If your players can hire retainers, how do you handle it? I used a d30 list of candidates. Some of these were “normal men” – people who didn’t want to fight: porters, torchbearers, horse handlers and the like. Thus, when people wanted to hire some people, I had them roll 1d6 for the number of people to show up at the tavern at the beginning of the session, and I had them roll a d30 for as many times, read them the entry from my list, promised myself to replace that entry at some point, and then tried to figure out what stats to give these people.
Over the last few sessions, however, I’ve noticed a different trend: I simply have a large stack of printed, computer generated pre-generated characters and if players looked for new candidates to hire, they rolled a d6 and pulled as many characters from the stack. Instant details, including funny faces, equipment, spells, and all that.
I wrote the generator and so generating twenty or thirty characters is no problem at all. I ended up extending the generator whenever I joined a new game, so for the moment it is most useful for B/X (the default), Labyrinth Lord (the prices differ a bit), and Halberds & Helmets (my house rules). There’s even some ACKS support in there, but it is severely lacking, sadly. Encoding the feats has proven to be supper annoying and I no longer play in an ACKS campaign. If you don’t like it, there’s Ramanan's character generator with support for Basic D&D (the one I linked to), 1974 D&D, Holmes D&D and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and campaign specific characters for Pahvelorn, Apolyon, and Carcosa. Check out the footer for links!
Using pre-generated player characters turned out to be very popular, where as using “normal men” was fraught with problems. Do they gain XP? After I while I decided that they do. Can they gain a level? After a while I said yes of course, but obviously only classes suitable for humans. But when? When they gained 100XP. Do they get a share of the treasure? At one point I had the following rule, trying to limit the bookkeeping of minute XP amounts: they needed to gain 100 XP in one go by being part of a fight with monsters where every single participant got 100 XP or more. This made sure that those “normal men” only gained a level when fighting manticores or similarly traumatic events.
And yet… It was too damn complicated for me, and none of my players cared.
That’s why I’m going to drop the d30 table of candidates and replace the section in my player handbook with a note saying that the referee will have some character sheets prepared.
And finally, if my players don’t want to share treasure and XP with retainers, then they should buy war dogs instead. Pets are better than “normal men” with all the rules baggage.
Dave Baymiller presents his house rules for common situations on Google+ and asks for how we do this. Here’s what I said:
Climbing: anybody can climb without armor if there are good handholds. Otherwise, only thieves using their thieving ability (I use 1d6 with numbers similar to Hear Noise).
Disguises: anybody can disguise themselves. The particular situations he listed have never come up in my game, so no rulings. I’d probably simply use a Reaction Check. Neutral = Suspicious. Positive = They fall for it.
Interrogation: we just talk at the table for a bit, no dice rolling. If trust is required, I let them make a Reaction Check. Positive = they trust you to help them out and are ready to make deals.
Languages: the common tongue for anybody, a few basic words for elves and dwarves as per the book, an extra language per Int bonus, to be picked whenever it’s convenient. A kind of Schrödinger language slots: you don’t know which languages the character knows until you look.
Swimming: anybody can swim without armor. With armor, save vs. death every round or drown.
Torture: I ask the players what they want to hear. Then I say that this is exactly what their victim is saying after the maltreatment. And if they want to go into the details, I tell them I don’t want to hear about it. Ugh!
Scars: I use a Death & Dismemberment table with limb loss and one particular entry that has the loss of eyes, ears, nose, teeth… We don’t have simple scars.
Sometimes I wonder about writing and illustrating my own monster manual. Basically for Halberds and Helmets – I don’t really need it for anything. When I run my game, I usually refer to the Labyrinth Lord monster list and if that doesn’t help, I’ll get up and get the Advanced Edition Companion (which only ever helps for a handful of creatures) from the shelf, or rarer still, the Rules Cyclopedia. By then I usually notice that I lost focus and the game is dragging, so I try to stop doing that.
What I need, I think, is my own monster list, my own illustrations, my own treasure tables, and so on. Something specific to my campaigns.
One place to start looking would be M20 Hard Core where I tried to simplify monsters and their damage is always d6 based (sometimes multiple dice).
