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2012-07-03 City Prep


Harald recently started running a Mystara campaign for us. At the end of the first session we reached a major city in the setting. On Google+ he asked: how to give Karameikos' Specularum the Vornheim treatment.

Here’s what I said:

I felt unable to use Vornheim the book at my table. The only things that made it into my game were cool ideas that don't need much text to explain: snakes are books; a library with a hydra that needs beheading for regular reading; gorgons in power.

The things I didn’t care for: long lists of random stuff to encounter, room by room descriptions of something, shortcuts to create maps of roads and buildings, drop die charts for guards, AC, hp, all that stuff.

Thus, my first suggestion is to brainstorm weird ideas with friends and write them all down. Each idea gets no more than three or four sentences or lines. Put it on a wiki. Once you have 100 of them, let it sit for a while, then whittle it down. Aim for twenty awesome and unusual things that people (and you) will read in ten seconds and remember for a year. Pick three to use in your city when the party gets there first. Maybe add more stuff later, or use it for different cities.

Romans and Crucifiction

If you want Thyatis to be harsh, have the road to the city pass by twenty or thirty crucified bandits. Some of them alive? These bandits are whipped and crucified and left to die, but at night the authorities expect friends of the punished to take them down and whisk them away (ie. they are de facto exiled).

The man in charge is Alexander Suworow. He has a separate post from the executioner because only non-nobles can be crucified. The current arrangement allowing the crucified to be taken down sits well with him. If you need to know about bandits, talk to him. He has lists of those who were punished and where they are from, so in an emergency you might find relatives of bandits with Suworow’s help.

Elven Pleasure Palace

Stefan Karameikos maintains a company of elves somewhere. How many? Where exactly? Perhaps they have a built themselves an elven pleasure palace, a sylvan oasis, a locked park, protected by phantasmal forces.

Little Johnny has disappeared. Asking his friends reveals that he’s had the reputation of having been in every garden of the city. He is now lost in the elven pleasure palace.

Tayha’a, the one-legged elven green keeper, says he has found nobody.

  1. he’s telling the truth; the kid has been be kidnapped by the Rapier’s Revenge thieves guild who say that the boy is in fact the child of a Danakian noble that was smuggled abroad in secrecy – they are keeping him safe; alternatively you could pay them to hire some invisible guards (extortion)
  2. the sylvan paradise also houses some terrible monsters (ravenous tree stumps with shark teeth attracting little boys with white bunnies at the end of nigh invisible tentacles)
  3. an elven cabal of shadow spies has been smuggling a branch of the tree of life to Specularum in the attempt to send it across the ocean by ship; the little boy witnessed this and was taken in by the shadow elven master spy Akrah Fivestars (he didn’t want to kill the boy but didn’t want to leave witnesses either).
  4. Melnibonéan: people disappear at night and end up dying the death of a thousand cuts. Once you find the dead boy, the symbols cut into his soft skin leaves no doubt: elves! But how will you convince captain Bereon Thistlewind of the presence of vile monsters in his ranks? He won’t even speak to you without an invitation, let alone come and look at this “evidence” of yours. And the blood-drinking Ichthyol Sea-Of-Roses has friends all over the elven offices.
  5. the elven garden has attracted the attention of a dream-eater, a beautiful, floating giraffe-elefant-peacock-zebra spirit that decided out of the kindness of its heart to build a little conduit between the garden and the outer Beastlands for the mutual enjoyment of all; too bad the little boy lost himself in the Beastlands and needs to be followed.
  6. the boy was cruel and when he started ripping off pixie wings, they started to reconfigure him China Miéville-style; his torso has been sewn on to little monkey legs and big, limping butterfly wings too heavy for our gravity have been attached to his back; these he drags through the hedges, crying as a thousand thorns cut into this useless wings, crying as the wings prevent him from sleeping, crying as curious animals passing him by step on them, and yet he is too weak to get far on his bent monkey legs. How will you convince Orgonol Frenzy-Of-Lampreys, the cruel surgeon and faery Transmogrifier that his punishment is cruel and inhumane? Will you try and kill him and his cannibal ogre, convince Petala One-Wing to forgive the boy and intercede on your behalf, convince the Alder King nominally ruling the pleasure palace to intervene, or just take the abomination to a high-ranking wizard you know?


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2012-07-06 Training Players


Recently Philip Watson asked on Google+ how often we have evil NPCs join the party only to turn on the players at a critical moment. I said that I never do it because it trains players to behave in ways that I don’t enjoy.

Let me explain. Once players start mistrusting everybody it leads them to kill innocents because they fear betrayal, it leads them to torture prisoners because they might be lying, it leads them to endlessly debate whether this or that is trustworthy information, and so on.

Lies: I much prefer to be upfront about lying non-player characters. “The old man says this and that, but you’re suspicious. You feel he might be lying to you!”

Non-player characters are an important information channel. I can use them to tell my players about the world, to provide hints and help, I can have non-player characters agree with a plan if I think it’s good enough and they should stop planning, I can have non-player characters refuse to go along with a plan if I feel it is lacking an escape option, etc. Once I introduce untrustworthy information into this channel, it’s poisoned, effectively closed.

Promises: A similar idea is that my prisoners never lie. When prisoners beg for mercy and promise to run away and never oppose the party again, then that’s exactly what they do. Once released prisoners start getting reinforcements, I train my players to always kill prisoners.

Torture: In the current political situation I feel that torture is being downplayed and made palatable, it’s practically legitimized again. Where as the real world is sliding back into the dark ages, I refuse my game world to do the same. Thus, if my players want to torture somebody, I find that highly distasteful. To drive home how useless torture is to gain information, I usually ask my players “Ok, what do you want to hear?” And then, whatever they say: “That’s exactly what he says.” I refuse to role-play stuff I don’t want to read about in books.

