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
  2. OSR OPML

2021-01-11 Hex Describe

I’ve been at it again... Text Mapper can generate Gridmapper-compatible maps. Sadly, that means I need an algorithm to create the maps, and that’s not easy. Recently, I needed some caves. What I did was take the existing mini-dungeon generator and just turn all the walls into rock walls. It doesn’t look bad, actually!

I’m using them for the post-apocalyptic mini-settings I’m working on and off with Josh Johnston. Visit Hex Describe → click “random Apocalypse” → pick “Josh Johnston (best for Apocalypse maps)” → click submit. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot some vat people caves, now!

I’m hoping the vat people caves are easy to extend with the structure in place, which I lifted from the structure that ktrey parker and had developed years ago to generate random dungeons. And still so good!

For the post-apocalypse I had developed a book name generator which I then used to populate libraries, and to create little library related book quests: finding book thieves, for example. I liked this so much that I wanted that for my Alpine mini settings, too. So recently I’ve been working on fantasy book titles, too. And missions to go along with them.

I need to improve those book missions, though.

Next up: more secret agents. 😀

Comments on 2021-01-11 Hex Describe

You may be interested in looking at Caves of Qud for book generation. It’s been a while since I played but while I remember the contents of the books being barely legible (whatever algorithm they were using was not convincing at all) the titles were all very evocative for the post-apocalyptic setting the game features. Dwarf Fortress is similarly a good source to mine for the fantasy generator.

Also, is there a possibility of the Hex Describe books referring to things generated in the mini-setting - perhaps even other books? One of my favourite tidbits of history is the anti-philosophy book “Incoherence of the Philosophers”, which prompted one philosopher to write a book rebutting it titled “Incoherence of the Incoherence”. Generating the context in which books were written could provide plenty of adventure seeds.

– Malcolm 2021-01-13 09:29 UTC


Indeed, referring to things in the setting is important! So currently I’m doing the following:

  • referring to magic schools and elements (that one was easy)
  • golem types that exist in the setting
  • referring to implied past wars based on magic items
  • referring to past empires of the implied setting, which are also used for ruins, wights, and the like
  • using the legend generator that is also used by bards and elsewhere
  • refer to the existing secret societies in the setting

Things I don’t do, but which I should be doing, perhaps:

  • generate a dozen scholars beforehand and have them write on topics (and refute each other) – an excellent idea!
  • instead of generating random elf and dwarf names for magic items, pick them from a pregenerated list of maybe a dozen each and then use the same names to generate books about them
  • refer to the warring factions in the setting

– Alex 2021-01-13 11:32 UTC


As for adventure seeds... perhaps I need some unique magic items, and legends about them, and thus songs and book titles could be a good place to “tell their story” (tiny as it may be). Perhaps other rare elements could be hinted at via book titles, like the passages to other realms. The teleporting monoliths, or the alien space ships come to mind.

– Alex 2021-01-14 13:07 UTC

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2020-12-18 New potions

I felt that Halberds & Helmets need more potions in a while. I usually don’t like big tables of funny results because I don’t see how that makes for a better game. At the same time, I also try to use potions that simply duplicate spells sparingly. Sadly, many magical effects that affect the caster might as well make a good potion. What to do? Making up potions is hard!

Today I added the following to Hex Describe:

