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

2020-08-05 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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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?

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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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2020-06-22 One Page Dungeon Contest

Remember the One Page Dungeon Contest? Good times!

The deadline for the 2020 edition is coming up!

The submission deadline for the
2020 One Page Dungeon Contest
is July 15th, 2400 UTC

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Hi! Deadline bumped back to the 15th.

– v 2020-06-29 23:43 UTC


Applied! 👍🏻

– Alex Schroeder 2020-06-30 03:35 UTC

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2020-06-22 Chillhame

All right, let’s get 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. Thus, I’m expecting goblins, maybe giant rats. 😀

Page 24 tells us how the rest of the text is going to be structured. I like it: locations, plot events, events (i.e. optional events that you can use when your players want something to fight – and I know it sounds cheesy but sometimes that’s exactly how it works), non-player characters, information to be gathered, and a discussion of the aftermath. This makes sense and I like that it isn’t all structured like the Paizo adventure paths, which are primarily map based, with introductions for the book and for each section, making it hard for me to find stuff that wasn’t strictly based on the map. Where do you look for the stuff you half remember?

Page 25 tells us about the big conflict between the island of Chillhame and the neighbouring country of Caldraza, which is one of the upcoming destinations in the campaign, so that’s interesting, but also somewhat buried in more paragraphs.

Page 26 starts the adventure. The players all appear near some standing stones. A goddess speaks some stuff and points the players in the right direction. Player characters can be resurrected at these nodes and the circle of stones is one of these places. I like the idea that there are nodes where magic is stronger than usual and thus magic users and elves are both interested in taking it over. That also means, I think, that powerful magic users should have built a tower here, or there should be an elven fortress, or a former fortress, right here. Perhaps I’m going to skip all of this but retain the idea that sometimes magic users and elves have extra powers in their homes.

Page 27 has shadow goblins attacking. That doesn’t sound very interesting. The player characters must soon leave the island or the land bridge sinks beneath the waves as the tide rises. If the players stay, nothing happens. All of that I’ll skip, I think.

Page 28 has two sections with information, both structured as skill checks. That never felt very good to me as a D&D 3.5 referee. I think I’ll have to reread these sections, prepare a list of villager names, and have players learn all these things in free play. In an old blog post of mine from 2012 I talk about social skills, and in a blog post from 2011 I talk about enjoying acting at the table. That’s why I’m looking forward to writing down a bunch of names, the thing these people might be interested in, and letting players interact with them.

Page 29 introduces the local bully, Jim Oakenbough. I think I won’t be needing all those D&D 3E stat blocks, but I can skim it and learn that he’s a good fighter, he’s friendly, but his voice has menacing undertones. There’s a subplot about a dead tax collector. All in all things that can be condensed to two or three paragraphs, I think.

Jim Oakenbough is a F2 with leather armour, bow and arrows, sword and shield, AC 6.

Page 30 has the stat blocks of three of Jim’s companions. OK. There’s also the stats of two guards, an older one, tired, hates himself, and a younger one, eager, shrewd. I like this setup. It’s going to be interesting to have the players interact with them all.

Hal Betram, taciturn, smelly. Tom Cucksmere, always eating chicken and drinking wine. Jacko Fenn, laughing about his own jokes. all of them F1 with leather armour, bow and arrows, sword and shield, AC 6.

Davan Gaskell is a F4 with chain armour, bow and arrows, sword and shield, AC 4. Morton Gimbert is a F1 with leather armour, bow and arrows, sword and shield, AC 6.

I think weapon choice, like rapier instead of sword, crossbow instead of short bow, and all the specialised equipment useful in combat – remember tanglefoot bags? – makes combat tedious. I do like the treasure they carry and the short explanation provided, like “silver chalice stolen from a church (90gp).”

Page 31 has three locations, the shop, the inn, and the windmill. It’s nice to be able to add some colour to descriptions. The problem is going to be to condense three or four paragraphs into a sentence or two, I think.

