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

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

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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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2020-08-11 Hazard system

Lich Van Winkle wrote a blog post about his experience using wandering monsters.

In the comments, Ruprecht mentioned hazard rolls and I was reminded of the Hazard system as described by Necropraxis. I don’t use it, but I like it every time I read it. Something for the time keeper in a game, I guess. Lich Van Winkle then replied and said he felt “this system is more suitable to a fantasy board game than a narrative-generating role-playing game” – and perhaps he’s right.

I think the attraction for me is that I don’t actually have to do any tracking: I roll the die, and that’s it. This is as true for wandering monsters as for many other things: assuming that monsters are moving about, I could either try and know whether the various groups are, or I could just have them show up at random, which is nearly as good from a player perspective, a lot less work from the referee perspective, and also more exciting for the referee since you also get to be surprised by encounters. At least those are the benefits to me.

To illustrate, I sometimes feel like I have to balance many things as a referee: tell my players to scratch off some light resources; tell my players to recompute encumbrance; tell my players to scratch off rations; remind them of nearby dangers by occasionally remarking on spoors left by monsters; run occasional encounters; scratch off ammunition used, and so on. Now, if I had a process that would tell me “now do this, now do that” without me feeling like a servant to a machine, allowing me to delay, to improvise and to change as required but still suggest something like “how about some spoors to be found” or “how about some monsters now” or “how about they’re exhausted now” (let’s have some inter-character small talk as the characters rest and readjust), then that would seem ideal. It doesn’t solve all my problems, but it linearises and randomises all these things that are on my mind, all of them at the same time. That’s what I like about the Hazard System, that’s why it doesn’t feel like a boardgame to me.

Now, perhaps you don’t want to run such a game, and that’s fine. Personally, I rarely worry about arrows spent or encumbrance, for example. I do feel like I’d like more inter-character small talk (like those flashbacks in Lady Blackbird!) or more spoors and other hints about the environment, and the Hazard System would provide all that.

Comments on 2020-08-11 Hazard system

I too like reading the Hazard System.

However, I also feel like the problem it tries to solve first and foremost (reduce book-keeping) can be mitigated by having a cheat sheet that outlines all the necessary procedures. In other words, I think people tend to forget marking rations, torches, and whatnot is because no reminders are in front of them. Of course, once the procedures are ingrained, there’s less need to have cheat sheets, but sufficient boxes where you can mark resources would still be necessary (I mean, you need dedicated space on your character sheet for recording HP and XP, too, right?).

Ynas Midgard 2020-08-11 18:09 UTC


Nice link, I guess that’s where Megadungeon got it. It felt awkward to point something out that required someone to buy the magazine to understand the point. Plus your link has far more detail.

I like the hazard table because I can add things such as torch goes out (why? Water from the roof, someone keeps dropping it and it got wet, etc) in addition to normal tracking of torches. Rations disappearing doesn’t have to mean they were eaten, they might mean that someone just noticed (small hole in the backpack indicates it was sliced and rations stolen, the backpack is covered by spiders Indiana Jones style and they left some liquid on the rations, etc). The idea really opens up the Encounter Table to enable a living breathing environment.

Plus noises, smells, and footprints should be on encounter tables.

Ruprecht 2020-08-11 19:00 UTC

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2020-08-05 Episode 32

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

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

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

– Ludos Curator 2020-08-06 09:31 UTC


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

– Alex 2020-08-06 09:49 UTC


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

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

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

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

Monsters have six features:

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

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

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

Habits

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

Defenses

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

Weakness

  • Reflections.

– Ludos Curator 2020-08-06 10:50 UTC


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

– Alex 2020-08-06 11:55 UTC

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2020-08-04 Combat posture

Today I had an interesting interaction with Pepe Andre on Discord. We were talking about combat maneuvers. You know my stance. When Pepe Andre said that they wished they had a fast rule for knocking torches out of hands, for example, I said my rule would be: nobody knocks torches out of Conan’s hands while he still has hit points.

It does make for (faster but) boring fights, but that suits me fine: the interesting question should be how to avoid a fight, or how to make it very short, not how to make it interesting. If we make it more interesting, it’s going to take even longer.

