Halberds and Helmets Podcast

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2021-08-04 Episode 38

Halberds and Helmets Podcast A cat for every occasion, from pumas, mountain lions, jaguars, lions to tigers: harassing villages and making it hard to cross rivers.


  • 2016-10-17 Large Cat: “Large cats are a bit of a strange thing. On the one hand, I can think of tigers, lions and pumas having a special significance for the local population (and the killing of them). But in my games, they rarely come up. I guess I’d use them as court animals?”
  • 2020-01-20 Bugbears are cat people: cat people is a classic choice for the ambush monster!
  • Halberds and Helmets: my homebrew rules with links to the PDF files


Comments on 2021-08-04 Episode 38


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2021-07-23 Episode 37

Halberds and Helmets Podcast Bugbears are cat people: sneaky, dangerous, serving underground elves, always ready to pounce on you, always spying on you.


  • 2016-10-14 Bugbear: “If you do play a bugbear, can you gain levels? Like, you just start as a third level fighter and go from there?”
  • 2020-01-20 Bugbears are cat people: “I’ve been using bugbears as cat people in my game, thinking of them as perfect thieves – like the Khajiit in Skyrim.”
  • Halberds and Helmets: my homebrew rules with links to the PDF files


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2021-07-22 Episode 36

Halberds and Helmets Podcast Boars as pets for orcs, giant boars as mounts for dwarves and halflings, and demon boars as protector spirits of a forest.


  • 2016-10-13 Boar: “I dislike 2d4 and 3d4 for damage and just used 1d8 and 1d12 instead. Close enough for me. 🙂 As for HD there’s always the comparison with wolves and war dogs: 2+2. Apparently multiple wolves are required to take down a wild pig. So the only way I see is up. But HD 4 and 5 is for worgs and the like?” Thinking about boars in the comments…
  • Boar spear, on Wikipedia. Just read the title of the book cited: “The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England: From the Earliest Period, Including the Rural and Domestic Recreations, May Games, Mummeries, Pageants, Processions and Pompous Spectacles” (multiple copies available on the Internet Archive)
  • Halberds and Helmets: my homebrew rules with links to the PDF files


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2021-04-03 Episode 35

Halberds and Helmets Podcast Talking about giant beetles and how I used them: pack animals for the underworld, war elephants for goblins and the like, or car sized monsters in dungeon corridors.


  • 2016-10-13 Giant Beetle: “When I ran Castle of the Mad Archmage, we encountered several rooms full of giant bombardier beetles and we fought them all using everything we had. It was a hell hole of flaming oil, charred corpses and madness, because somehow one of the players had claimed that you might be able to find gems inside dead giant beetles.”
  • Burning Corridors: “Fight! A lot of flaming oil was used but they just kept on coming. One of them got Simed and bite off a leg of him and then they killed Tristan. But eventually we managed to kill all the beasts.”
  • Halberds and Helmets: my homebrew rules with links to the PDF files

A fearful human face in the foreground and a giant bug in the background, inspired by Starship Troopers


Comments on 2021-04-03 Episode 35

Speaking of the castle of the Mad Archmage: I was actually part of the group, back in the day. The way I remembered it was, that you SEEMED to put the idea of “Gems inside of Beetles” into our heads, but I was not present for the first few sessions anyway. And players are greedy looters in any case that will believe anything if it gets them potentially more treasure 🙂

We actually de-populated the level of beetles (as you admitted during the game that the random encounter tables are mostly “pick a monster from a nearby room”) and the Lizard Men moved into the now vacant rooms nearby.

Fun times

– Flavio 2021-08-08 21:13 UTC

I think you are right. I might have joked with Samuel about there maybe being gems inside giant beetles and he then taking me up on it?

– Alex 2021-08-08 21:19 UTC

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2020-11-05 Episode 34

Halberds and Helmets Podcast Talking about giant bees, giant wasps, and how I used them: like Aliens in a hive, and as mounts for lizard people.



Comments on 2020-11-05 Episode 34

I like the idea of royal jelly not actually having any magical or other positive properties. I’ve never liked false rumours on rumour tables (especially not the rumour tables where something like 80% are false), but I also feel like not every legend should turn out to be true. It could make for an interesting sort of adventure, too: “If the hives in the Valley of Bees aren’t left alone, the Insect God will send a swarm of locusts to devour the kingdom’s crops; but the king’s court is convinced the dying prince needs royal jelly to survive, and only making them believe otherwise can stop them from sending an army, if necessary.”