I think this is where players can learn all the info bits from earlier pages. The Golden Nugget is run by Bernik and Jinnie Oakenbough. Bernik is Jim’s brother. Mother Bailey is a suspicious old woman.

Page 32 has the guard dogs, a nice trap, and mechanics for a fight, I like it. All of it is verbose, but I’ve already bought the book many years ago so there’s no use complaining.

Use the stats for wolves and war dogs: HD 2+1 AC 7 1d6 F1 MV 18 ML 6 XP 200.

Treasure chest: nail trap, 1d6 to anybody nearby, plus automatic tattoo. The crest of Saragost on the chest makes it clear that this is stolen property.

Page 32 has the old church and father Bronson. I no longer have clerics in my game. So the cleric can be a retired fighter.

Father Bronson has a deep voice and mutton chops. He is a F2 with plate armour and shield, mace +1, AC 1.

And with page 34 we’re off to the first excursion, the tomb of Starkweather John and the first hobgoblin camp. Next time!

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2020-06-21 The Gathering Storm

I’m planning to see whether I can use The Gathering Storm by Adrian Bott, the first book in The Drow War trilogy. It’s written for D&D 3E and I’d be using the material for my Halberds & Helmets house rules, that is to say, a B/X D&D, with established characters around level 5, and players bringing two or three characters on an adventure, for a total of around 10–15 characters per session.

I’m considering to blog my notes as I go through the book. What can I say, I like a structured approach. I think it helps me focus. And if I pull it off, it might make a nice resource for somebody else to read through, and an interesting window into the mind of another referee preparing and adapting about thirty adventures (if we ever get that far!) for their game – and perhaps it’ll get me back into the groove given that I put one of my campaigns on hiatus.

Spoilers!

With all that in mind, let’s start skimming this 256 page book! 😀

Page 4 has a summary of the ten adventures in this book. That’s how it’s going to be: each book has ten adventures with player characters ending on level 10 by the end of the first book, on level 20 by the end of the second book, and then things get turned up to eleven as player characters go up to level 30 by the end of the third book. Or so it says! I’m excited.

The summary on page 4 tells me what I need:

  • a region (the island Chillhame) with a stone circle to start the adventure
  • a local village (Bronce) that acts as the hub for some low level adventures
  • a walled seaport city, mighty, ruled by a council (Saragost)
  • more villages to warn (or clear) in the region
  • another city, a den of thieves or worse (Crescent City)
  • a temple in a swamp
  • a maze beneath a former thieves’ guild
  • a bank in this city, with a vault
  • another country across the sea (Caldraza)
  • a capital of said country (Beacon City)
  • a haunted forest
  • a palace of black glass (?)
  • a world underground full of drow

All of this is very exciting.

Pages 5–11 talk about the various regions of the setting, which I don’t need. Pages 12–13 talk about the drow and the elves of the setting, which I don’t need either, I think. Pages 14–19 talk about the pantheon, which I won’t use. Pages 20–22 talk about the Starborn, which is that the player characters are reincarnations of ancient heroes or something like that. I’m definitely not going to use that. Let’s hope the adventures still work!

My earlier campaigns in the same setting used some place names from the Wilderlands of High Fantasy (Lenap, Ghinor) and ignored a lot of the setting material, too.

Page 23 talks about nodes, which is definitely something I already have, and victory points, which is important to the overall flow of the campaign, which I love.

All right, that’s 23 page skimmed and not too many notes taken. 😀

Next up: the starting region, the starting village, and the starting adventure. We’ll see how much of that we can use for a party of 10–15 characters of levels 3–5.

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2020-06-10 Episode 31

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

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Comments on 2020-06-10 Episode 31

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

– Alex Schroeder 2020-06-12 09:19 UTC


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

starmonkey 2020-06-18 23:25 UTC


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

Audacity

– Alex Schroeder 2020-06-19 09:11 UTC

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2020-04-29 Dungeon maps are overrated

Remember the small dungeon generator integrated into the Hex Describe tables written by J. Alan Henning and ktrey parker?

