Old School

Old School Renaissance This page collects the my latest posts on the topic of old school D&D gaming.

Halberds & Helmets is my house rules document.

I follow the Old School Revisited and Why OD&D line of thought presented by Sham’s Grog ’n Blog:

  1. Decision of the referee is final – no rules lawyers
  2. A game of making the most of what you get
  3. Not about the power of the character
  4. Sandbox gaming (players decide how the campaign develops)

If you’re looking for more blogs, I can recommend these two sources:

  1. Old School RPG Planet

2019-11-11 One Page Dungeon Generator

@Provinto recently linked a new generator by the person that did the fantasy city generator:

I just found out about watabou’s new itch.io generator: One Page Dungeon generator (which is maybe just a one-level dungeon generator). Very pretty maps, too.


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2019-11-02 Whirlwind Attacks

Jeff Rients wrote about all weapons doing d6 damage, saying that he didn’t use the rule. Well, I do. What’s it like, at the table?

I haven’t noticed any drawback at all to my game. Only two-handed weapons needed a change as in my game shields can be sacrificed to annul one hit (after the seeing the damage done), making them very valuable.


  • battle axes can be used to break through doors
  • pole-arms allow you to attack from the second rank
  • two-handed swords allow you to do “whirlwind” attacks: make one roll and everybody who is in melee with you gets attacked by the same roll

The Wikipedia article on the Zweihänder has the following fragment:

Frisian hero Pier Gerlofs Donia is reputed to have wielded a Zweihänder with such skill, strength and efficiency that he managed to behead several people with it in a single blow.

And this is the Battle of Kappel, showing soldiers wielding two-handed swords against pikemen. Yikes!

By Johannes Stumpf, Hans Asper - Chronik des Johannes Stumpf, 1548. Scanned from Schwabe & Co.: Geschichte der Schweiz und der Schweizer, Schwabe & Co 1986/2004. ISBN 3-796-52067-7., Public Domain


Comments on 2019-11-02 Whirlwind Attacks

I prefer this approach. I played Pathfinder Adventurer Card Game, where you are constantly trying to improve your inventory of weapons - it was fun, but too videogamey. I prefer the weapons to be thematic. “You have my sword... And you have my bow. ... And my axe.”

I did introduce an intelligent sword (charisma 16, gets in charisma contests when what it wants - the PC to take a leadership role - differs from the PC) and the players were disappointed it didn’t offer some unusual attack or damage. So there are drawbacks.

J. Alan Henning 2019-11-02 16:21 UTC

On the other hand, if all swords do 1d6 then a +2 or a +3 already sounds more impressive. 🙂

– Alex Schroeder 2019-11-02 16:41 UTC

Regarding the attacking pikemen with a 2-handed sword... I’d always understood that was the point of the Zweihänder. They didn’t attack the guys with the pikes but aimed to chop off the head of weapon and drive the long staff to the side so others could move in past the pokey parts. Must have been some brave fellows.

– Ruprecht 2019-11-05 15:21 UTC

Yeah. But they also got double pay. And as I understand it, they were not in the first rank. They waited in the second rank behind shield bearers and other pikemen for crush and then they moved forward. At least that’s what one Wikipedia page says even though the picture shows something else. I know nothing…

– Alex Schroeder 2019-11-05 17:33 UTC

Does seem like using the shield guys would be better than standing out in no mans land waiting for every pikeman to poke you.

– Ruprecht 2019-11-05 19:28 UTC

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2019-11-01 How to choose an adventure

When you buy a thing, then you choose the thing. When you write a thing, then you use the thing. But when you have a generator like Hex Describe I find it really hard to just stop reloading the page, hoping to get an even better deal.

Here’s my thing: the party is in the mountains and has to travel two hexes to get to some dwarves in an underground cavern. Easy, right? Go to Hex Describe and click the no map link. Enter the following:

There is a dwarven forge called <em>[here dwarf forge]</em> up here. This is a legendary forge stronghold. [5d8x10] <strong>dwarves</strong> live and work here ([dwarf stats]) led by [dwarf with portrait] (level [1d4+8 as level]). They are divided into [3d6] families, each led by a clan elder (level [1d6+2]). [dwarven stronghold treasure]

The last part is based on mountain people and dwarves, picking the options that lead to the big city.

