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)

2017-06-04 Selling Rules and Setting

On G+, Jeff Rients linked to Revealed Preferences by Bradford Walker, who argues that selling RPGs in books had a detrimental effect and that we should return to boxed sets, basically “reducing both your lore and your rules down to the minimum required to actually get on with playing.”

Kyrinn S. Eis left a comment on Jeff Rients’ post arguing that there was a space for more variation, citing the wiki as an example. I’m not sure what wiki she had in mind, but I know that my campaigns always end with big wikis. Some of my entries from the Campaign Wiki Status page:

Campaign Pages
Greyheim¹ 226
Rasiermesserküste¹ 24
Wilderlande¹ 85
Fünf Winde 647
HagfishTavern 229
Kurobano And The Dragons 145

¹ ongoing

But Bradford Walker’s point still stands: when publishing your rules and your settings, you can’t publish the “finished” product. I like games where rules and setting are more fluid. You add the things you like to both settings and rules, you remove the things you forgot to apply during the game, modifying your rules and your setting as you go.

If that’s the game I like best, then what do you sell to people? The collection of things you started out with, or the refined rules and the elaborate setting you ended up with after a year or more of playing?

My campaign wiki has 600 pages and more, but that’s not something I’d ever want to buy.

Take a look at the Unified House Rule Document Update by James Young. This is the best part of the OSR, as far as I am concerned. People start with some sort of D&D and then they add stuff and remove stuff, tinkering and transmogrifying shit until it’s uniquely theirs, and then they share it in order to help others. Download, browse, experiment, delete, adapt, lift some stuff, it’s all good.

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2017-05-30 OSR, Where Art Thou?

It occurs to me that I don’t see my style of gaming in the places where one might be inclined to look for it, such as the OSR Community on G+. The German Rollenspieler Community on G+ is also pretty far from the things I care about.

I have no answers, lots of likes and dislikes, but mostly I am reminded of a sociology lecture I heard at university where we were told that growing older included a turning inward; less interaction with the outside world and a retreat into your own. Perhaps that’s part of it. No urge to carry the torch, to spread the light, but instead cultiver notre jardin.

So basically, it’s the circle of people I’m following on G+, the blogs I’m following on Feedly, the people hanging out on the Weapons vs. AC Mastodon instance, for me.

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2017-05-14 Called Shots

Today I saw a proposal to handle called shots by LS.

When the question comes up, I always tell my players that they can do it when their enemy has zero hit-points. This results in an awkward pause and then they say: but what’s the point, the monster’s already dead? And I say: exactly.

Or, to put it another way: you can’t poke Conan in the eye while he has hit-points left. But if you’re bringing him to zero hit-points, you can tell me how you did it, and what you’re doing exactly, including subduing your foe, or shooting them in the eye.

This is exactly the same as my handling of combat maneuvers.

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2017-04-27 Rulings

One of the defining statements for the Old School Renaissance is often said to be “rulings, not rules”. So what are rulings? How do they come to pass?

One fascinating document is the discussion of Eero Tuovinen’s D&D campaign. There, he treats D&D rules as oral tradition. If people remember a rule, it is applied. If a new rule is proposed on the spot, it is applied and if it remembered the next time such a situation comes up, it is applied again. The rules are what people can remember. Slowly, rules fade out and new ones fade in. It’s a living, mutual understanding of how the game will be played.

I want to talk about the process that leads to the proposal of rules. Here is something that happened recently in one of my games:

The party is fighting ghouls at a tunnel entrance. The last ghoul looses initiative but survives. On its turn, it paralyses a party member. Nobody objects, it’s by the book.

The next round, the ghoul wins initiative and drags the helpless character into the tunnel to kill them. The players object and I relent: it drags the paralysed character into the tunnel and whoever wants to follow the ghoul and attack can do so. (More about the ensuing discussion on G+.)

What exactly happens when I say “the players objected?” The way I run my game is I often suggest a plan of action and some of my players like to then think of ways to prevent it. I start by saying what happens: “OK, so ghoul hits and you roll a save vs. paralysis.” Some dice are rolled and then I provide a suggested course of action: “OK, so the ghoul is going to drag the unconscious Ishirou into the tunnel.” And since ghouls killed a character in those very same tunnels last session, the players all know what’s coming and they’re groaning and interjecting: “Hey, it can’t drag a corpse!” or “But it can’t kill Ishirou!”. I make my argument or propose an alternative to resolving this: “Sure, he’s helpless. But OK, let’s say that retreating and dragging a body prevents it from attacking, sounds fair?” So what happens is a short negotiation. When I say “the players object and I relent” then this is what is happening at the table: I propose how this is going to fall out and there’s a little moment of silence where players can interject or propose a different ruling until we’re all as happy as can be, and play proceeds.

