ACTION X is dead … Long live GRIT & VIGOR

Cover art by George Bellows

I tried. So help me I tried. But I just couldn’t get into the thing.

The idea was to do to the Modern SRD what I did with the fantasy SRD – i.e. turn it into a modern version of Blood & Treasure. The problem – I just couldn’t find the hook, the energy, the right feel that would make the thing gel. It’s tough to make something good if you don’t love it, you know.

And then the revelation.

I was musing on what kind of RPG Ron Swanson would play. I know – ridiculous – but an hour on a treadmill can send the mind into all sorts of odd places. Of course, the answer is that Ron Swanson wouldn’t play an RPG. He is, however, the closest thing modern America has to a folk hero, and symbolic of a movement by modern men to get in touch with their roots. I needed a subject that I found interesting, fun and inspirational – and by Ron Swanson’s mustache, the manly adventure of yesteryear was going to be it. Surviving in the wilds, steering tall ships, plunging into the mysterious corners of the globe in search of loot, hunkering down in a trench, preparing to dash into the oncoming bullets of the hun! – that was the ticket.

So, Action X is dead, may it rest in peace. I’m replacing it with GRIT & VIGOR – BOLD VENTURES FOR RUGGED FELLOWS. I’ve been writing the crap out of it for the last week, and think I can begin play-testing it on Google + in January and publishing it sometime in the Spring or Summer.

GRIT & VIGOR draws on the literature of Kipling, Conan-Doyle, Conrad, Hemingway, REH, London, Burroughs and their ilk. It’s about larger than life men going on adventures in search of money, power and freedom. Yes, women can play G&V – either as male characters (it is role playing, after all), or by flipping all the pronouns in the book from masculine to feminine – any woman worth her salt will do anything she likes with my game rules – she doesn’t need me to give her permission or molly-coddle her.


Characters, also called “rugged individualists” in G&V, do not belong to a permanent “class”. Special abilities, skills and weapon proficiencies are handled with feats. You get several at first level, many of them are rolled randomly on one of four tables meant to represent your character’s background (you can Go Rogue, Go to School, Go to Work or Go to war), though the referee could allow players to simply choose them if they preferred. All of the feats are given one of four classifications – Mental, Martial, Red-Blooded and Underhanded.

Whichever of those categories the majority of your character’s feats fall into determines your character’s “class” at that level, with their class determining what dice they roll for hit points, and what ability scores they can boost at levels 4, 8, 12, 16, etc. So, at 1st level, a character with mostly Martial feats is classed as a Fighter, and rolls 1d10 for hit points. By level 3, he may have more Red-Blooded feats than any other, so now he’s classed as a Daredevil that rolls d8 for hit points. Other than that, attack bonuses and saving throws are the same for everyone, though they are modified by ability scores and feats.

Combat, saving throws and task checks work as they do in Blood & Treasure, as do hit points, Armor Class, ability scores, etc. Aerial combat and vehicle rules will be included, of course. Psychic powers are included in the game, but are optional. For opponents, the game primarily uses animals and human beings, but a few monsters (vampires, werewolves, morlocks) are included as well for those who want a paranormal or science-fiction element in their game.

The game will also include what I’m calling an Almanac of Adventure. This will be a series of articles covering different time periods and genres that referees (Venture Masters) can use to build their campaigns. One might be “Wild West”, and will provide some tips and information relevant to that era, as well as any additional rules or equipment to run that setting. Another might be “Mystery”, and will discuss running mystery-oriented games. Hopefully you get the idea. There will also be “Steampunk”, “Atomic Super-Science”, “The Jazz Age”, etc.

I’d also like to include an element of taking the manly virtues expounded on in the game and applying them to one’s real life. Maybe XP awards for overcoming real life challenges that players can apply to their characters – a good chance for members of a gaming group to support one another outside the gaming table. Sounds corny, I guess, but I am corny so I don’t give a damn!

That’s the plan, ladies and gents. I’ll let you know when the playtesting is about to begin, in case you’d like to join in.

It’s a Nice Day for a White Wizard [ACTION X]

Yeah, I should probably be shot for that title.

