Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Paladins of the Blue Kite

There are 77 orthodox orders of paladins in the Hesayan Church.  They include:
  • The Sons of Saint Arquette, who use cannibalism to fuel their gigantism.
  • The Order of the Moth, devotees of Saint Caldi, who each swear to spend 50 years fighting the undead.  Those who die in service are raised as undead to continue their duty.
  • The Order of the Red and Blue Rose, who are wrestlers and swordbreakers.

There are at least 3 heretic orders that are in hiding.  They include:
  • The Winged Legion, who followed the Simurgh after her divorce from Zulin and subsequent excommunication.
  • The Order of the Shepherd's Crook, who seek to bring the kingdom of Hell to earth.  Not literally, but they do want to use enslaved devils to police the world.  (Officially, they are condemned by the paladins of hell and have no affiliation.  They're just fans.)

And although the Celestialist Hesayans of the north do not have paladins, they have schools of swordsmanship that often serve the same function.

Anyway, this post is about one of the orthodox orders.

The Order of the Blue Kite

They're also known (somewhat mockingly) as "those naked paladins".  This is a little misleading.

Zulin's divine divorce caused quite a few shockwaves throughout the Church.  One of the secondary or tertiary effects was the relaxation of quite a few nuptial laws.  These were mostly sensible, good things.  Farmers no longer had to have their horses married before siring a foal, for example.

In this new marital climate, one vocal personage was the North Wind.  He had many lovers, and sought to make his trysts honest and open.  After a long period of debate, this was granted to him, and in less than a year, he had taken his first three wives.

Although the North Wind, the Windwives, and the House of Miraculous Windmills originally set itself up to be a religious power center similar to Concrayda, but it eventually failed at this task.  After being marginalized for half a century, the Blue Kites reinvented themselves as a martial order.

The first set of Windwives (now retiring into old age and death) were soft things, full of poetry and expensive wine.  But in the decades that passed, the North Wind's amorous tastes changed.  His newest brides are all warrior women and lawyers.  The formation of a paladin order was inevitable.

His newest bride is a man: Thornis Oglafar, possessor of a magnificent mustache, dyed a magnificent blue.

There are many members in the Order of the Blue Kite.  The Windwives are merely the ones that tend to occupy most of the high positions (but not all of them).

Can a starting PC play a Windwife?  I don't see why not.  Perhaps a Windwife just starting out, or one who has fallen from favor for some reason.  Have fun DMing the inevitable sex scene when hubby visits.

Crusades of the Blue Kite

There are two:
  • To catch the rebellious South Wind and either bring it among Hesaya's faithful, or kill it.
  • To protect the sanctity of marriage.  There's a lot of debate about what this actually means, though.  The North Wind has a fairly lax interpretation of marriage, but he isn't in charge of the Blue Feather.  His wives are--and their opinions are as varied as the clouds. 
And so the paladins sometimes work with things like domestic abuse, reconcile estranged spouses, and investigate claims of infidelity.  I mean, they fight dragons, too, but dragons aren't one of the official crusades, so. . .

like this, except with swords instead of brooms
and also they're the good guys and you can play one
by Luis Falero
Class Abilities

Originally, I was going to put them all in a little level progression for you.  But fuck that--there's too many systems, and too many scales of power level.  I'm just going to list them all here, and you can assemble them however you want.

Okay, fine.  I'll type something up, just so people can refer to it if they want to a FLAILSNAILS game I'm running or something.

Level 1 - Wind Squire, Speak with Wind, Gust of Wind (1x per day per level), Armor of Wind
Level 2 - Throw Arrow, Immunity to Wind
Level 3 - Negotiate Windstorm, Lightened Body
Level 4 - Flight, +1 Attack

Wind Squire

You travel with a squire wind.  It mostly hangs on you, messing with your hair and making sure that no one ever smells your farts.

