Old School

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

Halberds & Helmets is my house rules document.

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

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

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

  1. Old School RPG Planet

2019-09-10 Spider magic

I finished another spellcaster for my Spellcasters project: Iauniel. Spiders, webs, that kind of thing.

I know, nothing special or revolutionary to see: just good old Vancian magic, spells in the range of 1–5, i.e. for spellcasters in the range of levels 1–10. 🧝🏻‍♀️🧝🏼‍♂️🧙‍♀️🧙🏼‍♂️

And I wrote a little script that extracts all the spell descriptions and puts it into a separate document.

There’s some cleaning up I need to do: resolve duplicates, rename those that share the same name but aren’t actually duplicates, and figure out what to do about duplicates in the first place: replace them with new and original spells?

But first, I need to finish the spellbooks!


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2019-08-29 Warp Spellcaster

I wrote up the spells for another spellcaster in my Spellcasters project. As you know I use the strict interpretation of the magic system: the spells per day are also the spells you have in your repertoire. Magic users and elves cannot learn more than these spells. Exchanging one spell for another takes weeks of research and retraining and usually only happens as characters gain a level.

Furthermore, new spells cannot be learned from scrolls or spellbooks: you need a teacher to learn new spells. Thus, every high level magic user and elf in the setting is automatically a sort of one person school of magic. Therefore, I always need a bunch of high-level magic users and elves to run my games. These are the patrons for my player elves and magic users. Here are the new spells they can learn, and hopefully that also creates some adventure seeds at the same time.

Anyway, this magic user is all about mutations, growing stuff, cloning himself, stuff like that. A bit of a vivimancer, a bit of an evil cleric, a bit of what little I know about Warhammer: Korokoro.

When I picked his name, I did not know about the Koro phenomenon. Now I keep wondering: is this a missed opportunity, or should I simply rename the poor guy?


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2019-08-28 Social Media

Where to find me online:

  • @kensanata is my general Mastodon account 🐝
  • @kensanata is my RPG Mastodon account 🧞‍♂️
  • @kensanata is my long form RPG Diaspora account
  • you are reading this on my blog, of course 🥳

I’m also on Discord, occasionally.

If you have a RPG blog, please send me an email and let me add it to one of the RPG Planets I run. For exposure! 😅


Comments on 2019-08-28 Social Media

I just set up an account. Didn’t you have a post about how to use Mastadon? It’s a little confusing.

Michael Julius 2019-08-28 10:24 UTC

I did write 2017-11-16 How to Mastodon. These days I’m not so sure it’s still good. Instead, I see Joyeuse Noëlle’s An Increasingly Less-Brief Guide to Mastodon getting recommended a lot.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-28 10:56 UTC

Once you created an account, you can log into that account using different clients.

These might offer a more pleasing experience, depending on your needs. I like Mastodon as it is but I was also a TweetDeck user.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-28 10:58 UTC

I think these days new accounts come with the “Enable advanced web interface” setting unchecked, so you get the single column layout. Let me think of the things that seem non-obvious to me:

  • search is often limited to hashtags in public posts on your server only!
  • thus, use hashtags every now and then so other people can find your posts
  • you can also search for accounts from other server: search for kensanata to find my various accounts and click on the “person plus” icon in order to follow me
  • sometimes clicking on an account from another server shows you that they have written posts but don’t show any of them: that’s because they haven’t been downloaded to your server, yet – if you follow them, their posts will get downloaded
  • clicking on the avatar on their profile takes you to their profile on their server: now you can see their public posts but since you are on their server, you can no longer favor their posts nor follow them unless you log in again
  • Home is for the posts of people you follow
  • Notifications is for posts that mention you or people favoring (liking) or boosting (sharing) your posts
  • Local is for posts from people on the same server as you
  • Federated is for posts on the same server as you, even if written by people not on your server: mostly posts from people somebody on your server is already following
  • clicking on a post shows you all it’s ancestors (no branches) and all its descendants (including all the branches)

Image 1 for 2017-01-05 Mermaid

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-28 11:43 UTC

I’m going to copy this to a new page. This advice isn’t is bad!

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-29 06:10 UTC

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2019-08-28 How about 2d6

Hah, watching Secrets of Blackmoor has made me think about using 2d6 again.

