The Undercroft #10 is basically out



Say whaaaat? It's out already? But it's only been 3 or 4 or 5 or something months. Oh how time flies.

But don't mind that, mind that the latest issue of the worlds premiere, hyper functional, deluxe RPG zine is out and you don't own it yet. Exchange your boring, uninteresting money for pictures and written things by the industry's most talented humans in the world's most prestigious periodical.


Get it on RPGNow now! Now.

Order a print & PDF copy on my hot hot HOT shop shop SHOP (shipping end of the week)

Subscribe for future issues at something like a discount

WARNING: Don't buy the zine again if you already have this on your Patreon, you already paid me and I'm already sending it!

Universal Roads & Currencies

The City in the Middle of the Road

Troika is the City in the Middle of the Road, not of Windowless Rooms, nor of Doors. These are different places that one can get to through different means. Troika is reached by those who travel and have no destination. When purpose is abandoned its thick metal walls might loom on the horizon or peek above the trees to guide you to its open gates.

Its gates open on to the million spheres each with a road meandering away to be traveled by citizens with purpose. They step out with a destination in mind and travel until the city is out of sight, arriving where they intend to be and the way back wholly obscured.

To get back to the city is easier than first finding it; walk a road with nothing behind you and nothing ahead. Leave no one behind wishing your return, walk with no purpose, and Troika will open its gates to you again.





Bureau of Universal Exchange

Scattered throughout Troika are the silo-like Bureaus of Universal Exchange. Windowless and towering —either occupied because of these facts or floors and shutters have been welded on— one enters the ground floor to deal with its spider-like proprietors.

You find them hunched beyond tiny portholes and pass through your goods and currencies to be fondled by their hairy little hands. They have an uncanny head for the value of things, they will never confer, you will never get a bargain, they will instantly offer only exactly what it's worth and not a penny more, minus a small handling fee of course. Roll 2d6 to determine the % they add on top that day. Reroll 6s and keep adding them until you stop.

They will exchange anything for the Troikian penny, a brass coin of muddy source. The currency is worth whatever the standard currency of your game is, but only of face value to those who can travel to the city, which, while a large number, is far less than the entirety of the population of the universe.

When bringing them alien currency randomly determine how valuable it is at that exact moment. Roll 2d6 in order. The first is the penny, the second is foreign currency, thus determining the ratio. Always add one in the bureau's favour. They're running a business after all.

If a currency is a step above the base (gold>silver for instance) then just add a zero in its favour.

You can list these for later use if you like, but it's even easier to determine it anew each time. Time and space is unpredictable, change is relative.




The Alzabo

As large as a bear, taller than a man at the shoulder, the alzabo is an adaptable predator. Drop an alzabo into any environment that it can physically withstand and it will have mastered it by the first meal, for it gains more than simple nutrition from thinking flesh. With it they take on the full and unabridged memory of their meal, giving them the lay of the land, location of water, shelter and the rest of its kind.

The alzabo can produce —for it is not truly mimicking, rather recalling— the exact sound of any mind it possesses. Calling out in the night it draws its prey from safety, typically by imitating a recently eaten family member and calling to it's children or parents. Even if the devoured is a human, and those listening know that it's not truly them, the sound of the daughter you know to be dead tapping at your cottage door and begging to be let in from the cold is more than most can bear.



Skill: 10

Stamina: 21

Attacks: 2


Attack - Claw, stomp and bite

1 2 3 4 5 6 7+
4 4 6 6 12 13 14

Defence - Thick red fur

1 2 3 4 5 6 7+
0 1 1 1 2 3 4

Special:
The alzabo can recall any personality that it has eaten. When playing them assume that they are literally that person but with the added desire to eat and absorb more memories. The father of a child will beg them to come out to their dear papa and will argue and cajole with his intelligence and knowledge, for the alzabo will have all the feelings the father had towards the child in addition to wanting to eat and make company of their memories. This is not a parroting of the sounds and mannerisms, it is perfect and sincere.

The alzabo will hunt the family of the deceased above other prey. It desires their company and misses them dearly.