Speak with Wind

Each day brings a new wind.  At a minimum, this functions similar to gathering rumors.  You should also roll a d10 to see what direction the wind is blowing from, since the wind will bring news from that direction as well (and not only the stuff that is visible from the sky).

You can talk to your squire, of course.

Gust of Wind

As the spell, gust of wind.  You'll get a lot of castings of this.

1 - North
2 - East
3 - South
4 - West
5-10 - The predominant wind direction in the area.

<sidebar>I actually have an old map of Centerra with all of the prevailing winds drawn on it.  I used it to figure out which side of the mountain range got all the rain, and which direction the trade winds blew the caravels.  I was much more interested in simulating a realistic world then.  Nowadays, it seems like useless fussing--pointless unless you want to publish a gazetteer.</sidebar>

Armor of Wind

This is the reason why so many of the Blue Kites walk around naked.  Those who have always trusted the wind will be protected by the wind.  This benefit is lost as soon as the trust is betrayed: i.e. the paladin willingly wears conventional armor at any point after they take the oaths.

Make your own level chart, but here's an example:
  • Level 1, AC 11, AC 13 vs small projectiles (arrows or smaller)
  • Level 2, AC 12, AC 14 vs small projectiles
  • Level 3, AC 13, AC 15 vs small projectiles
  • Level 4, AC 14, AC 16 vs small projectiles
  • Level 5, AC 15, AC 17 vs small projectiles
  • Level 6+, AC 16, AC 18 vs small projectiles.
A sacrifice now for a payoff later.  And not all of them are naked.  Many wear simple robes.  And others just wear armor like a normal person.

This ability is useless against really big things.  At a minimum: a boulder hurled by a giant, a dragon's claws.

Throw Arrow

You don't need a bow to fire an arrow.  Your squire accelerates it for you.

At high level, you can use this to fire around corners, as long as your squire can see the target.

Immunity to Wind

Lame now, but useful later on when you can summon a windstorm.

Negotiate Windstorm

You will need to negotiate with a local wind in order to do this.  Probably a wind duke, actually, since most minor winds don't have the ability to call in a windstorm.  (Military actions are regulated among the winds, just as they are among us.)

Windstorms are environmental, usually last for at least an afternoon, and only work outdoors.  Arrows are impossible.  Speech is difficult.  Shoving people is very easy (+4), and everyone gets -4 to attacking and defending (which usually cancels itself out).  Flight is impossible.  Shoddy buildings will be torn apart.  

Expect pissed off treants to show up the next day, cradling broken limbs.  They usually wish to repay one broken arm with another.

Lightened Body

By controlling their breath, a Blue Kite Paladin can make their body much lighter. This lets them walk across water and stand on tree branches that are normally too small to support them.  This doesn't let you jump any further, since the lowered mass also means that you have less momentum.

It also makes you immune to fall damage.  Fun!

"Flight"

It's not quite the same as the fly spell.  It's more like being picked up by a huge wind and carried through the sky in a horrifying vortex of deafening winds.  Expect bruises from your clothing as it flaps around (unless your clothing is tied down tight).  It's like skydiving, while the wind teases you and tries to crack jokes.

You can bring your friends with you, of course.

Not coincidentally, skydiving is a popular past time among the Blue Kites.  

You can fly large distances (miles) but not small ones.  Small hops of less than half a mile are out of the question.  And you will take 1d6 fall damage when you land, unless you can find a decent spot of water to land in.  (By default, 50% chance that your Wind can find one in time.)

Many Blue Kites wear an enormous silk scarf tied up around their waist.  Enormous, as in 30' long.  You might think that it's a swordswoman wrapped up in a weird, bulky burka, but then the wind unfurls it and BAM it's this huge scarf tied around their waist, shaking like the arms of God.  

The giant scarf makes sense: it means that the Wind will pull you through the air by your center of mass (your waist/ass) and not by the part of your body that has the greatest wind cross-section.  This prevents you from spinning uncontrollably as you fly through the air (a common blunder among first-time flyers).