So, a couple days ago I posted a spell list for “black magicians” that was based on the supposed powers that the demons in De Plancy’s Infernal Dictionary could bestow upon a conjurer. In ACTION X, these magic-users, officially called black magicians or conjurers, are Charisma-based spellcasters, meaning they will make a charisma-based task check to cast spells.

The flip side of these folks are the white magicians, or theurgists, who are Wisdom-based. Same rules for spellcasting, but a different key ability and a different spell list. For the white magicians, I decided to delve primarily into reputed miracles, both from the Old and New Testaments in the Bible, and from what I could glean from the lives of the saints and a few notions tucked in from the druids. If you were running a campaign with somewhat Biblical clerics, you might find this list useful. I think it’s a pretty fun mix of God’s mercy and God’s wrath, and isn’t completely foreign to what is expected from a fantasy cleric.

1. Aid
2. Bless
3. Comprehend Languages
4. Control Light
5. Cure Light Wounds
6. Multiply Food and Water
7. Protection from Evil
8. Summon Nature’s Ally I
9. Sustenance
10. Turn Undead

1. Augury
2. Buoyancy
3. Calm Emotions
4. Consecrate
5. Cure Moderate Wounds
6. Detect Thoughts (ESP)
7. Gentle Repose
8. Levitate
9. Remove Paralysis
10. Speak with Animals
11. Summon Nature’s Ally II
12. Summon Swarm

1. Cause Disease
2. Create Food and Water
3. Cure Blindness/Deafness
4. Cure Disease
5. Cure Serious Wounds
6. Fly
7. Hold Person
8. Remove Curse
9. Summon Nature’s Ally III
10. Tongues
11. Water Walk

1. Blight
2. Charm Monster
3. Control Water
4. Cure Critical Wounds
5. Divination
6. Flame Strike
7. Holy Smite
8. Restoration
9. Sticks to Snakes

1. Awaken
2. Bilocation
3. Commune
4. Contact Other Plane
5. Healing Circle
6. Hold Monster
7. Insect Plague
8. Raise Dead

1. Banishment
2. Geas
3. Move Earth
4. Wind Walk

1. Control Weather
2. Create Golem
3. Transmute Matter

1. Earthquake
2. Holy Aura

1. Astral Projection


Bilocation – A trick of the saints and apparently noted in psychic phenomena, this is the ability to be in two places at once. I aim to make this a non-combat spell – the point would be to allow the magician to simultaneously accomplish two tasks.

Buoyancy – There is a tale of a miracle that involved making a metal object dropped into a river float to the surface.

Create Golem – A clay golem, to be precise.

Multiply Food & Water – This is based, obviously, on the loaves and fishes episode.

Sustenance – This would allow the magician to go without food and drink (and maybe sleep) without suffering any negative consequences.

Transmute Matter – In the Black Magic post, I mentioned Transmute Metal and Transmute Liquid. Since spells in ACTION X are not prepared ahead of time, creating scarcity and thus more challenging game play by multiplying the number of spells, it seems to me I might as well combine those spells into a Transmute Matter spell.

Turn Undead – Yes, in ACTION X it’s a spell.

Now, if we have charismatic Conjurers and wise Theurgists, who uses intelligence? Well, besides the non-magical brainiacs and hackers, it’s the psions of course. I’ll post the psion power list in a couple days.

De Plancy’s Spellbook [ACTION X]

I’ve been working on the spells and psionic powers for ACTION X, and wanted to not only go a bit “lower magic” for the game, but also make it as realistic as one can make the supernatural. To that end, I decided to only use psionic powers that reputedly exist in the real world (fair warning – I don’t believe in psychic abilities). For magic spells, I decided to use two main sources, since the magician class has two lists of spells – black magic and white magic. The source for the black magic spells is de Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal and the powers the various demons were capable of granting to conjurers. For the white magicians, I looked at the miracles of the Bible and of the saints as well as the reputed powers of the druids.