If my players start to incredulously ask different questions, I might try and make my point again but it won’t take much for me to tell my players out-of-game that I really don’t want to hear about torture at my table ever again.

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Comments on 2012-07-06 Training Players

I agree completely with you here. I actually have the trouble of needing to retrain my players as they began by mistrusting me. Probably because they are students at the school I teach at, perhaps becausew they are only 13 and 14, maybe because they have come with a background in computer RPGs and mmorgs.

OberonViking 2012-07-06 10:10 UTC

sadly, because I play with a mixed group from various other gaming groups, this kind of untrustworthiness seems to have been firmly established long before I got there. using an NPC as the guy who wired them’s second in command who was supposed to be very helpful indeed, even going behind his boss’s back on occasion for reasons of his own that were all in the player’s interests, and they still thought he was lying or withholding information.

shortymonster 2012-07-06 10:18 UTC

An interesting point. On the one hand, we are trying to make the game world dangerous and full of evil. But then we avoid almost all things which are truly evil. We slaughter lots of creatures without problem and are happy when countless villagers are massacred because that is the next adventure hook. But torture, abuse, despair, we do not want to have those in the game. Why should we? If its ugly in the real world, how could it be fun in play?

There is something delusional about our hobby.

lior 2012-07-06 11:30 UTC

It’s weird, I do this all the time and the players never really have a problem trusting anyone. I’ve never had a player do any of the things. Threaten to torture somebody? Never. Sometimes they’ll say “I don’t want to get screwed!” and I’ll say, “Well, you probably won’t” and that’s pretty much the end of it.

-C 2012-07-06 12:28 UTC

@Lior: I think there is nothing delusional about it at all. It only seems delusional if you make broad simplifications. Let me dig a bit deeper:

  • players perpetuating torture: not ok
  • referee going into the details of evil dudes perpetuating torture : not ok
  • referee saying that one of the reasons evil dudes are in fact evil is that they tortured poor Bill: ok


  • players killing innocent villagers: not ok
  • players going into the details of stabbing sobbing and twitching remains of an orc and the cruelty of killing: not ok
  • players fighting orcs in defense of their lives or their homes: ok


  • I read a people story about rape, mutilations and killings in Ruanda: not ok
  • I watch the movie Hotel Ruanda: ugh… not sure
  • I read a summary of what happened in Ruanda: ok

We might get into real world ethics, of course (the ends justifying the means, is there a just war, human(oid) rights, war conventions) – but I think the key is how people feel at the table even if they cannot express it clearly.

There’s a line to be drawn everywhere with respect to “how much we can take”. Just as we do not experience risk in mathematical terms, we don’t experience cruelty and pain in statistically relevant terms. It matters whether we’re doing it, or it is being done to us, or we hear about other people doing it, the amount of graphic detail is important, our own sensibilities play an important role (people who enjoy watching Saw movies and I are not in the same boat).

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-06 12:31 UTC

Alex takes a couple shortcuts to get to game content he enjoys and is interested in. That is not delusional.

It’s a question of where you draw the line in descriptions and where you lift the veil about NPCs. “His eyes dart around nervously as he tells you this” or “you have the uncanny feeling he is not telling the truth” is not the same thing as everybody always being nice, even if they’re supposed to be the bad guys.

Example: In Alex’ Wilderlands campaign there is a red dragon who got seven virgins every year; the reasons long forgotten by the humans. Yes, the dragon is going to sacrifice these innocent people in a ritual (and that is all I as a player needed to know) … but the ambiguity of real life starts beyond this; the dragon does this to seal a demon kings’ soul so he doesn’t resurrect himself in this part of the material plane.

And the goal of that subset of the campaign, chosen by the players, was to ensure the dragon doesn’t need to do that anymore. So:

  • Horrible Things(TM) perpetuated? check
  • The PCs can do something about this? check

– Harald 2012-07-06 12:42 UTC

@-C: If your players never suggested torture, more power to them! What about the other issues, however: When your players release prisoners, the freed prisoners go and fetch friends to chase after the player characters? If so, do the player characters continue to release prisoners? When your non-player characters lie to your player characters, will the players still trust other non-player characters? Perhaps your player characters never trust any non-player characters? Or perhaps sifting through the statements the non-player characters make is part of the game? It also seems to be what you’re saying in On Ignorance of Skill Based Play:

You present the NPC as a puzzle like any other. He has needs, traits, and desires that investigation (i.e. talking, to him, other people, or context clues) can discover. Then the players make choices about how to handle the situation – choices that if the investigation is done properly they will have a good idea about the results. You present these choices explicitly to the players.

This would be similar to me openly admitting that the non-player character seems to be lying once they player ask me “is he lying?” or “I watch his face and try to figure out whether he’s lying.” In response, I’ll provide something pretty obvious like the examples Harald provided above: “His eyes dart around nervously as he tells you this” or “you have the uncanny feeling he is not telling the truth.”

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-06 12:45 UTC

@Alex, @Harald: Let me rephrase. We want dragons sacrificing virgins, but we do not want to think about what that would mean and how and why that is horrible. We want a road flanked by dozens of crucified criminals. But we do not want to imagine what that really means. Crucifixion → bad, human sacrifice → bad. Those are trivial conclusions. We want them in the game, but we want them to stay trivial.

Also, I did not say Alex is delusional, far be it from me. In fact I think Alex’ method is a mature way of not dealing with unfun issues.