This is their love token.  It's given to them by the North Wind as a sign of his favor.  And it serves a function: it allows you to make an attack for double damage upon landing.

Blue Kite strike teams usually blow in the window, and open up with an attack like that.

This also requires talking to a powerful local wind, and negotiating the cost.  What does the Wind want?  See below.

Other Stuff

Swords of the North Wind

If the love token scarves were a sign of approval, then a sword is a full-fledged admission of love.  If you aren't already a Windwife, you will probably be one soon.

These are +1 swords given out by the North Wind only after some seriously big favor has been earned.  They can be used to attack anything within 50', since they "throw" their slashes through the air.

Every Paladin of the Blue Kite aspires to own one.  The magic of the blade is dwarfed by the immense prestige it confers.

The House of Miraculous Windmills

This is your home base.  It's a cross between a church and a mansion, and it is covered with short towers that are themselves covered with windmills, large and small.

The house uses minor Winds as servants.  But since Winds have a hard time clearing the table after dinner, they mostly just turn the windmills and sing mariner's work songs all the damn day.  Expect a high level of automation within the house.  Crudely automated dishwashers, that sort of thing.

Nabba Sunbeam runs the house.  She's 55, a Windwife, and an inventor.

The most interesting room is the Flight Room, stocked with skydiver's wingsuits and with several ways to take to the sky.

Generating a Wind NPC

Roll up starting attitude and personality normally.  You may want to use this altered goals table, though.

This Wind NPC wants. . . [d6]
  1. To punish a particular piece of the earth, which has offended it.  Please roll this impudent boulder into the ocean, explain the Wind's displeasure, and sink it someplace cold and lonely.
  2. A wife, like the North Wind.  Not only does this mean finding a willing bride, but it also means convincing the Church to perform the ceremony.
  3. Less smoke.  Get these people--those ones over there--to stop burning fires.  I don't care how you do it.
  4. To go on an adventure.  Take me with you!  Expect to have a very difficult time lightning a campfire, having a quiet meeting in the library, and having all of your arrows miss.  Remember that Winds can't go underground or in confined spaces.  (Or more accurately, they can, they just risk dying if someone shuts a door and traps them in a space too small for them to circulate.)
  5. To kill some noxious creature.  Perhaps a monster that controls wind, a wizard that captures wind, a roc, or a sky whale.
  6. A vacation!  You'll have to do the wind's job for it.  Turning the windmill, spreading seeds, drying laundry.  Expect bewildered villagers and hilarious complications.  The Wind will probably bring you a souvenir from wherever the fuck it goes.  Probably something stupid, like 800 pounds of snow.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Sky Executions

Shitty Fiction

They had found his victims tied to stones at the bottom of the pond.  And so, for irony’s sake, they tied him up as tight as they could.  The coarse twine made red valleys of his flesh, crisscrossing his limbs like rings on an aspen, and it was still not tight enough.

The wind was picking up.  Even with all the dried blood weighing it down, the murderer’s hair was a tempest.  It thrashed in the gale as if striving to escape his head.

One by one, the people came up.  Each carried a kite, each string taught in the wind.

While the paladin took the kite and affixed it the condemned, the person recited their condemnation.  Their tears dried in the wind.

By the time they were done, the crucifix was covered in over a hundred kites, straining at their leashes like sled dogs.  The wood groaned; the murderer was silent.  He was watching the sky.

And then the crowd marched down the hill, the paladin following.  The condemned was alone on the hilltop with the priest.

A few words were exchanged.  No one heard them, not with the wind roaring like an angry sea.  No one read their lips, not with their eyes squinting against the stinging dust. 

And then the priest raised his arms.  The wind cracked like thunder.  The trees bowed their heads.  The crowd knelt, or fell.  On top of the hill, they could see the unruffled priest, untouched by the hurricane.

