There are various reasons to like a blog. Generally speaking, I’ve heard it say that posting controversial opinions gets you more interaction than “useful” content. I know I fall into the same category. My gaming category on Feedly has 243 unread posts and when I start reading, I skip a lot.
Not only do I skip all the session reports, I also skip most of the new classes, most of the new spells, most of the new magic items, most of the house rules… I guess I feel that my game hasn’t reached a point where I’ve exhausted the material at my fingertips and therefore I have no need for all the little extras.
This is where Links to Wisdom comes in. This is the wiki to collect cool OSR house rules, including new classes, new spells, new monsters, advice for the creation of dungeon adventures, wilderness adventures, urban adventures, and so on.
OK, so Links to Wisdom has been growing steadily. It has nearly 1000 links on it, right now. 998 as I’m writing this, to be exact. I kept wondering, though: which sites had contributed the most links? Shouldn’t that be some sort of blog recommendation, as people would have to actually recommend particular posts on a blog? It’s better than a simple popularity contest, it would seem. And it would be better than a simple list of blogs. (If you’re interested in a list, check out The Great Blog Roll Call 2014 on Dyver’s blog.)
Anyway, I wrote a script to extract the blog domains from
Links to Wisdom and list them according to numbers appearing:
If you click on the domain, you’ll be taken to the blog (unless it’s a useless domain such as plus.google.com or docs.google.com). It also says how many links were found, and if you click that number, it links to a list of all the matching entries.
At the moment, Daddy Grognard is the top dog because he’s been adding all his monsters. Thanks! Check out all the Daddy Grognard items.
Here’s how to make it easy to contribute to the wiki:
If you’re looking at a cool page, click the link, and you’ll be taken to the submission form immediately.
As for the categories: they are generated automatically from the web pages of the wiki. That means it’s all editable.
If you’re a coder yourself, you might want to write your own app to submit links or edit the wiki, something easier to use, for example. Check out the Help page, if you’re so inclined.
Recently, Yora asked for Sandbox logs. Those are tricky to provide. After all, if you’re looking for advice on how to run a game, the session report is filled with useless in-game stuff that nobody but the players will read (if at all).
What I’ve done instead is collect blog posts where I think I have some advice backed up by anecdotes from my game.
Never ran a fantasy role-playing game like Dungeons & Dragons before? Get yourself the D&D Basic Rules, Labyrinth Lord or the Basic Fantasy RPG (or any of the other role-playing games out there). Find some friends and volunteer to run a game for them. Here’s some excellent advice by Greg MacKenzie which he left on a Google+ post by Davin Asiala. I made some slight edits, too.
The important thing to realize is that unless you have a command of the material, an overview, you may have difficulty getting a sense of where it is all going. You are also treading in someone else’s footsteps. My personal advice is reduce your scope: make your own 6-10 room dungeon, and roll up the monsters for each room.
My early adventures went something like this: The adventurers start out at a local tavern where they meet. They hear a few rumours about some horrible hole and are offered either a guide to the spot or a map for a few coins. At which point they set off for the entrance. When they get there the guide leaves and they enter the dungeon. Now note that I provide no obstacles, save that for the dungeon.
You should have a few words of description for the entrance to set the mood. Each room should have a description and may or may not have a monster 1 in 6. The dungeon should be on one sheet of paper. The idea here is to make sure there is something to do. You don’t have to be terribly original here as the game takes on its own life as you play it.
The monsters should have treasure, and make sure to allocate a few magic items among the treasure. You want the players to gain experience points and get a taste of the good things, those magic items. The players should find a shut door for example, listen, try to open it, let the players make Strength rolls to open the doors, your giving them something to do and it involves them. If there are monsters inside, roll for surprise, and initiative to see if the players or monsters go first, and then follow the rest of the combat sequence for the player and monster groups. You will need those combat sheets to make your life easier. When you conclude each round of combat you re-roll for initiative. You can continue until one side or the other quits.