Since lots of gamers are acquainted with de Plancy’s work, I thought the spell list I extracted from it would be of interest …

Audible Glamer
Burning Hands
Charm Animal
Charm Person
Cure Light Wounds
Detect Evil
Detect Magic
Phantasmal Force
Protection from Evil

Calm Emotions
Detect Thoughts (ESP)
Find Familiar
Improved Phantasmal Force
Speak with Animals

Compel Return
Cure Blindness/Deafness
Cure Serious Wounds
Hold Person
Locate Object
Reveal Secrets*
Speak with Dead
Spectral Force

Cause Disease
Command Plants
Cure Disease
Detect Lie
Lightning Bolt
Modify Memory
Polymorph Other
Polymorph Self

Contact Other Plane
Control Winds
Song of Discord

Find the Path
Legend Lore
Water Tell*

Control Weather
Raise Tower*
Transmute Liquid*
Transmute Metal*


Astral Projection

* New Spell

While most of the supernatural ability granted by these demons were easily converted into an existing spell, a few were not. I haven’t written these spells up officially yet, but the following will give you a brief idea:

Knowledge: Gives the conjurer expert knowledge in one particular skill.

Numismatize: Turns raw metal directly into coins.

Putrefy: Causes a wound to become ridden with worms and rot.

Raise Tower: Sort of a variation on the magnificent mansion spell; this one raises a stone tower with an armory full of weapons.

Reveal Secrets: Like ESP, only it plucks the secrets from one person’s mind and shares them with all people nearby.

Transmute Liquid: Transmutes one liquid into another, i.e. water into wine, wine into blood, etc.

Transmute Metal: Transmutes one metal into another, i.e. lead into gold.

Water Tell: Variation on stone tell; in de Plancy, one couldn’t talk to rocks, but they could talk to rivers.

Poker Made Easy [ACTION X]

I was just watching an episode of Mission: Impossible which hinged around a high stakes poker game. It occurred to me that such an occasion might arise in a modern role playing game, such as ACTION X (whenever I finish it), so it might be worthwhile to come up with a little in-game system to simulate a game of poker. Note – this is not a step-by-step simulation of poker, and it is completely untested and probably stupid.

Step one for the player (or players) involved is to roll on the following table to discover the strength of their hand. Essentially, this would be their final hand – there’s no drawing of new cards in this simulation. For our purposes, we just want to get a relative idea of what the player has to work with. Each hand carries with it a modifier that will be used later in the simulation.

High card
One pair
Two pair
Three of a kind
Full house
Straight flush
Royal flush

The player now nominates how much money he is risking on his hand. This will be matched or nearly matched by his opponents (see below)

Next, the player makes a Gambling task check against each opponent in the game. A gambling task check is a Charisma check in ACTION X, which uses the same task resolution system as Blood & Treasure. The player adds his hand modifier to the roll, and subtracts his opponent’s Wisdom modifier. If his opponent has a knack at gambling, the player suffers a -2 penalty to his roll. If his opponent is skilled at gambling, the player suffers a -4 penalty to his roll.

Each time the player makes a successful task check, that opponent folds and leaves the game. Each person who folds deposits half the amount of money the player chose to risk into the pot.

Each opponent that survives these Gambling checks now reveals his or her hand – roll randomly on the table above to find out what they have. Each of these participants will put risk as much money as the player. The participant in the game with the best hand takes the pot.

Sugarcane, Agent 99

You never know where inspiration will originate. A few days ago, my daughter and I were watching an old commercial on PubDHub, and the name of the product, Sugarcane99, struck me as a great name for a sexy ’60s spy. As we continued to watch the commercial, it revealed itself as a wonderful little preview for a spy movie …

First, we have the spy boss, in his thick-framed glasses …

Then we have Sugarcane, Agent 99, on the beach, awaiting instructions …

Then the villain of the piece, complete with obligatory white cat.

Finally, the villain’s accomplice, a wealthy femme fatale who uses her cover as a member of society to disguise her malevolent hobby, and the victim, a hapless diplomat drinking drugged coffee …

Hopefully, you’ll be able to catch the whole crew (and much more) in ACTION X, my take on modern role-playing. I’m about 75% finished with the game, and hopefully will start playtesting soon.

Action X – Still Ruminating on Classes

In a nutshell -With Action X, I’m trying to do with the Modern SRD what Blood & Treasure did with the fantasy SRD. The challenge – the SRD has a lot of history behind it – many editions of D&D with all the wonderful nonsense that goes along with it. The Modern SRD does not and, even worse, it’s just so damn boring and mechanical. Worse yet – it keeps making my writing boring and mechanical.