And the crucifix, it was gone.  Like a stone fired from a sling, they watched it arc out over the patchwork of pasture and farm, bleeding torn kites all the way down.  When it landed in the Sinner’s Field, they could see splintered wood tossed out from the dust of the impact.

The paladin wasn’t watching.  He was calming his horse down.  In a couple of minutes, he would ride down to the Sinner’s Field, confirm the execution, and ensure that nothing was buried where the vultures couldn’t find it.


It didn't take long, but by the time the paladin got returned, most of the crowd had drifted away, scattered like clouds in the wind.

If No Priest Is Available

In that case, the condemned is merely thrown off a cliff.  It is considered more respectable to walk off the cliff yourself, and those that request it are allowed to do so.

If no sufficiently high cliff is available, it's a journey to the nearest one.

Weaponizing the Wind

What kind of spells do you think high-level wind clerics have access to?

In the War Against Heaven, Emperor Tamerian's entire army was picked up and hurled, like chess pieces swept off a board.  They found dead soldiers up to four miles away.

Of course, the Nivian elephants and horses were too large to be thrown, so the wind merely rolled and dragged them for about half a mile.  Scavengers reported that their meat was quite tender, being well pulped by all the pounding and abrasion.

Emperor Tamerian's body was found on what is now called the Emperor's Hill, pierced by over a hundred swords that had been stripped from his honor guard and thrown in the tempest.  

While the emperor's corpse was removed, the swords remain.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Cave of the Druid

This is a mini-dungeon.  Plop it down wherever there is a forest.

Why is the Party Going Here?

  1. They could always stumble across it, in true Vancian fashion.
  2. They might want a question answered, or a favor returned.
  3. They might be seeking revenge against the high druid, or looking to take hostages to use as bargaining chips against him.
  4. Hell, maybe they want someone resurrected via wolf.

The Approach

The forest around the thicket is full of Irritable Trees.  The party will encounter 1d6 of them on the way there, or 1d4 if they avoid the most obvious path.

If the party is belligerent (loud, carrying fire, visible axes, threatening the forest, attacking trees) they will be attacked by an additional 1d4 Hateful Trees and 1 HD 8 Treant.  The party will not be attacked if they show deference to the trees (e.g. avoiding their roots, addressing the trees with terms of respect, asking permission, leaving axes behind) they'll get attacked by one less tree for each action taken.

Irritable Tree

HD 8  AC none  No Attacks
Move 0  Int 8  Morale 12

Drop Branch - Take 1d12 damage if you fail a Movement check.  Usable 1/day.

Irritable trees will drop their branch on the first person in the group (50%) or a random person in the group (50%).

Irritable trees sleep at night.  Duh.

Being aggressive towards the forest is a very terrible idea.  It's a bit like attacking a city, while you are in the middle of the city and vastly outnumbered.

The average tree strongly dislikes humans (-4 to reaction rolls).  Humans are things with the metal bites and the domesticated fire.

Trees are slow things, with thoughts that flow like thick sap.  To them, humans are as fast and as ephemeral as gnats.  Fire moves as fast as an explosion.  Chopping down a tree happens as fast as they can react, and is an act of sudden, unexpected horror, more similar to being struck by lightning than an act of premeditated malice.

With the egocentrism common to pretty much all sentient species, the subject of human sentience is the subject of both ridicule and speculation among trees.

the Cave of the Evil Spirit, Niagara Falls

The Cave Mouth

A bloodstained menhir.  Biting flies cause pain but no damage.  Parties would be forgiven for thinking that the real danger is a fly swarm.  The flies attack anyone who is not sufficiently dirty; if the players have been living rough for at least a week, they may pass the flies unmolested.

The guardian of the cave mouth is a Hateful Tree.  It doesn't let anyone into the save except those that it recognizes, and the only people it recognizes are the High Druid and his family.

Off to the right is a refuse pile (mostly plant waste and feces).  The party can hear a stream a few hundred feet off to the right.