I look at the results and I just want to continue clicking!

Here’s a legendary dwarven forge:

There is a dwarven forge called Moon up here. This is a legendary forge stronghold. 220 dwarves live and work here (HD 1 AC 4 1d6 D1 MV 6 ML 8 XP 100) led by Bifskjald Stormbeards (level 9). They are divided into 9 families, each led by a clan elder (level 7). 「200000 gold. 100 platinum. 42 gems. 28 jewelry. 7 dwarven crossbows +2. 8 dwarven short swords +2. 8 dwarven plate armour +2. 6 dwarven shields +2. A potion of bellowing (deep pink, smelling like the sea, 1h, allows you to bellow so loud that your voice can be heard for many miles), a potion of flying (white, 1h), a potion of silver tongue (deep vanilla, 1h, everybody who hears your voice must save vs. spells or be charmed), a potion of cold resistance (dark celadon, 1h), a potion of silver tongue (deep vanilla, 1h, everybody who hears your voice must save vs. spells or be charmed) and a potion of jump (sparkling black, smelling like oranges, 20min, allows you to jump up to 60ft high and land safely). A stone of orientation that always points north. An amulet of shape changing, blessed by Loki (black cat, allows you to sneak). 6 dream land berries which transport the eater into a dream time where they can talk to an immortal hero for as long as they want or walk for as long as they want (if you decide to return, you return to the same moment in time but you will have aged appropriately and your place will have shifted in accordance with the distance you moved). A compass of hell, blessed by Hel (it has two pointers: one points to the nearest danger, the other to the nearest safe place).」

I want to know the names of their dwarven clans and of course there’s a rule to generate these, too! Up above we already go the Stormbeards, so we just need a few more:

  • Spiralspark
  • Goldhill
  • Newhold
  • Forgepeak
  • Thundertrickle
  • Stoutkeep
  • Gnarlhill
  • Proudhammer

And what about the mountains? Let’s check the mountain table, but this time with Markdown for easier copying and pasting?

At the end of this valley the mountains rise up like a wall and on that wall is a giant seven-headed snake made of living stone, as if melted and reshaped by the strongest spells. In each of the seven heads there burns a magic fire. This is Biaringan.

Down below, at the foot of the wall, there is a gate of snakes: a knot of two impossibly large stone snakes with a passage underneath illuminated by torches and guarded by 26 snake people (HD 2+1 AC 5 1d8 F2 MV 12 ML 7 XP 200; charm person 3×/day) led by Son of Set (HD 6, lightning bolt (6d6) 2×/day). 「A potion of cold resistance (tawny orange, 1h).」 The stables nearby hold 2 giant lizards (HD 4 AC 5 1d10 F3 MV 12 ML 7 XP 400). 「5000 silver coins. 3000 gold coins.」

Inside, the central temple contains four bronze snake statues oriented towards the cardinal directions. Large red candles at the base of each statute give a flickering and smoky light. Each statute has a different colored gem set in its forehead (500gp each). The north wall contains a giant mural of snakes and the floor is decorated with a mosaic of a star with eight outward pointing daggers.

Under the mural, a passage leads further north, past the quarters of 23 snake people (HD 2+1 AC 5 1d8 F2 MV 12 ML 7 XP 200; charm person 3×/day) led by Egg Mother (HD 6, lightning bolt (6d6) 2×/day). 「A compass of hell, blessed by Hel (it has two pointers: one points to the nearest danger, the other to the nearest safe place).」 The stable nearby holds a giant lizard (HD 4 AC 5 1d10 F3 MV 12 ML 7 XP 400). 「1000 silver coins. 3000 gold coins. 2 gems.」

At the end of the hallway, stairs lead upwards.

This is where the spirit naga Most Exalted Sorcerer of Lies guards the passages to Svartalfheim (HD 9 AC 7 1d8+poison F18 MV 6; fireball (7d6) 3×/day; charm person at will; only harmed by magic or magic weapons; 「a naga tongue is worth 1000gp to an alchemist」) and where pools of Earth Blood corrupt both the living and the dead. If you spend an hour here, your death warrant is sealed: slowly, you will die, or turn into an ettin, or a goblin, or some other dreadful creature.

