Splatter-Elf RPG Update

I've been rather surprised by the feedback for Splatter-Elf: The RPG so far. I've had people approach me asking for more info about it (someone even wanted the rules so they could play it!) and I've seen it discussed on forums completely without my prompting. It's pretty nice to have a circle of supporters (as small as it is) and it encourages me to keep tinkering with these rules to create a full-blown game. Of course, no discussion of Splatter-Elf is complete without mentioning Philip Overby, the Godfather of Splatter-Elf himself who coined the term and gave me the idea in the first place. But that's all Philip gets: one quick mention. The rest of today's post is about some ideas I've been kicking around for the game.

The Core Mechanic

For those of you who have been paying attention, the basic mechanic for Splatter-elf uses a d12. If you want to attack something you roll d12 and add applicable modifiers. The target rolls d12 and adds his modifiers. If the defender rolls higher, the attack misses. If the attacker rolls higher then it hits and does damage equal to the difference between the rolls, plus a bonus based on the weapon used.

A couple of points to remember here:
  • Armor Class is not static. The defender rolls his AC every time he's attacked. This leads to a lot of randomness and unpredictability in combat. It also let the player whose being attacked feel like he's involved in the defence - he gets to roll to see if the attack is parried, dodged, etc.
  • You do not roll for damage. To streamline and avoid unnecessary extra rolls (because the defender is already rolling against every attack), weapon damage does not require an extra die roll. Each weapon (or spell) simply adds a damage bonus to the difference between the attack and defence rolls (for instance, a long sword does +4 damage). A variable to the damage is already built in because the attack roll already adds to the damage. The "better" your hit, the more damage you do.
  • There are no special rules for critical hits. Because of the swingy nature of how damage is calculated, large variations in damage are already possible without doubling or maximizing damage on certain rolls. For instance, if the attacker rolls a "12" to hit and the defender rolls a "1" on his AC, that attack is going to do a lot of damage even if the aggressor is only wielding a dagger. This represents how (in both real life and fiction) sometimes a single weapon strike will kill a normal human outright, while at other times they can take a number of hits from the same weapon before dropping. 
  • There are no saving throws. If an attack is something other than a weapon (a spell, a trap, a poison, a fall, etc), an attack roll is still made (plus modifiers as the situation determines), and the defender instead rolls one of his other "Defences" to try and avoid it. Fortitude for physical trauma and poisons. Reflex for traps, explosions and effects that can be avoided through speed and agility. Willpower for attacks that target the victim's mind. Currently there are no saves for overcoming ongoing effects - once the attack hits you must suffer through it until it ends. However in many cases (and at the GM's discretion) you may be able to use certain skills (such as Mettle or Sawbones) to counter harmful effects.

The Old School/New School Divide

Why can't I love you both, but in different ways?
Not to open a can of worms, but I think we're all aware that most RPGs can be divided into two categories: Old School and New School (or Modern). (There's also a "Post-Modern" style of weird dice-less and group storytelling games, but I'm not touching that with a ten-foot pole). 

Old school games tend to have less codified, more open-ended rules. Classes are fairly basic and (usually) straight forward and it's up to the players to create the setting, flair and flavour through their imagination. Modern games are heavily influenced by video games and tend to have more involved, detailed rules. The flair and flavour is built right into the rules. In an old-school game, your fighter can hit with a sword, and it's up to you and the GM to describe what that hit looks like. In a modern game, your fighter has many choices of how to attack, each with specific advantage and disadvantages based on the situation. Players of either edition will claim the other version is boring and restrictive.

My problem is that I can't decide whether Splatter-Elf wants to be Old-School or Modern. It's really straddling the line right now, and it could go either way. Lamentations of the Flame Princess, a major influence on Splatter-Elf, is about as old-school as you can get. Simple classes, straight-forward combat, basic spells. The weirdness and horror comes from how you play and describe your story, not necessarily from the rules themselves. 

On the other hand, Splatter-Elf could easily borrow and adapt more complicated, crunchy modern rules. Rules for excessive blood loss, special attacks that allow you hit multiple enemies, cleaving through minions, weird movement abilities, ongoing effects for poison, slowing, stunning, etc. Not to mention Advanced Feat or Skill trees to develop more customized, crazy-powered characters, or even more complicated and specialized character classes. They could all work and fit within the wild world of Splatter-Elf. But do I want them to?

I'm currently leaning toward a simpler, more old-school base game. That's a big enough commitment, and I think would be a fine achievement if I could pull it off. Once that's finished, I would LOVE to do an add-on module to put in those extra-crunchy bits - more powers, more skills, feat trees, and so on, plus tougher and more dangerous monsters to go along with that. 