So, looking at the Labyrinth Lord monster list…
OK, so with that I have a list of monsters to illustrate and practice my iPad pen, haha. I’ll be adding these to Google+ while I work on them and then, when I’m ready, I’ll do my monster manual.
I think I also have to add some demons and devils to this monster manual but we’ll see about that.
Recently, Brendan wrote about character roles in Roles for common adventurer jobs. Basically, players write on their character sheet, if their character always does this or that. It’s like an Instinct in Burning Wheel. The example Brendan picks is positioning. Characters can “always” be part of the Vanguard, Rearguard, a Scout, or a Torchbearer.
I like the general idea and I recently had a similar discussion at the table where a player said their character would always do this or that, and I thought of Burning Wheel’s instincts and said, that’s cool—write it down on your character sheet so that next time we won’t have to talk about it.
I’m not sure positioning requires this sort of mechanical support though. Does it lead to discussions at your table? I usually just start with assumptions: “So, it seemed like you were in the front, riding your raptor, right?” That’s when others can speak up and say that no, actually they were scouting. Or if nobody speaks up, then that’s that. Or something is going on at the front and I’ll ask, “So, was anybody guarding the back? I’m guessing the dwarf and thief and their retinue are in front by the door, right? So who’s in the back? Not the wizard? So it’s going to be your guys, Michael?” If find that this helps establish the situation, and since it is framed as a discussion, players will accept the resulting positioning more readily. They practically volunteer for this or that role, as we talk about the situation.
Thing I can’t do is “Roll for surprise, Michael, your guys are being attacked!” This will lead to players arguing that they weren’t there and all that. So I’ll ask who’s in the back, Michael agrees that it would have been his guys, and then I say, “OK, time to roll for surprise, then! One and two is bad!”
Brendan’s reply is that yes, these discussions take up a little table time because he wants to know before stuff happens – a bit like buying equipment before you know what you’ll need.
I guess I see it as a different thing because players know that they are volunteering for something bad to happen.
And I make similar decisions elsewhere: I don’t want to know about who takes which watch. I’ll roll for a random encounter, and for a random person on watch right then and there. They get to pick a friend who is up with them. So, “lazy” determination. Another example is sneaking: they only need to roll when there is somebody that can hear them. Again, “lazy” determination.
Since this doesn’t seem to hurt my immersion or suspension of disbelief, I am free to consider: is predetermination leading to an interesting trade-off? Buying and carrying equipment? Yes. Vanguard or Rearguard given that you don’t know from where the enemy will strike? Not so much.
I was wondering about non-player character treasure, on Google+. I like rolling on a table and I might say stuff like “this magic user is so powerful, I’ll just use the Vampire treasure type”. What else might I look into?
I knew about the treasure table in the Dungeon Masters Guide but I remember them resulting in a very different mix of magic items than has been common in my campaign.
So here’s my table.
This is stuff for a fighter that’s part of a non-player party, the leader of a few men. Armor appropriate to stature. This is what fighter levels usually mean in my campaign, and the bonus for the treasure table below.
|3||+2||veterans, village heroes, sergeants, squad commanders, leading ten men-at-arms|
|5||+4||town leaders, captains, company commanders, leading a unit of a hundred men-at-arms|
|9||+8||rulers of a castle, of a hex, of a tribe, barons|
In the treasure table below, horses and chariots are all found only outside a dungeon, obviously.