  • potion of flooding (1h, makes you vomit forth water at an extremely painful rate, filling a 20ft cube; move at half speed and no other actions possible)
  • potion of snake bite (1h, gives you three venomous bites, victims must save vs. poison or die)
  • potion of transformation (1h, shape change like a doppelgänger)
  • potion of transcendence (10min, 60ft, true seeing past all illusions, transformations, through all matter)
  • potion of bonding (one year, all who share this potion with you will know where they all are: distance, direction, and emotional state)
  • potion of the golden aura (1h, makes your insides and your eyes and everything your body produces glow in a golden light: when you open your mouth, when you spit, sweat, pee, or poo, everything glows)
  • potion of the harpy (8h, grow wings that allow you to fly, claws that allow you to fight, a voice that charms; and you look like a hundred years old, shrivelled, elongated, sinewy, and ugly; anybody who hears you sing must save vs. spells or be charmed; deal 1d6/1d6 in melee; drop most clothes and gear due to the growth)
  • potion of knockout (1h, save vs. poison or lose consciousness; tasteless, can be mixed with water and wine)
  • potion of hearing (1h, ears grow painfully sensitive; you can locate every breath, heartbeat, and movement within 30ft)
  • potion of smelling (8h, nose grows painfully sensitive; you can track people and beasts like the best bloodhound)
  • potion of the gizzard (1h, allows you to eat anything without fear of injury or poison)
  • potion of dreaming (8h, grants you a dream where you can appear elsewhere to do whatever you like; if you die in your dream, or the rays of the sun strike you, the dream body dissolves in smoke and you wake up back in your bed)

Perhaps you like one of them? Feel free to take them. 😁

Comments on 2020-12-18 New potions

Harry Potter’s books are a good source for potions, including ingredients. Veritaserum for forcing people to tell the truth. Polyjuice for transforming into somebody else. Felix felicis for maxing out on luck.

– Enzo 2020-12-23 09:52 UTC


I listened to all the audio books but all I remember is the polymorph potion. What I liked about potion brewing was that it seemed so full of accidents, special ingredients, and that it took so long. I’m not sure how to bring that into an adventure game, though. That’s why I no longer have potion brewing in my games. If you want it, suddenly you need a gold economy that works for the costs, time tracking to make the decision to brew a potion or not to brew a potion a relevant one, and so on.

I think the part I still like best is having monsters with body parts “worth 5000 gold to an alchemist” or alchemists searching for a particular rare magical plant. With that, the most adventurous part of potion brewing starts to make sense: missions to go monster hunting or exploring. 🙂

– Alex 2020-12-27 13:13 UTC

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2020-12-17 Halberds and Helmets Saving Throws

sent a follow up mail with some thoughts on H&H saving throws. Looking at the stats in the cheat sheet, he made this table:

save vs. death             5 
save vs. dragon breath     8 
save vs. explosions        1 
save vs. paralysis         5 
save vs. poison           15 
save vs. rays              2 
save vs. spells           16 

I guess explosions are something I use for non-monsters, like grenades. The one reference in the cheat sheet is the ice devil casting ice storm and you “save vs. explosions” for half damage. It just looks better in my mind’s eye than using “save vs. dragon breath”.

Well, J. Alan Henning has a different proposal: to streamline them slightly!

He reclassifies them:

save vs. death             5 → save vs. death ray 
save vs. dragon breath     8   
save vs. explosions        1 → save vs. death ray 
save vs. paralysis         5   
save vs. poison           15   
save vs. rays              2 → save vs. death ray 
save vs. spells           16   

Is the ice devil’s storm more like a death ray? I don’t know! I’m feeling like I should be shouting: “Noooooo! This changes everything!” But the truth is, of course, that this is exactly what people should do. 😁

save vs. death ray         8 
save vs. dragon breath     8 
save vs. paralysis         5 
save vs. poison           15 
save vs. spells           16 

In an effort to write super concise rules mashing up H&H and the Target 20 variant from Searchers of the Unknown he ends up with this for saving throws: “roll a d20, add their level, and add the modifier as shown below; roll 20 or higher to succeed.”

spells                    +1
dragon breath             +2 
paralysis                 +3
death ray                 +4
poison                    +5

An interesting choice! Poison is the harshest, dragon breath is not so bad. Or not? Of course, it’s the reverse: a higher bonus makes it more likely to make the target number, so poison is the least dangerous where as spells are the most dangerous. All right! Well, only playtesting can show whether it works – and I suspect players simply adjust their risk behaviour to compensate for any perceived changes. If at all! I know that as a player I hardly ever think too much about the details of the rules.