Today I got to use one of them!

Map The map looked very simple. But the dungeon was themed for a dragon. It had big, weed-smoking, story-telling lizard people, it had stinking, small and haggard lizard people (troglodytes), and a sleeping red dragon in a cave at the end with a back entrance and a hidden crack that one of the characters discovered to take a peek at the treasure. The treasure consisted of more than 1000 platinum coins and 80 jewellery, so worth about 90,000 gold pieces!

The first room was described as a natural cavern. The second had a wooden cage. The dragon’s room was some sort of temple. The rest just flowed naturally. There was enough description to get me into the flow and I was able to improvise the ruins of the town, the cave entrance, the hidden chute forming the back entrance, the dynamics of lizard people outside being hungry but harmless (they got killed by the player characters) and the sneaky and mean troglodytes (who nearly killed the player characters).

Thus, even though I was using Just Halberds and not Halberds and Helmets, I found that the mini setting generated by Hex Describe is working exactly as intended and I love 😍 love 😍 love 😍 it.

And there is more than just the dungeon! The setting itself generates villages and towns each in the hand of a name-level character. Halberds and Helmets only goes up to level 10, so these are all rulers with 9 or 10 levels, one or two followers with 3 to 8 levels, spell-books, magic items, and so on.

When the players picked their characters at the beginning, a few of them turned to elemental magic – and as luck would have it, elemental magic users are common in the mini-settings generated by Hex Describe. So they quickly found a village ruled by an aquamancer, a village ruled by a geomancer, a village ruled by a pyromancer, but also an elf that’s into monster hunting, and others. If they want to advance, they just need to learn more spells, and in order to learn more spells, they need to befriend the magic users, go on quests and all that, and I’m basically following the Morrowind playbook: there are many powerful local lords, plus three war parties, three secret societies, ten religious groups, and various monster factions such as orc tribes. It’s easy to befriend them but they all have conflicting goals and therefore, soon you’re trying to learn a spell from the geomancer who’s trying to eliminate a secret society in a village ruled by a pyromancer who’s technically in rebellion against Duke Shire, and on and on. I love 😍 love 😍 love 😍 it. I really do! 😁

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Comments on 2020-04-29 Dungeon maps are overrated

Sounds awesome. It is right to immerse the spell casters in the power maelstrom of their crafts. Then let the cards fall where they may - it’s just true that real connections (ones of importance or quality) bring potential allies and enemies.

– doublejig2 2020-04-30 20:19 UTC


Yes! 😁

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-30 20:28 UTC


Just waited to say how much I appreciate your blog. You write from such a practical standpoint about your games, that it always inspires me. The reminder about the dungeon generator came at a perfect time as I’m going to be running a mostly impromptu game of Mausritter this weekend and really needed some kind of little dungeon at hand that I could retheme for the game.

Derik 2020-05-01 12:46 UTC


Thank you so much for the kind words. 😅 I read some entries on your blog and find the tagging of partial entries fascinating. A very cool idea that lends itself to journaling about a day or an event which is going to touch on many things. If such where to happen here, I’d have to tag it “Life” or “Philosophy” (assuming I learned anything, haha) – very broad categories. I haven’t seen such a setup before. Did you write it yourself?

– Alex Schroeder 2020-05-01 13:14 UTC


Yes, I ended up coding my own static site generator (to build from markdown files) because all the available options were too confusing or complicated, and then added that category show/hide stuff because I was... new to the idea of not just blogging about one very specific thing (my old blog about comics). It is a bit of pain tagging paragraph by paragraph, though.