It will openly hunt at night, calling from outside the door or beyond the tree line. During the day it will follow from afar and is quite stealthy.

If the glands of the beast are removed and given to a suitably skillful physik it can be refined into an oil that will impart the memory eating abilities of the alzabo for a time. They need only take in a few mouthfuls for the full effect, the memories are permanent. The meat need not be fresh or raw, only edible. With the memories of another the player may ask the GM questions while searching their memories as though the person were present and completely honest. The PC may also use skills known to the deceased by testing their luck in place of a skill test of some sort. The memories are there, but the muscle memory and physical might are not. The PC may imitate the voice, but it will be imperfect since human vocal cords were not designed with this in mind (+6 disguise while doing it).



From this book.

The Ransom of Troika!

Some of you may be aware of Troika!, my ongoing Advanced Fighting Fantasy project. The core or it is now in place and fully functioning, ready to have a big bloaty body hung from it. But, just as in real life, bloaty bodies are expensive and take time. To feed it I am ransoming it off, chopping off the metaphorical finger and sending it to you in a box. The funds gained will pay for this extravagant project. Here is Troika! Basic, a complete and mostly comprehensible rule set based on Advanced Fighting Fantasy.

The rules are complete enough for you to go off and play it forever and never speak to me again. Which is fine by me, mission accomplished. However, I plan to make this into a significant work, not some light and breezy confection to be consumed and passed in time for the next. Though there will always be a free basic version like this.

Current plans for funds are to have the full list of 216 backgrounds illustrated, to round up my favourite Fighting Fantasy illustrators and shove money into their hands, and to make a book that can block a bullet. Don't ask how expensive all that is, I try not to think about it.

It will happen eventually, but that eventually gets here faster if I ransom the crap out of this half-baked playtest document. So that is exactly what I'm doing.

Pay what you want, download it HERE, play it, break it, tell your friends, the ransom of Troika begins.

Fighting Fantasy Luck

The Luck statistic is arguably the most interesting mechanic in the Advanced Fighting Fantasy RPG system.

In brief, it is a number between 7 and 12, generated at character creation. When something arbitrarily awful or wonderful might happen to you you may roll equal to or under it on 2d6. Much like saves in D&D. The difference here, other than there being only one "save", is that it is reduced by 1 every time it is rolled, successful or not and is entirely optional. The player can decide that he'll just take whatever is coming his way and save his luck for later.

Smart. Your Luck runs out. It's named something that you can even speak about out loud without breaking the tone. "Make a saving throw" or "Test you luck"? One of those is obviously stronger.

In the gamebooks from which the system is derived you would occasionally regain luck when choosing a path that, through no fault of your own, brought you fortune. Essentially you gained luck when you got lucky. This did not translate well into an RPG. In a gamebook there is no ambiguity, no fiat, whereas an RPG has a GM handing out the brownie points. A GM currency that keeps the PC alive encourages an irritating atmosphere of performing for the GM, "I did this thing, do I get a point?" or worse, conscious or unconscious favouritism.


Unlucky mate
The easy path would be to just give it all back when you rest, waking up nice and lucky. But strategic rests are also annoying, and it doesn't fit as nicely as regaining Stamina from naps does. There needs to be a concrete condition for regaining luck. I've already covered the possibility of regaining it through spending time with your family or getting wasted, but this isn't useful for long periods in the wilderness.

In a system where Luck is diminishing there must be a fair economy, or at least an economy which is transparent and controllable. Possible solutions:


  • You regain 1 luck every time you interact favourably with a suspicious aspect of the wilderness. For example, the party comes across a gauntlet on a pedestal in the middle of a room. Instead of wisely ignoring it or just stuffing it in a bag, the barbarian thrusts his arm inside. It's just a nice gauntlet. +1 Luck. This mimics the books quite well, is relatively plain and understandable. Encourages players to be a bit bold. Should also allow you to go over starting Luck.
  • You regain 1 Luck every time you have a meal. Eating is good for mind and body after all. If you're stuck in a shitty jungle, hounded by pygmy cannibals, a nice quiet meal with your friends can restore some sanity. Further reward for eating and wasting time. Requires thought and risk.
  • A good rest regains d3 Luck. Good dreams are important. Also, random encounters.
  • Fake-out saves can't be used in Fighting Fantasy. It's incredibly unfair to spend their resources for nothing. Alternative: Use fake-out saves, but if the player takes the bait (remember, testing your luck is optional) give them 1 Luck instead.
  • Regain d6 Luck at the start of a session. Represents the optimistic nihilism of the adventurer.