Malcolm 2020-11-06 03:17 UTC

Excellent idea. I like how that lays all the cards on the table and is still an interesting setup. And yes, I also dislike false rumors. Somewhat similar to your Valley of the Bees proposal, I much prefer explicitly false rumors with some hook for more, because then you can investigate. “They say Raspotonio, the prince’s sinister physician, is asking for royal jelly to cure the prince, but everybody agrees that this is not the whole story.” And then people can talk to other physicians, bee keepers, people that work in the royal household, and so on, and discover the plan to destabilize the city and dispose of the monarchy…

– Alex Schroeder 2020-11-06 09:23 UTC

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2020-08-25 Episode 33

Halberds and Helmets Podcast Talking about how bears, ursomancy, and armoured polar bears.


  • 2016-10-11 Bear
  • 2012-08-24 Ursomancy
  • Just Use Bears by Jack Guignol: “In situations likes these, I just use the stats for a bear and no one is the wiser. Re-skin appearance, methods of attack, and add special abilities on the fly if you absolutely must...but when in doubt, just use bears.”
  • Armoured bears on Wikipedia
  • “Newborn cubs are a shapeless lump of white flesh, with no eyes or hair, though the claws are visible. The mother bear gradually licks her cubs into their proper shape, and keeps them warm by hugging them to her breast and lying on them, just as birds do with their eggs.” – Pliny the Elder as quoted in the Bear entry in The Medieval Bestiary
  • “The scholars and philosophers of the guardinals are the ursinals…” – Guardinal, Ursinal, Planescape
  • “Wardens are best described as hulking humans with grizzly-bear heads.” – Warden Archons, Planescape
  • The War-Bear, News and the War-Bear Marching Song, Soldier Bears, Slavic Art Inspiration, by Chris Kutalik, Hill Cantons (2013–2014)
  • Halberds and Helmets: my homebrew rules with links to the PDF files


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2020-08-05 Episode 32

Halberds and Helmets Podcast Talking about how I misused a basilisk once and how I want to use it instead: like a terrible tank weapon, poisonous, with harsh save or die effects so that lateral thinking is required to get rid of it.



Comments on 2020-08-05 Episode 32

It’s good to hear you again. And what a timely manner! 🙂

Just now my players are heading to the lair of a chained basilisk, in the depths of the Tomb of the Serpent Kings (we are playing Trophy Gold).

– Ludos Curator 2020-08-06 09:31 UTC

How do monsters work in Trophy Gold, and how about the basilisk in particular? 😀

– Alex 2020-08-06 09:49 UTC

Trophy Dark and Trophy Gold are a pair of tragic fantasy games rooted in PbtA/BitD. As they say in their Kickstarter campaign:

Trophy Dark is a one-shot game of psychological horror, where you portray risk-taking treasure-hunters on a doomed expedition.

Trophy Gold is a campaign-length game of dungeon-delving adventure in the old school model.

I summarized to the best of my abilities. Hope it’s clear enough to understand how the game works. 😅

Monsters have six features:

  • Name
  • Description
  • Endurance — A number between 2 and 12 indicating how hard is to defeat the monster in combat.
  • Habits — Six typical attitudes of the monster.
  • Defenses — Special abilities the monster has.
  • Weakness — Something that a monster is specially vulnerable to. If the monster’s Weakness is used against it, its Endurance is reduced.

In combat, each PC fighting rolls two d6: the first one is the weakness die; the second is the performance die. Performance dice are pooled together. If the total of the two highest performance dice is equal to or higher than the monster’s Endurance, it is defeated. If any of the performance dice equals a PC weakness, his or her Ruin (the “health” of the system) increases by 1 for each performance die matching the weakness. GMs don’t roll.

The Basilisk (Endurance 10) is a giant gray eight-legged lizard with a flat crocodile head full of teeth.


  • Sniffing the air.
  • Curled up, possibly asleep.
  • Striking.
  • Demanding pets and scratches.
  • Staring at a victim.
  • Raging and thrashing.


  • Charge — The beast charges you, terrifying you and possibly knocking you down.
  • Petrifying Gaze — Your skin begins hardening and movement becomes difficult.
  • Reptilian Frenzy — You are knocked back as the beast thrashes about wildly.


  • Reflections.

– Ludos Curator 2020-08-06 10:50 UTC

Interesting. So, your ruin increases and the text basically gives you some hints as to why this might be and it’s up to the player to role-play appropriate effects of their ruin increasing (due to petrification, for example). Also, my impression would be that the effects of a fight with the basilisk is the time it takes to beat endurance 10, and every failure means another point of ruin added.