How did it turn out? The players follow the ghoul into the tunnel and since the ghoul wasn’t fleeing but making a retreat, they can all reach it and attack, but they all miss. Then we roll initiative again. The ghoul wins and the players object again and we agree to make a morale check (9) but the ghoul makes it and therefore decides to not flee. Instead of retreating any further, it kills the helpless character for a little snack. The rest of the party then hacks the ghoul to pieces in a bloody fury.

Should the ghoul have fled? The cavern it had retreated into was a dead end and the players controlled the exit. Sadly, I forgot to have the ghoul talk. It was a murderous killer ghoul and those are boring compared to murderous smooth-talking ghouls.

But really I think the question boils down to this: here we have a monster that eats characters. If it only ever eats characters once they’re all dead, then the character eating part isn’t all that scary. In this situation I think I favour a monster that does the thing that’s less smart and more scary.

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On G+ I just had another discussion on this topic. Aaron asked: What are your favorite pieces of OSR games? And I think that’s a weird thing to say.

For one, many referees online turn into part time authors. This is great. We can all play more or less the same game and still make something. I think the do-it-yourself aspect of easy desktop publishing and print on demand and sites like RPG Now made a huge difference. +Rob Conley said it in a blog post, recently: What everybody forgets about the OSR.

That is why I have no actual favorite pieces. It’s the act of enthusiastically presenting them to the world that makes all the difference. Spells, monsters, house rules, advice. I just love being part of the conversation without having any particular favorite words.

You already know that I think the discussion of Eero Tuovinen’s D&D campaign is the best. There, he treats D&D rules as oral tradition. If people remember a rule, it is applied. If a new rule is proposed on the spot, it is applied and if it remembered the next time such a situation comes up, it is applied again. The rules are what people can remember. Slowly, rules fade out and new ones fade in. It’s a living, mutual understanding of how the game will be played.

Just read the first three posts by Eero in the thread and you’ll have the gist of it.

“My viewpoint on this ultimately indicates that most of D&D writing is necessarily of secondary concern, as most of that writing focuses on mechanical resolution concepts. This means that these writers, starting with Gygax, have failed to actually address the first-order concerns that gamers need to be able to overcome to play the game successfully: instead of telling us how he set up his sandbox campaign and how his group negotiated challenges, Gygax tells us about the outcome of this process of play. He tells us that after playing the game their group had established these sorts of character classes, and this is how their thieves picked pockets, and this is how shields worked vs. polearms. However, he never tells us the bit that I’m absolutely convinced about today after playing the game myself, that the GM’s referee position cannot work without a clear system of precedent. He also doesn’t tell us how these rulings need to be rooted in the fictional concerns of the group, and how there are no absolutely right or wrong choices for how to handle the individual resolution details. What we get instead is this myth where a long playtest has stabilized a genius rules system, and you’re not really playing AD&D if you don’t follow every brainfart rules subsystem written down by Gygax. I think that history has amply shown that the way D&D uses rules means that these rules are necessarily tied into a time and a place, into specific nuances of how people play and what they care about their fiction.”
– Eero Tuovinen

So this is where I get my position that I care about how rulings get made. I am much less interested in the actual rules themselves, the “pieces of the OSR.”

– Alex Schroeder 2017-04-29 21:18 UTC

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2017-02-20 Turning Undead

My games no longer have any clerics in them. But back when I had them, they turned undead. How exactly, asked Brett Eliot on Google+.

I ruled that LOS is important. I imagine the holy symbol shining some sort of holy light which hurts the undead. It’s that light which disintegrates them, too. Thus, distance is not a problem, in theory. But the undead can always take cover and so it depends. In a flat desert the army of undead will appear over the horizon and immediately freeze when they see the lone cleric, miles away, turning them. And slowly, in the milky twilight his holy light one zombie after another starts to melt, disintegrate. Do they rush forward, hoping to reach the cleric before all being destroyed, or do they build man shields to protect them, or do they take cover and wait for another day? Clearly, that explains why the undead prefer to exist underground. Less exposure to random holy photons. :)

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2017-01-23 Random Encounters

Gavin was wondering about random encounters on Google+. He was wondering about probabilities and said he had noticed that “wandering monsters virtually never come up.”