Am I way off the mark here? Anyone have any other suggestions for direction I should take?

New Magic Spells

The following are a few new spells that were created based on suggestions by reader (and big-time Splatter-Elf fan) Marcus Claudius Marcellus. Somehow I doubt that's his real name. Anyway, though these incantations are intended for Splatter-Elf, they can be easily adapted to other fantasy RPGs, especially if your game veers toward the twisted and grotesque.

I don't know why Tori would encourage people to nail her
to a post. She is pretty friggin' weird, though.
Minimum Caster Level: 3
Availability: Rare
BP Cost: 4
Duration: 1 round / caster level
Range: 50 feet (10 squares)
The caster makes a gesture toward a target and telekinetically lifts the victim off his feet and holds him, suspended just above the ground with limbs spreadeagled. If there is a wall, tree, post or other suitable object within 10 feet of the target when the spell is cast, the caster may choose to forcefully fling the victim against the object and pin them in place for the duration of the spell. Crucify only works on humanoid creatures of Large-size or smaller.

The caster makes an attack (plus caster level) vs the target’s Will. If it succeeds, the victim is paralyzed and cannot move, even to defend himself for the spell’s duration. They cannot speak unless they make a successful Mettle skill check. If the blood mage chooses to pin the victim against a solid object, they also take damage equal to the different between the attack and defence rolls.

Excruciating Hemorrhage
Minimum Caster Level: 6
Availability: Common
BP Cost: 7
Duration: See below
Range: 50 feet (10 squares)
The caster selects a point within 50’ of his location and makes an attack roll (plus caster level) versus the Will of all living targets within 10’ of that point. On a hit, the victims immediately begin painfully and messily bleeding through all bodily orifices – eyes, ears, nose, mouth, anus – for a number of turns equal to the difference between the attack and defence rolls. Damage is 3 hit points per turn.

Victims also suffer a -2 to all rolls during this time due to the excruciating pain. Magical healing or a successful Sawbones skill check will stop the bleeding for the round it is applied, but the bleeding will resume and continue causing damage and penalties on the next and all subsequent rounds until the duration expires.

Funeral Feast
Minimum Caster Level: 2
Availability: Common
BP Cost: 3
Duration: See below
Range: 25 feet (5 squares)
The victim suddenly becomes ravenously hungry, and the only thing that can satiate them is the flesh of the dead. They immediately stop what they’re doing and will drop to their knees and try to consume the closest dead body.

The caster makes an attack roll (plus caster level) vs the victim’s Will. On a hit, the target drops everything he’s doing and moves to and begins to munch on the closest dead body for a number of rounds equal to the difference between the attack and defence rolls. The victim will not attack or move away from its meal, though it will defend itself (make defence rolls) if attacked.

There must be a visible corpse within 25’ feet of the target when funeral feast is cast or the spell fails. The spells works on both humanoids and animals. The corpse may be either fresh or long dead, but there must be flesh left upon it (skeletons are not tasty), and the corpse may not be animated (the spell does not work on zombies and other undead).

Eating a long dead, rot- and disease-infested corpse may infect the diner with disease at the GM’s discretion.

Minimum Caster Level: 3
Availability: Common
BP Cost: 4
Duration: Instant
Range: 25 feet (5 squares)
The caster looks at the victim and speaks words of dark foreboding. The target suddenly feels deeply forlorn, as if all hope is lost. He knows that his life is pointless and worthless and has no other choice but to end it all. He immediately tries to run himself through on his own sword, realizing only too late that it was all a trick. The magic and the despair lasts only a moment, but the wound remains…

Make an attack roll (plus caster level) vs the victim’s Will. On a hit, the target automatically strikes himself, doing weapon damage (plus applicable Strength bonus). Worse, he opens a horrible bleeding wound in his abdomen that will cause him to lose 3 hit points every turn until cured by magic or a successful Sawbones skill check.

This spell only works on intelligent humanoid creatures that have a weapon at hand. Creatures of animal intelligence or lower and supernatural inhuman beings do not understand despair and are not affected by self-eviscerate.


  1. Thanks for the mention, per usual!

    I like the new spells. Pretty cool and suitably insane. :)

    1. Hopefully you noticed that in the "excruciating hemorrhage" description, one of the sentences has 4 adverbs! Following those rules of Splatter-Elf, baby.