– Alex 2020-08-06 11:55 UTC

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2020-06-10 Episode 31

Halberds and Helmets Podcast Talking about how I use giant apes in my campaigns: fighters with two bare-handed attacks, often technologically advanced. Super short episode! 😀



Comments on 2020-06-10 Episode 31

Whoops, I just realized that this episode had the old mp3 file associated with it. Fixed that and changed the title from “Giant Apes” to “Monsters: Giant Apes” just in case the podcatchers get confused.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-06-12 09:19 UTC

Humble request - use a different intro noise. If your levels are too high and you’re settling in to listen, your ears get blasted 🙂

starmonkey 2020-06-18 23:25 UTC

Sorry about the blasted ears! The audio looks OK where I post-process the episode. But yeah, I’ll try to be more mindful in the future. You’re actually the second person mentioning the volume. 😯


– Alex Schroeder 2020-06-19 09:11 UTC

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2020-04-03 Episode 30

Podcast On the 2d6 system I’ve been using for my new campaign: Just Halberds. How to create a character, how to resolve conflicts, and for combat, how to combine initiative, attack, and damage, into one opposed roll.


  • Norbert G. Matausch’s Landshut Rules
  • Norbert G. Matausch’s interview with Bob Meyer on Ancient-School Roleplaying
  • Secrets of Blackmoor on the early role-playing game that David Arneson ran
  • Christopher Kubasik’s notes on an interview with Mark Miller on how Mark Miller plays Traveller
  • Christopher Kubasik’s blog post, Notes on the Personal Combat System, where he talks about the close relationship of early Traveller and Kriegsspiel: “Traveller was originally written for a much more fluid play style. Modifiers and more, based on circumstance, actions, and results are adjudicated on the fly by the Referee.”
  • Dungeon World alternatives like World of Dungeons (and the German translation)
  • 2015-12-26 Benefits of Dungeon World talks about the flow of combat: “The cinematic flow happens because the referee starts by threatening a character, the character reacts and ends up making a move. If the move was a success (they rolled 10+ on 2d6), the player keeps talking, or another player starts talking, until one of them ends up making another move. If the move was a partial success (they rolled 7–9 on 2d6), the referee is to make a soft move, that is, upping the ante, threatening the players with more enemies, a deterioration of their situation, whatever. Something gets worse but there are no immediate consequences. If the move was a failure (they rolled 6- on 2d6), then the referee is to make a hard move, that is, dealing damage, separating party members from the rest. Something bad happens and there are immediate consequences.”
  • 2019-01-01 Warm and fuzzy feels talks about the process at the table that starts with simple rules and develops into a house system by simply making rulings at the table and using them as precedent as long as you remember them. If you forget, then the ruling probably just deserved to be forgotten again and you’ll make a new one if the issue ever comes up again.
  • Just Halberds: the rules I discussed in my podcast
  • Helle Barden: the German edition of these rules

The title page of Just Halberds


Comments on 2020-04-03 Episode 30

Got some interesting questions and pointers all over the Internet.

Non-player characters. I usually think of them as D&D people: guards, thieves, soldiers, tax collectors, inn keepers, they all have one hit. If soldiers and guards are wearing light armour and shield, they have 3 hits. Leaders may have three hits, plus hits granted by armour, in other words: like player characters. Famous evil doers might have up to five hits, plus hits granted by armour.

Spells per day. I don’t limit spell use per day. I’d hope that this would regulate itself at the table, if overdone. You might consider saying that this is really tiring and give the opposition a bonus, if you wanted. Or even simpler: ask the table. How do they feel about endless teleportation? They probably don’t care. What about endless magic missiles? They probably don’t care. What I’m getting at is that only very specific spells that can be cast in endless succession are problematic, and in that case maybe that spell simply needs to be changed. If you had a spell that is super powerful but it doesn’t make difference if you cast it multiple times, no problem. If the fireball kills twenty people, then being able to cast it many times in a row may be problematic, depending on how you view it. Make fireballs smaller, more like magic missiles, and the problem is solved. Or make it bigger, so that it’s effectively a fight-ending spell and make it hard to get. This makes sure that there is simply no point in casting the spell multiple times. Either way, problem solved.

– Alex Schroeder

This 2d6 game that you are working on and Landshut truly has me inspired. I am about to DM for the first time in 7 years (and play first time again in 7 years). These are the rules I am going to use with my friends this weekend who have never played.

The #1 thing holding me back the last few years is system and how my mind constantly wants to go from one thing to another. Can never commit to anything. But this system is so flexible and beautiful. Only thing I feel a lack for is the initiative system, doesn’t quite feel normal or natural to me. It feels like it would leave passive players to feeling left out. I think I prefer the system to have a built in mechanic to give the players a move.

Either way thanks Alex!

Minalt 2020-04-03 21:58 UTC

Good luck! In our games the system automatically led players to nominate each other if they hadn’t taken rolled any dice in a while. Thus, anytime a player wins the opposed roll and does damage, they need to decide who goes next. They look at the table, they need to pick somebody. This is the moment to make suggestions, to point at people, to comment that maybe Samuel has been pretty quiet lately, and so on. I’d give it a try.

If you don’t like it, I would simply go around the table, irrespective of who won the last opposed roll.