Yeah, wandering monsters are rare. But they do happen once or twice a session. The effect they have depends on the setup, however. If your players are pressed for time and after two or three hours they need to leave, and thus the dungeon exploration ends, then additional random encounters don’t do much, I think. They sometimes surprise the referee and add some color, that is all. That’s how I run it. I just roll the dice when I’m bored as a minor tax on players taking too long to make decisions or listening and checking for traps all the time.

If you add a severe penalty, as in rolling on a terrible table of tearful results if the party doesn’t make it out in time, then the exciting bit is rolling for random encounters on the way out and hoping for no delays. That’s how I want to run it, but I never rolled on that ominous table and thus perhaps players don’t actually fear it.

If, on the other hand, players stay for as long as they want but they can’t heal or memorize new spells in the dungeon, then the dynamics might change: they try to maximize their stay, pushing resources to the limit, and now avoiding combat with random encounters is even more important. Perhaps that’s how Gary ran his table?

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Is the term “random encounters” a little misleading? “Rational encounters” maybe? ;-) Just because it is to be expected to run into someone who is going somewhere else from time to time, be it in the wilderness or in the dungeon or in a castle. A total static dungeon makes even less sense than it does make anyway; apart from an empty tomb, maybe. Just a random thought.

Rorschachhamster 2017-01-24 10:30 UTC


Well, we’re using established jargon, here. Random encounters or wandering monsters is what it is. Just a wandering conjecture... ? :-D

– Alex Schroeder 2017-01-24 12:10 UTC

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2017-01-07 Normal Men

If your players can hire retainers, how do you handle it? I used a d30 list of candidates. Some of these were “normal men” – people who didn’t want to fight: porters, torchbearers, horse handlers and the like. Thus, when people wanted to hire some people, I had them roll 1d6 for the number of people to show up at the tavern at the beginning of the session, and I had them roll a d30 for as many times, read them the entry from my list, promised myself to replace that entry at some point, and then tried to figure out what stats to give these people.

Over the last few sessions, however, I’ve noticed a different trend: I simply have a large stack of printed, computer generated pre-generated characters and if players looked for new candidates to hire, they rolled a d6 and pulled as many characters from the stack. Instant details, including funny faces, equipment, spells, and all that.

I wrote the generator and so generating twenty or thirty characters is no problem at all. I ended up extending the generator whenever I joined a new game, so for the moment it is most useful for B/X (the default), Labyrinth Lord (the prices differ a bit), and Halberds & Helmets (my house rules). There’s even some ACKS support in there, but it is severely lacking, sadly. Encoding the feats has proven to be supper annoying and I no longer play in an ACKS campaign. If you don’t like it, there’s Ramanan's character generator with support for Basic D&D (the one I linked to), 1974 D&D, Holmes D&D and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and campaign specific characters for Pahvelorn, Apolyon, and Carcosa. Check out the footer for links!

Using pre-generated player characters turned out to be very popular, where as using “normal men” was fraught with problems. Do they gain XP? After I while I decided that they do. Can they gain a level? After a while I said yes of course, but obviously only classes suitable for humans. But when? When they gained 100XP. Do they get a share of the treasure? At one point I had the following rule, trying to limit the bookkeeping of minute XP amounts: they needed to gain 100 XP in one go by being part of a fight with monsters where every single participant got 100 XP or more. This made sure that those “normal men” only gained a level when fighting manticores or similarly traumatic events.

And yet... It was too damn complicated for me, and none of my players cared.

That’s why I’m going to drop the d30 table of candidates and replace the section in my player handbook with a note saying that the referee will have some character sheets prepared.

And finally, if my players don’t want to share treasure and XP with retainers, then they should buy war dogs instead. Pets are better than “normal men” with all the rules baggage.

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I quite like your conclusions. I have been thinking for some time of printing cards with NPCs, treasure, monsters... Heroquest-style, to use at the table.

– Enzo 2017-01-11 17:30 UTC


Do it, and share it. :)

– AlexSchroeder 2017-01-12 15:46 UTC

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2016-10-21 In Defense of the Monster Manual

I’ve slowly been working on a small monster manual to go along with my Referee Style Guide. If you follow the links you’ll see that the monster manual is pretty traditional and that the art is simply whatever I can get done in two or three attempts.