Or something simple?

Steep cliffs make progress practically impossible without climbing gear. In the middle of a sheer cliff, where no bird dares to fly, there is an inscription on the rocks, each letter higher than three men standing on top of each other, proclaiming the power and glory of Queen Kali of Merlen, as well as the riches and treasures of Jasa the Strong.

Or something very cool again:

A ten-foot-tall black iron fence blocks the way here. Some of the spikes at the top of the fence are adorned with skulls of humans and other humanoids.

The gate is still humming with magical energies. Shimmering lines show penitentiaries humbly begging for entrance. If you knock on the gates with nothing but your clothes on, empty handed, no weapons, no armour, no metal, then it will slowly open for you and just for you. If anybody else tries to slip through, the doors will slam shut: save vs. death or be crushed.

Towering above the walls is a bulging tower with vertical slits serving as windows, like the visor of a fancy helmet.

This is the realm of 3 stone giants led by Shaper of the Cave, Still Stone (HD 9 AC 4 3d6 or 3d6 ranged F9 MV 12 ML 9 XP 900; stone shape and control weather at will). 「10000 silver coins.」 They are methodically moving cut stones the size of cattle, rebuilding the tower. They place a block, then move back and contemplate it’s position for an hour, then repeat.

The top of the tower is inaccessible from the interior. A circus of 6 young griffons (HD 4+1 AC 6 1d6/1d6/1d8 F4 MV 24 ML 10 XP 400) is roosting up there when they’re not trying to impress each other with fantastic displays of aerial stunts. 「The griffon egg is worth 5000gp to an alchemist」.

The necropolis itself is an endless graveyard, tombstone after tombstone, filling every slope in this valley, stone statues, inscriptions, pictures, headstones engraved with snakes or a bird man. At night the ghosts rise from their graves, lamenting the state of their graves and the lack of care, the sloth of their descendants, and they curse them and their world, not realising that their world has already faded and that they are the only ones left. Appropriate rites and sacrifices, a purification and a hallowing might bring them peace.

In the middle of all this is a platform made of stone, circular and about five feet high. On it a wooden structure rises up into the air and at the very top rests the sphinx Sigiburg (HD 5 AC 6 1d6/1d6 F10 MV 15 ML 9 XP 500; cure disease 3×/day, raise dead 1×/day, summon tengus (2d6) 1×/day: HD 5+1 AC 6 1d8 F10 MV 15 ML 8; flying). Tell her a good pun and she’ll be friendly. Answer her riddle to be granted a boon.

Tho’ good fellows we are,
We can’t hope to be sav’d;
From our very first day,
To our last we’re enslav’d,
Our office is hardest,
And food sure the worst,
Being cramm’d with raw flesh,
Till we’re ready to burst;
Tho’ low in our state,
Ev’n Kings we support;
And at balls have
The principal share of the sport.


I really cannot decide! And let’s not forget that there are different tables for mountains (notice the s at the end of the table name)

These mountains are called the 「Hungry Domes」. They are impossible to climb.

OK, that’s short. Hm.

But what about this?

These mountains are called the 「Dire Graves」. Fissures lead into the depth of the mountain and in the warm chambers below there sleeps the red dragon Fire Despair the Eternal (HD 10 AC -1 1d8/1d8/4d8 F10 MV 24 ML 10 XP 1000; fire (as much as the dragon has hp left, save vs. dragon breath for half)). 「10000 gold coins. 60 gems. 70 jewelry. A dwarven shield +2 with dwarven runes commemorating the slaying of the red dragon Hot Death of the Mountain.」

Or simpler?

These mountains are called the 「Hungry Peaks」. The passes need a local guide to cross. 4 winter wolves live up here (HD 5 AC 4 1d6 F5 MV 12 ML 9 XP 500; 2 in 6 chance that instead of biting, it breathes a cloud of ice (5d6); see invisible; 「winter wolf icicles growing inside them are worth 500gp to an alchemist」)

Or more dwarves?