I am deliberately saying “There is something delusional about our hobby” because I think it applies to almost all of us, myself very much included. I suspect those players who are OK with torture are so because it does not touch them emotionally as easily. In other words, it stays trivial for longer.

lior 2012-07-06 13:30 UTC

@Lior: I suspect that this is an aspect of all sane humans and is true for almost all endeavors: too much detail makes you crazy; too much terrible detail makes you crazy. It protects you from the tedium and horror of everything, of the entirety of our human existence. The repression of horrible details and (sometimes) their sublimation into action (or adventure in the case of role-playing games) seems to be one of the most basic mechanisms allowing us to function. But then again, I’m not a psychologist and have my reservations regarding Freud. ;)

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-06 14:07 UTC

Question: how are lying NPCs different from trapped dungeon rooms? Is it a question of context? If so, maybe NPCs encountered in a dungeon are unreliable, while those encountered in a town are trustworthy? That seems like it might be a reasonable assumption, much like how players usually don’t feel the need to probe the floor in a tavern with a 10 foot pole.

Brendan 2012-07-06 22:43 UTC

@Brendan: I think looking at the difference between traps and lying non-player characters is a good way of considering the issue. Context is a good point. I’d say that a non-player character joining the party and moving from the tavern context to the dungeon context warrants a bit more thought: Is the non-player character now a liability or does he “stay trustworthy?” My players might be expecting the character to stay honest and I tend to agree.

Another aspect I like is how traps or liars are discovered.

Here’s how I think traps ought to be used: there must be ways of discovering traps that doesn’t involve rolling dice. I like to say: “If you need to roll dice, it’s already too late.” Thus, examining the floor might yield “a line across the floor” or “a dried puddle of blood” or something along these lines. I like -C’s traps on his Hack & Slash blog because he discusses this discoverability of traps.

What about lying non-player characters? I feel that they need the same kind of discoverability. In the original example on G+ the Philip Watson had the evil cleric drink booze instead of joining combat in the first round and similar hints out there, so as far as I’m concerned, that’s good enough.

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-07 10:04 UTC

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2012-07-09 Waiting for changes to be applied (iPad)

I’m not sure whether I had this problem before. Ever since importing a few photos yesterday I can no longer sync my iPad with iTunes. The last step is Waiting for changes to be applied and it takes forever.

I’m thinking that maybe I need to “Restore” the iPad. This will take many hours—and I have already wasted a few hours trying to find a solution without restoring from backup. Let this serve as a note to my future self that it didn’t work. Just restore the stupid thing.

Even if this means waiting for 16.4G of photos and 32.3GB of apps (mostly PDFs for GoodReader).


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2012-07-10 Reputation Revisited


Some 2½ years ago, I wrote about the reputation mechanics I was using in my D&D 3.5 game. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out. There just wasn’t any incentive for players to act in order to gain reputation. It was always incidental. In between games, the referee would update reputations and whenever a player was in big trouble, they’d say that they wanted to roll for divine intervention. Unfortunately, they usually didn’t know what their reputation was and with whom it was.

How to increase player involvement? I remembered my first Asian themed D&D 3.5 Kitsunemori campaign. There, players had to roll over their current reputation in order to increase it. That always caused a lot of excitement at the table.

Thus, for my houserules (“D&D Mine” aka. Campaign:Halberds and Helmets) I now require players to roll over their current reputation using a die that represents the magnitude of their deed.

Reputation: Fame and honor can be earned everywhere. Even the gods are interested in the deeds of mortals. Reputation is tracked separately for all the gods, towns and factions. The higher a reputation is, the harder it is to increase it.

In order to gain reputation, roll higher than the current reputation. The starting reputation is 0. Thus, the first time reputation increases, no roll is necessary.

Deed Roll
To find an item, to bring it back, to save something d4
To rescue a life, to find the victim of a kidnap, to render services to a church d6
To rescue a village, to help an entire community d8
To render a service to the gods d12

Gods: In an emergency, reputation also acts as the percentage chance for divine intervention. In addition to that, reputation also limits the circle of miracles (spell levels) available to clerics. Thus, a cleric cannot work any miracles on their first adventure since they are lacking an appropriate reputation.

We’ll see how that works. :)


Comments on 2012-07-10 Reputation Revisited

Sounds like a nice and simple method.

Simon 2012-07-11 08:22 UTC

Playing in your game, I found it so hard to actually get reputation that I stopped bothering about it. I surely must have missed opportunities or simply didn’t figure out what would click with you?

Also, is there some kind of infamy stat, i.e. for that priest that simply went and followed the frog gods when things didn’t turn out with his god the way he wanted? That in contrast seemed eerily easy, very much dark-side “it’s a trap” like – without the good side trying to scheme to get their sheep back in the fold. Intentional?

– Harald 2012-07-11 10:10 UTC

Perhaps you are right and getting reputation is too hard. If it happens rarely, people will not think about it. Gaining experience points, on the other hand, happens after every session. Maybe I need to create a stronger ritual at the table. After every social encounter: “Guys, time to roll for your reputation!”

Remember those first adventures? Looking back, I’d say I missed the following opportunities:

  1. when haggling over the contract with the alchemist: gain reputation with Mitra, goddess of contracts and oaths (d4)
  2. when bringing back the glass wares to the alchemist: gain reputation with the alchemists’ guild (d4)
  3. when defeating the bandits: gain reputation with Mitra, goddess of justice (d6)
  4. when dealing with dwarven merchants: gain reputation with the town of Plunder (d4)
  5. when killing assassin frogs: gain reputation with Tsathogga, god of frogs (d6)

As for Onbog’s defection: maybe we could have enjoyed a true back and forth between the forces of law and chaos if the player had stayed with us. We’ll never know if that would have turned out to be a good source of plot hooks. Similarly, as soon as the paladin of Mitra realized that the priest of Nergal had poisoned the wells of Oathcomb, the priest’s player left us. I want to make the struggle of various deities over the character’s fate a part of the game, but it hasn’t really happened, yet. This is also one of the reasons I think the system needs reform – or it needs to be ditched.