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2020-12-17 Halberds and Helmets Monster List

Thanks to I now have a seven page cheat sheet of the Halberds and Helmets monsters that we’ve been using in Hex Describe. Good to have handy as a convenient reference. Might be useful to you for wandering monster tables as well? The Halberds and Helmets Referee Guide isn’t too long and I like to have a printed copy at the table just in case, but this looks like the ideal backup. 🙂

Thanks, J. Alan Henning!

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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.

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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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2020-10-22 The road to Muspelheim

Every now and then I get back to adding more stuff to my Hex Describe tables. On the one hand, I’m helping Josh Johnston with his Apocalyptic mini-setting, but I’m also still working on my own Alpine mini-setting. One of the things that had me fascinated ever since I learned of Planescape and the planes was planar adventuer. In practice, however, the official Planescape material did not get to see much use. It was more the thought of it that pushed me along the way. Perhaps watching the Thor movies did the rest, who knows. In any case, I decided to use the mythic Norse realms as the planes for my games. In my Halberds and Helmets Referee Guide I talk about the nine realms, all of them connected via the world tree, Yggradsil:

  • Asgard, the city of the gods
  • Alfheim, the realm of elves
  • Midgard, the realm of the humans (”Middle Earth”)
  • Myrkheim (or Svartalfheim), the underground realm of dwarves
  • Jötunheim, the realm of ice and frost giants
  • Vanaheim, the hidden realm of the old gods
  • Niflheim (or Hel), the realm of fog and mist
  • Muspelheim, the realm of fire and fire giants

(”The nature of the ninth realm remains unknown.”)

Every now and then, the random tables included gates to these realms: a mountain top with a glacier leading Jötinheim and the frost giants, for example. A few weeks ago I started working the road to Niflheim, and since I felt it was basically “done”, I wanted to pick another realm – and I chose Muspelheim, not least because my players had gone there, in a previous campaign!

My map of Muspelheim

Once I started thinking about Muspelheim, I remembered Ysabala Devildaughter, supposedly one of the two dozen known magic users and elves in my mini-setting. Essentially, I’m inspired by Gygax’s and Vance’s approach to spells: all of the spells are the result of a magic user or elf teaching these spell to their pupils and if I write up the spells for my rule book, then I should also write a tiny bit about the caster that created these spellbooks. Ysabala is the author of the “Book of Pyromancy”, where most of the fire spells in the mini-setting come from.

And now I just put the two ideas together: what if you could visit Ysabala herself on the plane of fire, on Muspelheim? Easy enough to add!

Here’s an example:

2504: On one of the rock faces you can still see the markings of the old dwarf forge Hammer. The ruin is abandoned and dead. If you explore the ruins, you will soon find the balor The Enchanted Planes of Giants who caused its downfall (HD 9+1 AC 4 1d6/2d6 F9 MV 12 ML 11; flying; aura of fire (anybody in melee takes automatic 1d6 fire damage); if the first attack with the flaming whip hits, the second attack with the flaming sword is at +4; only harmed by magic or magic weapons; immune to fire).

The orcs of the Repulsive Rock tribe serve The Enchanted Planes of Giants. 10 orcs led by Maufimbul (HD 3) live here (HD 1 AC 6 1d6 F1 MV 12 ML 8 XP 100). Maufimbul is a famous rune lord having just finished his most celebrated epic, The End of Common Jumper.

The orcs have built their settlement in the main hall, along the walls and overlooking the stone garden and its dwarf statues and the artificial pools. The round huts are protected by 3 boars (HD 3+1 AC 6 1d8 F1 MV 15 ML 9 XP 300). Every little hut looks the lab of a crazy inventor with bits of dwarf junk being disassembled or catalogued.

The Enchanted Planes of Giants guards an iron portal to the realm of eternal fire, to Muspelheim, at the bottom of Hammer.

The passages leading down are small cracks and shafts, barely enough to squeeze through. The rocks are warm and the air is dry and hot. The tunnel leads up to a great iron gate. This is the upper gate of the dwarven forge Moonfather. 24 dwarves live and work here (HD 1 AC 4 1d6 D1 MV 6 ML 8 XP 100) led by Fjóla Newjaw (level 8). A few gobelins cover the walls. 「20000 silver coins. 5 jewelry. The ring of the tengu, summons the tengu Beak of Pain, always willing to talk and offer advice (HD 5+1 AC 6 1d8 F10 MV 15 ML 8; flying); the ring’s magic is lost when the tengu is killed.」 From the lower gate, the tunnel continues towards Muspelheim.