      I wish I could say I did it on purpose... :-(

    2. I missed that! :)

      There should be an Adverb Avalanche spell. It could be a supplemental spell in a way. The wizard just keeps conjuring up adverbs that increasingly strengthens an existing spell. Adverb overload!

    3. I could totally see that. It would add a meta level to the spell - it becomes more powerful (in character) the more the player works for it in real life. Like that stupid "Unhinged" Magic the Gathering card where you have to hold your breath or lose a creature. I nearly f***ing blacked out from that one.

  2. I have only just now heard of this and I cannot think of any game I want to run more!

    1. Well please give it a try! If you click on the Splatter-Elf tag at the top of the post it will give you all the previous posts I've made - there's actually enough material there to run a game if you like. But if you're really serious and want a more compact set of the rules in progress, drop me a line and I'll see what I can do.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  3. I've going to voice my opinion and say this game has to be more old school. All the blood and gore, the pain of the blood magic, the over the top violence, will all go better with bright descriptive narrative. I think the game will lose some of the intensity if you have to start worrying about if you are 10 feet or 12 feet away from the target.

    1. I'm inclined to agree with you, but some people like the finicky bits of more complicated rules. Figuring out how to beat an encounter within the framework of the rules becomes a puzzle challenge in and of itself. But it's a different set of tastes.

  4. I think that this game would work best as a one shot, or short campaign. You know, something for the busy person, who still wants to get their grimdark murder hobo fix.

    I would lean towards less is better - less rules, less powers, less feats, less calculations. Keep things fast and horrifying, like a good horror/monster movie when shit finally goes down. Anyone can add something to a game, or hack it, to create whatever degree of complexity they need. Just make the foundation solid, and steeped in awesome.

    1. I've been thinking about this for a little while, and while originally I was just going to say "I see where you're coming from but that's not the game I want to make," I have since begun to actually consider what you're talking about. Is a long-term campaign a bit much to hope for in this genre? Left expectancy is going to be short - is it a waste of time to plan out level advancement for characters that probably won't last more than a few sessions? Would anyone even WANT to play through something like this for weeks, months or even years at a time?

      I have ideas for an even quicker, simpler version of Splatter-Elf that might be cool. But I do like the rules I have so far. Now I don't know what to do...

      You make me question the foundations of everything I know and understand... :-<

    2. The problem with highly stylized games is that they lose their edge quickly, and what was once awesome soon becomes tired. That's why short bursts of awesome, where everyone dies in a blaze of gore filled eldritch horror, and the players have a chance to be fast fading stars in the grimdark haze might be the better route.

      I think your core rules are solid, but maybe don't bother with levels, and just assume everyone will die at the end of the session(s) - it is grimdark after all, and you want to emulate that vibe. Call of Cthulhu (or something similarly dark) might even be a better game reference than D&D for this type of thing, at least to give you some other/weirder ideas to add to the mix.

      I understand the appeal in wanting to make a "big game", but it probably isn't worth it. But, a fun, simple game, with quick character gen and rules = easy buy in, which = more players. Also, it's way easier to add some complexity to a simple game, than it is to simplify a complex game.

    3. I agree to some extent with what John has said. I think part of the fun for a lot of players is the ability to create characters and such. Perhaps running each game as self-contained would make it have a longer lasting appeal. That way if all your PCs die in some awesome blaze of glory, then they can make all new characters and do a different quest. Kind of like a "snapshot campaign" if that makes sense.

    4. Damn you both. Especially you, John. *angry face* Now what do I do with the 20,000+ words I've already written???

      Seriously though, I can see where you're coming from and I agree. Rule #10 of Splatter-Elf is that "at least 67% of the characters have to die by the end." Even with the rules as I have them written now, it's VERY unlikely that any characters will last until level 2 or 3 anyway. And because the game encourages blood and battle, I don't see anyone sneaking past that (unless they can somehow figure out how to avoid all conflict, which would be incredibly boring). Might as well set it up so that everyone can do something fun from the outset, with little expectation to advance or increase in level. Dying awesomely should be its own reward.

      Jason Salvatori knows that I like simple games and have been trying to figure one out for a zombie/horror setting for awhile. I think I could blend what I've been working on with the rules for Splatter-Elf and it might work well together.

      *Sigh* So instead of rounding my possibilities from two options down to one, I've now added a third option instead:

      1. Splatter-Elf OSR-version
      2. Splatter-Elf "Modern" crunchy version (kinda "Diablo" the RPG, I guess?)
      3. Splatter-Elf "Party Game"? I don't what to call it - whatever the hell John just described

      Thanks, guys.


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