Some people don’t like this kind of monster manual because they think it’s boring, and it is. Or it can be. My kind of monster manual is not a monster manual you read and marvel at the prose or the pictures. But compared to all the fancy monster manuals I have, all the blog posts about Velvet Horizon by Patrick Stuart, all of the Goblin Punch Bestiary by Arnold K, I just keep going back to the simplest monster entries in the Labyrinth Lord rule book. Why did I give away my Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games and their Modern Simulacra by James Edward Raggi IV?

It’s a lot to read. It’s a lot to figure out. It’s a lot to prepare. And I don’t have time for that. Or should I say: that’s not the kind of preparation for the game that I enjoy.

Perhaps it would work in a game like Lamentations of the Flame Princess which labels itself as “fantasy/adventure/horror”. If you do encounter the monster at the end of a grueling descent into the nether world, it better not be an orc! I understand that.

But what can I say. In my sandbox game, there’s not too much of that. There’s an island of giant apes. There are mind flayers (”tentacle men”). There are hill giants (”giant shepherds on hills”) and stone giants (”giant servants of earth magic”), elves (”grey elves that settled the astral sea”), dwarves (”makers of golem armor”), and they have problems and places and it’s a bit of Planescape, Spelljammer, vanilla fantasy—what the Germans call EDO Fantasy: “Elves, Dwarves, Orcs”. My games are mostly wilderness exploration, travel, factions, also some fighting, finding treasure and getting XP, building a stronghold, expanding the domain, but not really about horror, most dungeons are small, whenever I place megadungeons in the campaign world my players explore a level or two and then they proceed to do other stuff.

That’s why the game world is full of standard monsters and their societies. But why do I need stats for these monsters? Why do I need to write up anything for these monsters?

  1. I like stats because having these things written down prevents referee fiat. I’m not boosting stats to make fights more exciting. I remain consistent over years of play. Player knowledge can be valuable. That’s what I like.
  2. Most of the descriptions I have read in existing monster manuals are either too long, or too boring, or too complicated, or not helpful (”casts spells like a 10th level cleric” – not making this any faster), or they don’t quickly suggest a reason for including the monster in my game. But that’s what I want.

Having these things written down is a bit like rolling for treasure instead of assigning it at will. I need the suspension of disbelief. I want to believe that an actual, imagined, shared, pre-existing world is out there, waiting for me. Having tables to generate treasure, having procedures to generate random encounters, having prepared locations, all of these things help. Having stats to describe monsters helps.

That’s why I’m writing a simple monster manual.

Perhaps this should be a two step process. First, you read great books and look at great pictures, then you write your monster manual for the campaign, and then you run your game, and then you just keep doing that.

But still, I can’t help but feel that the really interesting and innovative thing to do – the thing that would really set DMs free, expand their minds, empower them, and “inspire new stories at the table” – would be a Monster Manual without the stats, the banal descriptions, the leaden prose, the amusing pseudo-narratives, the prescriptions, the stats. It would have nothing in fact but art. 196 pages of pictures of monsters. Just pictures. No words, except for a short introduction: “Do what you want with this.” – noisms (2016)

Forgetting the faux-anger and hyperbole for a moment... these things really do piss on every other bestiary I’ve ever read, from great height, to the point that all these other books are goddamn useless. You’d better be a goddamn fresh-off-the-turnip-truck-never-actually-played-before GM to ever have the idea of a monster in your head already and need to look up the stats in a book. Because if in your mind you already know you want there to be a Protein Polymorph in Room 4b in the dungeon you’re making or running RIGHT NOW, you already know why you want it there and what it was supposed to be accomplishing so you don’t need the official digits at all because that’s always the least-important part of any monster. – James Edward Raggi IV (2015)

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2016-10-15 Common House Rules

Dave Baymiller presents his house rules for common situations on Google+ and asks for how we do this. Here’s what I said:

Climbing: anybody can climb without armor if there are good handholds. Otherwise, only thieves using their thieving ability (I use 1d6 with numbers similar to Hear Noise).

Disguises: anybody can disguise themselves. The particular situations he listed have never come up in my game, so no rulings. I’d probably simply use a Reaction Check. Neutral = Suspicious. Positive = They fall for it.