Impossible as it seems, this passage seems to be dug into charred wood, as if bored by huge beetles into Yggdrasil itself. The tunnel ends at a huge iron gate. There’s a hammer on a chain fastened to the gate, a kind of knocker. Using it will summon the ifrit called Furnace of a Thousand Hell Hounds (HD 10 AC 3 2d8 + 1d8 fire F20 MV 24 ML 12 XP 1000; illusion, permanent living flame, invisibility, wall of fire and creation at will; only harmed by magic or magic weapons). He guards this entrance into Ysabala’s Tower and will happily escort polite visitors past the 12 hell hounds (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; 「hell hound embers burning inside them are worth 500gp to an alchemist」) to the outside.

The sorceress Ysabala also lives in this tower (hp 22 AC 9 MU10). She’s the author of The Book of Pyromancy by Ysabala Devilsdaughter: 1. fire resistance, ball of fire, flame cloak, 2. flaming blade, firetrap, illusion, 3. feasting, fireball, flame arrows, 4. summoning a lord of fire, wall of fire, wellness, 5. fire proofing, rain of fire. 「A golden diadem +2 dedicated to Odin.」

Just above her quarter lives her best friend, the red dragon Reykja (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)). 「50000 gold coins. 70 gems. 20 jewelry. A suit of elven plate armour +1 with elven runes naming its owner: Feirawi.」

「Long Brook」 starts here.

So, on the one hand – I love it! It’s a cool descent. It’s also linear, but I don’t mind. This is not a traditional dungeon. If you want a dungeon, there are other places to go, there’s the surface map, that’s where your agency is. This is about a transition to the other-world, into another realm, the realm of fire. As such, it works pretty well.

I guess the transition of the gate guarded by the balor needs some work. That’s a bit sudden.

The river name at the very end “Long Brook starts here” is weird, of course: we’ve long left hex 2504, we’re deep into Muspelheim, and suddenly there’s this... I think I need some code to rearrange some of the text being generated for it to make more sense.

The problem with generating the tower of a known person like Ysabala is of course that there can be multiple roads to Muspelheim all leading to Ysabala’s tower. I’d have to see it, however. Do I need special code to suppress this, or is this just fine as it is? After all, I don’t plan to generate a 1:1 map of Muspelheim matching the Midgard map... so perhaps this is OK after all.

Most of all, though, I fear about the length of the entry. All of this is just one hex. This will end up being an unprintable monster, haha!

More info about the realms, if you’re interested, would be in that short podcast episode I did a while back:

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Comments on 2020-10-22 The road to Muspelheim

I’ve been loving these realm gateways! They’re very evocative and they make great additions to the Hex Describe setting.

I wonder how large a set of Hex Describe tables needs to be to differ enough to be useful for play. Since a lot of the realms are pretty inimical to human life, and the gateways have that mythic underworld feel to them, a smaller set of tables for a realm could be used to generate just a handful of hexes surrounding the gateway, past which the realm would be too dangerous to travel on foot (and so could be left up to the GM to flesh out or declare off limits).

Malcolm 2020-10-23 05:33 UTC


I’d say as small as 3x3 would be good enough? 5x5 would be more than enough. I think in terms of document design, I‘d wonder: is this going to be an insert at the very hex where you encounter the portal, or are we going to add little 5x5 sub-maps at the end of the document, one for each plane that can be reached? It would look elegant but it would require more code: every portal would have to end up on a particular hex of the planar map; the planar map description would have to link back; what sort of tiles would we use for the planar map, and so on.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-10-23 10:08 UTC


I love seeing D&D stuff on here♥

– Sandra Snan 2020-10-23 10:35 UTC


This was a fun read - thanks Alex

starmonkey 2020-11-11 11:09 UTC


Thank you both. 🙂 As far as Ysabala’s tower goes: I added code that makes it possible to have unique items on the map. Thus, only one of the passages to Muspelheim actually goes to her tower.