Animals avoid this place unless they are here to petition the druid for some favor.  Roll a d4 to see if an animal is waiting a respectable distance away:

1  No animals are waiting here.
2 A wolf is here.  She wants to forget all memories of her dead mate.  They are too painful.
3 A fat chickadee desires that his romantic rival be devoured by a hawk.  He is willing to offer lifelong servitude, so great is his hate.
4 An opossum.  She has lost her baby.  She offers her flesh for his safety.

If the party waits, the second or third wife will emerge from the cave to perform some chore (foraging, drinking water, examining petitioners) after 1d6 turns (10-60 minutes).



The First Chamber

This is where the high druid lives with his three wives, eight year old son, and two babies.  The babies are non-combatants, and the remaining ones are level 1 fighters except for the first wife.

Eight-Year Old Son  HD 1  AC none  Handaxe  1d6

Third Wife  HD 1  AC none  Grapple  She "wears" 4 vipers (poison 1d6) around her neck, wrists, and the breast that her baby isn't currently suckling on.  She's young.

Second Wife  HD 1  AC none  Antler Sword 1d6  Casts entangle 1/day.

First Wife is an actual grizzly bear.  She sleeps a lot and will only be roused by someone shaking her awake (probably the eight-year old).  HD 5.

The high druid isn't here.  (He's decided that the village of Quarterway needs to be brought back to nature in a swift and brutal manner.)

The second wife speaks Common, albeit reluctantly and with obvious shame.  She has some family in Quarterway.  They're all assholes, which is why she ran away those 10 years ago.

The third wife has never known anything but the woods.  She reacts to language and metal with horror.  She reacts to money and manners with deep belly-laughter.

Everyone is naked, in case that wasn't obvious.

The Second Wife can function as a sage.  She can identify things, describe the area, etc.  She doesn't accept money or anything that isn't a natural product.  Bread is an abomination, but milled grain might be okay for porridge.  A fresh-killed boar would be a very welcome gift.

What they want:

  • Fresh boar, obviously.
  • The 20+ dog heads, harvested from Oakengate, a day's ride to the west.  Fuck dogs.
  • Kill the giant crayfish down in the stream.  (Plot twist: there are actually 2 giant crayfish down there.)
  • A living cleric of any religion.  They won't tell you why.  (Grandmother wants to eat a cleric's heart.  She thinks it will improve her visions.  She's correct.)
Inside the cave is just three piles of animal furs and a shallow depression that collects water.

If they hear combat outside (such as someone trying to chop down the hateful tree), they'll come out.

There are two more chambers deeper in this cave: one to the left and one to the right.

The Left Cave

A carpet of bones.

A deep pit, filled with toads and crickets (lured to this place by impulses they cannot understand or hope to overcome).

Grandmother squats on a rock, mumbling to the mosquitoes that perch on her hears, trading blood for news of distant places.  She holds a despondent toad.  Occasionally she'll raise it to her mouth an lick it.

She will not leave this cavern for anything, but she will almost certainly notice anyone entering.  She'll be watching for anyone coming into her cavern.

She will not respond to anyone except to growl at anyone she doesn't recognize.  Despite her appearance, she's not insane, just very grumpy.  She's also tripping pretty hard right now.

Behind her heel is a Phung pod, a very rare type of fruit that must be infected by a very rare fungus at a certain stage in its development.

If combat breaks out, if she is threatened, or if anyone walks into the room, she'll throw her Phung pod at them.  She's immune to the Phung pod's effects.

She has a second Phung pod, hidden in a hollow beneath her rock.

Phung Pod

Upon being crushed, releases a thin cloud of spores 50' in diameter.  This cloud causes paralysis (no save).  On each subsequent turn, a creature may make a Con check to regain the use of one limb, determined randomly.  If a non-paralyzed limb is rolled, do not reroll--you don't regain the use of any limbs that round.