These mountains are called the 「Desert Mounts」. The passes need a local guide to cross. There is a dwarven forge called Old Star up here. This is a small forge. 21 dwarves live and work here (HD 1 AC 4 1d6 D1 MV 6 ML 8 XP 100) led by Trísti Forgeshorn (level 3). Silver cutlery and beautiful wine glasses. 「40000 silver coins. 60000 gold coins. A scroll of fire ball (6d6, save vs. spells for half). An elven long sword +1 with elven runes naming its maker: Felaiel.」

I just want to keep reading!


Comments on 2019-11-01 How to choose an adventure


– Chris 2019-11-01 22:44 UTC

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2019-10-24 Stakes must be high

I’ve been fascinated by Amber Diceless for many years. I still have the book in my shelf somewhere even though I never got to play it. Recently I was talking about feeling strange after a RPG session with little or no dice rolling. A few people on Mastodon responded and what spoke to me was the reply by @PastaThief:

I’m honestly least enamoured of combat of all the parts of standard TTRPGs, and I recently started playing a campaign where we basically didn’t roll any dice at all the whole first session. I liked that immensely and was euphoric after. Then I played another session with another GM where it was mostly all talking and interaction, but they incorporated a LOT of performance/reaction rolling. I’m on the fence as to which was better. The latter caused more unexpected wackiness, though.

Back in 2014 I wondered about rolling dice on ever fewer occasions until all I was left with was a basic 2d6 reaction roll. Don’t get me wrong: I think 2d6 is great. All the Powered by the Apocalypse games illustrate how great it can be. The point is not 2d6. The point I’m concerned about is the lack of drama. I come away from these sessions wondering where the excitement was.

I think it all goes back to something I read or heard a while ago: if all the opposition is rational, then all conflict is going to be resolved by reasonable debate. Where’s the “unexpected wackiness” in that? I love that part of the game.

Still trying to figure it out but I also like excitement and that seems to be coupled to things being on the line.

@PastaThief then said:

Yeah, definitely it’s more intense when the stakes are high. I think it’s important to find a variety of ways for the stakes to be high. 🙂

True, that. So... ten ways for stakes to be high?

  1. fear of character death (and combat and all that)
  2. fear of time lost (wasted? but wasted time in a RPG is still fun? 🤔
  3. fear of character networks (threatening friends and relatives, which requires characters interested in having friends and relatives)
  4. fear of investments (threatening of things characters own, which requires characters building something for themselves)
  5. fear of dishonour (competing for status, which requires a setting where status is important)
  6. but maybe honourable things, too (preventing an injustice, helping the innocent, just doing good stuff seems to be high up on the list of my players, luckily)
  7. fear of anguish (like being condemned to hell, or escaping from a prison, or some other oppressive regime – it’s not death but the humiliation and the imagined pain that drives the plot)

More stuff?

I guess I’m looking for things that would motivate players to actively take an active stance because my impression is that they don’t care for dungeons. When dungeons are optional, they see them as death traps and don’t feel like going unless I railroad them: “you need to go into the pit and fight the little white haired men that were imprisoned under the lake or else they’ll invade the land!” In our last session I said that I was not convinced of their ability to rebuild the dam and asked them to think of some other option, and I emphasized that going into the pit was optional: if they didn’t want to, they didn’t have to. And then they decided they didn’t want to, or they felt that this was the secret referee hint for them, I don’t know.

So now I’m thinking: how can I up the stakes for a game that’s not about dungeon delving.

🔥 Stakes must be high! 🔥


Comments on 2019-10-24 Stakes must be high

I think that a key element that’s not in your list revolves around building an authentic character. If you help the players develop a deep persona for their characters, then you can put them in situations where the stressor is attempting to achieve and maintain character authenticity. (The honour element you mentioned can be part of this.) It leverages cognitive dissonance, which is I think is one of the more powerful motivators. Given a situation in which either the player knows that the character would make a “bad decision”, that can really up the ante for people, and make people take deep ownership of a train wreck in motion.

Irfon-Kim Ahmad 2019-10-24 15:30 UTC

Totally agree, high stakes are key. When I shifted over from Greyhawk/AD&D to Harn/Magic-free RuneQuest the tone of the game shifted from dungeons and high fantasy which was fun, to political adventures which was amazing.

  1. Fear of character death was real. Combat was lethal. My players were willing to go out in a blaze of glory for the cause, but didn’t want to die foolishly for nothing.
  2. Fear of losing the war! The game in question was about rebellion and the stakes were the crown. Failure in some adventures could tip the balance against their Earl even if the character survived. Good times.