So – I bring an appeal to all of the geniuses that read this blog – what are the modern archetypes you’d like to see in a fun role-playing game not set in a fantasy milieu. By “modern”, I pretty much mean from Victorian times to today (or beyond into the near hard sci-fi future or even pulp sci-fi future).

I started with numerous classes, then boiled them way down and now I’m left feeling uninspired by them. Now I’m beginning to turn back to my original idea of a dozen classes that really hit the archetypes of modern action/adventure. I can’t hit every archetype of course, and new classes can always be added, but I’d like to get a strong core of fun classes that will spark people’s imaginations.

Some ideas (some of which are advanced classes in the Modern SRD, but which will need some TLC to make them anything more than collections of dry, boring bonuses to dice rolls) and some ideas for inspiration:

Brute (Mr. T) – hate the name; love Amazon, but that only applies to the ladies

Daredevil (Clyde Beatty, Howling Mad Murdock, Allan Quatermain)

Detective (Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, Jim Rockford, Thomas Magnum)

Gangster (Bonny & Clyde, Tony Montana)

Gunslinger (Lone Ranger, anyone from a John Woo flick)

Hacker (they abound in the news these days)

Martial Artist (Bruce Lee) – the name is so boring, though, but ninja and kung-fu master are too specific

Psion (Prof. X)

Scientist (Professor from Giligan’s Island, Spock) – maybe Brainiac would be a better name

Soldier (Sgt. Rock, Captain America, Hannibal Smith)

Sorcerer (Willow, Dr. Strange)

Spy (James Bond, Mata Hari)

I’ve thought about throwing in some odd balls as well – Cyborg, Mutant, Vampire – stuff like that. Almost a “race as class” concept for modern gaming.

So – any additional ideas out there? Let me know in the comments. Dangit – I want to make a fun modern RPG!

Action X Update

I’ve been sick the last week and had some extra time to devote to Action X. Even though the game is based, at least loosely, on the Modern SRD, it’s been tough going. Blood & Treasure was actually pretty easy, since it was essentially a tribute to various versions of D&D that have been published over the year. I wasn’t attempting to re-think the game – if D&D had rangers at some point, B&T was going to have rangers.

Action X, on the other hand, isn’t really based on a game with much history. d20 Modern wasn’t a terribly successful system, in part, I think, because it didn’t have much spirit. Charismatic Heroes and Strong Heroes might be a rational way to design character classes, but they aren’t exactly concepts to conjure with, and the special abilities read more like a technical read-out than something plucked from fiction or movies – lots of skill bonuses or spending action points. As such, most of my labor so far has gone into making Action X something that might spark a person’s imagination as well as being something easy to play and run.

In the past week, I’ve put most of my efforts into the Character Creation chapter, and in particular character classes. At this point, I’ve actually strained the character classes into only four classes, though a couple of those classes have what I call “sub-classes”. These aren’t sub-classes in the sense of 1st edition AD&D, but rather a choice of special abilities made by a member of the class. The current classes are as follows:

Adept – This is the spell casting class. The adept can use occult rituals (take some time and involve arcane tools) and psychic phenomena (only require some sort of focus and concentration). The adept starts with a few rituals or powers in their repertoire, and adds additional powers at every level. To use these rituals and powers, the adept has to make what is essentially a skill check, with various consequences for failure. In essence, I’ll be using a modified version of the system in Pars Fortuna for this. Vancian magic would have been easier, but I don’t think it fits well with how the supernatural is usually portrayed in modern films and books. Adepts roll d6 for hit points (with firearms in the game, it makes sense to allow for more hit points for characters), has one good save (Will), crappy attack rolls, two skills and four knacks and two starting weapon proficiencies.

Expert – The expert is the skill class. All experts have something called “skill mastery” – this allows them to pick one of their skills and, when rolling task checks, roll two d20, taking the better of the two rolls. There are three expert sub-classes – the daredevil can use adrenaline surges, the face can fascinate crowds (somewhat like a bard) and the infiltrator can make sneak attacks (i.e. back stab). The expert rolls d8 for hit points, has three good saves, mediocre attack rolls, six skills and four knacks and four starting weapon proficiencies.