A lot of of these come down to calling the GM's bluff, which I think is appropriate. Rewarding curiosity is never a bad thing.

Issue 4 Reprint In Stock


New covers for the second printing of issue 4 of The Undercroft, recoloured by Matthew Adams. Insides are largely the same, so you're not missing anything by having the first printing.

What people have said:

Undercroft #4 is a beautiful gem of a zine that genuinely captures the best freewheeling spirit of the original wave of zines but brings modern art production values and sensibility. Its quirkiness and whimsy marks it as something quite different from its peers and its well worth forking out for the paper version for the genuine old school experience. 
-Thee Rapture


BUY IT HERE


If you worked on this issue, please email me your address so I can send you a copy! If you have a subscription check Patreon before buying this.

Nuts & Bolts of Interdimensional Language

Let's call every language a skill, and let's also make a universal language called Portal Pidgin. We'll assume it's so incredibly simple that almost anyone can learn to speak it passably after a couple of weeks immersion. PCs are fully fluent, they've been through Troika, or lived there, or just dealt with those ambiguously foreign traders everyone seems to have been visited by.

Portal Pidgin is almost a Unified Theory of Language, the roiling sweaty pile of interdimensional culture at the centre of the universe has solved communication. Knowledge of it grants a deep understanding of language, a unique vantage point from which to approach new ways of speech. People native to it have little trouble picking up the basics of any new language met.

Every time a PC meets a new language they may test their Skill to fumble through it. If they fail, they get no where, if they pass they manage to communicate basic desires and get an advancement tick in that particular language.

However unlike standard skills, advancement is not a matter of rolling higher than your current skill. Instead each language has an in built difficulty. If you don't have one in mind, just roll a d6. That is how difficult that language is to learn, and with each advancement you must roll equal to or greater than that number.



When talking to some foreign sorts, roll against you Skill. If you pass, you can chat to them roughly, if you fail you get lost.

If you roll a critical on your language check you instantly take an advancement test.

If you fumble your test you must roll below:


1-3 Your audience has become tired with your hooting and pointing and refuse to participate any longer. This goes for the whole party.

4 You have offended them somehow. They respond appropriately, be that with indignation or violence.

5 They have got the wrong end of the stick, thinking you are trying to say the exact opposite of what you meant. This could cause issues while protesting innocence or complimenting someone.

6 You have accidentally been obscene, insulting religion or state. Their response will depend on the context, but assume the guards are being called right now.



Once a PC has 6 in a language they are assumed to be completely fluent to all but its most arcane usages.

In a long campaign the PCs will develop cultural scars. They'll look at the list of languages they can stumble through and see the trail they took up to this point.

Family and Friends and Drinking and Dwarves

I assume a situation of strangers in a strange land. What friends or family the PCs have is what they have made there.

Spouse & Children:

If PCs want to start with a spouse let them roll for the privilege. 1 in 3 they already have one, with d3-1 children. Each child is 2d6 years old.

If a child is 10 or more years old you can take them on adventures with you, allowing them to learn on the job. If you get the child killed you lose 10d6 social currency with your family. If it goes below 0 your spouse will never forgive you and leaves with your remaining children.

DOWNTIME FUN: As a downtime action the PC can spend quality time with her family. This will fully restore their Luck & Stamina. Gain d6 social currency with them. On a 6 there is a new child on the way. (if appropriate). Recommend hand-waving pregnant PCs. Baby magically appears later between adventures. Don't make it weird.

DOWNTIME FUN: The PC trains one of their kids. That kid gets a skill advancement check in one skill the PC knows but can't be raised higher than the father. Keep track of this stuff. When a PC dies they may take up playing one of their children instead of making a new character as long as it's old enough. Gain 1 social currency.