Derik 2020-05-01 19:52 UTC


Yeah, probably true. But as a reader, I find it fascinating. Start reading, find that it belongs into another context as well, do you click that other tag, do you care to read more, it’s a more interactive way of reading. There’s always that “tell me more” moment that isn’t as generic as “tell me more about RPG” but “tell me more about this story, what else was there?” Fascinating.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-05-01 21:23 UTC


I love maps. As Greg Stafford said "What's not to love about any non-linear presentations of information?".

The settings created by Hex Describe are pure gold. They offer plenty of content to play for years. And they do it with succinct information, inspiring without constraining. Emergent play at its best. Brilliant job, Alex.

How do you use the dungeon maps? We tried different methods. The traditional approach (give directions and describe corridors and rooms as the party explores and maps the depths) do not work for us. We preferer letting the referee draw the map as the party advances. When we played the City of the Spider Queen using D&D 3.5 I, as the referee, drew all the maps with penciled colours. The players loved it; it was gorgeous but time-consuming.

We still have to try the dungeon maps produced by Hex Describe. These days I prefer this type of smaller dungeons. We don’t have as much time to play as we had years ago. I’m still unsure of how we will use them: I don’t know if we will explore the dungeons room by room or if we will shift to a more abstract approach.

– Ludos Curator 2020-05-10 10:22 UTC


In this particular case, they killed a dragon hunter and took the map from him. I just handed them the map as-is. In describe rooms and environments, for room 1 on the map: “a big natural cave, low ceiling, alcoves and hard to see in its entirety; in the back there is a gap leading further into the darkness. Who is carrying the torch?”

I often mix relative and cardinal directions, I use qualitative terms like long, short, big, and small instead of feet.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-05-10 10:35 UTC

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2020-04-12 The effects of stats in simple games

If you’ve played OD&D, or Swords & Wizardry, or any of the other old school games out there, you have encountered this before, regarding monster stats: monsters have hit dice (HD); this determines how many hit they can take, on average. Each hit die is 1d6, and each damage die is also 1d6. In later games, the picture is not that simple anymore. In B/X we already notice that many fighters have a strength bonus, but monsters also use 1d8 for hit dice. For the purpose of this blog post, I don’t care about the details.

I care about this relationship: every extra HD allows a monster to survive one more hit; every extra HD also allows a monster to hit more easily; extra HD also allow a monster to better resist spells.

What does it mean to survive more hits? It means that fights take longer, or that monsters can take on more enemies. It’s not that simple because the monster is also better at hitting the opposition. Without that twist, it’d be boring: four characters hit a monster with 4 HD and it’s dead; four characters hit monster with 8 HD and it takes two rounds to kill. The difference is that the 8 HD monster probably deals more damage to the characters. Most likely it also has special abilities that make it even more dangerous. That’s why I think save or die effects are important.

The net effect is hard to predict and that’s probably what makes the game interesting.

I’m trying to apply the same kind of analysis to Just Halberds.

Characters fight monsters by rolling opposed 2d6 checks. Monsters have hits (like HD in D&D) that allow them to survive longer but more hits don’t increase their ability to deal damage. So simply adding more hits just makes fights take longer and that’s boring, unless something interesting is going to happen. That means, the monster needs more special abilities to challenge the players.

Monsters have a bonus to their roll which doesn’t just determine the likelihood of hitting a character: the margin also determines the damage dealt, and winning the opposed roll also means that the monster keeps the initiative, allowing it to use special abilities that the players cannot easily defend against.

Let’s take an example monster from the latest copy of Just Halberds:

  • medusas ♡♡♡♡, +2 with their soft voice, +3 with their petrifying snake hair

So, if the party has a strong fighter who attacks with a +3 and gets the initiative, I’d say that the medusa has to roll +0 against his terrible blows. If the medusa has the initiative, however, and the fighter hasn’t prepared for her snake hair with a mirror, then the medusa gets to attack with a +3 and the fighter has to roll +0 against her petrifying hair.

It’s interesting to compare OD&D and Just Halberds when it comes to the effect of increasing the important stat.