– 2020-11-11 12:14 UTC

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2020-10-13 Passage to Niflheim

The fantastic thing about writing random tables for Hex Describe is that they keep building on each other and so even if you write just a little thing, the result can be baffling.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the road to Niflheim. And then I figured, actually, I could reuse the “lair of the netherworld elves” rules as a result for the “exit to Niflheim” rule which is part of all of this... and suddenly:

A few stunted larches grow in these highlands. This is the edge of the 「Green Grove」. This fir forest is home to a pack of 17 wolves (HD 2+1 AC 7 1d6 F1 MV 18 ML 6 XP 200).

These wolves are blessed by Hel. At night, they sleep in the painted Cave of Mountain Lions, decorated with animals. At the far end of the cave is an iron gate decorated with a group of trolls. It is guarded by a chimera (HD 6 AC 5 1d6/1d6/1d10/2d10 or fire F6 MV 9 ML 10 XP 600; fire (3×/day): as much as the chimera has hp left, save vs. dragon breath for half; 「chimera blood is worth 5000gp to an alchemist」) for it leads to Niflheim

The tunnel walls drop away into a black void and all you are left with is a stone bridge spanning the emptiness until it comes to apparently endless wall. There, the tunnel continues. There are bigger caverns to cross every now and then. Bats can be heard overhead and their excrement covers the floor. This particular cave, however, also hosts a family of 10 wolf spiders (HD 4 AC 6 1d6 + paralysis F2 MV 15 ML 7 XP 400; climb).

The tunnel walls drop away into a black void and all you are left with is a stone bridge spanning the emptiness until it comes to apparently endless wall. There, the tunnel continues. Finally, the tunnels lead you to the underground Palace of Dagrail.

The entrance is protected by a chasm 100ft wide. A thin bridge without rails crosses the chasm. If you climb along the walls, this alerts the 7 giant spiders (HD 4 AC 6 1d6 + paralysis F2 MV 15 ML 7 XP 400; climb) living in the chasm itself.

The central space around which the elven mansions have been built is a fungus garden. 14 myconids tend to it (HD 3 AC 8 – F3 MV 6 ML 7 XP 300; read mind, dominate, knockout, gravity control (3d8): save vs. spells to avoid; silent message). 「3000 gold coins. 400 platinum coins.」

19 elves live here (HD 1 → 1d6 AC 5 1d6 or silk 1×/day E1 MV 12 ML 10 XP 100), led by Dringatond (level 10). The spells known are based on The Book of Weaving by Iauniel the Hidden: 1. silk, spider climb, rope command, 2. glamour, liquefy, spider senses, 3. web, observation, phase walk, 4. return, kill, network, 5. fate, transmigration. 「A potion of flying (sparkling wine colored, 1h). A scroll of moving ice (grow an ice bridge up to 30m long from existing snow or ice). A goblin assassin’s black iron crossbow +1, decorated with the seven heads of Set. A suit of dwarven plate armour +2 with dwarven runes naming the owner: Tóki Copperkeg of Thunder. A helmet of the bull, grants an extra attack when charging into a fight: on a hit, an opponent no larger than yourself is thrown to the ground such that your allies get a +4 to attack them.」

The robin egg blue gate from the eastern courtyard is decorated with many icicles. It leads to the other side, to Niflheim.

An acrid stench lies in the air. The outside world is covered in a warm, yellow fog that smells of metal, of burned flesh, of acid rain. A soft wind moves back and forth. This is the breadth of Niđhöggr, the gargantuan dragon sleeping amidst the roots of Yggdrasil somewhere down here in Niflheim, forever poisoning the world tree.