As for it being easy to switch to the Dark Side: I guess this is part of my ethos that I have baked into the setting:

  1. all the gods have benefits and drawbacks even if some tend more towards law and others tend more towards chaos I tried to make sure that none of them were “instant death sentences” (eg. even Orcus is important because his priests can raise the dead)
  2. it’s always easier to join the Dark Side

This produces the Sword & Sorcery Fantasy Post-Apocalypse Dying Earth vibe I’m going for, hopefully.

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-11 12:41 UTC

Yeah, I feel like it was unclear to me if I should ask for reputation rolls (Mother May I syndrome); I’ll know better in the future.

Now I need to consider if I want this in the Mystara game … it would actually be quite interesting.

– Harald 2012-07-11 13:55 UTC

It’s not an easy question to answer. I added it because Planescape has belief and it feeds into divine power and a lot of outsiders. Does Mystara have that? I added it because all the gods are ambiguous, so there is no obvious right choice to make. If Mystara has the three local good immortals, how important is it to track reputation? The Immortals boxed set also offers a different end game based on quests and adventures. That would leave reputation for the worldly factions: empire or rebels, duke or baron, elves or humans, or the various towns and cities? I really think that reputation only makes sense in an ambiguous world where players will not really want to choose any of the options wholeheartedly. Much like Skyrim, I guess. Mystara seems to be a lighter world of more clearcut sides and simpler choices, and therefore it’s not immediately obvious that adding reputation per faction would be important.

Perhaps Mystara would benefit of a simpler system: it is assumed that all the characters are part of a culture (social network with shared ethics) and therefore there is but one reputation or fame score to track. We could also say that this is what character levels track and be done with it, I guess?

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-11 14:36 UTC

The way reputation was handled in our Alderking game back then also didnt work for me. It wasnt really clear what the gods wanted and what not and it wasnt really clear when reputation was awarded. Example: Scheming for the downfall of Purdell gained Lerizwan some reputation with Set but Iz got none from Set for assassinating him. Does Set prefer manipulation instead of killing? Why did Lorey then not get any rep for dominating that Drow? Because he used magic instead of natural charms? It wasnt clear what exactly gets rewarded and the reward (better chance for the D100 prayer roll) never came up and was pretty small so no reason to bugger you with “Why didnt I get…” questions.

I think a reputation system needs clear rules for

  • whats the benefit (X amount gives Y bonus for Z)
  • how to gain (either make it clear for every god/faction/city or just provide a log with the results like above and let players figure it out themself)
  • when to gain (after every interaction or session?)

The benefit for the gods is pretty clear but what about citys and factions? A similar roll if you ask them for help? In that case the maximum of 12 reputation seems a bit small.

– Florian 2012-07-12 13:02 UTC

Good point. Maybe a “morale score” – roll this number or lower on 2d6 for a positive reaction?

As for the different treatment of the various player characters, I think this was simply oversight. I didn’t remember often enough, nobody checked what I was doing. It lacked player involvement. Hopefully the new system with the invitation to roll will change that.

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-12 22:03 UTC

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2012-07-11 Starting With Google Plus

If you want to get started with Google+, here is what I would suggest:

  1. Go on Google+ and work on your profile: add a picture of yourself and mention the topics you are interested in. Surround keywords with *asteriskes* to make them bold. You might say, for example: “I’m a gamer and love to talk about table-top role-playing games (RPG) such as classic D&D from the eighties and computer role-playing games for the Xbox (CRPG) like Skyrim.”
  2. Create a circle for every topic you are interested in. You might create a circle called RPG and another circle called CRPG, for example.
  3. Write a post for each circle. For example, write a short post explaining how you got into role-playing games and share it with your RPG circle; write a short post talking about your current Skyrim character and share it with your CRPG circle.
  4. Find a shared circle with people relevant to your interest. Add them all to your circle. (This only works on a desktop computer. As far as I know, the Google+ mobile clients don’t allow you to do this.) This is where the first few steps pay off: as these people get notified of you circling them, they might check your profile and your posts, trying to figure out which circle to add you to. If your profile is empty and you don’t have any posts up they won’t circle you back and you won’t be seeing their posts in your stream unless they post publically! Examples include the 6d6 Fireball circle (found here) and Harald’s circle.
  5. Post comments, +1 the ones you like, check out the profiles of people making interesting comments, check out the profiles of people leaving a +1 on your posts and comments and keep adding them to your circles if you like what you see.

When posting, try to keep the posts on topic and share them with the appropriate circles only. Check out this flow chart about sharing on Google+.

You’ll find that Google adds “What’s Hot” items to your stream. This sucks! Somewhere in the vicinity of these posts you’ll find a way to adjust how many of these posts you’ll find in your stream. Setting the slider to zero worked for me. ;)

Much later, you might want to install Chrome and check out the “Uncircle Uncircles” and “Uncircle Inactives” add-ons to prune your circles again.

If you have a web cam hooked up to your computer, look out for ConstantCon games via Google+ if that is your thing (it’s not for me).

Update: 2013-10-31 New Google Plus Usage is where I explain how adding a big ton of people to my circles ended up not working for me.


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2012-07-13 Space Requirements

I needed to figure out how numerical superiority worked out in melee without resorting to a battlemap. A typical situation would be skeletons coming in through a door: how many party members can hit it? I used to think “everybody!” As the party size has grown to ten characters and more I feel this might no longer work.

When I was adding up experience points at the end of last session I was looking at this list: Logard with Piyo and Arnd; Hermann with Urs and Ors; Schalk with Gimir, Uluf, Tschannin, Borgir and Schlappe (with retainer Rell being sent away) – and this is with just three players! As you can imagine, I started thinking about space requirements.