Interrogation: we just talk at the table for a bit, no dice rolling. If trust is required, I let them make a Reaction Check. Positive = they trust you to help them out and are ready to make deals.

Languages: the common tongue for anybody, a few basic words for elves and dwarves as per the book, an extra language per Int bonus, to be picked whenever it’s convenient. A kind of Schrödinger language slots: you don’t know which languages the character knows until you look. :)

Swimming: anybody can swim without armor. With armor, save vs. death every round or drown.

Torture: I ask the players what they want to hear. Then I say that this is exactly what their victim is saying after the maltreatment. And if they want to go into the details, I tell them I don’t want to hear about it. Ugh!

Scars: I use a Death & Dismemberment table with limb loss and one particular entry that has the loss of eyes, ears, nose, teeth… We don’t have simple scars.

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2016-10-08 Monster List

Sometimes I wonder about writing and illustrating my own monster manual. Basically for Halberds and Helmets – I don’t really need it for anything. When I run my game, I usually refer to the Labyrinth Lord monster list and if that doesn’t help, I’ll get up and get the Advanced Edition Companion (which only ever helps for a handful of creatures) from the shelf, or rarer still, the Rules Cyclopedia. By then I usually notice that I lost focus and the game is dragging, so I try to stop doing that.

What I need, I think, is my own monster list, my own illustrations, my own treasure tables, and so on. Something specific to my campaigns.

One place to start looking would be M20 Hard Core where I tried to simplify monsters and their damage is always d6 based (sometimes multiple dice).

So, looking at the Labyrinth Lord monster list...