In the east, you can see a fantastic jumble of walls, gates, moat, towers with gallows jutting out over the waters, swinging cages holding the dead and the living near the bridges, ravens on every rooftop. This festering castle is Ejudnir, Hel’s hall in Niflheim, guarded by 800 trolls (HD 6+1 AC 4 1d6/1d6/1d10 F6 MV 12 ML 10 XP 600; regenerate unless burned or dissolved in acid), watched over by 30 harpies (HD 3 AC 7 1d4/1d4/1d6 F6 MV 15 ML 7 XP 300; charm song), and filled with ten thousand despairing souls of cowards and the weak, moaning.

Truly, this is hell.

I guess Hel’s hall in Niflheim can be a megadungeon... Perhaps one day, somebody will write a great dungeon generator for it. But not today, and not while filling in hexes on my mini-setting. This is already incredibly long!

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2020-10-02 Hex describing the post-apocalypse

Josh Johnston has been sending me entries for new Hex Describe setup. New map algorithm, new terrains, new encounters (new rules?). I’m pretty excited.

If you’re curious, visit the Hex Describe, click on “random Apocalypse data” in the second paragraph, pick “Josh Johnston” in the radio group below the Submit button, and submit it. 👍

I think it’s interesting to see how such a thing starts to grow from nothing. Two lines for the various terrains. Another two lines for the terrains. An encounter. The encounter needs a name of the people encountered. A name for the leader of these people. They must be doing something (herding animals). They must have a problem of some sort (a tiny adventure seed), a way to get involved. For example right now, there’s just one such encounter: the bovinoids living in the grass lands need help dealing with a pride of lions.

The grasses hum with a radioactive intensity. There is a camp of bovinoids (AC 8 HD 1+1 1d6 MV 120; a successful charge of 16+ throws the target 10’ back and prone) of the The Twinkling Planets Clan led by Mad Horns (HD 3+3). They are herding goats. A pride of lions (HD 5 AC 6 1d6/1d6/1d10 MV 150; surprise on 1–4 in 6) has found that goats hunting is super easy. Mad Horns is asking you for help.

I like it already! 😀 Let me know if you have tables to contribute.

I guess if I were in the lead, I’d take a look at Rangers & Rabits, but I don’t know where Josh wants to take it.

Oh! And a new map generating algorithm. 😍

Post Apocalyptic Map

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Comments on 2020-10-02 Hex describing the post-apocalypse

Here’s something I recently wrote:

  • tables for a kind of fort settlement
  • three secret factions generated for the map
  • potential trouble brewing between factions
  • fancy names for people and factions

Example:

An old Police station has been repurposed into a crumbling shelter. Several figures can be seen moving through the shadows. There is a large laser weapon on the roof. About 20 humans (TODO) led by Lisa the Best of all Clans (TODO) live here.

Visitors are mostly travelling merchants. The trade post run by Jason is fairly well known. The House of Rich Traders is open to all.

Two secret societies are involved in a turf war, here: The Wise Garden True-Men have arrived and are in the process of kicking the Friendly Tree Cyber-Servants out. The Wise Garden True-Men are led by Wise Carol who claims that the Friendly Tree Cyber-Servants are no good and failing their members. They are led by Monster Jeremy who is a sad excuse of a leader and deserves to be kicked out. If you talk to Monster Jeremy, however, it sounds that this is not true at all and you get a proposal to double-cross the Wise Garden True-Men. “Let’s set them a trap!” says Monster Jeremy.

Check out the list of post-apocalyptic tables. Click on the links to get ten examples. The first paragraph links to the table itself. Click on the “fort” rule to see a bunch of forts, some of which are plagued by conflicts between secret societies (an idea I ported over from my previous set of maps, but with a new set of tables to determine the names).

I’m still wondering how to do stats for non-player characters that are compatible with classic Gamma World, Metamorphosis Alpha, or Mutant Future as I never played any of them.

I also wonder what sort of names would be appropriate for people in the post-apocalypse. For now I used the 200 most popular names of the last 100 years from the US based on Social Security card application data as of March 2020. I feel like this list needs a bit more diversity. Where are all the minorities? Or perhaps we should misappropriate trademarks, or other words? Like something based on the 2000 most frequent words based on the Brown Corpus?

Anyway, if you feel inspired, leave a comment, or send me some mail.