Because these are new players, and monsters aren’t dumb, you can decide if the monsters run away if things go against them or if they fight to the death, try to bargain, etc. Players inevitably fight to the bitter end when they should withdraw. Remind the players when they are low on HP that it might be wiser to run away. Running away is highly under-rated. In any event the monsters don’t have to follow the players beyond the entrance of the dungeon, making for a scary chase when you are low on HP.
If the players defeat the monsters they should be rewarded with treasures… Now what I am really suggesting here is not a give away, players have to earn these things, but in order to allow yourself and the players to get a sense of what the game is about it won’t hurt to be a little liberal with treasure starting out.
When you make your dungeon you can allocate monsters randomly by the tables, but if something is really nasty move it to the farthest point away from the entrance and put in references to it in the dungeon. Kobolds have scrawled on the wall “Go Back end of Kobold Territory”, or players might hear, “wait until ugly finds out” if the monsters are allied with whatever it is. As the GM, you have the decision to place monsters. I usually pick the worst one, and go random from there.
- stick with the basics
- know your combat sequence
- know the dungeon
- learn to improvise as you go along
Let the players clear the place out to give them a sense of accomplishment.
Improvisation is all about giving the monsters some personality. You can swipe references from film or novels. The players will know them. Juxtapositions are useful does the Orc leader behave and talk and sound like a film gangster? “Gimmie all your coins and I’ll let you go see…” Is one of the Orcs dumb and getting it wrong like one of the Three Stooges? He turns around a sets off a trap, a giant stone rolls through the middle of the room. Is one of them a coward like Ichabod Crane? Have fun with it.
Allow the players to make several trips to and from the dungeon as they may have to heal up before trying again. New players won’t complete this in one go. Compress the time takes, reset hit-points and spells, and carry on the story from that point so many days later. The tavern or village is a sanctuary where nothing should happen at this early juncture.
Some of their characters will be killed, that is part of the game. Re-rolling a character in the middle of the game is a pain for the rest of the players. It may be wise to have a spare on hand to hand out. I usually found that at the start of play, if players are rolling up characters that will eat up a good hour of the play session but it is absolutely essential to building the player-character relationship.
In short: Small dungeon, not big on plot, just players vs. monsters, hidden secrets, and traps. That’s how we did it. Just keep the action going if you can.
Players often go to the tavern to hire help. These non-player characters you play—or you can allow a player to role play one when their character is killed. Players will sometimes simply take over the non-player character for their own use.
When you describe something always have it end ambiguously, e.g. “When you hold your torch in the room you see that this is a 30 x 30 room with a stack of 10’ poles in the southwest corner. Nearby in the south wall there is a small round 2 inch hole in the stonework.” This sort of thing leaves all sorts of questions in the players minds, what are the poles for? Do we insert one in the hole, and if we do what might happen? Is it a trap? Nothing might happen, unless you find all of the other holes and put the poles in, then a secret room opens. Or the thing might set off a trap, release a monster, reward the players with treasure etc. Even when they fight orcs or goblins they might find a key when they are defeated and searched, what is it for? Always leave something open ended. Players will hang onto that key in the hopes it opens something long beyond when it may have been useful just because of the mystery.
– Greg MacKenzie
Greg MacKenzie also runs the website Busy Game Master.
Recently Ian Borchardt wondered on Google+, what people thought of basing experience gains off of class. He was thinking of fighters gaining experience fighting, magic users gaining experience learning spells, and so on. Ian was interested in applying this to D&D solo play. I think the topic bears a wider discussion, however.
I see two things to consider. How will this rule affect gameplay at the table? How will this rule affect what characters do in the game world?
I remember playing Burning Wheel and related games from Burning Wheel Headquarters. These games usually tie advancement to successes and failures in tests. Therefore, every test you make takes a tiny bit of bookkeeping. How difficult was the test? Did I succeed or fail? Jot it down. That’s too much bookkeeping for my taste.
Example Key from Lady Blackbird:
Each key also has a buyoff. If the buyoff condition occurs, you have the option of removing the Key and earning two advances, which you can use to buy another Key or two.