Either way, please report back! I’d love to hear how it turned out.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-03 22:04 UTC

Hi Alex. Two comments about Just Halberds.

The first one on initiative. The winner of the opposed roll decides who goes next. Can winners nominate themselves? Can the party keep nominating one another, so the only thing the enemies can do is react to them?

The second, about hits. I prefer player characters don’t die at zero hits. For me, it’s more attractive they get critically wounded, bleeding and about to die if they don’t receive help soon. This adds interest to combats, making alive characters worried about fallen party members. The players confront interesting decisions: should I keep fighting the orc or it’s better to heal the wizard? There are many tables to determine this kind of critical injuries.

– Ludos Curator 2020-04-26 18:40 UTC

Regarding initiative: the player keep nominating one of their own while they keep winning, definitely. In theory it would be possible for one player to keep nominating themselves – I find this self-regulated at the table as people negotiate their level of involvement in the scene. Some might not want to join at all, some might feel the fighter taking the brunt of the attack or leading the charge is par for the course, other might prefer a more even spread of the spotlight.

What happens to player characters at zero is up to the referee, and therefore up to the table. In my current campaign we use a Death & Dismemberment table to roll on. In other campaigns, a simple incapacitation might be enough: even a TPK just turns the game into a jail break or a slave revolt or similar.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-27 06:32 UTC

Thanks for the answers.

I like how you resolve combat in Just Halberds. It’s curious that most games include rules for opposed rolls and then they don’t utilize them in combat. A skirmish seems the most appropriate situation to use opposed rolls between opposing enemies.

I was thinking about initiative and how to resolve ranged attacks mixed with mêlée, or when new combatants enter the fray. Maybe the best solution is keep rolling, keeping in mind that in this game the roll are more abstract than in others. A roll not only represents one swing or one shot, but the maneuver, positioning, attacks, defenses and good use of all the weaponry.

– Ludos Curator 2020-04-30 16:55 UTC

Maybe. My current problem is that in an opposed roll you can always take damage – even if you think you’re a wizard in an unassailable position. I generally have a hard time thinking of other effects in a fight, sadly. I guess it is up to the referee to decide that countermeasures might actually not have an effect on the player characters. Instead, the referee might describe “future badness” – the opposition cannot hit the wizard but might be described as approaching or hiding or getting some other sort of advantage in the fiction (as in fiction first).

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-30 19:17 UTC

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2019-11-22 Episode 29

Podcast On the things I do for prep: random tables, monster lairs, jotting down some shallow ideas, run with it in such a way that I don’t need to improvise in depth but that shallow encounters point to other shallow encounters, take note of what happens at the table and let that inspire more ideas that build on the previous ones. Last session’s shallow idea thus turns into the seed for the next session’s good idea.

This episode no longer uses the microphone built into my iPhone 6S but a separate a Blue Snowball microphone. I somehow feel it was worth it. What do you think?


  • 2009-06-26 Postparation: “Taking shorthand notes during the game, and making them readable after the game are mandatory for my games. Otherwise I’d forget.”
  • 2010-03-18 Session Preparation: “Here’s how I prepared a session, recently. One in two or three sessions will have this kind of preparation; the rest of the time players will return to locations they know from previous sessions and talk to old acquaintances. The notes you see grew over a period of two or three weeks. Every now and then I’d think of something and add it.”
  • 2013-12-13 Session Preparation Process: “I think of complications. This is usually something that works in layers. Every two or three days I have a lame idea that I mentally add to the adventure. After two weeks, however, five lame ideas make a cool complication. I usually don’t think of a solution.”
  • Being Creative: “The funny thing is even though I write lots of software, I don’t consider myself to be creative. The reason is this: I usually just take existing code and clean it up, rewrite part of it, and add a new feature or two I like.”
  • Mutual Inspiration: “Mutual inspiration happens when two or more people get together and enthusiasm builds up. This is the most elevating creative experience, as you not only stand on the shoulders of giants, but you can see your ideas grow and improve as you toss it back and forth amongst each other.”
  • Male Outer Names: “… a name in Old Norse, as that would be the outer names used by (Longbeard) dwarves by the end of the Third Age. The list provided here are all such names, so have a pick.”
  • Female Dwarf Outer Names: “The outer dwarf names I added are either old Norse or Icelandic, not Khuzdul, as is the custom.”

I feel a bit weird plugging my house rules but that’s where it all started:

The monster descriptions and stats are in the Referee Guide.

The random tables I like to use:

A picture of my notes


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Got a very kind review on the Goblin’s Henchman’s podcast. Thank you so much!

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-03 20:19 UTC

Excerpts of the first episode by Jeremy Friesen on his blog post, Helmets and Halberd Podcast.

– Alex Schroeder

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