Make a Con check at the start of your turn.  If you succeed, roll a d6:
  1. Left leg.
  2. Right leg.
  3. Left arm.
  4. Right arm.
  5. Head (but not voice).
  6. Voice.
Grandmother is a level 1 fighter.  Her strategy is to run around as fast as she can, coup-de-gracing people by clubbing their temples with a rock or just biting out their jugular.  Either way, it's a Con vs Death, with success upgrading your condition to Dying.

Licking a Toad [d6]

  1. Nausea
  2. Vomiting 1d6 hours.
  3. Unconsciousness 1d6 hours.
  4. Hallucinations 1d6 hours.
  5. Wizard Vision 1d6 hours.
  6. Extremely useful precognition of future events.  Permanently lose 1 point of Wis.

The Right Cave

The passage goes on for about 10 feet, then dead ends with a short upslope.  The dirt is loose back here, and a couple of red ferns grow on the walls.  

Anyone digging out more than a couple of inches will reveal a crawl space.  The tunnel continues; it was just hidden by a minor amount of loose dirt.

The tunnel continues for another 50'.  The air grows warm and wet.  The walls become blanketed in those same red ferns.

Finally, the tunnel opens up into a circular cavern.  A pool sits at the center, surrounded by enormous red ferns and fed by a single drip from the ceiling.

At the bottom of the pool is the Origin of Species, clearly visible through the glass-like water.

The Origin of Species

Huge and translucent and full of unrecognizable organelles.  The Origin of Species looks like an enormous egg cell.  The Origin of Species is an enormous egg cell.

Any living creature that touches it with their bare flesh is sucked in (no save).  Inside the egg cell, their flesh is pulled apart, their bones melted, and their brain rendered down into its component parts.  The egg rapidly begins to divide and grow.  Doubling in mass, quadrupling.  A symphony of organogenesis.  It is rapidly filling the cave.  Anyone who touches it at this point is also sucked in.

The Origin of Species will never suck in more than a total of two animals.  (If the first person who was sucked was carrying beef jerky or something, that will count as the second animal, and it will cease sucking in additional creatures.  If they are carrying multiple traces of DNA, use whichever sample is larger.  If a second animal doesn't touch it, assume that it sucks in a random cave organism [d4]: mushroom, cricket, salamander, mole.)

If a PC is sucked in, ask them about their character's personality.  Goals.  Habits.  Mannerisms.  Genetic defects.  Et cetera.  It'll be important.

The Origin of Species then rapidly gives birth to 2d6 x 10 creatures of a brand new species.  They'll be a mixture of whatever two species were used to initialize the egg.  This is the birth of a new species.  Revel in it, and extrapolate as much as possible.

For example, if the elf was sucked in while carrying a few strips of jerky and nagahide armor.  Since the armor is larger than the jerky, the Origin of Species produces a race of elf nagas.  

Take this as far as you can.  If the elf PC used to laugh at fart jokes, then the elf naga race will probably develop a culture where fart jokes occupy an intimate and essential social function.  Marriages will be official when the bride and the groom fart in unison.  That sort of shit.

If the elf knew the grease spell, then all of the elf nagas will probably all know it innately.

The brand new race will be friendly to the party if the assimilated person was friendly to the party.

God help them if they throw in something weird, like the corpse of the death knight who hated them and wears dragonscale armor.

But, assuming it was a PC that died, let the player recruit a new character from the freshly-spawned race.  The new race is probably going to have a major impact on the local environment, and the PCs are in a prime position to leverage that chaos to their own advantage.

Make it awesome.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mechanics Discussion: Luck Points and Skills (again)

Luck Points

I'm thinking about revamping how I do HP for my homebrew: the GLOG.  Here's what I'm thinking:

Level 1: HP = 1/3 of Con.
Level 2: HP = 2/3 of Con.
Level 3+: HP = Con.