Mastermind – Best described as a MacGyver or as the Professor from Gilligan’s Island, the mastermind is the go-to guy or gal for answering all sorts of questions, souping up devices and building machines, electronics or brewing up chemical formulas. The Game Master can decide how far out these devices and formula can be. Masterminds roll d6 for hit points, have one good saving throw (Will), crappy attack rolls, four skills and four knacks and two starting weapon proficiencies.

Warrior – These are the front line fighters of the game. They all gain multiple attacks as they rise in level (as the fighter in B&T). There are four warrior sub-classes in the game – the bruiser can go into a frenzy (like a B&T barbarian), the gunslinger can sacrifice attacks for extra damage, the martial artist gets some monk-style abilities and the soldier can improve the performance of other combatants (think Captain America barking out orders to his crew). The warriors rolls d10 for hit points, has one good saving throw (Fort), good attack rolls, two skills and four knacks and eight starting weapon proficiencies.

Characters can be further modified with feats, the kinds of weapons they become proficient with and, of course, by giving them personalities. Alignments at the moment are pretty simple – Hero, Anti-Hero and Villain – but do have an impact on the game. In place of experience points, characters advance by completing missions successfully. This made sense to me since Action X isn’t really an exploration-plunder sort of game like Blood & Treasure.  A hero is your typical white hat. Anti-heroes are like neutrals – they are focused on doing what’s best for themselves, but not to the point of robbing or committing murder. Most film noir protagonists would be considered anti-heroes. Villains are not typically appropriate as characters, though a villain-based game is not out of the question. Heroes have to watch their p’s and q’s, but the bonus they get is that they can consider a mission completed successfully if they manage to protect or save innocent people during the mission, even if their main goal in the mission is not accomplished.

Now that I have the classes more or less figured out, I can focus on the task checks, combat (especially gun combat) and then put some work into the adventure chapter, which will cover a few potential eras of game play – Victorian, Pulp, Cold War and Modern – adding little sub-rules where necessary, throwing in some fun random charts, talking about some “famous villains” of the era, and equipment available in the era.

It will still take a long while to get the game finished – maybe middle of 2013 if I’m lucky – but at least I’ve made some progress.

Action X Firearms Database

For those who have been interested in the gun posts, and my attempt to wrap my head around firearms, I’ve uploaded my database to Google Drive. It is still a work in progress, with many empty fields to be filled (I maintain a massive commercial real estate database at work, so believe me, empty fields are a hateful thing to me).

The database is not a collection of every firearm that has ever existed – I’ve mostly focused on firearms from the “great powers” with a few other interesting specimens thrown in for good measure. It also doesn’t attempt to categorize every variation on these firearms – I’m using it for a game, so I don’t need to be that thorough.

A few explanations:

Nation might refer to the nation or origin or the nation most associated with the weapon – it’s a mishmash at the moment

Era is broken down into Pre-Modern (i.e. before the main scope of the game), Victorian (1860-1901), Pulp (1910’s to 1950’s), Cold War (1960’s to 1980’s) and Modern (1990’s to present).

Type is the general classification of the weapon. At the moment, I’m classifying anti-materiel weapons as sniper rifles.

Caliber is in inches.

Muzzle velocity is in feet/second. When italicized, it is a value I found for the ammunition, not the weapon – beggars can’t be choosers.

Bullet weight is in grains; originally, I was using place holders here originally, so some of the values might be off for the type of ammunition indicated. I’ll clean this up later.

TKOF is a calculated field – The Knock Out Factor – a useful abstraction for coming up with damage ranges.

Rate of fire is in rounds per minute.

Range is in yards, and (hopefully) represents the weapon’s effective range, not maximum, though data sources are not always clear.

Ammo refers to the weapon’s ammunition loading mechanism (or whatever the heck you want to call it).

Damage is a calculated field (essentially dividing TKOF by 20). For now, the damage values I’m going to use, based on the Modern SRD and different from previous posts, are as follows:

0 = 2d4
1 = 2d6
2 = 2d8
3 = 2d10
4 = 2d12

5 and beyond, I’m not sure yet, but 0-4 should take in most of the personal firearms, which is what I’m primarily interested in at the moment.

Cost is in dollars at the time the weapon was introduced – and this column is about 99% blank at this point. Ultimately, costs in the game are going to relate to how effective the weapon is – I just wanted a little info here on which to base my later calculations.