On the one hand, I’m as fascinated as @lskh is by all the 2d6 mechanics surrounding me, from Traveller to Powered by the Apocalypse rules, and like a siren it’s calling me. And I remember older rules, too. I remember the very first such game I met was Fenris 2d6, and Pits & Perils. I remember being a bit disappointed when I realized that Pits & Perils was so simplistic even though I had read an enthusiastic review on Save vs. Total Party Kill.

But when I look at Dave Arneson’s table of old friends and his daughter in Secrets of Blackmoor, having fun, exploring dungeons, and just using just 2d6… It obviously works!

And I see that Norbert Matausch has been thinking about the same things, lately. To get a feel for his games, perhaps it makes sense to read Sophie’s review of Tatzelwurm, one of his 2d6 games. I first noticed his interested in 2d6 games when I read John Harper’s World of Dungeons, followed by Streets of Marienburg by unknown authors, and finally Norbert Matausch’s Advanced World of Dungeons. He took his old blog down, so you’ll have to do a little searching online to find the PDFs. Looking at his new blog, I see quite a few posts talking about the things I’m fascinated by right now:

Pre-D&D: How Dave, Gary, Phil and the original grognards played talks about people disliking Chainmail because it lacked hit-points and thus characters died whenever they were hit. There’s more about this in the Secrets of Blackmoor movie, actually. Anyway, the article tries to collect the actual rules used and continues with an example combat. A few days later, there is a second attempt at writing down the rules, Older School: Pre-D&D, 2nd edition, and finally How the Grognards really played, 3rd edition. Wonderful!

Ahhh... and yet here I am, writing spells and spellbooks. 😆​


Comments on 2019-08-28 How about 2d6

At the moment I’m fascinated by Advanced Fighting Fantasy, which also uses 2d6, which is still very light on rules. Also, Troika!, which is Planescape without superheroes using (basically) a modified version of AFF.

Ynas Midgard 2019-08-29 00:25 UTC

You did convince me to buy Troika! which also happens to be the Deal of the Day at DriveThru RPG.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-29 05:54 UTC

Also enjoying this list of quotes: Play worlds, not rules: Juggling ideas for stone age rpg sessions.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-29 06:28 UTC

Was thinking of combining Troika! with Hill Cantons setting/adventures. Seems like it’d be a good fit.

I also think World of Dungeons would go great with the Magic system replaced with that of Wonder & Wickedness.

Starmonkey 2019-08-30 08:36 UTC

I need to think about what I want from a 2d6 system. I don’t actually want to recreate a complex system and I feel like all my RPG experience is pulling me that way. So now I think I need to play, maybe start with as little as possible, and then decide where to take it based on what happens at the table. Which then makes me think I need the right players for it as well.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-30 09:52 UTC

Once I read through this, Troika immediately came to mind. It’s basically the system that this is describing. And Troika is just amazing generally...

– Ian Schlom 2019-08-30 20:20 UTC

Regarding the idea of going back to Arneson... wheee! I was reading The Arnesonian Dungeon by Justin Alexander and found comments by Dan Boggs and a link to his blog, Hidden in Shadows. And I’m thinking, nope, Arneson isn’t just rolling 2d6 and figuring it out as he goes. It’s a complicated, confusing, malleable machine in his head, ever changing, and so now I’m suspecting that a simple roll high on 2d6 might result in a very boring game indeed. There needs to be much more in the background, in the setting, in the internal workings of the world to make those die rolls interesting.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-30 22:21 UTC

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2019-08-27 Secrets of Blackmoor

I just saw the movie Secrets of Blackmoor. It was entertaining and worth the fistful of dollars I paid. 👍

I love the idea that I’m still going to be playing roleplaying games when I’m old. I guess that’s the main take-away I have for anybody thinking about watching the movie. It’s old people talking about the hobby, the transition from wargaming to role playing games. It’s also a slow movie. There are repetitions. They tell you how they played, how they still play. It’s lovely. Then again, as I grow older I’m starting to appreciate the slower cuts, the slower talking. 😅

It felt a bit like reading Playing at the World again but now with pretty pictures. As an aside, I also recommend the book author’s blog of the same name.

Anyway, the movie was OK, I liked it! It makes me want to play simple 2d6 based games again.


Comments on 2019-08-27 Secrets of Blackmoor

Though I’m not quite there yet, I’m assuming that retirement will be my full speed second golden age of D&D.