Pepe Andre then said they still like tactical decision that go beyond movement and positioning. A fair point! But perhaps there are different solutions to satisfy this desire. What if players and enemies could decide upon one single posture at the beginning of the fight?

Brom says: “This fight I’m going all-out.” We look at our list of RPG postures and find that “all-out” means +2 to hit and -2 to AC, for the entire fight. If that makes the fight shorter, great. If that makes the fight riskier, great.

Lydia says: “This fight I’m going to harass the steel agent in order to make an opening for Olga.” We look at our list of RPG postures and find that “distracting enemies” means you roll to hit AC 9 and if you make it, the partner you named at the beginning of the fight gets +1 to hit and +1 to damage, and the distracted party gets -1 to hit and -1 to damage. Could be important against well armored opponents? Then again, we need to compare this to flaming oil, where successfully throwing it at somebody (ranged attack to hit AC 9?) does 1d8 damage now and 1d8 next round, so that explains why there’s quite a bit going on.

In any case, writing up such a list of postures could be interesting. Something cool to share with friends, something that colours the fights at your table, something to highlight how rogues actually cooperate on the battlefield.

All you need to do is explain to your players that you want combat to be fast and furious and that it’s hard to adapt tactics and it would take forever at the table so let’s just do it once per fight, when we start.

What do you think?

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2020-08-04 A role-playing game for kids

Somebody wondered what to play with their kids. They said: “even simple D&D is complex … They want gratification with minimal effort.” Fair enough! So do I. 😅

I’d suggest Lasers & Feelings, or variants thereof. There are super simple: you have two stats that are connected: lasers or feelings, sorcerer or sellsword, and you pick a number between 2 and 5 for where you are on the scale between the two. Thus, if you are Spock, pick 5. On a test, roll a d6 and see on which side it lands on: for Spock, a result of 1–4 means a success when using lasers, a result of 6 means a success when using feelings, and a result of 5 means you get a special insight. There are many variants of this game, they vary in the two attributes they pick, and the adventure and setting guidelines. Most of them are one page affairs.

If the kids are older and they want D&D, switch to a version from the eighties: Moldvay’s Basic D&D, or Old School Essentials, or Basic Fantasy RPG. These games have elves, dwarves, halflings, magic users, fighters, thieves, red dragons, orcs, a cover showing a dragon, Moldvay’s Basic D&D even says Dungeons & Dragons on the cover, and all of them are simpler than D&D 5E.

If it doesn’t have to be D&D, then use something like Lady Blackbird, or Classic Traveller.

Lady Blackbird has single page character sheets that include all of the rules, and premade characters, and some adventure suggestions. Just keep adding to the setting and you should be good to go for a long campaign, or run a tight ship and you can play through it in one session. Up to you.

Classic Traveller is the classic sandbox: generate a subsector, think of some patrons and quests, factions, enemies and potential allies, and go.

What do you or would you play with kids?

Links to pages on this blog:

Links to elsewhere on the web:

Links to web applications:

Hex Describe is particularly well suited for classic D&D and old school variants like Moldvay’s Basic D&D, Old School Essentials, or Halberds & Helmets.

Comments on 2020-08-04 A role-playing game for kids

On Mastodon, I got a few more suggestions!

@urbanfuzzy suggested Hero Kids. “Simple D6 system that you can throw most stories at.”

@Whidou suggested Searchers of the Unknown, and Dungeon Romp. For younger audiences they also liked The Supercrew, “because it lets them draw their own super-hero. Dead simple rules and short games too.” And Pirates! Apparently it’s for cool for kids and beginners, “even if you may want to tone done the killing and drinking a bit.” 😅

@JasonT suggested Amazing Tales and said “my friend loved playing Amazing Tales with his 4 year old.”

My experience with very young kids at the table is that they usually just try to draw whatever is happening and their parents roll dice and decide what happens, but if this game manages to pull a four year old kid in, then that’s great!

– Alex

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2020-07-30 The Mines of Chillhame

I’ve dropped the ball on D&D for far too long. Let’s get back to it. We’re reading The Gathering Storm by Adrian Bott, for D&D 3.5, with an eye to running it using Halberds & Helmets. Chillhame is the first adventure, part two, where the player characters get to explore some stuff underground.