– Ruprecht 2019-10-24 18:40 UTC

Thank you both. I like the development of a deep persona in play. I like how this is done in Mountain Witch and Lady Blackbird where the referee uses small breaks in the action to ask players about their character – asks them to play a conversation at the fire, talking about their families, for example. What I don’t like is when character creation takes too long because then the stakes are “fear of character death because character creation is long and tedious” (which is something I disliked in newer D&D games, in Rolemaster/Harp, and Burning Wheel when I tried them.

I do like the moments in a game when players go through with bad decisions because it’s what their character would do, but only if the table likes it. I don’t want to excuse rude players annoying their fellow players because “that’s what their character would do.” There’s a fine line, there. But also much goodness to be had indeed!

I love the fear of losing the war! That’s a good one.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-10-24 19:45 UTC

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2019-10-18 Deep Carbon Observatory Day 3

Previously: Day 1 & Day 2.

I was playing Godspeed You! Black Emperor and the soundtrack of Arrival.

For prep, I noted the stats of a turbine golem, named the village with the witch, noted the witch stats, and decided on the gold value of the ship, and the spells of the unburnt scrolls, should the party get to the place this session.

When we encountered the turbine golem destroying the village in order to build its little dam, the party immediately decided to try and communicate with the golem. They left cut wood in its path and I decided that it would work. It preferred the wood to tearing down houses. It also didn’t want to talk or otherwise communicate.

The players then brought heavy stones to the dam and tried to lure it to a hillside where they had been digging them up. They argued that the golem would surely know how to break stones. I agreed and so it worked. No fight necessary.

Then the dwarf player figured that maybe the golem needed repair from the inside and decide to jump into the opening... What was I to do? Instant death, no save? The golem won initiative and whacked the dwarf for 3d8, but the player persisted. I described like him being sucked into a black hole, the feet and legs stretching, growing thinner and thinner, disappearing. At last the other players reacted and decided to throw a rope and pull them fool out of the golem’s maw. I allowed this to succeed, no roll necessary. I did rule that the dwarf’s legs were still long and thin, liquefied. They were stumped. I had the magic-user NPC mage suggest that should bury the lower half of another dwarf in the loam, extract the other dwarf and then they’d have a sort of cast into which to fill the half liquefied fool. In a few hours it would solidify again. They all thought it was a splendid idea and the player just role-played their dwarf as being raw and tender and it was good.

What would you have done?

In all these discussion I forgot about the witch. Oh well.

When we came to the boat, I told them they estimated it was worth about 50,000 Gold, and thus 50,000 XP if brought somewhere. Too much? Not enough? I don’t know. I also fear that the logistics of getting the treasure back to Port Shaw is not going to be very entertaining. I’ll have to think of bandit and pirate attacks if the players aren’t careful. For the moment they left five henchmen there as guards and that makes sense.

Should the Crows attack the five henchmen with a bunch of zombies? I think so... That reminds: I once again forgot all about the Crows as I was running the game. It’s simply tricky to think of things that aren’t written all over the place.

Turbine golem


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2019-10-13 Theatre of the mind

I don't use battlemaps. It’s all theatre of the mind.

Actually, it’s worse: it’s so abstracted that we don’t really need to imagine where people are standing, or which of the orcs has been hurt. The rules I use support this:

  • You can move anywhere on the battlefield and attack: you don’t know how to move from here to there on the battlefield
  • Anybody can take one attack to a buddy by interposing themselves; your armour and your shield and your body can protect your friend without you knowing where they are on the battlefield
  • You can’t take two attacks aimed at other people because you can only be in one place at a time, of course.
  • You usually cannot aim at particular monsters. Just as players can protect each other, the enemies do the same thing. I order to make it easier for me to run the game, I just array enemies in a particular order and every round they get attacked in turn, no matter what players say. When the ask how this is possible, I’ll just say that they cover each other as well (but not optimally so).
  • Anybody can fire ranged weapons at anybody else without needing to establish line of sight and without wondering whether the enemy is currently engaged in melee. There is no friendly fire. It’s simply quicker and easier that way. If you really don’t like that, then I’d suggest you simply disallow the use of ranged weapons once the surprise round is over. Given those two options, however, it’s simply easier to just allow people to fire at will.
  • When there are area effects, we negotiate the number of targets affected. Usually that’s not a problem. I love negotiating at the table, but only if negotiations are short. 😅

I’ve seen something similar in Ryuutama and at the time I wrote a blog post about combat using two rows per side.