I guess I started thinking about this when I read Roger’s House Rules: Weapons, Armor, Combat aka. The Rule of the Assayers’ Guild.

I’m thinking of giving every weapon a little special advantage or disadvantage while keeping the 1d6 damage for all weapons rule:

  • knives and daggers don’t allow you to use a shield
  • stabbing weapons like short swords allow you to fight in close formation
  • polearms allow you to attack from the second rank
  • longswords allow you to attack footmen while riding a horse
  • two handed swords allow you to attack multiple people with a single roll but require a lot of space

I decided I needed to write it all down for D&D Mine aka. Campaign:Halberds and Helmets:

Space: In a wide corridor (10 ft.) three can fight abreast; four if they are wielding stabbing weapons such as short swords; two if one of them wields a two-handed weapon; one if wielding a two-handed sword. With a polearm (halberd, spear) you can attack from the second row. → In a narrow corridor (5 ft.) only one can fight; two if wielding stabbing weapons such as short-swords; there is not enough space to swing a two-handed sword. → Two enemies per round may enter a room through a five foot door. They can be attacked by up to eight people in the first row with stabbing weapons and another ten may attack with polearms from the back row: eighteen against one! If an enemy is surrounded on all sides, they may be attacked by twelve people in the first row with stabbing weapons and another sixteen may attack with polearms from the back row: twenty eight against one!

The above is from the rules document. It shows a party controlling a door where the front row fights with short sword and shield and the back row fights with polearms.

Here are some more examples.

Roman senators stabbing Caesar with daggers:

Roman soldiers with short swords and shields against barbarians with battle-axes:


German Landsknechte with two handed swords against Swiss mercenaries with polearms:

2H swords
pikes, short swords

The Landsknechte really need to get initiative. If they do, they can use their two-handed sword to attack all four mercenaries facing them with one attack roll.

Update: I’m still thinking of special properties for weapon…

Very short weapons such as daggers cannot be used with a shield.

Stabbing weapons such as short swords allow you to fight in tighter formation. See above.

Long weapons such as longswords can be used to slash at footmen while riding.

Two-handed swords can be used to hit every enemy in reach with a single swing.

Two-handed axes can be used to break down wooden doors.

Polearms such as halberds and pikes can be used from the second row.

Hooked polearms such as halberds can be used to pull riders from a horse on a critical hit instead of inflicting damage. Riders suffer 1d6 falling damage and end up prone (remaining enemies get +4 to hit, they can get up the next round and either attack or retreat).

Long polearms such as pikes can be set against a charge (double damage on a hit).

Lances can be used to charge (double damage on a hit).

I’m still undecided. Too complicated?


Comments on 2012-07-13 Space Requirements

And there we are, very close to battlemat requirements …

– Harald 2012-07-13 10:01 UTC

I know! :(

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-13 10:24 UTC

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2012-07-18 Marillenknödel

Marillenknödel: Das ist ein Quarkteig mit Aprikosen drinnen. Das genau gleiche Rezept kann man auch mit Zwetschgen verwenden. Man isst sie mit “Brösel”, dh. Paniermehl in Butter gebräunt einfach drüber leeren.

  • 300g Mehl
  • 20g Butter
  • 250g Quark
  • 2 Eier
  • wenig oder gar keine Milch (damit der Teig richtig klebrig ist)
  • Prise Salz

Das reicht je nach Talent für 8–11 Knödel bzw. 5–6 wenn man die Hälfte macht. Ich und Claudia essen gerne je drei Knödel für eine Mahlzeit.

Zu einem Teig verarbeiten. Traditionellerweise eine halbe Stunde ruhen lassen. Das mache ich aber nie.

Aprikose oder Zwetschgen entkernen und mit Zucker füllen. Das wird sehr viel einfacher, wenn die Hälften nicht ganz getrennt werden! Ebenfalls praktisch (mache ich aber nie) Würfelzucker statt ein gehäufter Teelöffel Zucker.

Frucht mit Teig umhüllen. Das ist das absolut Mühsamste und braucht viel Übung: Ist der Teig nicht klebrig genug, schliesst er nicht. Ist er zu klebrig, klebt er an den Fingern statt an der Frucht. Sobald der Teig schliesst, pappe ich gerne noch etwas Mehl rundherum, damit sie nicht am Teller ankleben, während sie auf die restlichen Knödel warten.

Wenn alles fertig ist, in einem grossen Topf mit Salzwasser 10 min. kochen. Gleichzeitig Paniermehl anbraten und braun werden lassen, Knödel heiss servieren und das Paniermehl drüber streuen.

Der Weg:


Das Ziel:


Viel Erfolg! :)


Comments on 2012-07-18 Marillenknödel

Alex that looks awesome. Looks kind of like an egg, once it is all put together.

Adrian 2012-07-18 20:17 UTC

It’s the miracle of Knödel!

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-18 22:27 UTC

Meine Oma kam aus Schlesien. Sie hat mir das Rezept für Pflaumenknödel “vererbt”. Wir verwenden einen Kartoffelteig. Aber der Clou am Ganzen ist, dass das Stückchen Würfelzucker zunächst mit Cognac getränkt wird, bevor es den Stein ersetzt. Und die Brösel vermische ich dann auch noch mit einem guten Esslöffel Zimtzucker.

IngoBelka 2012-07-29 14:02 UTC

Den Cognac und den Zimt muss ich unbedingt probieren! :)

Auch in Österreich gibt es Leute, die statt Quark (“Topfen”) einen Kartoffelteig nehmen – selber finde ich das allerdings zu mühsam. Vielleicht sollte ich es mal probieren um zu schauen ob es geschmacklich einen Unterschied macht.