ON AGEING: Time differences between planes is weird. If you spend a week in Baator a month might pass in Troika. Age your children a year for every 3 planar trips you take.

DOWNTIME NOTSOFUN: Every downtime you do not spend with your family their social currency reduces by 1. If it reaches 0 they will leave.

DOWNTIME FUN: You may give a gift to a family member. It must be something you have, that you got, you can't just wishy-washy declare a state of giftness. Gain 2d6 social currency.

DOWNTIME FUN: You wanna get married but don't know anyone? Go looking. 1 in 6 chance you meet someone to make friends with. Costs 10 social currency to convince a friend to marry you.


Friends:

DOWNTIME FUN: Friends are able to accompany the PC while carousing. Roll 1d6, if it comes up as anything other than 1, chose the order of numbers in your carousing roll. If it comes up as one, the friend has got you in trouble, the GM chooses the order to use. Regardless, +d6 social currency for hanging out with them.

Other PCs are not friends. Spouses can be, but you need to make it clear to the GM.

Every friend will either have a trade or an association. Roll a background for them.

Friends might be convinced to go on adventures with you. Costs 20 social currency minus their highest fighting or magic skill. Lasts for one excursion.

DOWNTIME FUN: If the friend's background causes her to have some influence or power, it costs 5 social currency to lean on it.

DOWNTIME FUN: A friend will teach you something they know for 3 social currency. Gain an advancement tick in any skill they have.


Carousing in Troika

In between games a PC may aimlessly go out on the town rather than do something constructive. Every major city or other interesting location should have its own carousing table, but smaller less lively places will likely have slimmer ones. It's probably a good idea to replace them when they get used up.

Carousing restores either Stamina or Luck (choose ahead of time) and costs 2d6x10p to have a roll, if you spend more than you own you are in debt to either:


  1. The Manticore Bank. They charge 10% interest every day and are happy to let that accrue. It takes a downtime activity to get in to see a representative of the bank, and there is only a 1 in 6 chance that you'll get seen before closing time. If the interest gets out of hand they'll send a manticore after you.
  2. The Black Bishops. If not paid 9 times in full they will repossess your entire life. All friends and family and homes and treasures belong to the Black Bishopric until bought back. She's their wife now.
  3. A petty gangster who will kidnap a friend or family member if they aren't paid back double in a week. Lacking a family, they'll break your legs.
  4. Miss Keansy's Social Betterment Scheme. Miss Keansy's loans only come in bundles of 200p and are measured against a percentage of the benefit it affords you by uplifting your social class. She'll take 5% of all income for the next 5 years.
  5. A random friend or family member covers it at the cost of -d6 social currency
  6. A Gold Man gives you a bag of his weird gold nuggets. He never seems to want anything for it.


Roll d36 for carousing!

1-2


  1. Caught the Time Fever from a beggar. Every game you age 2d6 years in a random direction until cured, dead, or unborn.
  2. You cross paths with a group of Brawlers out on the town. Test your Strength or lose 1d6 stamina and lose 1d2 teeth. If you pass you beat them up and are invited to join the Sublime Society of Beef Steaks.
  3. You get caught up in a Dwarven art project. Before the peacemakers dismantle it and rescue the participants, you are partially enamelled and menaced with spikes of cobalt. You lose 1d6 Luck but count as wearing plate armour until it all chips off. Should take roughly until the end of the next adventure.
  4. You wake up in a pile of skyskiff sailors with a new tattoo. 1 in 6 chance you're (and they're) naked and missing everything you were carrying.
  5. You attend a public wine tasting at Miss Keansey's estate. Being the uncultured swine that you are, you delight the members by swilling the latest vintage from the kelp orchards of the demon sea. For the next adventure you must test for random encounters with demons at every convenient opportunity. Only you can see them. They might not be aggressive, instead happy to just cause trouble, but they can also straight up devour you in front of your friends. You do gain a skill advancement check in Second Sight for the experience though.
  6. A beggar you were mocking turns out to be a Gold Man in disguise, testing the city for moral turpitude. He curses you by turning everything metal you own into clay and pelting you with nuggets of gold (lose 1d3 stamina). You're luckily carried away by the crowd grasping for the gold before he can really lay in to you.