Whenever I ran or played these games I liked this mechanic because it gave players the choice to pick whichever Key they desired, implicitly telling the GM what they wanted the game to be about.
As players get to select the Keys and they get to change them as part of their advancement, Keys can be more fine-grained than just the character’s class, and yet they don’t require as much bookkeeping as Burning Wheel and all those games because not every roll of the die needs record keeping. Players actively try to trigger their Key, and when it happens, they mark it off. Easy.
It is pretty free form, however. As the referee of such a game, you should have a list of Keys prepared that serves as an implicit indication of where you see the game going. By agreeing on a set of Keys beforehand, referee and players can make sure that the Keys stay within the kind of game they want play. It doesn’t have to be an anything goes kind of game.
Mazes & Minotaurs has the kind of experience system that Ian Borchardt was suggesting. I’ve never tried it, it seemed reasonable on paper, but I had trouble imagining it at the table. After every encounter, the fighter player speaks up and says, “that was worth 3 XP for me, right?” The mage player loots the lab and says, “two new scrolls found, 2 XP?” If it happens a lot, it could be a lot like the bookkeeping after every test in the Burning Wheel Headquarters games. If it happens rarely, it could be like a permanent Key in Lady Blackbird.
Then again, something I like in role-playing games is changing gameplay over time. It seems to me that making this Key basically permanent prevents this to some extent.
In a D&D game with dungeons and wilderness adventures I’d say that rewards based on class lead to a kind of reinforcement that I don’t like. Fighters will want to fight monsters that don’t need fighting, thieves will want to steal from people we don’t want to steal from, etc.
To elaborate – and this goes for solo as well as party play – I think that doing a thing should not be rewarded. That’s going to go Pavlov quickly is what I’m guessing. What I want is players doing things in order to get a reward, in other words, they are doing something else in order to get a reward. The action and the reward should be orthogonal. Fighters fight in order to get treasure. Wizards cast spells in order to get treasure. This is how they get to choose their approach, quietly or forcefully, quickly or slowly, talking or fighting, and so on. It allows for more ingenuity in my book.
Anyway, this is what I expect to happen without actually having tried it, and only based on my D&D 3.5 experience. There, fighting monsters granted most of the XP. Avoiding a fight and going about the mission quietly was always an uphill mental battle. It was going against the
affordance of the rules. The reward structure did not invite players to push harder, it invites players to optimize harder (since combat appears unavoidable, in a way, combat is the reward).
I started wondering: Why is it unlikely that I will be adopting a different notation?
The most important issue is probably that I don’t care enough about other systems and I feel that it’s incredibly easy to move from one system to another. If I can run D&D 3.5 adventures using Labyrinth Lord converting stats on the fly, then I’m sure you can do a quick “19 minus descending armor class = ascending armor class” or a quick “19 minus HD = single saving throw”.
Another important issue is that I usually take notes for myself, so I’m used to my particular format. This format continues to evolve (in minuscule steps). Perhaps we can look to the tech world. The Tao of IETF (the Internet Engineering Task Force) is “rough consensus” and “running code”—and it would seem to me that we are close to rough consensus and we have a lot of actual experience running and writing adventures and monster collections. We’re just quibbling about the details.
Here’s how I feel the B1 stat block mentioned by Random Wizard compares to mine.
Random Wizard and B1: Orcs (1-4) – HP: 6, 4, 3, 1; #AT: 1; D: 1-6; AC 7/12; SA: None
Mine: 2d10 orcs HD 1 AC 7 1d6 F1 MV 12 ML 7 XP 5
Longer example which includes a name, multiple attacks and various special abilities.
Bel, Slayer of Men, HD 10 AC 2 -/3d6 ML 11 MV 9; flaming whip does no damage but on a hit it grants +4 on the hit with the flaming sword in the same round and on a 20 it disarms the opponent; flaming aura deals an extra 1d6 to everybody nearby; immune to non-magic weapons; immune to fire
Perhaps if more people posted their favorite monster notation and argued for their differences, we could start building said “rough consensus”.