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-30 09:06 UTC

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2012-07-20 Perl and UTF-8

I maintain a wiki engine called Oddmuse. It’s the software used to run my blog, for example. It is written in an older scripting language called Perl. Perl predates Unicode. That’s why the use of UTF-8 or UTF-16 is not mandated. That, in turn, means that usually bytes are interpreted as an UTF-8 encoded character is only visible as two bytes.

Consider this regular expression to match WikiWords: [A-Z][a-z]+[A-Z][a-z]+

How would you extend it to parse ÖlPlattform?

Assume the following Perl code was written in a source file that was UTF-8 encoded:

$str = "OelPlattform";
print "OelPlattform YES\n" if $str =~ /[[:upper:]][[:lower:]]+[[:upper:]]\w+/;
$str = "ÖlPlattform";
print "ÖlPlattform YES\n" if $str =~ /[[:upper:]][[:lower:]]+[[:upper:]]\w+/;

This will just print OelPlattform YES because what looks like “ÖlPlattform” actually starts with the bytes C3 96 and C3 is not an upper case letter. It’s actually unclear what it is. In a Latin-1 environment the C3 would print as ×the dreaded sign of encoding errors!

I wanted to keep Oddmuse encoding agnostic. Users could specify a different encoding which would be served together with the page HTML such that they could have wikis using GB 2312. This is why Oddmuse contained the following line and similar code:

# we treat input and output as bytes
eval { local $SIG{__DIE__}; binmode(STDOUT, ":raw"); };

This resulted in problems when some packages I was using did in fact produce UTF-8 and so I had to use code as follows:

eval { local $SIG{__DIE__}; binmode(STDOUT, ":utf8"); } if $HttpCharset eq 'UTF-8';
print RSS($3 ? $3 : 15, split(/\s+/, UnquoteHtml($4)));
eval { local $SIG{__DIE__}; binmode(STDOUT, ":raw"); };

I’m not sure why I surrounded it all with an eval—I assume it was to support an older version of Perl but I’m not sure.

Ok, so I wanted to get rid of all that.

The solution seems deceptively simple: add use utf8; to the source files and open all files using the UTF-8 encoding layer.

When printing UTF-8 to STDOUT, you need to tell Perl that STDOUT can in fact handle multi-byte characters. Since the HTML produced is UTF-8 encoded, I know that this is true. If you don’t, you’ll get “wide character in print” warnings.

binmode(STDOUT, ':utf8');

You need to be careful with all input and output, however.

open(F, '<:encoding(UTF-8)', $RcFile);

The same is true for output:

open(OUT, '>:encoding(UTF-8)', $file)
  or ReportError(Ts('Cannot write %s', $file) . ": $!", '500 INTERNAL SERVER ERROR');

Oddmuse also offers the ability to include other pages (Transclusion) and to produce feeds. This can be a problem. The default page processing is to parse the raw text and start printing HTML as soon as possible because I have always felt that it was more expedient to start printing the top of the page while the rest was still being parsed. What happens when I don’t want to do this, eg. I’m in the middle of building the RSS feed?

The solution I had been using was to redirect STDOUT to a variable. Perl calls this a “memory file.” The problem is the encoding of this memory file:

Here’s what I had to write:

open(STDOUT, '>', \$page) or die "Can't open memory file: $!";
binmode(STDOUT, ":utf8");

I think this works because binmode tells all the print instructions that it’s ok to print multi-byte characters and utf8::decode makes sure that all those bytes are in fact decoded back to Perl’s internal representation.

Then I discovered that I needed to look at the bytes if I wanted to URL-encode strings:

utf8::encode($str); # turn to byte string
my @letters = split(//, $str);
my %safe = map {$_ => 1} ('a' .. 'z', 'A' .. 'Z', '0' .. '9', '-', '_', '.', '!', '~', '*', "'", '(', ')', '#');
foreach my $letter (@letters) {
  $letter = sprintf("%%%02x", ord($letter)) unless $safe{$letter};

Now that I’m looking at the above I wonder what sort of bugs I’m introducing with the inverse operation that I haven’t changed:

$str =~ s/%([0-9a-f][0-9a-f])/chr(hex($1))/ge;

I feel that this requires a call to utf8::decode when done! Strangely enough none of my tests have picked this up. question

(Actually I think I know why I haven’t stumbled across this problem: I only use the function to decode the Cookie, and all the functions accessing the cookie go through an extra encoding/decoding step that would not be necessary if I had fixed the URL-decoding function. lightbulb)

Another problem I stumbled upon: directories. Directories often ended up Latin-1 encoded.

return if -d $newdir;
mkdir($newdir, 0775)
  or ReportError(Ts('Cannot create %s', $newdir) . ": $!", '500 INTERNAL SERVER ERROR');

The reason I didn’t discover I had the same problem with filenames was that I’m using a compatibility layer on my Mac when I do my developments. The Mac uses UTF-8 NFD instead of UTF-8 NFC as is the standard on the web. Thus if you take bytes encoding a filename from the web and create the file, or if you go the other way, you have a problem. I store the index of all pages in a files. When a new page is created, I get the page name (NCF encoded) from the web, and store it in a file. When I read the file, the content contains the NFC bytes and with these, I cannot find the NFD encoded file (because the filesystem changed the encoding as it wrote the file). I hated it so much. Thus, the Mac compatibility layer does an extra encoding and decoding to get everything from NFD to NFC—and thereby protected me from this error.

As soon as I installed it on my sites, however—they all use Debian and ext3 filesystems, I think—I had a problem.