Michael Julius 2019-08-27 17:11 UTC

👍 Let’s hope I have enough like-minded friends when the time comes!

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-27 17:26 UTC

Apparently part 2 will be about the actual campaigns: “Arneson’s Blackmoor, John Sniders space campaign, Minstf Dungeon, Barker’s Tékumel.”

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-29 12:21 UTC

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2019-08-15 Deep Carbon Observatory Day 1

I’ve started running Deep Carbon Observatory.

As soon as the party arrived in town, I described the town as recently flooded and started playing some Godspeed You! Black Emperor. And I immediately had my doubts. The golems get weaker every day, but at the same time, people are suppose to be hungry, so they’ve been hungry for days? My players wanted to know why the water hadn’t drained?

I started my players with three disaster vignettes. One player wanted to do this, the others left to handle the others, I kept introducing new disasters and NPCs and there was much sighing. Kids, teachers, priests and magic-users were saved, cannibals were ignored, the rich guy was also brought back, a fire got started, a palisade was built, a camp got started. When they boy with the stolen scrolls showed up, they decided to track him and free his sister because the cannibal who had tried to lure one of the kids away from the fire had freaked out my players, I think.

I didn’t like how the module says that if you pass dozens of tests, the boy just gets shot. The boy was cooperating, the halfling was well hidden, the thief had a ring of invisibility, I didn’t think that’d be fair, and so I improvised some safety measures: the boy hands the scroll case to a waiting zombie, the zombie takes it to remote ruin, the girl is released from a different ruin, the ranger comes and takes the scroll... and then my players strike, of course. An invisible thief with a good weapon, and the halfling, with surprise and winning initiative is good enough to down the ranger before he gets to react, and as per my house rules if you bring an opponent to zero hit-points with a melee weapon that could conceivably be used to deal non-lethal damage, then the opponent is at your mercy.

He was a tough one, knew exactly that they were do-gooders and played it well, I think. They took his bow and his poisons and traps and let him go.

Thus, we got through a bit more than half the encounters in Carrowmore in the first session. There was no abandoning of people, my players were willing to split up and split again but as my players always have a few henchmen at hand, splitting the party is no big deal.

I had imagined there being a stronger sense of loss and despair as players have to abandon people to their fate but that didn’t happen. Good or bad? I don’t know.

I was able to bring the Crows across as mean bastards who know how to control zombies, but their ranger is now diminished. The consecutive INT tests to discover how the bow works are weird. Also, you need to pass 1d6 tests – I wonder what that is for? How about ignoring this and just saying that the character discovers how to use the bow after a while and that’s it? The INT test rolling isn’t very exciting, I think.

Anyway, not sure what to make of it. Drowning lands sounds interesting.

The two hooks I used to invite the party to Carrowmore was that some rebels they wanted to support needed a magic user and these rebels had heard that Koolhaus (which I misread as Koolmore because it was too close to Carrowmore, haha) was sympathetic to the rebel cause. So the party went to Carrowmore to find Koolhaus/Koolmore. At the same time, the rebel leader told them about the legend of an old kingdom hiding their treasures beneath a lake in the mountains nearby so while they’re in the area, why not investigate?

The magic user the players met in Carrowmore knew Koolmore, of course, and said that he had gone upriver to investigate the broken dam, so now the party is feeling the pull of both hooks. This seems to be working. 👍


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2019-08-14 The kind of RPG podcast I miss

You probably know that I have a podcast, the Halberds and Helmets Podcast. Recently on Reddit somebody said they loved it and asked for recommendations. If only I knew!

My favourite RPG podcast is Judd Karlman’s podcast, Daydreaming about Dragons. I like how he just picks up the phone and starts talking.

I think what I like about Judd’s podcast is that he talks about technique and inspiration – not about the actual things. It’s hard to put into words. I once said the following about Judd’s podcast on Mastodon:

What is it about the exact things he talks about that keeps me listening? I think it’s because I can imagine myself in the conversation I can’t have in my face-to-face games: referees talking to each other about their games, about what works and what inspired them and what didn’t work. I even listen to the call-ins because they’re not about praising each other or the products made. Just GM-to-GM talk.

