies with the Ranger.

The Elf Spell-list isn't detailed here.  In a more Tolkienesque world, they would actually use the Druid list instead of the traditional Magic-user list.  Which I use depends on the flavor we're looking for.

Millenia ago, for mysterious reasons, the Elves migrated from Fairey to this world.  While they still maintain more than a touch of their Fey ancestry, they are now also very much creatures of this world.  Today they guard the wild and beautiful places, and try to maintain balance in the struggle between Order and Chaos by championing the side that’s weakest.  For this reason, most of the gods find Elves very annoying, and few will accept them as priests. 


  • Elves roll d6 for their hit points.

  • They may use any armour, shields, and weapons.

  • You use the Elf’s Saving Throws.

  • They may only cast spells if they are at most Heavily Encumbered.

  • Elves must have a DEX of at least 13 and a WIS of at least 9.  An Elf with both scores 16 or above enjoys a 10% bonus to all EXP earned.


  • At every level, an Elf may add a spell from the Elf spell list to their repertoire.  The levels of spells they can pick from depend on their class level.  They may cast each of these spells once per day.  

  • Elves have strong rapport with animals.  A group with at least one Elf in it enjoys a +1 on reaction rolls with normal animals.  If an Elf spends an entire Round (10 seconds) talking to an animal, they can radically shift its mood.

  • Elves are also known as excellent healers.  When an Elf casts a healing spell, roll twice to see how many hit points are restored and take the higher roll. Those convalescing under an Elf’s care regain double the hit points they normally would (before any other bonuses are applied).  

  • Elves can see by dim light like starlight out to 60’.  In total darkness, they can see dimly out to 15’.

  • Elves cannot be put to sleep by magic, and the touch of ghouls does not paralyse them.  

  • All Elves speak both High Elvish and Vulgar Elvish as well as Common.

Friday, February 03, 2023

No Dice for You! (And a Question About Mechanics)

What are you general thoughts about rules that don't have the GM rolling any dice.  For instance, if a monster attacks a PC, instead of the GM rolling on behalf of the monster, the PC's player rolls for the PC to resist the monster's attack.

On the plus side, I'd think combat would run more smoothly this way, and the GM can focus more on tactics and making the fight fun, rather than juggling dice.  

On the minus side... GM's don't get to roll dice?  I'm having a hard time coming up with negatives on this.

There are a few games that run this way already, with Numenera/Cypher probably being the biggest.  I wasn't a big fan of how Numenera pushed so much of the mechanics onto the players, but that had more to do with burning stats than having the players roll the dice.

What say you?

UPDATE: someone on the Book of Faces pointed out that the GM can't fudge rolls.  Man, it's been a long forever ago since I fudged a roll.