|1||Poor: chain, spear||1d4×10 gold|
|2||Solid: plate, shield, helmet, sword||1d6×10 gold|
|3||Rich: as above plus lance, horse||1d10×10 gold|
|4||Noble: as above plus barding||3d6×10 gold|
|5||Loot: as above plus bow||3d6×10 gold, 1d4 gems|
|6||Benefactor: as above but with elven sword +1||3d6×10 gold, 1d6 gems|
|7||Aide: as above but with elven lance +1||3d6×10 gold, 2d6 gems|
|8||Elf Friend: as above but with elven bow +1||3d6×10 gold, 2d6 gems, 1d4 jewelry|
|9||Ruler: as above plus special item (see below)||5d6×10 gold, 2d6 gems, 1d6 jewelry|
|10||Lord: as above but with a set of elven arms and armor: plate +1, shield +1, matching helmet||5d6×10 gold, 3d6 gems, 1d6 jewelry|
|11||Delver: as above but with a set of dwarven arms and armor: plate +2, shield +2, matching helmet, sword +2, and a chariot||5d6×10 gold, 3d6 gems, 2d6 jewelry|
|12||Powerful: as above but with a flaming (+1d6 damage) sword +2 or a dwarven throwing hammer +3 if a dwarf, gauntlets of ogre power (strength 18)||5d6×10 gold, 4d6 gems, 2d6 jewelry|
|13||Higher Calling: as above but with angelic or hellish and armor: plate +3, shield +3, matching helmet, special sword of light or darkness +3 (see below)||5d6×10 gold, 4d6 gems, 3d6 jewelry|
|14||Special: as above but with a very special sword (see below)||5d6×10 gold, 5d6 gems, 3d6 jewelry|
Jewelry: 3d6×100 gold (average is about 1000 gold each) – rings, hair bands, crowns, bracelets, necklaces, amulets, hair needles, etc.
Gems: use the table below (average is about 200 gold each)
|1||A random potion, roll 1d8: 1. diminuition (6”, 2h), 2. ferocity (double damage, 2h), 3. fly (2h), 4. healing (1d6+1, 3×), 5. invisibility, 6. love, 7. shape-changing, 8. speed (two action per round)|
|2||A random ring, roll 1d4: 1. djinni calling (1/day, for a day), 2. fire resistance (immune to normal fire, +2 to saves, all fire damage dice -1), 3. minor creation (non-magical, portable things, 2h), 4. protection (AC +1)|
|3||A random miscellaneous item, roll 1d4: 1. bag of holding (opens a small portal to another sphere), 2. boots of speed (double movement speed), 3. elemental summoning device (it takes 10min to perform the ritual, the element is determined by the device: bowl means water, brazier means fire, censer means air, stone means earth), 4. elven cloak (hiding 5-in-6 when not moving)|
|4||Their weapon is special: it can glow as bright as daylight produce a dark mist like the continual light spell and its reverse, at will|
|5||Their weapon is special: it grants them a permanent aura of authority (charisma 18)|
|6||A horn of battle that will summon 2d4 barbarians from the next world to fight for you until killed, HD 1+1 AC 7 1d6 MV 12|
Swords with a higher calling:
|1||+1/+3 vs. lycanthropes, forged by the high inquisitors|
|2||+1/+3 vs. spell casters, forged in the philosopher’s war|
|3||+1/+3 vs. undead, an angelic sword forged in heaven|
|4||+1/+3 vs. dragons, an old elven sword forged in the dragon wars|
Very special weapons:
Add more special weapons as needed…
Use the special item table above.
Use the special item table above.
I integrated my referee tips from the Swiss Referee Style Guide into my campaign rules document.
On Google+, Aaron McLin commented on my opening paragraph:
“This is not a Monty Haul campaign and not a stupid dungeon crawl.”
I always find statements critical of other games and play styles to be an immediate turn-off. Who has ever described their rewards as overly generous or a dungeon crawl they have created as “stupid?” While they don’t work for me, personally, a lot of people enjoy dungeon crawling, and sometimes, being all about the new cool gear is fun for people.
The statement strikes me as a cheap shot (and something of a straw man) designed to establish some “I’m smarter than some other gamers, so my game is better,” cred. But (and I feel that I’ve said this a million times) I’ve never met a salesperson who has sought to undermine their customer’s feelings of thoughtfulness and intelligence by attacking choices they may have made earlier - in other words, when you go to a Ford dealership, they don’t open by going on about how crappy Volkswagens are - after all, they might not know what you drove to the lot.
My reply at the time:
It seems to me that the statement made it really easy for you to know that you don’t want to play at my table. Works for me.