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2019-10-13 Small dungeons used at the table

Recently I wrote about randomly generating dungeons using Hex Describe and yesterday J. Alan Henning () posted a comment on Diaspora talking about how it went when he used one of them. I’m reposting it here with permission, slightly edited. 🙂

Here is the dungeon I used and a recap. I basically ran Hex Describe and read over all the dungeons, looking for a religious-themed one. I then lightly reskinned it to fit my campaign.

0409: Ziggurat of Stoijwerd

Visible from a great distance is a half-buried ziggurat of Stoijwerd. Sandy hole in the south leads to catacombs underneath the ziggurat:

  1. Catacombs: In one wall of the entrance are many deep niches, each containing a goblin skeleton.
  2. Vestry: A chest with a broken lock holds vestments in many sizes, including albas with symbols of Neccelio. (They are threadbare but still wearable.) On one wall is a roughly hewn slate slab, flecked with dark vermilion stains. [My pantheon has 12 gods. Neccelio is the lawbreaker archetype. “The god of the trinity, he rebelled and created animals and night and death. Sometimes called “The Devourer.””]
  3. Altar: Decades of melted wax form a frozen dribble and cover a wide brick pedestal. A chest-high wooden table is draped in a cloth whose imagery has been lost to mold and mildew. 348 staters under table but invisible to anyone not wearing a robe. Trap: Rope Trap, each PC rolls d20 under Dexterity or ends up hanging from the ceiling. [Converted to a dexterity check against a DC 15 for 5e.]
  4. Shrine: A tall bright brown flame rises from the floor in the middle of this room. Three frescoes each display a hellscape ruled by a devil: a devil with eagle wings and a human head on the body of a bull, a devil with bat wings and the tail of a rat, and a devil with a human head on the body of a bear. Trap: Trapdoor Spider Pit, triggered on 1 in 6 per PC to fall in pit with a giant spider (HD 4 AC 6 1d6 + paralysis F2 MV 15 ML 7 XP 400; climb).
  5. Temple: The room is dominated by a central dais, two brick steps above the floor. A candle holder holds only melted wax, but the room still smells of incense and patchouli. Monster: 13 ghouls, who can be bought off with treasure if any PC is faithful to Neccelio or will destroy their religious emblem and follow Neccellio (HD 2 AC 6 1d4/1d4/1d4 + paralysis F2 MV 9 ML 9 XP 200; aura of fear (save vs. spells or flee for two rounds); when bitten, save vs. paralysis or be paralysed for 1h; shape shift into a hyena) Monster: 1 hellhound (HD 5 AC 4 1d6 F5 MV 12 ML 9 XP 500; 2 in 6 chance that instead of biting, it breathes fire (5d6); see invisible; hellhound embers burning inside them are worth 500 staters to an alchemist) Treasure: bricked into the dais, 266 staters. Gems.

Here’s noteworthy things my players did.

One PC had been arrested by city guards and beaten in an earlier adventure, so he was wearing makeshift clothes. He put on one of the robes. As a result, he was the only one who could see the staters (electrum pieces). The other players had removed the cloth but no one had noticed the staters until he did; they still couldn’t see them. He took his robe off and found that they were invisible again. This was meant just to be an unusual way to hide treasure, but now he’s obsessed with figuring out how to make the staters permanently visible. He convinced a few but not all of the PCs to put on robes so that they could see the coins.

Oh, when the halforc ran into room 3 without checking it first, she got caught in the rope trap and swung around upside down from it saying “Adventure!”

The party then listened at the secret door and heard the hellhound snoring and the familiar reconnoitered room 5 (accessible from room 3) – they cast silence and then used mold earth to block it off, so they wouldn’t be disturbed by the ghouls.