  • Ant, Giant. Boring; who needs them? Use giant bees instead? Formians for Planescape?
  • Ape, Albino Ape, Giant. Yes please, excellent guards for hobgoblins and others.
  • Baboon, Higher. Just use more albino apes?
  • Basilisk. Definitely, an interesting solo monsters early in the game.
  • Bat. Boring. When have they ever been anything but a nuisance? And how do giant bats even fight a party in the dungeon?
  • Bear. Yes please. Remember I wrote some spells for bear magic, Ursomancy. Also, war bears used by dwarves.
  • Bee, Giant Killer. Yes please, interesting wilderness encounters and mission generators for low level parties. Maybe this can handle giant ants and giant wasps.
  • Beetle, Giant. Yes please, tough dungeon encounters for low level parties
  • Black Pudding. I don’t know, sounds more like a trap to me?
  • Blink Dog. Blinking makes for a frustrating fight and they’re lawful so most parties won’t fight them?
  • Boar. I don’t know. Maybe. Perhaps we need more halflings and dwarves riding on boars and goats. I guess we need goats, too?
  • Bugbear. Definitely. Evil sneaky bastards, yes please!
  • Camel. I don’t know. For a desert game instead of horses? Or just use horse stats instead? They seem to be a bit slower and do a bit less damage than riding horses. Using horse stats seems reasonable.
  • Carcass Creeper. Definitely. Eight paralyzingly attacks is a classic.
  • Cat, Large. Yeah, why not.
  • Centaur. I never used them, but they’re a classic.
  • Centipede, Giant. I used them countless times.
  • Chimera. I’ve never used them but I think I need Greek myth represented.
  • Cockatrice. A classic. But... It’s the same as the basilisk! “The cockatrice hight Basiliscus in Greek, and Regulus in Latin” says Bartholomaeus Anglicus [1]
  • Crab, Giant. Yes please!
  • Crocodile. Yeah. Also, useful as dinosaur stand-ins.
  • Cyclops. I like Greek myth. Then again, why not just use giants?
  • Demon Boar. Best boar ever. Maybe a general demon to fight? Actually, just one of the boar variants.
  • Doppelgänger. Classic.
  • Dragon. Classic! Sleeping dragons, surrendering dragons, spell-casting dragons, dragon age... I don’t know. Just use the dragon stats as is and you’re good.
  • Dragon Turtle. I used it once, but not as a classic monster. Talk to this mountain or die, basically...
  • Dryad. They can’t move away from their tree. I don’t know whether that makes them useful monsters?
  • Dwarf. Of course.
  • Efreeti. As I said above, yes please.
  • Elemental. As I said above, replace them all with genies. This also makes the spell conjure elemental much more interesting. The division into three kinds of elementals based on whether you used a staff, or another magic item, or a spell, is useless.
  • Elephant. I never used it. Have you? But perhaps... But does keeping the elephant mean I should also keep the camel?
  • Elf. Of course. Maybe have more of them in the wilderness? I guess in general I think I need to have numbers for patrols and settlements. A group of 2d12 elves sounds cool. No towns larger than 24 is strange… Perhaps that just needs an adjustment for my campaign. Or perhaps I’m simply wrong and 24 elves is good enough?
  • Ettin. Another classic.
  • Ferret, Giant. I don’t think I ever used it. Another riding animal for halflings and dwarves like the boards? Perhaps... Then again, who cares about the differences between giant ferrets and giant weasels? Weasels it is!
  • Fish, Giant. I never used them. Underwater adventures usually don’t involve fish in my game.
  • Fly, Giant Carnivorous. Just use giant killer bees?
  • Gargoyle. A classic.
  • Gelatinous Cube. Sounds more like a trap, if you ask me. They show up often enough in my games, but as a monster, they’re actually boring.
  • Ghoul. Classic! Elves being immune to their paralysis is weird, though. Where does that come from?
  • Giant. Yes please! I like simple hill giants shepherds, weird stone giants magic users, ferocious fire giants smiths and warriors, and classic mythic frost giants. I think cloud and storm giants are a bit lame, but cloud giants are the lamest. Also, sometimes I want norse mythology giants. How does that work? Or is any creature from 15 HD upwards practically semi-divine in D&D terms?
  • Gnoll. I don’t know where hyena men come from but now that they have arrived in my game, I like them.
  • Gnome. I like them as sillier intelligent encounters. I like my gnomes with long red hats. Does that mean I need giant badgers?
  • Goblin. I don’t know. I liked the Pathfinder goblins. But do I need goblins to be different from orcs? Maybe not.
  • Golem. Yes! But what kind of golem? I think I keep using golems stats for all kinds of artificial monsters. Looking at the Labyrinth Lord golems, I think I have no use for amber golems and I wonder about those huge bronze golems filled with molten metal. But OK, why not.
  • Gorgon. I was always confused (and not alone) about the Gorgon. Wow, I just fixed a reference on Wikipedia for Gorgon!
  • Gray Ooze. I don’t know. All these slimes and oozes. Are they interesting as monsters? I used a gray ooze as a trap. It’s always funny when I reply to a question about the environment with “the room looks super clean... as if somebody had licked it clean, in fact.” But as I said above, it feels like a trap and the exact AC and HD and all that don’t really seem to matter much.
  • Gray Worm. Is this a Dune sand worm? I don’t know. But I like worms.
  • Green Slime. Another trap.
  • Griffon Gryphon. Another mount or pet. Perhaps these need to be in a separate category. (Googling for “gryphon” gives me the right images, googling for “griffon” gives me dogs, so gryphon it is.)