The necessary fix:

if (open(IN, '<:encoding(UTF-8)', $file)) {
  local $/ = undef;   # Read complete files
  my $data=<IN>;
  close IN;
  return (1, $data);


open(OUT, '>:encoding(UTF-8)', $file)
  or ReportError(Ts('Cannot write %s', $file) . ": $!", '500 INTERNAL SERVER ERROR');
print OUT  $string;

Another stumbling block was that the non-breaking space was no longer just a byte sequence like any other, namely C2 A0. Perl suddenly recognized it as whitespace! This is a problem if a path contains non-breaking spaces! The old code translated spaces to underscore characters, so that wasn’t really a possibility. But whenever I had been “smart” and used a non-breaking space, I now had a problem. The glob function splits its arguments on whitespace. Where there was one pattern, I now had two broken patterns!

Here’s an example:

glob(GetKeepDir(shift) . '/*.kp'); # files such as 1.kp, 2.kp, etc.

Here’s another example:

foreach (glob("$PageDir/*/*.pg $PageDir/*/.*.pg"))

The solution is to use File::Glob ':glob' and replace every occurence of glob with bsd_glob. Wow, my application was very much unsuited to filenames containing whitespace and I hadn’t even realized it!

foreach (bsd_glob("$PageDir/*/*.pg"), bsd_glob("$PageDir/*/.*.pg"))

Remember the regular expression to detect wiki words I used at the top? This was the actual regular expression I had been using:

$WikiWord = '[A-Z]+[a-z\x80-\xff]+[A-Z][A-Za-z\x80-\xff]*';

Essentially wiki words only worked for a first letter containing an ASCII upper case letter.

At first, I switched this to the following regular expression (trying to minimize changes):

$WikiWord = '[A-Z]+[a-z\x{0080}-\x{ffff}]+[A-Z][A-Za-z\x{0080}-\x{ffff}]*';

It turns out that Perl 5.8 chokes on this regular expression, howeveer. FFFE and FFFF are noncharacters. I had to change the regular expression.

$WikiWord = '[A-Z]+[a-z\x{0080}-\x{fffd}]+[A-Z][A-Za-z\x{0080}-\x{fffd}]*'; # exclude noncharacters FFFE and FFFF

I’m sure this list isn’t complete but I’m sure it’s long enough to illustrate my main point: this is painful. It’s HTML quoting all over again.


Comments on 2012-07-20 Perl and UTF-8

Things to do for Oddmuse:

  1. fix that regular expression
  2. fix that cookie encoding issue

– Alex

Can it recognize new WikiWords as “ÖlPlattform”, thanks to change regular expression to match them?. As far I can understanding it a little, does it need change those regex and changes way of read (write?), string (from url, for instance) and files?

JuanmaMP 2012-07-22 01:16 UTC

Actually, I think that a simple change of the regular expressions is all that is needed. :)

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-22 05:11 UTC

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2012-07-20 rsync backups

I have a job that creates backups of my sites using rsync. My sites are in Germany and the USA, the backups are in Canada and Chile. The point was to protect myself against hosting services disappearing and my sites getting lost. Recently I was thinking about data corruption, however. As soon as the cronjob writes the corrupted data to the backups, there is no way to retrieve my data. (There is in fact a third backup: every few weeks I use rsync to copy the remote sites to one of a rotating set of mobile disks, one of which is always outside our apartment.)

There is in fact an option for rsync which will allow you to create copies of your file tree at certain intervals using hard links for the files that haven’t changed. I found a tutorial on how to do it: Time Machine for every Unix out there subtitled “Using rsync to mimic the behavior of Apple’s Time Machine feature.”

And that’s exactly what I did.


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2012-07-30 Für Anfänger


Was empfiehlt man eigentlich einem Rollenspielanfänger, den man nur über das Internet kennt? Zusammen spielen ist ausgeschlossen. Meine Präferenzen wären: einfach und schnell zu lernen, typische Fantasy.

Eigentlich würde ich ja gerne Labyrinth Lord empfehlen, aber die aktuelle Version vom Mantikore Verlag ist leider nicht gratis online verfügbar. (Buuuuuh! sucks)

Der Link auf die alte, deutsche Labyrinth Lord Ausgabe bei RPG Now funktioniert auch nicht mehr. Was ist denn da los? Ist die plötzlich illegal geworden? (Buuuuuh! sucks)

Sofern ich da nichts anderes höre, gibt’s das Teil mal hier: Labyrinth Lord (Deutsch).

Ich habe übrigens Dungeon Slayers empfohlen, obwohl ich es selber nicht spiele.

Vielleicht hätte ich die M20 Grundregeln empfehlen sollen. Zwar habe ich japanische Waffen und japanische Rüstungen dafür, aber keine (deutsche) Liste der Zaubersprüche. Also für Einsteiger auch nicht geeignet.

Der Geist Mesopotamiens ist eigentlich super, braucht aber Fudge Würfel. Auch keine gute Idee. Vielleicht sollte man das für W6-W6 umschreiben? Oder dann lieber gleich Solar System beziehungsweise meine Kurzfassung der Regeln. Auch hier müsste man allerdings die Fudge Würfel ersetzen. Wie mühsam!

Update: Aus den Kommentaren hier ein Link auf eine neue Version von M20: Andreas Mehlhorns M20 basiert auf der super geniale Version von Dirk Remmecke mit Zaubersprüchen, Ausrüstung, Monstern und einer kleinen Spielwelt.

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Comments on 2012-07-30 Für Anfänger

Man kann statt der Fudge-Würfel |W6-W6| werfen; nur mit den Bonus- und Straf-Würfeln wirds dann nix, und die Wahrscheinlichkeitsverteilung ist etwas anders.