My problem, for the moment, is how to model really dangerous opponents. How strong is Lawin the dragon hunter and why is he interested in hiring the party to go and slay the red dragon Burning Bone of the Mountain? Hex Describe says:

  • The dragon hunter fighter Lawin (level 9) is trying to hire two score desperate peasants to go and slay Burning Bone of the Mountain (2209). “I’ll be fair: half of the treasure found for me, half to be shared amongst the other survivors.” A potion of fire resistance (deep alizarin crimson, 1h). A map of the dungeon The Deepest Prison (2209). A black plate armour of Nergal +3, inscribed with runes of fire spelling doom and despair.
  • Boss Monster: the red dragon Burning Bone of the Mountain (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))

I feel like the fighter is about the same level as the dragon, has about as many hit-points, can hit as easily, but only has one attack where as the dragon has three, not counting its breath weapon. The fighter, however, has a potion to protect against the breath weapon, so perhaps he just needs henchmen to soak all that brutal damage while he kills the dragon. Works for me.

But how do we create a similar dynamic using Just Halberds? Let’s check what my notes say:

  • heroes ♡♡♡♡♡♡, +2, with heavy armour and a shield
  • dragons ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡, +3 with their dragon breath

As it is, the dragon slayer is going to avoid facing the dragon’s breath due to the potion, so I’m going to assume that whatever else the dragon has, it’s going to be less powerful: he’s going to fight with +2. That means that hero and dragon are on equal footing, more or less. The dragon can simply take more damage.

Hm. 🤔

I think this means that dragons need a much bigger bonus. Who’s going to be on equal footing with a dragon? A hero being a fighter (+1), a sword-fighter (+1), with a magic weapon (+1), knowing two or three extra tricks (+3) that I haven’t detailed, right? So dragons should get +6, in order to match that, right? And if regular soldiers attack it with a mere +1, the difference of 5 on average makes sure that most of the time, one of the regular soldiers dies. And that’s just when the dragon doesn’t get to use it’s dragon breath.

That’s a pretty devastating power:

  • dragon breath ☆ burns down an entire village; anybody who cannot run must die

I guess if I were to model the killing of Smaug by Bard in Laketown (Wikipedia), I’d say that the secret knowledge imparted by the thrush nullifies the dragon’s defenses so he must roll +0 and Bard gets to roll +3 for his job as archer, his specialisation with the bow, and his special black arrow.

The dragon still has ten hits, which would require a total amount of differences of twenty! How on earth is that going to work?

Maybe in this situation, we could simulate this as requiring one blow and the previous rolls leading up to it to be positioning rolls, entrapment, false trails, lures, deception. It’s not clear to me what sort of bonus you’d use to do that, though.

@paulczege offered some interesting ideas on Mastodon:

Give monsters a “recipe” of certain kinds of attacks it takes to kill them. An ettin might take a “suprise attack” (one rolled with Dex instead of Strength) plus a “heavy strike”, but maybe a couple of successful regular attacks is enough for players to keep the initiative until they get to it. A group of goblins might take a “mook flurry”. A dragon might take a sequence of successful “overstrike” attacks (where a player rolls better than the attack by the prior player).

I guess in the case of Bard vs. Smaug I could say that the ten hits might also be due to awesome armour and actually knowing the weak spot would nullify the armour... Perhaps the dragon only has four hits when discounting the armour? That would still require a difference of eight in the opposed 2d6 roll... but at least it’s possible to pull off.

Some sort of extra “killing blow” rules might still be required. I have to think about this some more.

We could return to the OD&D +1/+3 vs. somebody magic weapons I love so much.

If Bard is using a +1/+3 vs. dragons arrow, and we’re more liberal with granting Bard special abilities, then how about this:

  • +1 for his job as archer
  • +1 for his experience as captain of a company
  • +1 for his sharp eyes
  • +1 for his hatred of Smaug
  • +3 for using a +1/+3 vs. dragons black arrow

That’s a +7 attack vs. a dragon’s absolute weak spot, where the dragon has to roll +0. A difference of 7 would be worth at least four damage plus special effects. If the dragon only has 4 hits without his dragon armour, then it could work...