They went to room 4, where 1 fell into the trapdoor spider pit. The spider bit him and also clambered up and spit web at the cleric, plastering him against the wall. (I was using the Giant Spider from 5e.) The halforc dove into the pit with her sword out, missed the spider and struck her friend instead. The other party members failed to free the cleric (the web had AC 10 and 5 hp), but the wizard took careful aim and killed the spider with a ray.

After the two in the pit were rescued, they become obsessed with the brown flame. The halforc burnt stuff on it; the elf used a wind spell to extinguish it. Halforc: “What does the room look like now?” DM: “It’s dark.”

The halforc then became obsessed with the frescoes of the devils. She touched the one with the bear, and the druid turned into a bear. The druid touched it and transformed back to a human. The halforc then touched another fresco, and the flame began burning again. The players became convinced this was a puzzle of some sort, where I had just been improvising, but I told them the hellhound had begun howling and they heard scrabbling at the earth they had filled the ghoul’s tunnel with.

Before fleeing, they had been on the search for desert pocket mice for a potion, and they found signs of mice in the bottom of the chest with robes (improv again), then found burrows and flooded three of them so the mice would escape from the unflooded one. The wizard then put them to sleep.

All in all I think the mini dungeon format is a success, and as you can see players add their own context and mysteries.

As a further example, the third of the ingredients they need for their potion quest is scorpion tales. They had heard rumors of raiders riding giant scorpions (for my hex map descriptions I ran my map through all three rule sets; this is from Peter Seckler’s). After leaving the ziggurat, they followed clues to come across the giant scorpions at night; the druid carefully approached them and found one of the giant scorpions was tired of being a mount and wanted to be a goddess to the regular sized scorpions. The druid persuaded her to lead them to a scorpions nest, where the PCs became enforcers for the goddess scorpion, killing any that tried to flee. (Not at all how I had expected them to find scorpions! I had a probability table for searches created and everything.)

I love this! 😀


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2019-10-10 BX Mars

I like the visual style of B/X Mars.

And apparently it’s out now!

I’m just not sure whether I need to buy another PDF or book.

👈 On the one hand, I probably won’t use it at the table and life is too short for all the stuff I have.

👉 On the other hand, I like to support the people whose blogs have enjoyed in the past. I mean, 2012-05-15 The Forgotten Depths!

Also To Have or to Be (Erich Fromm) might be overrated, haha. Who knows?

Posting it here as displacement activity. Gaahk! 🐓​


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2019-10-09 Ten random dungeons generated

With the random tables of J. Alan Henning and ktrey parker and Text Mapper with the Gridmapper algorithm (which knows how to create five room and seven room dungeons), and Face Generator, we have a funny little thing, now:

There are probably a gazillion things we could still add, but it’s already interesting. 🙂

Talk to us on Diaspora!

If you’re reading this in the future, check my profile for the latest thread called “Hex Describe, Face Generator, Text Mapper, and more” (see this old post for context).


Comments on 2019-10-09 Ten random dungeons generated

I like it! Looks very usable, especially with the yellow highlighting.

Jensan 2019-10-09 12:09 UTC

Thanks! Now that I look at the maps a bit closer I see that many of them are repeats. I need to think about the random number seed a bit more. I fear it’s simply taking the current time and passing it off to the mapp generator, which thus gets the same seed for every map. That’s not cool.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-10-09 13:50 UTC

This is killer Alex

froth 2019-10-15 18:54 UTC

Heh, all thanks to ktrey parker and J. Alan Henning who pushed me towards it because I was quite skeptical, and they wrote the random tables for it. Beautiful!

– Alex Schroeder 2019-10-15 20:36 UTC

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2019-10-08 How to run away

I was reading @attercap’s blog post Run on his blog Attercap.net. It’s about running away – why this is good, when it is appropriate, and so on. Not a lot of time is spent on how to telegraph this to players:

Once the group is aware and in agreement that the game they want to play is a deadly game where the best way to fight is run and out-think the monsters, allow characters to die if they put themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not only might characters fall by trying to stand their ground some might perish simply by following the wrong lead. This is the nature of that type of game.

Sure, the blog post also talks about the ongoing conversation that leads up to this, but in my experience this is not enough. Back in the days I would simply announce: “this is dangerous, you will have to run from strong encounters” – but it didn’t change the player’s mindset. They were still proud. They didn’t see the danger until it was too late. There was frustration at the table.

