History of Mighty Deeds of Arms
Heroic deeds of valor are our take on "Mighty Deeds of Arms" in Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC), which in that D&D retroclone are intended to give martial classes a special edge in combat over other classes. This popular mechanic has since been replicated into a number of other D&D retroclones and OSR-adjacent games.
The idea in DCC was to give martial classes more tactical control over combat by allowing them to confer extra mechanical effects when making attacks. In DCC, these are called-shot adjacent or status-effect inducing moves that hinge on the success of the attack. The examples in DCC are almost all of this nature, and that's to be expected for the type of game DCC is. DCC presents a list of examples, but encourages players to make up their own deeds.
This is how a Mighty Deed of Arms works in DCC:
- You declare a deed before attacking. The “deed die” grows with the PC's experience (for example, it could be a d3 or a d6, etc) and is the die used to determine if your deed succeeds.
- If your attack succeeds and you roll higher than a 3 on the deed die, your deed also succeeds. If your attack fails, the deed fails.
- The GM rules the effects of the deed with fiat.
Despite that DCC is explicit about "there is no limit to the types of Deeds a warrior can perform," many often misinterpret the extensive list of deeds in the book as a necessity for PCs to choose from when attempting deeds. Nevertheless, OSR+, like DCC, intends for deeds to open up narrative possibilities for martial heroes.
Deeds of Valor in OSR+
We use the word valor over arms intentionally in OSR+ because the use of deed dice need not be restricted to combat situations. A Daredevil Treasure Hunter can make just as much use of deeds of valor in ancient crypts as a battle-axe-wielding Fighter Barbarian can in fending off hordes of man-eating goblins.
Mechanically, deeds give martial heroes (non-spellcasting classes) a unique ability that grows with experience akin to spellcasting. Like spells, the cinematic action made possible by deeds allows for interpretation by players, which gives them a lot of creative control over the fiction. This is in turn balanced by the GM's discretion, and a sort of "deed logic" as outlined in the core rules prohibits the bonus actions deed dice permit from going too far.
About Cinematic Action
"Cinematic" action means things you can do that are action-oriented—that is, made under some sort of duress. This is entirely up to GM-fiat, but most actions heroes take in encounter mode are already cinematic, because they're under the duress of turn-based initiative.
Deeds Must Be Valorous
Deeds are supposed to encourage cinematic play, not cater to wargamers who want to squeeze every ounce of strategy out of their turn. If a PC's action on his turn is to use an item with finesse, he'll be hard pressed to convince you that he can use deeds of valor in conjunction with that action.
No Deed in a Vaccuum
A player can only spend a deed die if their hero is already doing something else that would be enhanced by the deed. In exploration mode, you can let players expend deeds when danger is involved (disarming a trap, as an example), but they must remember that deed dice do not refresh until the scene ends, which means players will need to be judicious in how they use them in these situations.
The difference between DCC and OSR+ in this respect is that you don’t need to be attacking or engaged in combat to use a deed die: a Rogue scaling a castle wall during a heist can use deeds of valor just like a Fighter on the battlefield.
Let's take a deeper look at the other prohibitions on the use of deeds and why they're important.
On ActivateD abilities
Deeds are like the cantrips afforded by a Mage's Arcane Adept technique. Players can't replicate any other activated ability in the game through the use of a deed, and that includes spellcasting and attacking. This is the toughest part of adjudicating deeds, because it implies you'd need to be actively thinking about all other activated abilities in the game to compare! Thankfully, the two prohibitions below will help you catch the majority of situations. But it's not the end of the world if the use of a deed accidentally replicates a defined ability, as long as players understand that every use of a deed hinges on a ruling from the GM, based on the fictional context.
On Damage & Status Effects
You want to be careful to prevent deeds from becoming back doors into dealing extra damage each turn and conferring status effects with abandon. Throwing a net onto the enemies that would ordinarily confer the entangled status if the hero were proficient in Flexible weapons is not a deed (it's an attack that requires an action), but kicking a counterweight that will let down a dungeon gate is a deed that could cause damage if the timing is right. Generally, if a deed would require a contested check from the opponent, it's probably entering full-scale action territory. Think of deeds as use actions that would ordinarily require finesse, but are allowed as bonus actions because the player is expending a resource (the deed die) to take it.
No Extra Movement
No matter how the deed is described, it can't extend a hero's movement in the turn. A player can have the hero use their action to double their movement, and then use deeds liberally as the hero moves the full encounter space, but if the player intends the hero to take an action and move, then any deeds they spend have to take place in a melee space, as that's the total distance the hero can move on their turn.
You may call for a roll to resolve the deed if you think there's a chance of meaningful failure, or if such failure would be interesting.
It's not meaningful or interesting to check if a hero fails to kick down a door, unless there are guards chasing after him or a tunnel of lava at his back. Moreover, it's not meaningful or interesting to check if the player can scoop up his fallen ally on the battlefield to get him to safety, unless doing so comes at some unforeseen cost or puts others in danger.
You want to be careful not to bog down turn-based encounters by calling for lots of checks when deed dice are invoked, as adjudicating such rolls takes time, and higher level characters will have lots of deed dice to spend every scene.
Structuring a Check
Checking a deed can be structured in any way you choose: as a flat TN, as an opposed check, or as a success check.
Whatever mechanic you use to resolve the roll, the player must always use the attribute tied to the deed. When the player describes their deed, you decide what attribute is required, and only if the player has that type of deed die to spend can the player take the cinematic action.
Success means the deed works; failure means it doesn’t, or in the case of a success check, has lesser effect. Refer to the outcomes for success checks to adjudicate success at a cost.
In general, if the action the deed depends on fails (especially if the deed comes after the action), the deed also fails, at your discretion.
Deed Dice & NPCs
All martial NPCs should make use of deed dice, except minions.
To keep things simple during prep, classify an NPC by attribute, and assign all their dice to that attribute, except for bosses and BBEGs (at your discretion), who should have a variety of deed dice to reflect their build.