USR Wednesdays: Two Adventures

Fantasy Intrigue

With inspiration from RPG writer Ryan Macklin. Ask of each character:

  • What does he or she want? (That could be to change something or to maintain the status quo. Don’t fight for change 100% of the time).
  • Why can they not just have that? (That could be adversity, incomplete needs, a bit of both).
  • Point to another character when answering these questions (either or both of them).
  1. Quest giver: The heroes are a team of bodyguards hired by the local lord to protect his cousin and superior, the duke. The duke came to your city with his own set of guards — you are backup. The duke is kind but cheap, and his guards aren’t very loyal. You are paid well by the lord.
  2. Early encounter: While out hunting, the duke wanders off and is attacked by a monster. His guards flee or are killed in the battle.
  3. Clue to final confrontation: Searching the bodies of the monsters, you find the mark of a wizard from your city. If the bodies aren’t searched, indications of a spy watching the battle are noticed by one of the heroes or an ally.
  4. Secondary encounter or challenge: With the threat to his life, the duke is confined to the castle until the lord conducts an investigation. The heroes are assigned to the investigation and head to the wizard’s tower. An illusion of him appears to speak with the characters, and when they ask him about the monsters, he disappears and sends them into a portal to battle a monster.
  5. Secondary challenge or encounter (the opposite): Escaping the battle, the characters rush back to warn their lord and the duke of the treasonous wizard. But the wizard emerges from the shadows to the surprise of the heroes and the duke. The lord and wizard have conspired together to overthrow the duke, and the heroes weren’t supposed to get this far.
  6. Final boss: The wizard fires spells at the heroes. For an extra challenge, the lord can be a skilled warrior or even a shapechanged monster like a doppleganger or a lycanthrope. If the heroes win the battle, the duke rewards them by inviting them to his court… and a smaller than expected reward.
A land cleared of vegetation. And for what?
Blight on her way to the scene of the crime.


This is a classic “team of heroes vs. a villain”-type story.

  1. Quest giver: Each hero is in their secret (or public) identity when they see a news report or get an alert that the First National Bank has been robbed in broad daylight, and millions in bills and paper securities has been taken.
  2. Early encounter: A trail of destruction leads the heroes to an abandoned steel-mining factory on the east side of the city. Inside is Catastrophe, the Mountain of Muscle, and/or Commander Pulsar, who fires beams of solid light. They’re ready for a fight.
  3. Clue to final confrontation: Only some of the stolen cash can be found in the factory, in a pile that Catastrophe and Commander Pulsar were building. The rest is being carried away on long, withered vines — the sign of Blight, the Queen of Pollution.
  4. Secondary encounter or challenge: The heroes know McArthur Park is where Blight usually makes her hideout. Getting to her is difficult, with dozens of traps and plant-based minions in the way.
  5. Secondary challenge or encounter (the opposite): Blight is in the park, as expected, but she’s not hoarding the money. Instead, she’s transformed the paper fibers in the cash and securities into a giant plant creature that joins her in the battle.
  6. Final boss: Blight and her monster have to be defeated together before she can, of course, be sent to jail.

USR Wednesdays: Health Variants

Hit points may be the most significant “mechanic” that roleplaying games introduced to the world of games. Before Dungeons & Dragons, game characters were either “up” or “down” (think of Pac-Man’s lives or even the one-hit armies of chess). And while there’s no exact agreement on precisely what hit points represent — Physical health? Willingness to keep fighting? Raw toughness? — there’s many ways to represent them.

Domino Writing-style USR calls for a lot of hit points: your character’s maximum Action stat plus maximum Wits stat (both physical and mental fortitude). Standard USR replaces maximums with a die roll from both stats, but the idea is the same. Here’s a few ideas to change the way health is used in your game. Note that most of these variants are best in a game with lots of combat, where the health amount will change repeatedly.

The original medusa.
The stunned condition at work.


This comes directly from the most recent editions of Dungeons & Dragons: other effects besides straight hit point loss; things like being stunned, poisoned, or even charmed. They lend themselves very well to simple effects in combat, or occasionally negative Specialisms. Here’s some of the most common:

Confused: Before the character starts his or her turn, roll a d6:

1-2 — the character can act normally

3-4 — the character loses his or her turn, babbling incoherently

5-6 — the character causes 1d6 damage to him or herself from shock, accidentally bumping into something, or for some other reason

Fascinated: The character stays in place, and takes no actions this turn. Any obvious threats to the character immediately end the fascination. This includes a magical charm like hypnosis or even seduction.

Frightened: More severe than shaken, the character suffers a -2 penalty on all appropriate die rolls until he or she gets away from what was frightening.

Poisoned: The character suffers a -1 penalty to all appropriate rolls until the poison is eliminated (by waiting it out or by taking an antidote). This can also represent disease.

Shaken: Less severe than frightened, the character suffers a -1 penalty on his or her next appropriate die roll.

Stunned: The character skips his or her next turn in combat. This can be extended to more than one turn to represent things like being tangled in vines or even frozen in ice.

Decreasing Dice

One of the “unrealistic” things about hit points, especially in older games, is how they don’t have an effect until the end. A hero with 50 hit points can fight just as well as one with 3 hit points — but they both keel over at 0 HP. A simple way to debilitate characters (and monsters) a little bit is by decreasing dice: Each time a character loses 10 hit points from the character’s maximum, they also decrease stat dice by one rank, from D12 to D10 to D8 to D6 to D4. This decrease goes away by one rank as the character heals.

For example, a hero with 22 hit points and an Action stat of D10 who falls to 12 hit points now has an Action stat of D8. At 2 hit points, his Action stat is D6. If he goes back to 3 hit points, it returns to a D8, and at 13 or more hit points, he’s back to his original D10 Action stat.

Usually this effect only applies to a single stat (say, Action if the character is attacked by a life-draining ghoul, or Ego if a character’s honor and status in society is completely obliterated).

This variant can also be used to represent serious injury. The D20 versions of the Star Wars Roleplaying game and the Palladium system games like “Rifts” use something like this, where serious damage has long-lasting effects. Hit points can be healed fully (or at least up to half the character’s original hit points) after every combat encounter, but serious wounds — as judged by the game master — result in a lower die for a stat, and stick around until an appropriate time in the story.


This comes from the Savage Worlds RPG: A character can heal back to full health at any time — as long as they narrate their recovery. It can be a scene where the character is sitting and talking about his or her past, and how it led to today. It can fill in the gaps in the narrative, explaining how something happened that the players haven’t yet heard about (think of a heist movie, where you get filled in on how part of the caper was pulled off after the action is over). The goal is to add more to the story and the world of the characters. The reward for the player is to heal back to full hit points.