And that's it.  It never goes up.  (It's still modified by class, of course.  Barbarians are still going to have a boatload of HP.)

And then after you reach level 4, you start accumulating Luck Points.

Level 4: 1 Luck Point
Level 5: 2 Luck Points
Level 6: 3 Luck Points
Et cetera.

Luck points can be spent to influence a roll by +/- 1 point, after it has been rolled.  This works on both damage rolls and d20 rolls.  This only works on rolls involving you.

You recover lost luck points when you get a good night's sleep or eat a good lunch (1/day).

Discussion

This is interesting because Luck Points are--at a minimum--an HP increase.  Since you can reduce incoming damage by spending Luck Points, a character with 10 HP and 10 Luck Points can survive taking 19 damage from a dragon's breath.

Except that they're much, much more versatile than that, and actually much more powerful than a mere +1 HP would be.

You can spend them to make your enemies miss (as long as they barely hit), and you can spend them to turn your near-misses into hits.  You can spend them to make your Save vs Death.

And because you can always spend them, they become this little option attached to every die roll that you fail by a couple of points.  "Do I want to spend my 2 luck points to dodge this orc's axe?  Or should I save them for later?"

And because you spend them after the roll, and because nearly all rolls in the GLOG are d20 roll-unders, there's no more dice to roll or tables to consult.  Just the question of "Do I want to spend my precious Luck Points here?"

And like HP, every class benefits from them.  They're like the American dollar.  Like HP, they're a reservoir that the DM must whittle down before killing a PC, but it's such an interesting little reservoir of potential.

That's good, since classes stop getting class abilities after level 3.  This injects a powerful little ability into every character that they'll all benefit from.

And yet I tend to hate hero/action points.  Go figure.

by Jakob Eirich
Skills (v4)

Alright, I've done skills a million times because I'm never happy with them.  Fuck 'em.  Here's my newest draft and it's perfect in every way, and I'm sure I'll never hurl it from the cliffside where it will dash its brains out alongside it's brothers below.

Skills:

There is no strict list of skills.  You can pick anything you want as long as it's not a social skill (no Persuade), a Perception skill (no Search/Sense Motive), or overly broad (no Magic).  Likewise, the uses of each skill must be interpreted by the DM.

You start with 2 skills: one random one from your background and one random one from your profession. (Or just two random ones.)  You gain these skills at a skill score of 6.

Like everything else in this damn game, you test your skill by rolling a d20 and trying to get equal-or-under to succeed.

At the end of each session, you can attempt to improve a single skill by rolling a d20 under your Intelligence.  If you succeed, the skill score improves by 2 (up to 10) or 1 (when attempting to pass 10).  You cannot raise a skill higher than 10+Level, to a  maximum of 16.

You can gain a new skill the same way.  Mention a thing you did this session "I tried to sail a boat and failed, but I think I might have learned from my experience", and make an Int check.  If you succeed, you gain that skill at a skill score of 2.

If you succeed by 10 points (e.g. rolling a 2 when you had a skill score of 12) it is a critical success and you can apply an adverb to your attempt, such as "instantly" or "reversibly" or "stealthily".

Skills are used to achieve things beyond the ken of a standard adventurer.  Adventurers are already capable climbers, swimmers, jumpers, and combatants.  (For example, Indiana Jones is just an base adventurer with skill in Archaelogy, nothing else.)

Discussion

This isn't very different from my previous skill systems.  It's very easy to explain, which I like.  And there's no tracking

I've been playtesting this for a little while, and I like the little Int tests at the end of each session.

While I'm calculating XP, the players are all rolling to see if they can improve a skill.  This is good because (a) it gets them talking about what they did during the session, (b) it keeps them out of my hair, (c) it rewards higher Int characters by letting them learn skills faster, but not to a higher degree than low-Int characters, and (d) the only skills that improve are the ones that the players actually use in each session.

If you want to be a master linguist, you need to spend some time wrestling with merfolk morphemes.