On a more self-critical note, I guess that in general, I’d agree with you. Putting other play style downs is lame. But here’s why I started out with those statements and links: when I tell some gamers that I’m using a version of D&D from the eighties, I have to also tell them that I’m not running the kind of game they are thinking of when they hear it. So I need a short hand for “no, not that kind of game”. After all, this is not a generic rule set, this is the document we use at my table, so I want to use the first page to tell potential players: this is what I like, this is what it is going to be about. It will not be about prestige classes, cool new gear or killing gods. Some people might enjoy that, but that’s not what they’ll find in my game. That’s why I feel justified in starting out with a value judgment. It also tells the reader: if you don’t share these values, you should read something else.
I’m still wondering about the choice of words. I have played and run sessions where the game is about moving from room to room, opening doors, finding traps and fighting monsters, but all activities happen on the simplest level where practically no thought is required.
Moving from room to room has a clear procedure:
Opening doors has a clear procedure:
Finding traps is also a thoughtless process:
Fighting monsters is also thoughtless:
The thoughtlessness is there because at one point we determined this to be our optimal procedure and we didn’t want to keep restating it, and there was no reason to change it. There were no trade-offs to make, no decisions to make, only the motions to go through. Thus, while I wouldn’t have called it “stupid” at the time, that’s how I see it now.
I hope that I managed to turn the game around whenever I realized that we were descending into this routine. What I’m trying to tell new players at my table is that this is not how I want to play, except I want to use a few words as possible.
Is “stupid” the right word?
Update: After some discussion on Google+ changed the intro page. Aaron McLin is right!
OSR is about going back to the old games and exploring avenues not taken at the time. In terms of products, this meant republishing rules compatible with the old games and adventures looking like the old modules. As time went by, the OSR developed new settings, new ways of presenting setting materials, rules that where still compatible but included many house rules, or rules that were incompatible but still recognizably derived from the old rules. This latest development is what I call DIY D&D. So for me, DIY D&D is a subset of the OSR.
The market being so small, all of this was driven by very small teams of people and facilitated by POD. I’m not convinced that words such as independent and anti-establishment mean so much in this context. If a writer, two or three artists, an editor, a layout person and a publisher make a book, is it all that different from how Paizo and WotC work? Are their teams so much different? It would seem to me that their product is simply more opinionated, less designed to reach the widest audience possible. As such, I also see DIY D&D as an aesthetic movement. In way, pushing the hardest down “avenues not taken at the time”.
Zak also left a comment: “DIY D&D is a term I invented because I hate a lot of old stuff but I liked the bloggers who talked about it and their garage-rock house rules approach.”
If you’re wondering who Zak is, you might want to read his blog – or you might want to read this piece by Vanessa Veselka, The Best Monster (2014), as an introduction. I liked it very much. Zak wrote another article himself, Why I Still Love 'Dungeons & Dragons' in the Age of Video Games (2015). And then there is the older one which caused some controversy back then, a piece by Davy Rothbart, Playing Dungeons and Dragons with Porn Stars (2012).
I don’t follow Zak on G+ and he doesn’t follow me. I just read his blog and every now and then I read up on the controversies he’s embroiled in. This is the very first controversy, apparently: Default Tracy Hurley & Filamena Young Attack the D&D With Porn Stars Women Transcript, just in case you are as confused as I am by the recent resurgence of the discussion after the post of Mark Diaz Truman on Google+, Two Minutes Hate.
Curious about the post by Mark Diaz Truman? I thought it was a good read. I’m all in favor of treating people like people, not like objects of hate, in favor of some humility, recognizing the achievements of others and the failings of oneself. And I have often scratched my head, wondering what the hell I just read in a thread on G+.
Zak often comes across as aggressive. Here’s an example on a blog post of his where Brie Sheldon is quoted saying “I have been directly impacted by the bad behavior of Zak” and he jumps on that and wants to see the evidence. He also provides a link to a longer thread by Jeremie Friesen on Google+ where Zak and Tracy talk. He really wants to defend himself against any and all slights, including the thread mentioned above.
Here’s why I care: back when I ran the One Page Dungeon Contest I liked the fact that every submission had to use a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license. One day Brett Bernstein contacted me and asked me whether I’d be OK with Precis Intermedia collecting the submissions in a printed volume. Of course I’m OK with it, but more than that: it doesn’t matter whether I’m OK with it. You don’t have to ask. That’s what the license is all about. No more asking for permission is key. The Book Free Culture talks about this a lot. The licenses were created to get around the need to ask for permission.
