You can tell I really like Scarlet Heroes because I'm always bringing it up. Not only was it the very first solo RPG book I bought, but also I find myself going back to it, time and time again, despite having other titles in my collection.
Due to its origins (see my previous article for a quick overview on this), Scarlet Heroes is easily customizable and adaptable. This is exceptionally useful if you're playing entirely on your own.
By default, the game comes with the monsters, spells, and lore of the Red Tide, an original campaign setting by Kevin Crawford (the one man behind Sine Nomine Publishing), which was made available as a Labyrinth Lord supplement around the time Black Streams: Solo Heroes (Scarlet Heroes' predecessor) was originally released. The world of the Red Tide was inspired by Southeast Asian myths and culture. When the full Scarlet Heroes was released via Kickstarter, the Red Tide setting was included as part of the book.
Even though there are some interesting ideas and concepts in the world of the Red Tide, I'm personally not a big fan of it (and this has to do with my background in sociocultural studies more than anything else). However, I love all other aspects of the game. Fortunately, this can easily be fixed by playing Scarlet Heroes side-by-side with the standard fantasy contents of its source: Labyrinth Lord.
This means that if you like the SH rules, but you're not a fan of the default setting it comes with, you can always customize the game to your liking.
Here's how to turn Scarlet Heroes into a default fantasy setting game, while keeping all of its core rules and dynamics intact:
(This will follow the order that's found on the SH table of contents)
Creating Your Hero
- Roll your attributes: this is universal for all OSR RPGs
- Choose a race: change "Shou" for "Orc". Treat all the other races as their standard fantasy equivalent. The game does not play with the race-as-class rules, so your elves, dwarves, halflings, and orcs can pick whichever class they want.
- Choose a class: keep this as it is given. For Clerics and Magic-Users, you'll be choosing their spells from the Labyrinth Lord list of spells.
- Choose traits: follow what the game says.
- Final touches and Equipment: you can use Scarlet Heroes equipment and item lists, or you can use those from Labyrinth Lord. Scarlet Heroes is a streamlined version of Labyrinth Lord, so you'll find the item catalogue is not as broad. However, it still keeps the core items. In-game currency works the same way in both systems, and so does Armor Class (relevant when buying armor). Remember that Cleric and Magic-Users will pick their spells from the Labyrinth Lord list of spells.
- Quick Character Generation: change "Shou Blooded" for "Orc". Keep the rest as it is given.
Playing the Game
- Checks: follow what the game says.
- Saving Throws: follow what the game says.
- Combat: follow what the game says. I'll expand more on this later on in this article.
- Defying Death: follow what the game says.
- Injury, Death, Healing, and Hazards: follow what the game says.
- Turning Undead: follow what the game says. Even though, you'll be using Labyrinth Lord's spell list for Clerics, the Turn Undead feature will work using Scarlet Heroes rules.
- Travel and Encumbrance: follow what the game says.
- Ships and Sea Combat: follow what the game says.
- Advancement: follow what the game says. Getting XP works differently in this game, so keep this in mind when fighting monsters or dealing with encounters.
- Converting Existing Material: optional. This is what you're doing right now.
- Scarlet Heroes Quick Reference: very useful. Keep it at hand during play.
- Skip entirely. Use Labyrinth Lord's Cleric and Magic-User spell progression tables instead. Use all 7 levels of spells for Clerics, and all 9 levels of spells for Magic-Users, according to the hero's level.
The World of the Red Tide
Skip entirely. Use another pre-existing setting of your choosing, or go with a generic fantasy world.
A Bestiary of Foes
- Pay attention to the first three pages for additional details on monsters and how they play in the game.
- Monsters of the Isles: skip these, unless you want to include any in your game. Replace with Labyrinth Lord's monsters. Because Scarlet Heroes uses a modified version of Labyrinth Lord's rules, keep in mind the following stats for any standard fantasy monsters you import into the game:
- No. Enc.: same as No. Appear; this indicates how many monsters will be encountered at once. Labyrinth Lord gives two numbers. Treat the first one for Dungeon or Urban encounters, and the second one for Wilderness encounters. If a monster gives a 0 in either value, it's because it can only be encountered in either Dungeons/Urban scenarios or in the Wilderness.
- Alignment: keep it as given or ignore it. Scarlet Heroes doesn't use alignments.
- Movement: or Move, keep it as given. Scarlet Heroes uses only one value, so use the one in the parenthesis (which is the lesser value out of the two given by the Labyrinth Lord monster's entry). Some monsters may have Swim or Fly in addition to their basic movement. This represents their ability to traverse air or water mediums. Again, use only the value in parenthesis.
- Morale: keep it as given.
- Armor Class: keep it as given.
- Hit Dice: ignore the specific die-type and bonuses some Labyrinth Lord monsters get. For example, the Ankheg gets 1d6+2 Hit Die; take it as being 1 HD only, thus ignoring the d6+2 part.
- Attacks: keep them as given but add the monster's HD as the attack bonus (this is what happens with Scarlet Heroes' monsters). For example, an Ogre would have "Attacks: 1 (club), +4 attack bonus (from its Hit Dice: 4) to have it work just like in Scarlet Heroes.
- Damage: keep it as given
- Save: ignore the value given. Instead, replace for the Skill Bonus trait. This Skill Bonus is applied in Scarlet Heroes for making Saves and other checks (see p.17 of the SH book). Use the following table for estimated Skill Bonus values according to HD:
- Hoard Class: it is recommended you use Labyrinth Lord's Treasure Hoard Classes tables (p. 200) and not the Scarlet Heroes one.