3-4

  1. Wake up in the mortuary. The Dustmen demand you repay the corpse fee they wasted on you (d6p). If you can't pay they will insist you go corpse collecting on your next downtime activity to pay it back, or else.
  2. You lost sight of your senses at some point and joined one of the newer cults in town. They seem friendly enough. Randomly generate it, you are now a member.
  3. You council an orc out of ending his suffering. He has latched on to you. For good or bad, you have a new friend.
  4. Inebriation leads you to agree to test a new Ven cerebro-plug. You gain 1d6p and +2 in a random skill (owned or not). If you ever roll a fumble in that skill the plug will burn out, causing 2d6 damage. A Ven bubble will be sent to collect the wreckage data, regardless of location in time or space.
  5. You lost hard at a game of Roly Bones. Lose 5d6x10p. If you can't pay it all, the skyskiff sailors you'd been rolling with rough you up and take whatever else you're carrying as payment. Lose d6 stamina.
  6. You just so happen to be holding the key to a little known portal while wandering right through it. You find your way home by the next game, but not before ageing 3d6 years and returning with a child of almost equal age. Time is funny.

5-6

  1. You get chatting with a beggar, share a drink, kill some time, only to find out he's the king of some distant land. He never found his way back after he fell through some portal or other, no one had ever heard of his home. For your kindness he gives you his last possession: his crown and his kingdom with it. It's very pretty, made of iron and bronze, worth 50s to the right buyer.
  2. You meet a tourist with only rudimentary understanding of the language. They seem nice, and keep buying drinks, so you take them around town with you. At the end of the night he turns to give you a tip for your trouble but, finding he's out of native silver and the bureau de change is shut for the night, he gives you one of his native coins with an apologetic smile. It's roughly 6 inches wide and as thick as your finger, intricately cast and made of pure gold. Worth 1000p
  3. Make a new friend on your raucous night out. Make them as a character and get d6 social currency with them.
  4. Won big in a game of Roly Bones. 5d6x10p
  5. Spend an amorous night in the arms of a stranger. Restore Luck and Stamina. 1 in 6 chance a bastard appears in your future.
  6. Meet the love of your life. Can count as a spouse and a friend. Roll a background for him.



And finally, Dwarves and their family


That is to say they don't have one. Just passions and projects. They have no genitals, are all "male", if one was forced to judge.

A dwarf, on their downtime, may choose to work on a mysterious project. Even the player won't know until it's done, since the dwarf's compartmentalised mind is so strong. Secrets are secret! Each time the player works on it they gain d6 social currency with themselves. When they have 15 they finally reveal the project for all to see. Roll to find out what it is.


  1. A dwarf! A shiny new fully grown dwarf. This is your son, fashioned from iron and stone, and you may tutor him as with children, above.
  2. A weapon, encrusted with rare minerals, menaced with spikes, and only beautiful to a dwarfs gaudy eye. The dwarf gets +1 to their weapon skill while using this weapon. Everyone else gets -1 since it's so spiky and weird.
  3. A beautiful piece of furniture, you may choose what sort. It is of course very spiky and almost randomly enhanced with minerals and bones. +1 permanent luck for completing such a project.
  4. Armour, made of an obscure or unusual material, and yet completely usable. Better than usable in fact, since the wearer always adds +1 to their armour roll while wearing it. The dwarf player can choose the type of armour and the size (dwarf? human? lammasu?).
  5. A statue of transcendent beauty. The topic is up for the dwarf to decide, but it is huge, of unusual construction, and probably spiky. If this is gifted to a group or institution it is worth 10d6 social currency with them.
  6. A fey mood has struck, the materials are rare and transgressive. The dwarf makes a public exhibition of flesh and bone, against the laws of man and gods. 1 in 6 chance it's alive and rampant, 1 in 6 the dwarf is arrested for this act of wanton art. It is also spiky.