Rate of Fire – a calculated field showing rounds per 10-second round.

Ammunition is the type of ammunition used in some of the other fields (bullet weight, etc.). Many of these are blank because I didn’t initially keep track of this data, so I’ll need to go back through and fill these in.

Notes are just what you would think – notes.

The second Year column was just a convenience for me, so I could organize the weapons either alphabetically or by year introduced.

Since this isn’t my only copy of the database, I’m going to open it to the public for editing. Be gentle with it. My one request – if you add or change data, please highlight the cell that you changed, as well as the cell containing the weapon’s name, in yellow. It will make it easier for me to track down new information and put it into my other copy of the database. Please only make changes if you have a reliable source of data to work with, and please make a note of that source of data in the Notes field.

You can access the file HERE


More Guns – Victorian Pistols [Action X]

A week or so ago I wrote about gun in Action X. Here’s my first crack at taking the data and making it usable – a collection of “Victorian” revolvers and pistols. What I’m still playing with is the column headed “APR” – or attacks per round. When the machine guns show up, that’s going to get tricky. I’ll probably look to d20 Modern SRD for inspiration there.

For now, though, check out what I’ve got …

Of course, the main goal here, as with Blood & Treasure, is to keep it simple and playable and not get hung up on the intricacies. At the same time, though, you want gun fights to have a special flare, since they’ll be a big part of any modern game.

You’ll note that at the top, I have “generic revolver”. That’s for people who don’t want to bother with the individual firearms, or maybe for a Referee who wants to keep it simple with the NPCs. The generic version basically averages the data I have for all the weapons from the same time period and type, including weapons that do not appear in the table above.

The feed column: C stands for “Cylinder”, as in revolvers. M stands for “magazine” – a very generic term including clips, boxes, drums, etc. I’ll also use B for “belt” when the belt-fed machine guns show up. Reloading a magazine or belt should be fairly quick – maybe you can do it in place of an attack or move during a round. Cylinders would take maybe a full round, or one could take a 1/2 round to load 1d4 shots – something like that.

Anyhow – it’s a start, and I’m sure there will be many changes before I’m finished writing the game.

Guns! Guns! Guns!

Do you feel lucky punk? Well, then roll for initiative …

I’m not exactly a gun nut. I’ve fired a gun, once, at a Christmas outing, but other than that I’ve never had much of a fetish for the things. Yet, now I find myself working on Action X and needing to educate myself about the things.

The Modern SRD, on which I’m loosely basing Action X, has gun stats, of course, but I need a bit more. I plan on including in Action X a variety of “eras” in which to game – Victorian, Pulp, Atomic, etc. That means I need to chart guns from the 1860’s or so to the modern game, and therefore need a system, of sorts, to figure out what’s what with these things.

One way to go would be to simplify it – pistols, rifles, battle rifles, sub machine guns, light machine guns, medium machine guns, heavy machine guns, with damage following suit: Pistols do 1d6, rifles do 1d8, battle rifles 1d10, etc. I think, though, that many folks who are attracted to modern gaming like the idea of different guns – Bond’s Walther PPK, Dirty Harry’s S&W Model 29 .44 Magnum, etc. So, again, I need a system.

My solution (at the moment, anyhow) is to base damage on two factors – calibre and muzzle velocity. In other words, how much mass is hitting the target and at what speed. Rate of fire I think I’ll handle with an abstract “burst” mechanism – probably handled as a burst multiple that can either count as multiple damage on a single target or can spread among multiple targets, with the traditional penalty to hit multiple targets. So, a gun with a burst factor of “x3” could either be used to score triple damage on a single target, or used to score normal damage on up to 3 targets.

Anyhow – here’s my little matrix for gun damage. I’m beginning the damage at d6, and dropping damage by one dice size for balls vs. bullets.

Calibre is rounded off, and muzzle velocity is in feet per second. Using these numbers, Bond’s Walther PPK does 1d6+1 points of damage, while Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum (Smith & Wesson Model 29) does 1d8+1 points of damage.

Currently, I’ve been gathering data from Wikipedia on various guns – have a little database of 416 so far, with quite a few more to go and plenty of missing pieces of data – and should be able to put together some decent gun lists for each era of the game. And yes, I’ll be putting the database up on Google Docs for folks to download at some point.