Wenn man Bonus- und Straf-Würfel beibehalten will, dann kann man 3W6 gegen Schwierigkeit 11 würfeln und die Fertigkeitswerte verdoppeln:


– Harald 2012-07-30 15:26 UTC

Zu M20 gibt eine neu gestaltete Version von Andreas Mehlhorn: http://bucheibon.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/m20-in-neuem-aber-immer-noch-amateurhaftem-layout/

– Stefan 2012-07-30 19:37 UTC

Wow, ist ja genial! Danke viel mal.

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-30 20:09 UTC

Es kommt auch schwer darauf an, welche Vorlieben die Spieler haben. Da würde ich mehr drauf setzen. machen sie eher nen erzählerischen Eindruck? Kennen sie viele PC-Rollenspiele? Ich habe mit meinen Neulingen D&D 4 genommen. eigentlich nicht die erste Wahl, aber im Gegensatz zu Dir kann ich für sie leiten und ein Spieler hatte auch schon Vorerfahrung. Aber ohne Unterstützung würde ich Neulinge damit nicht unbedingt anfangen lassen. Da ist Dungeonslayers schon ne richtig gute Wahl, vor allem, weil es uach umsonst ist und es sich so jeder runterladen kann.

Übers Internet mit denen spielen ist keine Option?

Jan 2012-07-31 05:34 UTC

Ein Anfänger kennt seinen Stil und seine Vorlieben natürlich (noch) nicht. Wie auch. So jemandem KANN man nicht ein bestimmtes Spiel empfehlen, höchstens eine Auswahl in verschiedenen Richtungen.

Ich empfehle Anfängern für gewöhnlich: geht spielen. Sucht euch ne Runde um mitzuerleben, wie das Spiel überhaupt funktioniert und probiert auch VERSCHIEDENE Systeme bei möglichst unterschiedlichen Leuten aus. Rollenspiel-Cons sind dafür meist gut geeignet. Aber vielerorts gibts auch noch anderweitige Gelegenheiten. Es lohnt sich definitiv, nach jeweils lokalen Treffpunkten oder Communities im Netz zu suchen.

– Captain 2012-07-31 05:51 UTC

Noch etwas Kontext für die Interessierten: Ich betreibe eine “Rollenspiel Zürich” Facebook Seite. Dort wurde ich vor einer Weile von einem Teenager kontaktiert, der in einer Nachbarstadt wohnt und dessen Eltern verständlicherweise meinten, er müsse noch ein paar Jahre warten, bevor er zu fremden Erwachsenen heim D&D spielen dürfe. Die Folgefrage war nun: Ob ich einen Regelvorschlag für ein Kampfsystem hätte?

Da ich mir mit zehn oder so Rollenspiele dank der ersten Ausgabe von Das Schwarze Auge selber beigebracht habe, empfehle ich natürlich gerne Regelwerke von ähnlicher Komplexität.

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-31 09:53 UTC

Neulingen kennen ihre Vorlieben noch nicht, aber als erfahrener Rollenspieler kann man durch geschicktes Nachfragen eine grobe Eingrenzung treffen und dementsprechend mit solchen Systemen anfangen. Nach den ersten Runden weiß man dann ja schon mehr, auch wenn man dann wieder nur fragt.

Jan 2012-07-31 10:32 UTC

Ich werde mal nachfragen, ob DS4 nun gepasst hat oder nicht. :)

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-31 11:40 UTC

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2012-07-31 Setting Books


Recently Mike Evans asked about setting books on Google+. Here’s what I wrote:

I found Rob Conley’s Points of Light 1&2 to be short and concise setting books. They contain regional maps with a key; most things get a paragraph or two. NPCs get name, class, level. It’s very similar to the Wilderlands of High Fantasy but shorter. I have used both at the table and have been very happy. There are free examples available online: Lenap (which is what I got started with) and Southland.

Rob Conley’s Majestic Wilderlands has more house rules, classes and the like which I don’t care for and unusable small maps. This is why I haven’t used it. I usually find that browsing the blogs and reading books gives me cool ideas and make me want to add stuff to the campaign. These things don’t need to be in a setting book.

I’ve used the Forgotten Realms book for D&D 3 as a player to help me write a backstory because I felt the DM enjoyed this kind of thing. The setting book provided names and places galore, so it was very useful to me. As I suspected, however, the backstory itself turned out not to be very useful at the table. This is why the kind of games I like to run don’t need this sort of setting book (Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Golarion, Glorantha).

Generally speaking I need much less religion, history and culture background than is usually offered by the big setting books. When I ran the Rise of the Runelords adventure path, for example, I never referred to the Golarion campaign setting book once. Not once! That’s how useless it was at the table. I think it’s useful for people wanting to write interesting backstories to their well-travelled characters, it’s useful to authors wanting to write adventures set in Golarion, it’s useful for the community as a reference point when talking about the game they love. It’s just not as useful at the table.


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2012-07 Book Club

What: The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

When: 18 July, 19:30 – RSVP on Meetup (optional ;))

Where: Bistro Lochergut (tram 2+3 ‘Lochergut’)

Nineteenth-century Europe – from Turin to Prague to Paris – abounds with the ghastly and the mysterious. Conspiracies rule history. Jesuits plot against Freemasons. Italian republicans strangle priests with their own intestines. French criminals plan bombings by day and celebrate Black Masses at night. Every nation has its own secret service, perpetrating forgeries, plots, and massacres. From the unification of Italy to the Paris Commune to the Dreyfus Affair to “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” Europe is in tumult and everyone needs a scapegoat. But what if, behind all of these conspiracies both real and imagined, lay one lone man? What if that evil genius created its most infamous document? Eco takes his readers on an unforgettable journey through the underbelly of world-shattering events. Eco at his most exciting, a book immediately hailed as a masterpiece. (Amazon)

Guardian/Observer review: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/nov/27/prague-cemetery-umberto-eco

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