Recently I found a comment by andrew ferris on a Google+ post by Urizen Shaitan I’d like to share.
What works best for fun is not really realistic and sometimes when attempting to implement something “realistic”, you get something even less realistic than if you hadn’t tried.
Okay, first to deal with armor and hit points. Now if one wants monsters to scale up the same way PCs scale up, you are going to have an issue. PCs gain 1 hit dice per a level and generally speaking armor and damage increase. With some classes the armor and damage increases considerably less than with others, but generally speaking it increases. The thing is that… well… there isn’t a good formula for what level of monster ought to be able to handle 4-5 PCs by themselves.
For instance, generally speaking if you have a level 5 PC fight 5 level 1 PCs, the level 5 PC has 5× the hit points as well as having better damage potential and being harder to hit. They will generally mop the floor with the 5 level 1s.
However, a level 25 PC would almost undoubtedly be demolished by 5 level 5s, particularly if those 5 level 5s have among them a thief, cleric, and particularly magic-user. This is particularly true given how in old D&D where PCs cap out at level 9.
Now, if something is going to be a challenge for 5 PCs it can only do one of the following
- Have 5× the health it normally does or have some method to avoid ⅘ of the attacks (such as a high AC). This can either be all in one go or it can be be recovered over the battle (regen or healing magic) and the average health of the creature would be 5× by the end of the average length of a battle.
- Deal out 5× the damage a PC could. It could have 5× the attacks, hit 5× as often or deal 5× the damage a normal enemy of that level would do.
If you do both, it will be 25× as strong as a normal enemy. It is also worthwhile considering the difference between a solo and a group. After all, if you are fighting a group of enemies and you can manage to deal ⅕ of the total hit points in damage to one of the enemies in the group then the group’s damage output is going to decrease by 20%. But if you deal ⅕ of the hit points to an enemy with 5× the health, then its damage output isn’t going to decrease unless there is a system for it to do so.
In addition, PCs generally fight in groups. This means that if the attacks simply do 5× the damage or there are 5× as many attacks that can (and narratively should) be aimed at a single target, then you deal with another issue. Generally speaking a single enemy attack against a PC ought to sap around ⅓–¼ of their life. But if the attack does 5× damage or there are 5× the amount of attacks, this will wipe out a PC with each successful hit. This will cause the group’s effectiveness to drop by 20%.
Because of this, it is probably best to increase both the hit points and the damage output by about double. You can improve the AC or the monster’s chances to hit, but I would do it by a point or two at the most. Increased hit points and an increased number of attacks is what I would advise in order to have an exciting encounter that is less likely to result in a TPK.
As for the narrative attacks…. one of the things I feel the OSR has been painfully lazy about is when it comes to monster attacks. Particularly the old set up “2 claws, 1 bite” no animal in the world fights like that. Ever. It is utterly unimaginable that within a 6 second span of time a beast is ever going to swing its paws at two separate targets and then bite a third. It just doesn’t work that way. Nor is an animal going to make one swipe with each claws and then pull them back before biting. Rather than ever having such a sequence, it would have been far more realistic to simply describe this whole attack as a single unarmed attack sequence which will either be successful or not as a whole and the number rolled on the damage dice would be evocative of how many of its natural weapons it hit with.
Instead of giving a solo monster multiple attacks, the far better thing to do would be to give the monster area-effecting attacks. For instance, it can charge in a straight line which means it can run over a PC, knock another aside and then slam into a third target which would be a great way to get those mages into melee combat. Or it can make a sweep with a giant claw or weapon that has a chance of dealing damage to all enemies engaged in melee. Or it could release a cloud of toxic gas which could affect everyone in a given area or it could even be capable of picking up or knocking a PC off their feet (i.e. a successful melee attack), hurling them at another turning one PC’s body into a weapon against another (making a ranged attack).