As for the map algorithm – it’s pretty simple:

  • the default map is 20×10 hexes
  • the total hexes divided by 5 is the number of “seeds”
  • each seed gets a random type (forest, desert, mountain, jungle, swamp, or grass)
  • the remaining hexes are looked at in random order: if they have a neighbour with a type set, they take the same type (if they have no neighbours, the get a random type); this makes sure that “patches” grow
  • 10% of all hexes get a random settlement type (ruin, fort, or cave)

That’s it. It’s super simple. No implied height. No water flow. No rivers. No trails connecting the settlements. There’s certainly room for improvement, if you have any ideas.

And now I’ve added vat-people…

0204: Two meter tall crickets chew the rainbow grass contentedly.

There is a hidden cave entrance barely big enough to squeeze into. The smell is overpowering and impossible to identify. The 14 vat people (TODO) living in these caves have gained access to bio-genesis labs and have used them for self-improvement. The chief genetic improviser Stephen the Hungry is in charge of the research program. It requires a lot of organic base material from the surface.

The vat people are served by 20 plantoids (TODO). They are mobile, mute, appear to be totally subservient. If you can communicate with them telepathically, however, you’ll soon discover that they often squirrel away nutrients and have an entire hidden community of 90 mobile plantoids living in the canals and sewers below the lab. Revolution is brewing, down there….

Sadly, the vat solutions have contracted some sort of infection. Stephen the Hungry says that Law & Order Lisa (1203) might be able to help. “Will you go and ask them to come and have a look?”.

As you can see, the stats still elude me.

– Alex

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2020-09-30 The road to Niflheim

As I was working on Anthe, I realised that I needed a lot of random results to name orcs, villages, diseases, and so on. And I opted to use the same format I use for Hex Describe ­– well, a simplified version since I don’t need all the map features. All of that put me in the mood to return to Hex Describe, however.

I decided that I wanted more “encounters in depth”. That is, I want more than just a simple lair of something, but I also don’t want a dungeon with its own map. I was thinking of those more elaborate three to four paragraph setups we have for witches, druits, spider people, and so on. I decided that the places where you can find gates to other realms would make good places to get started. Somehow these come up in my games sooner or later. Such passages are excellent: they start with a lair at the surface, that leads to a gate, which is possibly guarded, a passage, possibly dangerous, and a location “on the other side”, wherever that is.

I started to work on “the road to Niflheim”. Sometimes, you can find one of them as you wander through fir forests, higher up in the mountains. Here’s an example.

It’s colder up here and the 「Moon Grove」 is dominated by junipers. This fir forest is home to a pack of 8 wolves (HD 2+1 AC 7 1d6 F1 MV 18 ML 6 XP 200).

These wolves are blessed by Hel. At night, they sleep in the Cave of Howling Wolves. At the far end of the cave is an iron gate decorated with many icicles. It is guarded by a chimera (HD 6 AC 5 1d6/1d6/1d10/2d10 or fire F6 MV 9 ML 10 XP 600; fire (3×/day): as much as the chimera has hp left, save vs. dragon breath for half; 「chimera blood is worth 5000gp to an alchemist」) for it leads to Niflheim

The tunnel is wide, the walls are black. It winds itself ever further down into the bowls of the earth. There are bigger caverns to cross every now and then. Bats can be heard overhead and their excrement covers the floor. This particular cave, however, also hosts a family of 11 wolf spiders (HD 4 AC 6 1d6 + paralysis F2 MV 15 ML 7 XP 400; climb).

The tunnel walls are made of stone but overgrown and split by gargantuan roots. The power of Yggdrasil is all around you. Finally, you reach a black lake in a giant cavern, the walls covered in green ice. Far above, there’s a round opening and from it descends a long iron chain with a big bucket at it’s end. Anybody entering the bucket is carried up, but there’s no boat to carry anybody out into the cold lake towards the elevator bucket. The bucket itself is operated by 3 trolls led by Boulder (HD 6+1 AC 4 1d6/1d6/1d10 F6 MV 12 ML 10 XP 600; regenerate unless burned or dissolved in acid) living up above, at the behest of Hel.