- XP: ignore the value given. Scarlet Heroes handles XP differently (see p.22 for the Advancement rules)
- Encounters: because the list of monsters changes entirely if you use Labyrinth Lord's creatures, replace it with the Labyrinth Wandering Monster Table and Wilderness Monster Encounter Table from the Referee part of the book (pp.198-199)
- Encounter Twists: These tables can still be used! So, use them as they are given.
Treasures Beyond Price
- Pay attention to the first two pages for additional details on treasure and how it plays in the game.
- Trove Types: replace with the Labyrinth Lord's Treasure Hoard Classes tables (p. 200 on the Referee part of the book)
- Individual Treasure Generation: use it as it is given; this is a very useful page!
- Magic Items, Potions, Scrolls, Wands, Magical Rings, Magical Armor, Magical Weapons, and Miscellaneous Magical Items: it's better to use those from Labyrinth Lord instead, since the ones from Scarlet Heroes still use the Red Tide campaign setting lingo. (So, check Labyrinth Lord p. 200)
- Adventure tags: very useful and recommended.
- Maps: very useful.
- Quick NPC Generation: very useful and recommended. Adapt as needed.
- Incredibly useful, especially if you're playing solo. It covers oracles and random table generators of all sorts. It also gives you detailed mechanics on how to conduct specific types of scenarios, such as Urban, Dungeon, and Wilderness ones.
- In case there's a reference to random monster generation, use the Labyrinth Wandering Monster Table and Wilderness Monster Encounter Table from the Referee part of the book (pp.198-199). Any references to "Shou" or "shou blooded" individuals can be changed for "Orc".
- In case there's a reference to random items or item hoards, use the Labyrinth Lord's Treasure Hoard Classes tables (p. 200 on the Referee part of the book).
And, this is all you need to play Scarlet Heroes using Labyrinth Lord's monsters, items, and spells.
ABOUT COMBAT IN SCARLET HEROES
One last detail of clarification. In terms of combat, Scarlet Heroes may feel a little bit confusing on how it's all done. But the system is really simple.
Whenever you engage in combat, your hero will always go first. Then, once you're done, the monsters will get to attack. To determine the order of attack of the monsters, roll 1d8 + skill bonus. Or, you can take them in any order you feel is easier for you to manage. The most important part is that your hero will always go first, and then the monsters take turns.
Combat is divided in turns and rounds. One turn allows you to:
- Move up to 30', use your fray die (only for the hero) and take an action
- Possible actions: make an attack, cast a spell, close a door, climb a wall, jump over a chasm, drink a healing potion etc.
- Move twice (so up to 60') and use your fray die (only for the hero)
Monsters get to act the same way during their turn, except they don't use the fray die; only the hero does. Once your hero and all involved monsters have taken their turn, you complete a round.
Combat progresses, round after round, with the hero and the monsters taking turns each round, until your hero defeats the monsters, or you're defeated instead.
When it comes to attacking, Scarlet Heroes uses the following formula:
- For heroes: roll 1d20 + add your class attack bonus + add your STR or DEX attribute modifier* + add monster's AC
*the STR or DEX modifier depends on the type of attack you're executing. If it's a melee attack (which includes unarmed combat, as well as melee weapons), you use the STR modifier. If it's a ranged attack (which includes thrown and ranged weapons), you use the DEX modifier.
- For monsters: roll 1d20 + add the monster's hit dice (HD) as attack bonus + add your hero's AC
If the results of the roll are equal to or higher than 20, then it's a hit! Otherwise, it's a miss. Rolling a natural 20 on the 1d20 roll means the attack is an automatic hit; rolling a critical 1 on the 1d20 roll means the attack is an automatic failure.
In case the roll is a success, you check for Damage (DMG).
A hero will do as much damage as their Class and equipped Weapon allows them to. A Fighter using a two-handed sword will roll 1d10 for DMG; a Magic-User using the same two-handed sword will roll 1d4 for DMG, thus representing their lack of training using weapons in general.
In the case of heroes, once their DMG roll is done, they need to check their result in the following table:
The final resulting DMG value will be applied to the monster's Hit Dice (HD) directly. So, a monster with 1 HD can be killed if the hero rolls a 3 on their DMG roll with the two-handed sword because that deals 1 point of DMG on the 1 HD of the monster, thus killing it.
For monsters, rolling for DMG will work the exact same way, except that they'll use whichever type of attack is defined in their stats (e.g. bite, claw, horn, fist, beak, etc.), how many attacks it makes (e.g. 2 claws and 1 bite) roll the corresponding dice it gets for its Damage stat, and then check on the chart above to see how many points of DMG it caused to the hero. Because heroes don't have Hit Dice (HD) but Hit Points (HP), all DMG dealt to them goes to their HP.
A hero's Fray Die is rolled as if it were direct DMG. That means, the Fray Die will always hit. The only rule is that a hero can only use their Fray Die on a monster that has as many HD or less than the hero's current level. So a hero level 2 can hit monsters that are 1 or 2 HD. A monster with 3 HD would be above the hero's current level, and thus wouldn't be affected by the Fray Die. The only exception is if the hero is a Magic-User; in that case, their Fray Die can be used against any enemy, regardless of their HD.
If you want to read the rules in more detail, check Scarlet Heroes p. 18.
Until next time!