With those sorts of attacks, suddenly it becomes very clear why it is foolish to attack the monster with a regiment of very weak soldiers and why a group of elite adventurers are needed to handle the monster.
So basically, my advice is when designing solo monsters… Double its normal hit points. Give it some sort of area attack (or several options!) that would allow it to hit 1–3 enemies a turn and particularly to be able to get at those more vulnerable ranged combatants. Increase AC, attack bonus and damage of the monster minimally—only 1–2 points.
And then you just have to accept that if this monster is, for instance, an Ogre or a Troll, that its numbers are not evocative of simply adding levels to the monster.
– andrew ferris
What can I say. These days my players kill red dragons in the surprise round and survive cloud kill… but area effects are clearly the way to go!
Yesterday I ran a game for eight players (I usually cap at six). We had already established that this was going to be a raid on a pirate fortress. I knew that it was going to have 80 elves ready to fight, 80 elves sleeping (all 1st level), a 9th and a 7th level elf, and a red dragon. The party allied itself with some commando elves and so the attacking force consisted of eight player characters and their eight henchmen with levels between 1 and 7 as well as the command elves, six 6th level elves and eighteen ordinary 1st level elves; forty characters in all. I handed out little index cards with the stats of the elven commando leaders and their henchmen. Three hours later it was all over, most of the pirates slain, the dragon dead, the enemy leader killed, her second in command take prisoner, the dragon hoard secured and the fortress being towed to the players’ domain. (This is a big mashup campaign using Spelljammer ships and fortresses, and An Echo Resounding for domain level play.)
It was a very unusual adventure, but I like the change in pace!
The fortress was structured as a series of encounters with a mini map I kept behind the screen, usually with ten elves, sometimes with a leader of level 1d6+1; sometimes with more elves about to arrive. Good use was made of hold portal to prevent elves from joining up and good use was made of silence and sleep to surprise enemies and incapacitate a dozen foes in the surprise round, haste was used to quickly position archers and casters, sneaky thieves were used to scout ahead and best prepare for assaults, and to avoid tricky hallways with enemy archers hiding, several lightning bolts were used to kill the dragon before it could join the elven sorceress, they survived her cloudkill with minimal losses and managed to dispel it the next round…
It was a bloodbath.
For ease of reference and consistent spell selection of both the allied commando elves and the defending elf pirates, I used a technique I described previously: my spell book notation lists the spell-book of the top elf or magic-user with spell level and spell name, and a third column with the character level at which this spell is usually picked. This helps me run a lot of spell casters. This list would begin as follows, for example:
|Spell Level||Character Level||Spell Name||Notes|
|1||2||shield||AC 4, AC 2 vs. missiles|
|2||4||detect invisibility||5 rd./level|
|4||7||polymorph||AC 0 1d6+1/1d6+1/3d10 MV 240|
|4||8||dimension door||360 ft. or 120 m|
|5||9||cloud kill||⌀ 30 ft., MV 6|
The most important skill of all is a sort of military “go! go! go!” efficiency at the table, however. No questions about who rolls initiative. Roll all the dice – have d20s and damage dice of matching colors and have all the colors assigned to your dudes and roll them all at once. All enemy elves, regardless of level, had AC 4. When your turn comes up, just tell me “I hit three times, damage is 4, 5, 2.” That’s the plan, anyway. Also, pick a leader who tells me where the party goes. Which stairs do you pick? Quietly or quickly? When the fight is on, just keep pushing. When the fight is over, let players talk, laugh, investigate, debate.
The picture shows the kind of notes I had prepared ahead of time. As you can see these are crude sketches of the area and enemy positions. Most enemies were all elves with a single magic missile memorized. If the party won initiative, it was usually over in a few seconds.
As you can see on the little fold-out flow-chart on the left, the encounters weren’t all arranged linearly. My main idea was this:
It worked for me!
In the final analysis, it was a lot easier than I expected. Was it because the commando elves were too strong? Was it because the party had four extra players I had not expected? (Two of them are new players from my Sunday campaign and another two players are not regular players so I wasn’t counting on them.) Oh well, I think it’s only fair to not adjust difficulty levels on the fly.