Sadly, some people didn’t understand that applying the license to their submission allowed others to do this very thing I was so happy to see. I felt I had done a good thing by insisting that the contest submissions used Creative Commons licenses but somebody else wrote a blog post calling the result a “dick move”.   That hurts. And it keeps on hurting because the written words do not disappear. The spoken word will disappear, but the blog post will stay. Somebody is forever insulting me.
That’s why I agree with people like Zak: there needs to be more accountability online. Posting online is not like talking to friends. Posting online is like writing for the press if more than a handful of people can read it. Accountability is key. Politeness is key.
I really don’t like vague statements. I remember one of the comments in particular. Avonelle Wing says: “I’m concerned about all the voices that have serious issues with how they’ve been treated in the past who have now been silenced entirely because one person (one white man) behaved inappropriately in public in the perception of one high-visibility entity.” To me, this is an opening statement that works well in a face to face conversation, a private conversation. Are we talking about Zak? Who are “all the voices?” If we were friends and talking face to face, I could ask for clarification, we’d share the backstory I’m missing. But written words, no links to threads, no names, it’s all so vague. And yet, we’re perhaps discussing the reputation of a person. I’d be trying to defend myself against such vague insinuations and I’d like to see some evidence so that we can talk about it. The alternative is not to make such insinuations in public. I’ll go back to the thread linked above where Tracey Hurley is talking to Mandy and Zak. Is Tracey Hurley one of the people that have been silenced? I’m not friends with her, either. All I know from reading the transcript is that Zak and Mandy are vigorously defending their way of life and saying that they are not willing to take the blame for things that are wrong with capitalism and the magazine Maxim. Thus, the vague statements make it hard to know if I’m understanding what Avonelle meant. And comments are closed. And then another vague statement: “Fear of retaliation is gatekeeping, and there’s definitely gatekeeping going on that is keeping women out of publicly producing games.” What is the retaliation we are speaking about? Is it Zak angrily demanding that people provide proof when they allege his wrongdoings? Would me asking for quotes be construed as the same kind of “retaliation?”
Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. I think people should own their accusations and name names and link to evidence—or take their discussions out of their public sphere. Is this “silencing?” I don’t think so. These are the consequences of sharing a public space. Your freedom ends where it impinges upon another’s.
„Das Recht ist also der Inbegriff der Bedingungen, unter denen die Willkür des einen mit der Willkür des anderen nach einem allgemeinen Gesetze der Freiheit zusammen vereinigt werden kann.“ 
Another example is a post by Sophie Lagace, Who measures progress? Good question. I’d love to see the “long-documented bad behaviours” she mentioned. And I keep wondering about “Calling out of victims.” When I read the transcript above, it seemed to me that Zak was the victim, except that he doesn’t show fear and doesn’t retreat to a safe space and instead defends his reputation vigorously, angrily. And yet his anger doesn’t get seen as appropriate. It’s weird. The entire blowback Mark is getting is weird.
After adding to this post over the days that the discussion has been unfolding, I realized that I had already said most of what I wanted to say back in 2014, Speaking in Public. Back then, I said:
What I took away from all those years on the Internet was being more careful about what I said. At first I felt like a coward. Afraid of comments on my own blog, I was.
Is this me being silenced or is this me being reasonable when speaking in public? I’m not being silenced and neither is anybody else who is rightfully criticised and challenged in public. Belonging to a group that is being silenced (their actors don’t play in big movies, their books don’t get nominated for awards, their artists are being paid less, their complaints about abuse are being ignored) does not mean that you get to say whatever. Like Tracy in that first thread up there, she definitely has the right to object to sexualized images of women playing D&D in a magazine—but she does not get immunity when challenged by the people being portrayed.
As I said back in 2014:
If I can’t stand the heat after nailing my blog posts to the church door, I’m not going to post.