And that’s it, I think. I feel like I’m having a Referee-to-Referee talk when I listen to the podcast, which is something I don’t get at my table with my players. We play on weekdays, people come late because they come from work and they leave early because they have to work the next day. We talk about parents, injuries, jobs, relationships, life. Somehow we don’t talk about running games.

I think other podcasts often fall into author-to-reader talk. It’s still hard to put into words. Judd talks about why and how he does things and doesn’t talk about the things themselves. He talks about why random tables are great and maybe what effect it had that one time he used a random table, but he doesn’t provide listeners with actual random tables, nor does he pontificate about random tables. It’s conversational. I love it.

If you know other podcasts like that, I’d love to know about them! Perhaps Fear of a Black Dragon comes close because the two hosts talk about how they run games, how they use the material, and that’s great, except I’m usually not too interested in the actual material they use to anchor the conversation.


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2019-08-11 Allies and Antagonists

I just read through Adventurers are the Measure on the Necropraxis blog. I try to do similar things myself in my own game. Many years ago I wrote about the gods and demon lords of my setting:

And this year:

Basically, the demons are not always evil. The institutions of good are corrupt, like all institutions. And my mini-setting generator, Hex Describe, tries to do the same:

  • the descriptions don’t include alignments – the world is basically open
  • some orc tribes might be interested in attacking nearby human settlements but there are also orc bards and orc merchants - sometimes there are tendencies that go one way or another but there are also always individuals that go against this: alignment shows through deeds, not words, nor nature, nor nurture
  • killing unicorns and selling their horns is lucrative; the unicorns themselves have goals involving the elimination of nearby temples and villages – there is a temptation for doing evil deeds as well, and excuses for doing them

I think that’s what I’m aiming for: the setting has many different settlements and lairs and that alone provides an interesting backdrop, but more than that, I want the situations to be charged. There must be conflicting interests. Like arrows pointing at each other. The situation is tense and the players could join either side.


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2019-08-08 OSR as a scene is dead

I think Melan is right: the OSR has desintegrated.

The old-school community split this year, and its surviving pieces have gone their separate ways. It is gone. There has been surprisingly little talk about it, and most still speak in terms of a general scene, but in my eyes, the divorce has clearly taken place. The fault lines had been present for a few years, and the conflicts were visible for all to see. Google+’s shuttering by its corporate overlords provided a good opportunity for things to come apart, but it has also obscured the OSR’s disintegration. […] There was undoubtedly something there for a few years, and now there isn’t.

We had lots of activity in the forums (and they are still around: Dragonsfoot, OD&D Discussion, Knights & Knaves, and so on), then we had the blogs (and they are still around: Old School RPG Planet), then we had Google+, and now it’s all over the place and nowhere.

I’m not active on /r/osr, nor MeWe. Is that where the various groups still interact? Lasagna Social is super small. The Old School on Mastodon is tiny.

I just noticed the following on the unofficial Reddit guide: /r/osr has 6k subscribers but /r/rpg has 680k and even something like a subreddit for a YouTube channel has more: /r/mattcolville has 41k subs.


Comments on 2019-08-08 OSR as a scene is dead

The biggest community is on discord, several thousand people with lots of regulars. A lot of the OSR blog authors chat there, bounce ideas off each other, work on community projects, etc. Check Chris McDowall’s Bastionland for an invite.

diregrizzlybear 2019-08-08 12:53 UTC

Catholocism didn’t end with the Protestant Reformation, I don’t know why the OSR would end because of the Sworddream Reformation, it’ll just be smaller. Declaring the OSR dead feels like folks have lost confidence in Sworddream and want to ’blow up’ the OSR in frustration.

– ruprecht 2019-08-08 13:00 UTC

@ruprecht, Wherever Sworddream is happening, I’m not seeing it. Do you have a link? I remember seeing the announcement and then nothing else.

I think that the word “dead” is as appropriate as it is to use for any thing that’s out of fashion. Yes, it’s still around, but it’s diminished. I mean, Old School RPG Planet has plenty of blogs listed, but it no longer feels like a community. I don’t see people commenting on each other’s blogs as much – not as much as they did in 2008-2012, and not as much as people used to comment on Google+.