One hook for the part are missing children. Who doesn’t want to rescue missing children? As a player, I recognise a plot hook when I see one. There’s also John’s tomb, which might possible have his magic sword. The tomb has a missing words puzzle. I’m not so sure how I’d run it. In D&D 3.5 you would use the Decipher Script skill. But taking your time to carefully clean the tombstone also reveals everything. Not much of a puzzle, I guess? I like the thought, though.

There are two hobgoblin tribes in the area and there’s signs of combat near the tomb. This is good. One thing leads to another. With various skills checks players can discover the thing you want them to discover anyway: two trails, a woodland trail and a hill trail.

The woodland trail leads to a hobgoblin camp. The hobgoblins drawings are cool, they look like tattooed punk biker hobgoblins. There are traps guarding the camp, so it pays to approach it carefully. This is the camp of Split Ear and his eight hobgoblins, plus some non-combatant hobgoblins (children). I wonder whether I’d use them. Are hobgoblins mythical monsters, grown from rotten trunks and mud pits, or are they simply humans under another name? I don’t know. I think I’d run them as tattooed punk biker humans. And so I’ll have to make plans for players trying to resolve the situation: the hobgoblins are acting like bandits, do the get hanged? What about the hobgoblin children? Is there at least the option of settling them somewhere? Giving them control over the old mill after kicking out Jim Oakenbough? This is going to be a tough one.

Once the players go to the mine, I like how Jim Oakenbough shows up again and tries to intimidate them. And if you return from the mines, he’ll try to kill you.

And with that we get to the mines!

The mines are under the control of the second hobgoblin tribe, the Talks-with-Fists band. There are side entrances, a grate covering a ventilation shaft, a test shaft, there are tracks to find, and empty bottles in the buildings outside. I like how there’s a hobgoblin drunkard right at the beginning who can be questioned.

The mine has a mine cart that works! Yay!

I don’t like how some of the references here are wrong. The ventilation shaft ends in area 4 on the map but the text says area 6. The mine cart says that the path it takes depends on the setting in area 7, which say south, which the map says is area 9, but the text says area 5. What is going on, here? But worse: those extra entrances don’t help the party sidestep anything. That’s why I’d ignore them.

Similarly, I don’t think there’s much of a point to the spider encounter. Drop it.

So here’s I think what we need:

  • traces of Jim’s activity, the bottles in the building
  • tracks leading into the mine
  • the drunkard sleeping near the entrance
  • the mine cart as a trap and a cool visual
  • a camp with three hobgoblins
  • the room where the kids were kept previously, including the markings they left
  • the ghost, because it draws the party further in
  • the lift shaft, because of the cool visual

I’m not sure how to explain the shaft, though: the hobgoblins on the lower level seem to have no way back up unless somebody pulls them up in the lift? That’s not a smart position to be in. I’d probably add at least a ladder inside the shaft and maybe the lift is permanently broken, lying down there, smashed?

Anyway, at this point we have three things pointing to the next level: the remaining hobgoblins, the kids, and the ghost.

The second level of the dungeon is flooded mine tunnels, which is excellent visuals as anybody who has seen Aliens knows.

Down here are two hobgoblins standing guard in 13d which isn’t on the map. Oh well. And then there’s the boss, with two more hobgoblins, and some hobgoblin children.

Finally, two things to discover: diving under water to find the last child in a cul-de-sac, and the weakened wall that allows players to break through into the actual underworld. There’s Grobni the Surveyor, a duergar.

I wonder how to run a duergar in combat with their ability to enlarge themselves. Do I recompute the stats on the fly? How did the old editions handle that. In the AD&D monster manual it says they can also enlarge themselves. Weird.

Returning to the surface and warning the village of the invasion to come is cool but I think we’d also need to add a bit of dungeon material just in case the players go investigating. They need to see more than just a door that’s magically locked. How did Grobni expect to get back? Can’t he open the door? I’m sure he can! The players need to see those duergar barracks, I think.

Well, and there you have it. We’ve reached pages 45 and 46 with a discussion of the aftermath: how the villagers are going to react, how to push them to evacuate, how to proceed if the players are going to warn the rest of the kingdom, and so on.

I think at this point I should have a pretty good plan set up on how to drive the players before the army if they refuse to do what the text implies: take the evidence to Saragost and warn the villages along the way.

That’s the next chapter: Raising the Alarm.

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