Regular readers know I use an entourage approach in my games. Each player has a “main” character who gets a full share of treasure and their charisma determines how many other characters there are—the size of their entourage. In one of the campaigns, I’ve limited the number of characters on an adventure to three per person because some of the players are slow. Thus, even if you have seven henchmen, you can only bring two of them along on any single session. The end effect is that some players play only a single character, others play a trio, most have “small” characters guarding their ships and holds and homes, and sometimes we run adventures for the low level characters.
In an classic D&D campaign, how do you or your players deal with high mortality if you don’t use multiple characters per player? One of my campaigns currently counts 12 casualties after 24 sessions, for example. And I’m using the super generous shields shall be splintered and a death and dismemberment table instead of instant death at zero hit-points.
Back in January, I was involved in a discussion about combat on Google+. This is what I wrote:
I think initiative rules are overrated, particularly in D&D variants where combat lasts multiple rounds. The critical issue is that everybody acts exactly once per round. If everybody survives the round, then it didn’t matter in which order people attacked. So, initiative is only important in the round when somebody is about to die.
Magic only changes this in so far as a fireball spell makes it more likely that people are about to die (the same is true for other deadly spells, of course). In D&D variants where it is possible to disrupt a spell by damaging a caster in the same round, initiative is also important for all those involved in this action. But B/X doesn’t have that rule, and in games that do, I always wonder about attacking casters after they have cast their spell. Shouldn’t this disrupt their next spell?
All in all, I’ve decided that initiative rules are overrated and I’m using the simplest rule that involves a little dice rolling and leads to occasionally having to suffer two attacks in a row. Group initiative. It’s the standard!
When combat is not the essence of the game, it’s not hard to do without the tactical elements. I run big parties – ten to twenty characters, five or six players at the table – and the interesting stuff is whether we’ll fight, how to ambush our enemies. Combat itself is basically just the test of our preparations. No miniatures, no battle map, no “I hit the guy that took 4 damage last round” or anything like that. The upside is, however, that I’m not afraid to field twenty or thirty enemies. Or 160 plus a red dragon (against a mid-level party).
What can I say except that I’m not too interested in the details of combat. The key is that it should be dangerous. I like save vs. poison, level drain, dragon breath, petrification gaze and all that, because that keeps combat short even at higher levels. Combat, like all challenges in my game, are there to test player skill: can you think of a way out of this? If it’s just rolling dice and counting down hit-points, that’s a fail in my book. So, I encourage setting up ambushes, bottle-necks, the using of traps against monsters, but I encourage setting up monsters to fight monsters even more. I encourage the scaring of monsters, the challenging of enemy leaders to single combat.
I also push for time. Roll all the dice. I don’t care whose turn it is. Instead, I keep asking: “Are you all done? Can I go? Is it my turn, yet?” I don’t like players taking forever. I encourage them to roll their to-hit roll together with their damage spell. I groan and moan and sigh when players start reading spell descriptions when their turn comes up. Next!! And then, when everybody has gone, and slow players are still wringing their hands, I threaten to have their characters skip or suggest a simple action like a melee attack instead of whatever else they wanted to do. It’s a thin line to walk, sadly. I have a slow player at one of my tables. I encourage them to play simple classes like fighters.
Brian wondered, why D&D? Classic D&D has been providing exactly the experience I like, though. B/X in particular doesn’t push miniatures, battle maps or fancy initiative rules.
When I tried Torchbearer I didn’t like the grind, the strict application of the rules, the haggling for bonus dies and all that. When I tried Burning Wheel I didn’t like the stilted duel of wits. I didn’t even get into Fight!, ranged combat, and all that. In general, I call myself a Luke Crane fanboy-wannabe. When I try their games, it falls apart. I’ve played about six or seven sessions of Burning Wheel, three or four sessions of Mouse Guard, and a session of Torchbearer. I’ve ran Burning Wheel for seven sessions, Blossoms are Falling for two or three sessions, Mouse Guard for two or three sessions—and it’s still not working out for me. It’s time to stop trying.
Recently, Aaron Griffin asked on Google+ where he could learn more about retroclones.
Here’s what I recommend:
Personally, I play Labyrinth Lord, the retroclone of Basic D&D by Moldvay and Expert D&D by Cook and Marsh. Back in 2009 I listed the features that I liked about B/X D&D and its retroclone (which is cheaper to get in print).