That’s why these days I’m convinced that there is more to it, simple signals that you have to broadcast for running away to be a likely outcome.

How do you surprise players and still say: you are taking a beating and you should run? Also, you really should run and not stop to turn around and use missile weapons because perhaps the dragon can still kill you all...

Here are some elements to a solution of this conundrum:

  • have ominous warnings of dire consequences before players commit to an action: petriefied people in front of the cave, a soul-sucking cold emanating from the burial mound, that kind of thing (players must know what they are getting into)
  • have a clear and visible exit that tells players: this is where we are going to be safe (if they feel that the dragon is going to find them always then they might decide that standing their ground is the most promising option)
  • make it clear that they will not be pursued at all or with a much reduced ferocity (for the same reasons as given above); communicate this by emphasizing that the main danger is much slower, can’t follow them, that forces will have to split, that they have other things on their mind
  • establish through previous experience that the party can come back later; no need to promise that the challenge is unchanged, but don’t scale challenges as the party grows in power so that they know leaving and growing in power is actually an option
  • have non-player characters suggest flight: retainers, onlookers, legends the bard remembers just now, any channel is a legit source of information

I think the most important thing for a campaign to work on the premise that characters die “if they put themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time” is that the players must put their characters in the wrong place at the wrong time. Only if they gnash their teeth and know that they risked it and they lost, only if they know that it was their own fault, only then can the referee continue to run such a game without turning it into an adversarial setup. You don’t want your players to dislike you on a personal level because you’re treating them unfairly. You want their characters to dislike their opposition. You want the players to love taking real risks for their characters. And you want them to know that – at least for a while – they can always back out. They can run away.

How do you handle this? Did your players simply adapt, or did the old players leave and new players took their place until it worked out for you all?


Comments on 2019-10-08 How to run away

I had an NPC with the party who suggested ’this room with the narrow door, stairs, etc, would be a nice redoubt if we get into trouble’. They got the hint and after that mostly looked for advantageous terrain to fall back to if necessary (it was rarely necessary but I like that they are thinking tactically).

– Ruprecht 2019-10-08 14:17 UTC

Yeah! And sometimes I think we can these preparations pay off by having foes fall for the traps.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-10-08 14:28 UTC

Running away is underrated. Not as a survival strategy but as a fun activity. Some of the most enjoyable encounters we had in our last campaign was trying to get away from something.

Like when we our low-level characters broke into a mafia-nobleman’s house and found ourselves hopelessly outmatched. Jumping through windows, hoping to make the DX rolls to not fall prone, as every foot counted. The Barbarian aced it by being able to knock the high level fighter prone (thus slowing him down) and rolling real high to swoop up the fallen PC and jump out the window and land on his feet in one turn. The rogue obviously had no trouble scaling garden the wall, but could then help the rest with rope, with arrows heckling our diminishing HP. But we made it over before they caught up.

It was a great scene. Running for your life can be dead exciting when executed well.

Anders H 2019-10-09 13:07 UTC

It looks super exciting! So what you did was an improvised number of skill or attribute checks, with failures decreasing the distance and thus effectively a certain number of failures allowed before the opposition caught up with you?

– Alex Schroeder 2019-10-09 13:55 UTC

on the fly ability checks for jumping and landing. Another, easier one, for running in darkness to the wall without stumbling (arrows hitting making it tougher).

It was not a long enough distance for there to be more rolls. The key really was getting up the wall before they closed to melee distance.

Or that other time when we took shelter in a villa fleeing from a murderous village horde (don’t ask). Ended up in a being cornered on the first floor, having set fire to the stairs to keep them out and were now trying to work out how to escape a surrounded building on fire. Two players got the job of doing nothing but frantically trying to work out a plan whilst the other two were doing regular combat rounds to keep the horde at bay (doors, narrow hallways and a burning staircase help a lot to hold your ground).

I don’t remember exactly how they got out of that villa. They somehow found a way to blow stuff up even more, and jumped out of a resultant hole in the wall, before finding shelter in a basement in a narrow street further down.

Let’s just say caltrops are a favored item in the group now.

Anders H 2019-10-10 13:40 UTC

Hilarious! 🤣

– Alex Schroeder 2019-10-10 14:48 UTC

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