Icicles hang from giant trees and the cold is piercing. The stunted growth of the Forest of the Peak of Chained Humans around you is covered in snow.

In the south, you can see the Peak of Bound Souls. On it lives the troll-king Famine with his 15 trolls (HD 6+1 AC 4 1d6/1d6/1d10 F6 MV 12 ML 10 XP 600; regenerate unless burned or dissolved in acid), 7 harpies HD 3 AC 7 1d4/1d4/1d6 F6 MV 15 ML 7 XP 300; charm song, and his entourage of harpies, eternally feasting, served and defended by his 20 human slaves (HD 1 AC 8 1d6 F1 MV 12 ML 7 XP 100). 「12000 silver coins. 1000 gold coins.」

Here’s another example:

It’s colder up here and the 「Ghost Wood」 is dominated by junipers. This fir forest is home to a pack of 8 wolves (HD 2+1 AC 7 1d6 F1 MV 18 ML 6 XP 200).

These wolves are blessed by Hel. At night, they sleep in the Maw of Howling Rocks. At the far end of the cave is an iron gate decorated with an endless forests. It is guarded by a chimera (HD 6 AC 5 1d6/1d6/1d10/2d10 or fire F6 MV 9 ML 10 XP 600; fire (3×/day): as much as the chimera has hp left, save vs. dragon breath for half; 「chimera blood is worth 5000gp to an alchemist」) for it leads to Niflheim

The tunnel walls are made of stone but overgrown and split by gargantuan roots. The power of Yggdrasil is all around you. There are bigger caverns to cross every now and then. Bats can be heard overhead and their excrement covers the floor. This particular cave, however, also hosts a family of 8 wolf spiders (HD 4 AC 6 1d6 + paralysis F2 MV 15 ML 7 XP 400; climb).

The tunnel walls drop away into a black void and all you are left with is a stone bridge spanning the emptiness until it comes to apparently endless wall. There, the tunnel continues. Finally, you reach a black lake in a giant cavern, the walls covered in green ice. Far above, there’s a round opening and from it descends a long iron chain with a big bucket at it’s end. Anybody entering the bucket is carried up, but there’s no boat to carry anybody out into the cold lake towards the elevator bucket. The bucket itself is operated by 8 trolls led by Fist (HD 6+1 AC 4 1d6/1d6/1d10 F6 MV 12 ML 10 XP 600; regenerate unless burned or dissolved in acid) living up above, at the behest of Hel.

An acrid stench lies in the air. The outside world is covered in a warm, yellow fog that smells of metal, of burned flesh, of acid rain. A soft wind moves back and forth. This is the breadth of Niđhöggr, the gargantuan dragon sleeping amidst the roots of Yggdrasil somewhere down here in Niflheim, forever poisoning the world tree.

In the west, you can see a fantastic jumble of walls, gates, moat, towers with gallows jutting out over the waters, swinging cages holding the dead and the living near the bridges, ravens on every rooftop. This festering castle is Ejudnir, Hel’s hall in Niflheim, guarded by 500 trolls (HD 6+1 AC 4 1d6/1d6/1d10 F6 MV 12 ML 10 XP 600; regenerate unless burned or dissolved in acid), watched over by 120 harpies (HD 3 AC 7 1d4/1d4/1d6 F6 MV 15 ML 7 XP 300; charm song), and filled with ten thousand despairing souls of cowards and the weak, moaning.

Truly, this is hell.

As you can see, the chances of repeats are real, but at the same time, the entire thing is going to be rare on a map. For now, I can just keep adding to the entries I started, and it’ll be more interesting.

Anyway, it’s a great opportunity to spend a little time writing for role-playing games, immediately useful if you use Hex Describe, it works even for small additions, and the nature of these tables makes the entire system richer if you add to some tables as they can be reused. For example, sometimes nixies in water hexes will tell you that they have a problem with a chimera sighting nearby. Guess what it is guarding? Another road to Niflheim, of course!

I love it.

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2020-08-25 Episode 33

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

Links:

  • 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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