@diregrizzlybear, thanks for the info. I tried Discord around 2017, I think. I was on many different servers but the chat format didn’t really work for me, even though I’m on IRC a lot. It feels like a different niche. I don’t really have the need to chat in real time about role-playing games.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-08 14:41 UTC

I disagree. For me, it is and always has been about the blogs. G+, Discord, Mewe, etc etc are all basically valueless, as they don’t create the kind of permanent(ish) record the blogs.

The quality has tailed off a bit across the board, but I think that’s inevitable. The low-hanging fruit has been plucked, early giants have retired, etc. But I think there’s still value in the appellation OSR, and in the work the remnants are doing.

The OSR has always been niche, and it still is. That’s ok. It doesn’t mean it’s gone.

Charles 2019-08-08 14:50 UTC

“Yes, it’s still around, but it’s diminished. I mean, Old School RPG Planet has plenty of blogs listed, but it no longer feels like a community. I don’t see people commenting on each other’s blogs as much – not as much as they did in 2008-2012, and not as much as people used to comment on Google+.”

Because it all moved to discord instead of being broken up across dozens of blogs. At this point, blogging is where people put more finished products, after it has been discussed, critiqued, brainstormed, and editted in semi-realtime. It isn’t that the community has disappeared from the OSR but that the blogs serve a different purpose.

It’s also where games are organized, whether on private discords or via hangouts or roll20.

diregrizzlybear 2019-08-08 15:18 UTC

@diregrizzlybear, I see. Thanks!

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-08 16:08 UTC

To be clear I think Sworddream was stillborn. The concept was basically OSR without yucky people and that’s not really much of an idea. I don’t know if it’s a third wave of the OSR or something new altogether but the Black Hack and GLOG seem to be examples of real movements and communities in a way Sworddream never managed. Then again I don’t discord so I’m probably missing something.

– ruprecht 2019-08-08 18:58 UTC

Yeah, at one point I made the effort of contacting all the GLOG blogs mentioned in that Who is the GLOGosphere post and was surprised to see how many there were – and how disconnected they were from each other, apparently. Many hadn’t realized that they had been listed and linked until I contacted them.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-08 19:10 UTC

After a few days on Discord again, I’m not too impressed. It’s fine as it is for the people on there. But it hasn’t been drawing me in, so I didn’t feel like I was observing a community in action. I’ll keep an eye on it, for sure, but it hasn’t wowed me.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-17 16:55 UTC

As I was browsing the Monsters & Manuals best of list and happened upon Everybody Loves Our Game: On the OSR "Scene" where the term “scene” is used like I wanted to use it:

a scene is something that simply forms by accident around a set of shared interests or behaviours, and as a consequence of the interactions of human beings who have those shared interests or behaviours - nothing more or nothing less

And my impression was that the interactions are dropping off. Or that I am dropping out of it. Not for lack of shared interests but for lack of interaction.

We’ll how this Discord mania goes. For now I don’t mind using it because I get to use my IRC client and not their app. Their terms of service leave much to be desired, however.

I see that a while ago I wrote:

I just gave their terms another read through and users must submit to arbitration instead of a jury trial and they may not join a class suit. I thought these were good things to have?

I also dislike wording like the following although I was happy to see the limitation “in connection with operating and providing the Service.” I hope they take it to mean the same thing that I take it to mean.

By uploading, distributing, transmitting or otherwise using Your Content with the Service, you grant to us a perpetual, nonexclusive, transferable, royalty-free, sublicensable, and worldwide license to use, host, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, and display Your Content in connection with operating and providing the Service.

@seven alerted my to the fact that the word “perpetual” most likely violates the General Data Protection Regulation.

@technomancy alerted me to the fact that using third party clients are a problem. Just look the rules of /r/discordapp:

Discussion of the following will remain against our subreddit rules:

  • 3rd party clients
  • 3rd party ‘plugins’
  • CSS Modifications


– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-26 17:31 UTC

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2019-08-06 Hex Describe, Face Generator, Text Mapper, and more

If you’re wondering where the discussion regarding Hex Describe, Face Generator, and Text Mapper actually happens, the answer might surprise you: it happens on the Diaspora network!

There, I create new threads every now and then for people who want to talk to me about these applications. They allow people to generate a mini-setting including a map, a key, and NPCs, with but one click, powered by the greatest collection of random tables I know. 😅

I keep creating these threads whenever the previous thread reaches about 100 comments because it starts being unwieldy.

Here’s a list if you want to explore:

You get the idea. 🙂


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