But wow. So much special casing. I guess that explains why it’s a feat worthy of being told.

And that also tells me that epic fights will go up into the +7 bonuses to the rolls and that epic armour will add up to six hits, and that I can use OD&D magic armour and weapon bonuses as-is.

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Comments on 2020-04-12 The effects of stats in simple games

Really enjoying your work on just halberds. Recent stuff I’ve been reading that’s rules light: 1) Silent Titans (based off Into the Odd, see also Into the Dungeon: Revived.) 2) Trophy Gold (recent Kickstarter, very interesting approach to streamlining adventure module design) 3) Searchers of the Unknown (probably most closely aligned with 2d6 ethos)

starmonkey 2020-04-13 10:35 UTC


Hm, the copy of Searchers of the Unknown is from 2009, collected with many variants in this collection from 2012. Is that the one you were looking at? As far as I know it uses regular D&D dice: 1d20 to hit and all that.

I have Silent Titans but wasn’t too impressed. Maybe I should take another look and focus on the rules for a bit.

Tells me more about Trophy Gold – or post a link?

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-13 13:22 UTC


Trophy Gold (there are 2 variants, the Gold one is the most relevant)

Silent Titans: Initially I was turned off for similar reasons you mentioned. What I’ve now found from reading it, spending time thinking about it, has revealed something very playable in my mind, a fire has been lit in my brain. I want to run this thing.

Regarding Searchers, I wasn’t referring to the mechanics, more the stripped back mechanics (apologies, I was not clear about that!)

starmonkey 2020-04-13 13:45 UTC


Thank you for the link. I’ll give Silent Titans another look. As for minimal d20 systems – I was a big M20 fan back in 2008. Good times! Sadly my players wanted to switch to D&D 3.5! 😅

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-13 16:55 UTC


The initiative rules are very cool - a blend of DW and more traditional D&D.

I really like that since combat is an opposed roll, the defender can damage the attacker, and then take the initiative.

Q1) How do you stop one player from continually nominating themselves to go next? How do you share that around? I’m assuming the PCs should nominate another PC to “go next”?

Q2) For ranged combat against someone without a ranged weapon, what happens if the defender rolls better than the attacker?

Starmonkey 2020-04-14 05:24 UTC


Good questions!

As for nominations, we’ve basically settled on “nominate someone else”. I also think that this is something that would self regulate. People do the right thing without needing a rule and sometimes that means that the player with a non-combat character never gets nominated in a fight! But then monsters will like attacking the non-combat character so every now and then they still get to roll.

As for ranged combat, on the occasions this happened, players fired ranged weapons until they lost initiative at which point the monsters either fled or closed in and their counter is actually their melee attack that their finally manage to pull off. You might have to spin a tale of slow giants throwing trees, or one failed roll standing in for many volleys of arrows in which the giant was able to approach, and so on. There is a slightly awkward moment when players counter with: “but we really wanted to keep our distance!” To that I say, “Yes, but the giant also really wanted to corner you and so he pursued you and now your standing with your back to the cliff and there’s no easy way out and he is swinging his club...”

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-14 06:05 UTC


Yeah, my instinct is to interpret the defenders win as movement. So the PC attempts to shoot the Tiger and fails, the result being the Tiger has charged the PC and now has initiative on the next roll. The Tiger doesn’t cause damage in the first failed roll, but it’s poised to do so in the second.

starmonkey 2020-04-15 02:55 UTC


Hah. I would have had the tiger deal damage on that roll.

I did not expect to see a tiger attack page on Wikipedia...

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-15 06:24 UTC


“Measures to prevent tiger attacks” – Tiger scarecrows!

starmonkey 2020-04-16 14:05 UTC

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