  • Halfling. Yes!
  • Harpy. Another Greek classic.
  • Hawk. Useless? Is this for the one time the party gets shrunk to mouse size? Or as a pet? What about crows? Owls?
  • Hellhound. I need those for the fire giants.
  • Herd Animals. Use horses and you’re good to go.
  • Hippogriff. Another Greek classic. Or is it? The Wikipedia disagrees and mentions that the Greeks knew a similar creature named Hippalektryon. Who cares about their hunger for Pegasus meat.
  • Hobgoblin. I like well organized humanoids. Too bad they have practically no visuals to recommend them. Large goblins are orcs? Elite orcs?
  • Horse. We definitely need a list of pets and mounts.
  • Hydra. A classic.
  • Insect Swarm. An interesting fight for low level characters. But I still prefer giant bees (or wasps).
  • Invisible Stalker. There’s a spell that goes along with it and I like it.
  • Jinni. Classic! I want the other genies, too. Efreeti, Dao and Marid. But sometimes I feel that they should replace elementals entirely. Elementals are boring. Actually I only ever used air and fire genies.
  • Kobold. I like dog men. I like fairies. But little lizard people? I don’t know. So we have kobolds and lizard men, goblins and orcs, halflings and humans... It’s a bit weird.
  • Leech, Giant Giant Psychic Lamprey. Definitely!
  • Lizard, Giant. Maybe one, as a mount?
  • Lizardfolk Lizard People. Sure! I keep using them.
  • Locust, Subterranean. I never used it.
  • Lycanthrope. A classic! I usually limit myself to werewolves, though.
  • Manticore. A classic. Yes!
  • Mastodon. Perhaps if you want a stone age game? Wolf Packs and Winter Snow, for example.
  • Medusa. Greek myth classic!
  • Men Human. Do we really need the subtypes? Perhaps we need a bit more about the various groups we can encounter in the wilderness. Or this: roll 1d100×10 for size (or use the gem table?); make a reaction check without modifier: negative = bandits, raiding party, marauding mercenaries or robber knight; neutral = a community fallen on hard times, eager for cash; positive = a mill, a guest house, a trading post, a village, then apply reaction bonus and see how they react to the party.
  • Merfolk. Underwater adventures don’t need merfolk.
  • Minotaur. Greek classic. Also a good potential class for new player characters?
  • Morlock. Underground men?
  • Mule. Horse?
  • Mummy. A classic. The mummy rot is usually lame in my games, though. So perhaps we need to add some more punch to mummies?
  • Neanderthal. No stone age stuff.
  • Nixie. I like.
  • Ochre Jelly. Trap.
  • Octopus, Giant. Yes! Then again, I like the giant squid stats better and there only needs to be one creature with a lot of attacks.
  • Ogre. A classic brute.
  • Orc. My pig men!
  • Owl Bear. It’s very D&D but then again, I think bears are good enough.
  • Pegasus. More pets and mounts.
  • Phase Tiger. It’s weird. Forget about the blink dog enmity. Rakshasa are better.
  • Pixie. Yes.
  • Pterodactyl. I have never used dinosaurs in my game.
  • Purple Worm. This is the near divine sand worm, perhaps? My current thinking is that HD 15 and above indicates some sort of divinity or natural force. The Labyrinth Lord entry says the worm is 100’ long or more. The Wikipedia entry says: “Sandworms grow to hundreds of meters in length, with specimens observed over 400 meters (1,312 ft) long and 40 meters (131 ft) in diameter”. I don’t know. Perhaps we should keep them but change them to sand worms. Or perhaps sand worms should be a setting specific thing and since they don’t appear in my game, I can just leave them off.
  • Rat. Who fights rats? It’s lame.
  • Rhagodessa, Giant. It’s a giant spider and it should be listed under spiders.
  • Rhinoceros. Unless we have rhino riding giants?
  • Roc. I’ve never used it and if I did, I wouldn’t have people fight them. HD 36? That’s divine levels.
  • Rot Grub. It’s a trap.
  • Rust Monster. It’s a trap.
  • Salamander. I don’t know about frost salamanders but flame salamanders show up in my games all the time.
  • Scorpion, Giant. Yes please!
  • Sea Serpent. I used a plesiosaur in a game of mine but I should have used sea serpents instead.
  • Shadow. Yes! Two dimensional beings are great and need to be used more often.
  • Shark. The only fish you need for your underwater adventure. Die, bone fish, die!
  • Shrew, Giant. More rats? No thank you.
  • Shrieker. A random encounter generator? Sounds like a trap to me.
  • Skeleton. Yes.
  • Snake. I usually just need the Giant Python, Conan style.
  • Spectre. Nazgûl. Cool!
  • Sprite. Another name for pixies?
  • Squid, Giant. It has better stats than the giant octopus. Who wants to roll 1d3 when they could be rolling 1d4 instead?
  • Statue, Animate. Is that the same as robots? As golems? I’m conflicted.
  • Stegosaurus. No dinosaurs.
  • Stirge. A classic.
  • Throghrin. Never used it.
  • Titanothere. No stone age rhinos.
  • Toad, Giant. Yes please.
  • Treant. Ents. Cool!
  • Triceratops. No dinosaurs.
  • Troglodyte. What are these, evil cave frog men?
  • Troll. My favorite. Guarding “guardians of places of transition: bridges, mountain passes, magical gates,” as Brian puts it.
  • Tyrannosaurus Rex. No dinosaurs.
  • Unicorn. As a pet or mount? OK.
  • Vampire. The best!
  • Weasel, Giant. Another pet or mount option.
  • Whale. Who fights whales? Is this a sick whaler RPG? No!
  • Wight. Yes, I want barrow wights!
  • Wolf. Absolutely. And dire wolves or worgs, too.
  • Wraith. More undead stuff, yay.
  • Wyvern. Why have small poisonous dragons when you can have real dragons?
  • Yellow Mold. Yet another trap.
  • Zombie. Yes of course.