We stopped play midway through year 510 of The Great Pendragon Campaign after a devastating battle in May and ended the campaign. Too much railroading, too many sudden death moments, too many fiddly rules that slow us down but don’t further our enjoyment, too much leafing back and forth in the book… I’m both sad and relieved, in a way.
The discussion was kicked off by one player who felt like quitting the campaign and explaining all the things he didn’t like. I agreed with a lot of it. I had written about it myself. Another player said he’d like to play on weekdays instead of weekends. Another player was missing. My wife wanted to continue playing but was suffering because of a recent string of character deaths. The last player was new and said he had been unable “to get into it” in the three sessions he had played with us.
An astonishing thing happened during the discussion. My wife and the player who had started the discussion are both players in my mashup game—the old school sandbox game using Labyrinth Lord, the Wilderlands of High Fantasy, Spelljammer, Planescape, and An Echo Resounding. They started comparing the Pendragon campaign to this other game. The other game is crazy (“I’d describe the atmosphere as killer clowns”) but it has more player agency. Pendragon is more about how you deal with the events around you. My mashup game is about the things you do. I rarely need to pick up a rulebook and search for a rule. The NPCs are all strange and memorable. No king Leodegrance, Sir Cador, Centurion King and other faceless dudes that you haven’t interacted with. Pendragon not only suffers from an inflation of NPC names that players haven’t interacted with, it also encourages me to add names, exacerbating the problem. What are the names of the sons of Duke Ulfius? Who cares? I still feel compelled to look it up instead of making it up.
In a way, the big campaign provides a railroad that affects me as well. I am inspired by the campaign, I steer the players towards the rails, I entice them to stay on the rails, they are always present. Like those pesky Paizo Adventure Paths, they shackle my imagination and stiffle my improvisation.
So, where as I am sad to see it go, I am also happy to see how my players love the classic D&D sandbox and validate the choices I made for that mashup game.
Two blog posts I enjoyed today:
Specialization and Assumed Competence illustrates that any system where the gap between a characters with and without specialization increases is a system where the general competence decreases even if the general challenge level of the environment and the actual stats remain unchanged.
On the Deadly Difference drives home a point I’ve been trying to adhere to for a while, now: announce risks and consequences before players make decisions. My Swiss Referee Style Manual ends with the very same advice, inspired by the very same blog.
The following list is from the Hack & Slash blog.
Announce consequences before players commit to actions. There can only be meaningful choice if players know what to expect. (“If you fail the roll, you’ll […]. Do you want to risk it?”)
Provide information if players are unsure. You can wrap it in vague language, but be sure to provide the necessary information. (“It’s hard to say, but you feel a nagging suspicion that he’s probably hiding something.”)
In the same vein, provide warnings if players are putting themselves in danger. You’re aiming for “I knew it!” when something bad befalls player characters. (“You notice that the hanging bridge above the tar pits seems frail. Just make sure nobody cuts those ropes!”)
Provide alternatives if you think that what players want should be impossible. (“You can’t just buy a magic weapon but they say there’s a hidden entrance to a goblin market in the Smoke Forest.”)
Add obstacles whenever players are getting what they want. (“The insect trainer will teach your lizard how to spy ahead if you provide her with a living giant wasp.”)
Fight On! #14 has been released on Lulu! The bestest old school fanzine is back, like a revenant it haunts the living even if we know that it is already dead. Calithena has said that #15 will be the last issue and that saddens me. Issue #14 also came without my Caverns of Slime. This doesn’t make me as sad as I thought it would because we get a fantastic troll fortress instead. Gatehouse, temple, main complex, it has everything and nice, emphatic maps. Thick, black lines, high contrast edges, and yet clearly labelled. Citadel of the Dark Trolls. Lee Barber. Well done!
One of the comments in the announcement thread says “I used the code GETIT25 and got 25% off my order.” Good luck!