OK, so with that I have a list of monsters to illustrate and practice my iPad pen, haha. I’ll be adding these to Google+ while I work on them and then, when I’m ready, I’ll do my monster manual.

I think I also have to add some demons and devils to this monster manual but we’ll see about that.

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Comments on 2016-10-08 Monster List

Oh goody! Now we can disagree about something meaningful and important!

For me, as I mentioned on G+, what made a creature for me was the art I saw about it, or it’s excellent use in a story or movie. So for a lot of these, I can point to a particular piece of art that really made these cool to my eyes:

Elephants - I use ’em all the time. They let the PCs know that they’re not in Kansas (or generic-replica-of-medieval-Wester-Europe-#846). Also: https://thevelvetrocket.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/frank_frazetta_the_mammoth.jpg

Ferret, Giant - mounts? Oh, hell yes! https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/d8/b2/90/d8b2909c633c966e08d9dd38d671161a.jpg

Goblins - there’s a great pic of a swarm of goblins carrying wicked-looking hammers in Alan Lee’s Castles book. (Can’t find a link, alas.) Since then, goblins have been my Underdark budget smiths, mass-producing cheap weapons for every dark wizard’s slave army. When they weren’t these guys: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/9b/3b/69/9b3b691e6db380b3316e2382bcce069b.jpg

Hawk - they make awesome pets, lending an air of aristocracy to the owner: http://s3.amazonaws.com/auteurs_production/images/film/ladyhawke/w1280/ladyhawke.jpg

Hippogriff - everyone with a pegasus mount cares about a hippogriff’s love of pegasus meat.

Hobgoblin - was always meh on these guys until I saw di Terlizzi’s take: http://diterlizzi.com/home/wp-content/gallery/games/1993_hobgoblin.jpg

Lycanthrope - I mostly limited myself to werewolves as well, until I saw this by Elmore: http://www.larryelmore.com/core/imgs/prints/DND-ENDLESSQUEST-RETURN-TO-BROOKMERE.jpg

Roc - not for fighting, but rather to pick up the PCs’ trireme and flying it across the sea. Also, epic mounts for giants.

Very much looking forward to seeing your take on the critters that made your cut. :D

Brian 2016-10-08 20:36 UTC


Oh, and almost forgot, you said, “...and I wonder about those huge bronze golems filled with molten metal.”

Have you seriously never seen this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxA3wFYxUB8

Brian 2016-10-08 20:39 UTC


Yes, sadly I have not seen a single Harryhausen movie! :)

Your links to art samples make a good point. I’m not sure the hawk needs stats but you are right about the nobility of keeping birds of prey!

Perhaps I should use more elephants... I love that mammoth (?) pic.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-08 21:07 UTC


Regarding ghoul paralysis, as I’ve heard it explained, a ghoul’s touch paralyzes because it is the touch of the grave. It is a psychological effect rather than physiological one. The victim of a ghoul’s touch can’t move, they see their loved ones about them mourning, they see the coffin lid close, they hear the dirt hitting the lid, they feel the worms & beetles burrowing into their flesh and no one can hear their screams. With that in mind, elves are extremely long lived, if not immortal, so the grave holds lesser fear for them than it does for more mortal races.

– Steve 2016-10-08 23:20 UTC


Oh wow, interesting! I had not heard of that before. Definitely an image I must use. :)

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-09 07:24 UTC


Moving the entries I have into a separate Referee Guide PDF.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-16 11:18 UTC


Martin Kallies wrote The Monster in its natural habitat, “the most useful presentation of a monster is something that inspires encounters and adventures based around the creature” – and I agree. But then he goes on that he wants art to show “the creatures in action, in a context that suggests situations to steal for my own campaign” and I’m not so sure about that. Not only am I sadly unqualified to produce the necessary art, but I also don’t study the images carefully. I fear an action shot would provide input for a tactical setup: darkness, ledges, two dogs, snow, moon, lake side, campfire... I don’t know. Those are not the things I’m looking for. I’m looking for “these are the spells the Jinn will teach you” and “orcs will use boars to guard their villages”. I think the focus is not on the scene but on the background. I don’t care about Modron military organization, but I do care about a typical unit my party would encounter, and I’d love to hear what they might be thinking and saying. Are the bugbears willing scouts of the dark elves? Apparently they are!

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-24 17:23 UTC


Collecting the monster manual entries on Google+ using a hash tag. My Drawing G+ Collection.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-11-10 09:29 UTC

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